edited: Friday, April 13, 2007
By Stephanie S. Sawyer
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2005
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Interview of Stephanie Sawyer from Intriguing Authors conducted by Christy Tillery French.
Intriguing Authors Interview
Stephanie's interview was conducted by Christy Tillery French author of Chasing Horses and Wayne's Dead. Christy is a professional book reviewer for the Knoxville Sentinel Newspaper. Her books have been and are a constant on the bestseller list for her publisher.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
As I saw the set of miraculous triumphs unfolding in my life I knew I couldn't contain them to only my experience. I knew I had a duty and certainly, an abundant exuberance to share these glorious gains with others as encouragement and witness in achievement. I also knew it was not my own personal achievement, but one given to me as I dared to risk and follow my heart's passion and my faith's direction. When my doctor firmly stated that I "should write a book" I resolved to follow my heart's direction. Yet even then, I knew I had to wait for the right timing, which was not immediate. When the timing became apparent to me I wrote FACING ME in one week in the middle of the forest while in solitude. It was a glorious experience.
What motivated you to write Facing Me?
FACING ME is an accounting and testimony of my physical, psychological, and emotional transformations following the removal of the right temporal lobe of my brain that is too grand and glorious to keep to myself. Indeed, it is a miraculous bursting forth of victory from shame and victimization to liberty and self-awareness as courage through risk factors yield to understanding and desire to give and share openly through that strength. So much gain was handed to me, literally handed, that I could not contain myself. I began shouting the story from the rooftops to all who would listen. In the setback that is still offered by some who stigmatize, I refuse to swallow defeat again, but only persist all the more to spread the truth. No one needs to live in a box of doubt and despair even when suffering an ailment. I believe strongly that this suffering which I endured was meant for a purpose but I couldn't have told you that then. The book focuses on transformation through walking through the suffering. I do have occasional seizures to this day but will not crawl back in the box of inability and doubt. It is mine to give that word of encouragement to others as a motivater and inspiration.
Facing Me tells of your struggle with epilepsy and subsequent brain surgery for correction of epileptic seizures. This is a wonderful book with a positive message. What do you personally want readers to gain from this book?
My message is twofold. First and foremost, I want to inspire and encourage all others who are facing what they deem to be insurmountable obstacles. For me to allow doctors to drill holes in my skull and remove a lobe of my brain, a mind-shattering concept to the lay person, I had to take remarkable courage. I rested completely on my Christian faith which told me this opportunity was no coincidence. The way I met my doctor and the process of discovery leading up the surgery was too great a gift for me to pass off as another nice story. I knew that God wanted something for me far beyond my comprehension though I could not see it yet. So, firsthand, I want to share that HOPE is our ticket, the initiator to a higher path, a stronger sense of finding and living out our purpose as children of a loving god.
Secondly, I want to encourage any other who suffers seizure disorders, epilepsy, of other neurological disorders. I would have given anything to have had a book to refer to as I was in the anticipation phase prior to my surgery. I had no one to turn to but myself and my God, my Savior in Jesus Christ as He has made Himself known to me. I want to break isolation for others that they may know someone who has walked this path. And I want with all my heart for people across the earth to understand more fully epilepsy that it may not be run from or stigmatized as evil. I pray that the general public come to a better understanding, and develop compassion for those afflicted by seizure disorders.
Do you feel that your past turmoil has given strength to your voice as an author?
Absolutely! There is no doubt about it. If I had not lived it and become intimately acquainted with the grief and stress of this great obstacle how could I write effectively about it? I wrote no textbook. I wrote a lay person's experiencs I believed had not been written beforehand. At least, I knew of none and would have killed to get one (figuratively, of course!). What doctor in their manuals can effectively write about "Grunting like a monkey" (p. 95 FACING ME) during a seizure? What doctor can emotionally relate to the emotional turmoil that sets in as an aura takes place and there is nothing, nothing that will stop the seizure? My courage in facing the surgery has given me great liberty and resolve to speak out.
Your book has received excellent reviews as well as awards. Tell us about this and how you feel about the great response you are receiving.
