BY BETT NORRIS
I don’t want to give anything away to those who haven’t read the book, but let me give a little blurb. Gifts for Deborah is an extraordinary tale of perseverance, of overcoming adversity, surviving, and learning to thrive. Tenacity, strength, endurance, and learning how to take control of your life, learning how to love, how to live happily, these are the gifts of this special story. Main character Deborah faces so many obstacles to overcome that it seems impossible, to move from homeless to creating a home for her own children, moving from addictions to health, from real despair to accepting love and happiness. There are so many lessons in this book that one can be forgiven by at first being fascinated by the tragedy and heartbreak as Deborah slowly learns that each obstacle is a chance to grow and learn. A victim of abuse and neglect, an abuser of drugs, Deborah goes into a treatment program, puts herself through nursing school, raises her children and builds a life based on love and faith. Instead of expecting disappointment, Deborah turns each circumstance into an opportunity.
How are your kids? I’m serious. Everyone who reads your book will understand that question. Where are they now, how are they doing?
[For] Amber (Julia), the last line in the book came to fruition actually. It was amazing that less than a month [after] I wrote that last line Amber (Julia) contacted me after 6 years of estrangement. I do not have the same relationship with Amber that I have with my other 3 children but I can say we are talking and are working towards a healthy relationship. I saw her on July 4rth weekend this year and spent some time with her which was awesome. Amber is a beautiful woman and she is an event planner for a major night club in Santa Barbara, Ca. Her major was in business communication. Her giveback to the community is in non-profit for the Alano club in Santa Barbara as she is sober from drugs and alcohol 1 year tomorrow!
Alex (Zach) is doing amazing! He is such a peace keeper in our family. When anything becomes an issue we call Alex! He is an amazing son. He went to college for child development and works with mentally ill adults in an adult day program. He understands and is empathetic towards families that deal with mental illness as we did with Kelly (Hanna). He is currently in a loving relationship and resides in San Diego, [while] finishing his bachelor’s degree.
Kelly (Hanna) has stabilized over the years. She has maintained a job for the last 3 years in a restaurant in the East Bay. She was promoted to becoming a server at the amazing place she works. She has become such an amazing, beautiful light in our family. She is creative, funny and generous. She enjoys working, spending time with her family and is also involved in a loving relationship.
Jacob (Jake), [well] what to say about this amazing young soul. He is too smart for his own good! He was published in “Young Poets of America” in 2010. Yes, he was published before me. He has continued to act and exceed academically. He is the youngest member of YAB-EarthTeam, a select group of teenage leaders and environmental change-makers representing a range of East Bay schools who come together for skills and leadership development. With an IQ of 145, he is continuing to excel academically and loves volleyball, football and volunteers hundreds of hours at a grooming shop because of his undying love of animals. He is a treat!
How did you write this book? I mean, how long did it take you, with a full time job and four children? Did you have a schedule, like one hour each day devoted to the book? Did it begin as a journal?
The book took me 6 years to write. Sometimes I would write 6-8 hours in one day and sometimes I put it down for a couple months. I did not have a schedule per say but I did have a commitment to myself to work on it until it was done.
Any plans to write another book?
Yes. Many people have inquired about a sequel but currently I am working on a screen write for film.
Your book is inspiring to anyone who has lived through rough times. Talk a little about your “adversity=gifts” philosophy.
In my experience when adversity came to me and I hit it straight on, I experienced gifts for going through it. I looked at adversity as an opportunity to grow as a woman, as a mother and as a person. I think that people need to take risks. I truly believe that if you are not hitting adversity in your life, you are not likely taking enough risks.
Have you made peace with any of your siblings? It’s hard not to ask personal questions after reading such a personal book.
Yes. I have made amends with my sister Bobbie, my brother Thomas, my sister Kathleen and my niece Melissa. I went back for a reunion in 2010 when I was finishing the book. I wanted to see where they were now. In addition to sibling relationships, I also currently have a relationship with one of my mom’s sisters, Mary Beth, and her brother David.
I find that writing for me is very therapeutic. After you finished “Gifts for Deborah,” did you miss writing at all?
Yes I do. I am working on the screen write, but it isn’t the same focus.
I know you do a lot of work for the homeless. If you could say one thing to all those who are right now living homeless, what would you tell them?
You need to apply for services! There are so many things available to you! When I was homeless, there was nothing but a pew in a church for me to sleep on. Yes, services have been cut back in the last several years but there is still plenty of help. If one wants to get better and try people are there for them, but they have to do the work.
Because Gifts for Deborah is a deeply personal story, how hard was it to write certain parts, to relive those difficult years?
I cried a lot! I have to be honest. Some parts were so painful I had to stop for a couple weeks at a time. I feel like it was therapy for me at times and most importantly closure especially when it came to my mother, my relationship with Amber and the loss of my son.
I grew up in a large family, eight brothers and sisters, and we were poor, and there were hard times. My father died when I was thirteen years old. I was the first one in my family to go to college. I just wanted you to know that. Do you find that readers want to tell you their personal stories?
Yes. I have received several emails and Facebook messages from people that thank me for inspiring them to do more, be more. That makes me feel like it is all worth it!
I was afraid in the beggining to publish because I thought people might judge me harshly for all the mistakes I made, but it has turned out just the opposite. I have been judged my whole life about being poor, having mixed kids, being married to a black man, being a lesbian, being homeless and being a victim of rape and incest. Nobody can touch me now! I stand proud as a woman and I am forever grateful for the self-love that has erupted out of me. I am human and I make mistakes everyday, but it does not now nor before define who I am as a human being.