“Our history begins before we are born,” wrote Scottish inventor James Nasmyth. “We represent the hereditary influences of our race, and our ancestors virtually live in us.” It’s a quote that aptly captures the popularity of genealogical quests but what if the paper trail goes only as far as a birth mother’s decision to leave her baby’s future in the hands of strangers and walk away, taking her own life story with her? In her poignant memoir, Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots, author Gloria Oren shares insights gleaned from 16 years of searching and 41 years apart.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Where, when and how did your journey as a writer begin?
A: My journey as a writer began years ago. My first published piece was a poem in a camp newsletter. I seemed to be writing something all the time. It strengthened during the “Breaking Into Print” course.
Q: Do you feel that you chose this profession or that it chose you?
A: It sort of chose me. One day I received a piece of mail from Long Ridge Writers Group offering a writing test to qualify for one of their courses. I thought, why not, at the worst I won’t pass. I received the test, filled it out, and sent it back. I didn’t think I would pass or qualify. A few weeks later I got that piece of mail I didn’t think would come saying I qualified for the “Breaking into Print” course. It included the application. I applied and the rest is history. I owe a lot for the improvement of my writing to my instructor, Lori Soard.
Q: Your new book, Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots, just made its debut. What inspired you to put fingers to keyboard and bring this story to life?
A: What inspired me to write my story was the realization that adoptees do have the right to their own information regarding their origins and medical histories. I had almost no information to go on, yet things have a way of happening, and because of them and the help of others, I was found. I had to share my story with adult adoptees who wish to search but hesitate, adoptive parents confronted by their adopted child’s wish to search, and by birth parents who fear searching not wanting to intrude on their biological offspring’s life. It will also attract memoir readers who enjoy a unique story. And couples contemplating adoption will learn the damage that secrecy can lead to and, with hope, this book will ensure that they will be the ones to talk to their adopted children about their adoptions.
Q: Describe your book in seven words.
A: Interesting, unique, roller coaster, engaging, motivating, descriptive, and page-turner.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of developing this project?
A: Oh gosh, mostly technology, but also sounding good on audio clips and creating professional looking videos. That is yet to come.
Q: Did you allow anyone to read it as a work in progress or make everyone wait until you had typed the final chapter?
A: I had many beta readers at various stages of development. Feedback has been great.
Q: In earlier generations, adoption records were kept sealed, often as a measure to keep both the birth parent and the adoptee from having their respective lives disrupted down the road. Today there seems to be a greater emphasis on literally making those records an open book and even including birth parents as part of the extended family. What are your thoughts on this shift in accessibility? If, for instance, an unwed mother gives up her baby in order to avoid personal scandal, is she now offered no legal protection if/when the adult child demands to know her identity?
A: Since not all states have opened adoption records, I would venture to say that unwed mothers are still given the option for sealing the records or opting for an open adoption where they will have connection with the child.
My thoughts on this after being raised surrounded by secrecy and post reunion being told by my mom that she was forced to sign the papers not even knowing what she was signing says that records should be accessible to the adoptee at age 18 and that secrecy has no place in their lives.
Q: Aside from medical considerations, is “curiosity” a substantive excuse to expose past secrets about parentage?
A: I suppose curiosity has a play in it, though it is a right the adoptee has to know his ancestral roots, where he came from, and if secrets get exposed at some point, so be it. In the end it usually works out well for many cases.
Q: What do you know about yourself now that you didn’t know before?
A: If you mean before my reunion, then I didn’t know I was related to Col. William Prescott or that my sixth great aunt was the first North American nun.
If you mean before I wrote the book, then I now know that I can do it and can also do the marketing as long as I take it step-by-step.
Q: Like many authors today, you chose to go the self-publishing route. What governed that decision and was the experience what you expected it to be?
A: I’ve queried over a hundred agents and though they all had something good to say and responded, no one accepted it for publication. I knew it had to get out there, and I was getting tired fishing for a hooked bait so I tried the self-publishing route.
Q: What did you like best about self-publishing?
