Shari Bookstaff grew up in Milwaukee, WI, dreaming of becoming a marine biologist. She made it to California and is currently a biology professor, teaching at a community college near San Francisco. While her specialty is marine mammals, she recently expanded her course offerings to include a class on the human brain. Inspired by her own medical trials, Shari continues to merge her personal and professional interests.
Shari lives with her two children (and two dogs) in a small town just south of San Francisco, near the ocean. While her disabilities make life harder, she is determined to continue walking on the beach, attending concerts, and cheering at football games.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Shari. Can you tell us what your latest book, When Life Throws You Lemons…Make Cranberry Juice!, is all about?
A: When my kids were learning to walk, I remember walking behind them, ready to catch them if they stumbled backward. I never dreamed that thirteen years later my kids would be walking behind me, ready to catch me if I stumbled backward.
I was 42 years old when I was diagnosed with a benign, operable, brain tumor. Doctors predicted a short hospital stay followed by a speedy recovery. Complications arose, giving me unexpected life-long obstacles.
A divorced mother of two beautiful, talented, wonderful children, I had high hopes for a bright and happy future. I had a secure job that I loved, and I was beginning to date again when my brain tumor was diagnosed.
My life since that fateful day has been focused on regaining basic human functions: breathing, swallowing, walking, etc. I am working again, and trying to be a good mother to my two beautiful, talented, wonderful children.
Putting a positive spin on life’s disasters doesn’t always work, but looking for, and accepting, positive things in spite of life’s disasters works. Instead of making lemonade out of lemons, I add life’s sweet sugar and cranberries to my lemons. This makes life much more palatable.
Q: How did you come up with the idea?
A: In the hospital, with nothing but my mind for company, I thought about how I would write a book. The rehabilitation center I was at specialized in brain injuries, and it was suggested to me that I write stories about the twelve patients staying there with me. My speech and physical writing skills were coming along very slowly at the time, so I wasn’t up for conducting interviews.
I came home at the end of March 2007. I wasn’t walking, driving, or working. Going to outpatient therapy kept me busy during the day. My kids kept me busy at night.
Writing the book started with long emails that I wrote to friends in the middle of the night. I had always been able to express my feelings better through writing than through talking–and express them I did!
By January 2009, I had read the entire Harry Potter series twice and I was ready to go back to work. I started going to an Adaptive Physical Education class at my college, assisted in labs, and gave guest lectures. The busier I got, the more I did! I realized my experiences may be valuable enough to share. Those emails I wrote to friends in the middle of the night were a start. I divided my thoughts into “chapters” and got started. Once I had enough, I looked for a publisher. Publish America called me to tell me they accepted my story for publication at the beginning of 2009. Once I had a publisher (and a deadline), I set daily writing goals for myself. I went through my medical records (a two-foot high stack) and legal records for dates and names of medical procedures. I also interviewed friends to get parts of my story that I wasn’t “there” for.
I finished the book in June of 2009, and it was published in October 2009.
Q: What kind of research did you do before and during the writing of your book?
A: I poured through my medical and legal records and I did some research on brain plasticity.
Q: If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?
A: It is ok to fail–that just means you need to try harder next time.
Q: Can you give us a short excerpt?
A: I went to a Monday Night Football game, hosted by the Houston Texans, with my family just after Thanksgiving, 2008. As Matt’s guests, we parked and entered the stadium through areas designated for players’ families. Once inside, we had a long walk to our seats, so an employee brought me a wheelchair. When I finally got to my seat, I stayed put the entire game.
After the game, the wheelchair guy came back and took me to the player’s post-game reception. We met up with Matt at the reception, but before he got comfortable, Abby asked him if we could go on the field. Abby and Andy had never been on a football field, and they had wanted to go on one for years. We walked out onto the field and it was awesome. We looked at the spot where Matt had tried to throw a touchdown pass, and the spot where the ball was kicked for field goals.
Then, my sister Stephanie asked me if Steve Young was an announcer for Monday night games.
I said, “He might be. Why?”
She said, “I think he’s right over there.”
He was. Steve Young was on the other side of the field, conducting post-game interviews.
“Wow!” I thought. “Another chance to meet my biggest celebrity crush?”
I hobbled across the field, towards the bright television lights, moving faster than I had moved in two and a half years. He was busy working, so I was not able to say hello to him again, but feeling that rush of adrenaline that made me nearly run across the football field worked more magic than a week’s worth of prozac! Part of me was still a woman. Part of me could still get goose bumps over a man. Part of me was still ambitious enough to chase down Steve Young. Part of me was still alive.
Q: In your own experience, is it hard to get a nonfiction book published today? How did you do it?
A: It is difficult for a book to get attention from a traditional publisher, so I published my book through a “print-on-demand” publisher.
Q: What’s a typical day like for you?
A: Nearly every day includes a work-out in the gym at Skyline Collegepart of the Adaptive Physical Education course. Continuing these therapeutic work-outs will always be a high priority. I teach biology at this school, so I am in the lab or on the computer much of the day.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: In one of my blogs, I wrote that I could write a book called “The Brain Tumor Diet” and make a fortune! Other than continuing to teach and playing around at karate (I just received my Black Belt), I think it would be fun to write that book. It would be a “diet” for the body, mind and spirit.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Shari. We wish you much success!
A: Thank you so much for having me! More information about When Life Throws You Lemons…Make Cranberry Juice!, can be found at http://www.wix.com/lemonsandcranberries/lemons