Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with Karen Greve Young, who wanted me to help her turn the draft of a shared memoir, written with her mother, Vicki, while she was ill with ovarian cancer, into a published book. This book appealed to me because it is about so many things: mothers and daughters; the art of letter-writing; sustaining a relationship despite Karen’s moves abroad; that proceeds from the book go to charity; that ovarian cancer is a silent killer and awareness about this illness needs to be increased.
Today, Karen is having the launch party for Love You So Much: a shared memoir, which was published just two weeks ago. Today would have been Vicki’s 66th birthday.
Karen Greve Young is the co-author of “Cancer is Canada”, a report published in April by Charity Intelligence Canada. A graduate of Harvard University and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, she is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, Canada. She misses her mother every single day.
Victoria Zacheis Greve was a life-long volunteer in Virginia and Washington, DC and a Certified Public Accountant focused on non-profit clients. She was the first in her family to go to university, earning a BS from the University of Delaware and a Masters in Taxation from George Washington University. She was married for 36 years to her university sweetheart and had two children. She died of ovarian cancer in 2004.
Tell me about your book. What is it about? Can you describe it in just a few sentences?
Our book is a shared story of the four and a half years of my mother’s ovarian cancer journey. In it, we share our own perspectives as mother and daughter, patient and family member, as life takes leads to different countries and different life stages.
Why did you write it?
After my mother finished her career and her full-time role as mother of the bride at my wedding, she needed something to focus on besides her cancer. One sleepless night, I came up with the utterly crazy idea that we could write a book together about her cancer experience. She loved the idea of a shared project that could help other patients and families…and off we wrote.
What qualifies you to write this book?
Countless people write about their life experience – for many different reasons. In our case, neither of us felt that our experience during my mother’s cancer was unique or worthy of being the topic of a book. But together, our shared experience provides a unique window into life with cancer from the patient’s and family’s perspective told alongside each other.
Why do you think your book needed to be written? What will it do for other people? How will it help? Did you have any competition?
Cancer impacted my mother and me differently, as it does patients and family members in all families. We hope our story will help others coping with similar circumstances to bridge misunderstandings and find mutual acceptance – while realizing that there will be hard times to work through. Although we have seen stories in which a surviving family member includes emails from a lost loved one, we aren’t aware of any stories where the patient and daughter/mother/father/son embark on sharing their story together. This was very much a shared project from the outset, and still is even now that my mother has been gone for more than seven years.
Who do you think will read your book? What made you think that there was a market for it?
This is a book written by women – ordinary women – to which millions of women and men will relate. Cancer is the number one cause of death from disease globally and nearly every person has been impacted either as a patient or loved one. We found through our own journey that sometimes others’ stories were helpful in understanding what we were going through. We hope this will help others in the same way.
This book also goes beyond cancer – it is the story of the loving but complicated relationship of a mother and daughter, both with strong personalities. It goes through the daughter’s early career, wedding and fertility challenges and the mother’s reluctant retirement and transition to having married children. It happens to include September 11 and the Washington DC sniper crisis, as we lived through both tragedies.
It does not matter how good a book is, or how good your writing is if no one knows about it. What steps have you taken or do you plan to take to promote your book? Are you a speaker or trainer? Do you have a blog? A website? A newsletter? Do you use Facebook, Twitter or other social media tools? What about press releases and sending out review copies and free articles? Have you had any other ideas? Which methods do you think work best and can you give me any examples?
I have done substantial public speaking on cancer and charity topics. We are notifying ovarian and general cancer organizations about our book and also sharing it with the wider media. We have a website (ovariancancermemoir.com).
I am now based in Canada and recently co-authored a report on Cancer in Canada: Framing the Crisis and Previewing the Opportunity for Donors that received substantial press coverage; I have reached out personally to those press contacts, including Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail and Libby Znaimer of Zoomer Media.
What was your biggest challenge regarding the writing of your book? How have you overcome that?
The loss of my mother. Continuing to work on our book after she was gone was excruciating – it still is. I am planning a launch party on August 19th – the day she would have turned 66 years old – and I want to call her to discuss flowers and lighting. Instead I turn to my Aunt Cyndi or one of my many friends who have helped to fill the gaping hole my mother’s death left in my life.
Now you have written this book, what do you hope its publication will do for you? How has completing it made you feel about yourself?
More than anything, relieved that I have fulfilled my promise to my mom and myself that our story would be shared with others. I hope it is well received and that others appreciate the bravery, style and grace my mother showed throughout her cancer journey. Mostly, I am happy to have the book complete as a glimpse for my children and my nephews of the vivacious woman who was their GG.
You have a huge launch planned for your book. A book launch is always a great way to kick off the publicity for a new book and is also a chance for celebration. Tell us a bit about yours.
It will be a backyard (weather permitting), catered cocktail party at my home in the Kingsway neighbourhood of Toronto. My brother, father and aunt are coming from Virginia for the event, which is very much a celebration of our shared triumph with the book and also of my mother’s birthday. We’ll have an understated teal colour theme, as the teal ribbon represents ovarian cancer – this will be visible from the outset as guests are greeted with fragrant and delicious Hpnotiq champagne cocktails. I plan to read a very brief excerpt of our book and introduce my family/our main characters to friends. Books will be available for sale and signing, but above all it is a celebration!
If you were to give advice to someone else who is thinking about writing a book, what would be your number one tip?
Really and truly consider why you are doing it and whether you enjoy writing. I am not a natural writer and found myself honing my powers of procrastination in anticipation of writing the book. If it’s a book that is meaningful to you, it will come and it will be worth it. For me, I am thrilled to have Love You So Much, A Shared Memoir as my first, last and only book.
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