A: What I liked best was that I could produce a product the way I wanted to. It was a learning process for me as well.
Q: What did you like least?
A: What I liked least is that I didn’t have a backup marketing setup in the route I chose, but I will get the ropes of the marketing side and will do the best I can for now. I hope to sell enough books to allow me to find some marketing help in the future if needed. As they say, the best form of marketing is word of mouth and for that, no training is needed. So please tell everyone you know who likes to read a good book to check Bonded at Birth out.
Q: Advice to other authors considering the DIY route?
A: Do your research and don’t give in. You will get bombarded with phone calls from self-publishers out to get your money. I got quotes from $1200 up to $4000. I reached out to someone who published many books on the self-publishing route and he connected me up to the gal who helped him. It cost a lot less, the work was completed in a timely manner and the finished product is beautiful.
Q: What are you doing to promote your work and which strategies are proving to be the most successful for you?
A: My book just came out on the 15th of this month (June 2016) so right now I’ve sent out some press releases, some tweets, announced it on Facebook, and word of mouth. I’ve been working on creating a marketing plan. I plan on doing a small scale launch party now and probably a two week long (or longer) virtual book tour in November to coincide with National Adoption Month.
Q: Bad reviews are a fact of life. What do you do when you get one?
A: Not everyone will like your writing. If most reviews are positive and good, one or a few are the needles in a haystack. Most of the time they won’t be seen and if seen I pretend I don’t see them. I don’t respond to bad reviews.
Q: Morning person or evening?
A: Morning. I’m usually up and at it between six or seven.
Q: Dogs or cats?
A: Definitely dogs. I’ve had a dog since I was six. My last dog was a Doberman-Australian Shepherd mix. She died several years ago. I’ve been searching for a non-shedding dog since but all the good ones I come across seem to slip right through the cracks and I haven’t had luck yet.
Q: Coffee or tea?
A: Both, though mostly tea.
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: On a trip to Sitka, Alaska, I visited a bear sanctuary and fed a bear apple slices.
Q: Describe yourself in five words.
A: Dependable, dedicated, helpful, creative, and caring.
Q: What is the oldest, weirdest or most sentimental item in your closet?
A: The most sentimental items in my closet are my children’s childhood blankets.
Q: If you could sit down at lunch with your favorite hero, who would it be and what would you most like to talk about?
A: Definitely Col. William Prescott of the Battle of Bunker Hill fame. I’ve always liked learning about him in school and thought he did some amazing things. After my reunion when I started genealogy research of my birth father’s family ancestral tree, I discovered that Col. William Prescott was my 1st cousin 7X removed. I would talk to him about his aunt, Sarah Prescott, who was my sixth great grandmother.
Q: Sent off to live on a deserted island (yet with all the necessities for survival), which three books would you want to have with you?
A: Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook so I would have something to eat; Making Shelter in the Wild so I could have someplace to sleep; and a Soduko booklet so I would have something to do.
Q: What do you do for fun when you’re not writing?
A: Let’s see, I like crocheting and needlepoint, paint by number, and lots of reading. I love doing genealogy research and trying to solve the puzzles brought upon by DNA matches. I’m also an avid Scrabble player but don’t get to play often. And when I have the opportunity, I love jigsaw puzzles.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I am in the research state. There were seven elected presidents before George Washington. I want to learn more about them, about the duties of those elected presidents, and how they were elected. What else they did in their personal lives. Did they have families and who were they. What were those years like and how did events of daily life affect those men. I became interested in this when I heard it mentioned on the radio and when I asked around no one seemed to know anything about this. I don’t recall having learned about this in school.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?
A: I can be found online at the following places:
Facebook: Gloria Oren Writing Ventures
Facebook Group (women only):
Women Writers, Editors, Agents, and Publishers
Google +: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+GloriaOren
And of course, they can visit my website at http://gloriaoren.com.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: If you do have a chance to read Bonded at Birth, it would be greatly appreciated if you took a minute to post a review on Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It is available at https://www.amazon.com/Bonded-Birth-Adoptees-Search-Roots/dp/0692722289