My immediate reaction is to fall on my knees, direct myself in prayer to my Savior, and say, "I know Who is behind all this! This was Your idea, not mine!" And that is the truth. I had a calling next to my own desire to write FACING ME. I wrote it in the time I felt moved by the Holy Spirit, literally 'kicked' by Him. (Now that was a gentle "kick"!) Then out it came! I am thankful and humbled to see the reward of following His call and waiting for His timing. Without Him, this book would not exist. He is the one Who put all the pieces together.
As for awards, I have been nominated for the Epilepsy Foundation 2003 "Making a Difference" award for women with epilepsy. I do not know the outcome at this time, but I am honored and humbled to be considered. I am thankful FACING ME is able to reach others across the nation. And I am thankful that I am able by being real to give a lifeline to others who may be fearful. The more we understand the better we are prepared.
You have also received television exposure. Congratulations! Please tell us about that.
Well, my zest and my 'big mouth' are to thank for all this! I just get so excited in relating my story for its uniqueness that the next thing I knew, someone is running for a reporter. The neuropsychologist told me that I was "The Perfect Poster Person"! - what the doctors "all wanted to see". I am thankful. Ten years ago I lived in extreme fear and insecurity, and never in my last dying day would I have dreamed of playing the piano on television! I believed all along that news on the operation belonged on TV but I had yet to see the transformation. It is far more than the operation. It is the complete makeover since then and the possibility for such transformation that needs to be broadcast. It is not so much a 'me' story as it is an inspiration for courage and hope in the midst of absolute devastation. That I must share.
Is there a particular reason you decided to publish through PublishAmerica?
First of all, I prayed over this decision in finding a publisher, asking the Lord to guide me. Secondly, PA gives opportunities and promotes authors who overcome obstacles. That was a big sign to me. Thirdly, PA welcomes first-time authors. This all seemed to fit and I was accepted immediately. I had no long list of rejection letters in my desire to be published.
I think it's wonderful the epileptic community has someone such as you who can advocate and educate publicly for the welfare of epileptics and others influenced by public stigma and self-defeat. Tell us your endeavors along these lines.
I have opened myself through my autobiography and through my website www.authorsden.com/stephaniessawyer for access for anyone with further questions if I may be of more assistance. I'm happy to state I have been able to assist throughout America because of these efforts.
I advocate through EFA, Southeast Texas and have been featured in their newsletter for higher public awareness. I also easily take opportunity to speak to strangers as opportunity presents itself, and to speak in public engagements. As a pianist I play in the community and love to tell my audience that I couldn't perform at all before my surgery. This, of course, demands further explanation, and I am only too happy to provide the rest of the story. My joy of victory spreads easily through this manner.
I have talked with writers' leagues and am giving presentations locally, but would like to move beyond. I am seeking opportunity.
Please share with us your very interesting background as well as your work as a piano teacher and classical pianist.
If I were to complete this answer it would give Part 4 of FACING ME away! But I'll tell you this much: I am multitalented, but none of these talents were discovered or known to me before that great transformation as outlined in FACING ME. Following my operation a string of miracles took place, the first being with my intelligence, then receiving the calling, then gaining the ability to achieve that calling. The Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25) had a great deal to do with solidifying those nudges I felt by my Lord. Now I am so happy to give back as I have been given opportunity. I love what I do and this gain transfers to my students as they sense their own abilities whether talented or not. It is my endeavor to enable them through giving them self-confidence. This is a far cry from the bookkeeping I did for seventeen years before meeting Dr. Willmore!
You are multitalented: writer, pianist, and teacher, and I am impressed with your positive persona. With your background, this clearly sends a strong message to others who are dealing with a disease that can be debilitating. What do you attribute to your success in life as well as in writing?
I came to understand through the revelation of the Lord's personal love for me and in knowing the depths of His delight in me in the core of my soul that I cannot and will not be defined by a disorder, a disease, or stigma. I knew that He had great plans for me (Jer. 29: 11-14; Chapter 17 FACING ME) and it was up to me to follow His direction using my God-given talents. I didn't earn them. He gave them to me to be used for His glory as He sees fit. I pray as I seek each endeavor. He will either open or close the door.
I also had Betty, my dear mentor. Without Betty, I would hardly have been able to leave 'the box". I had the HOPE to press forward (as Paul puts it) and I have been able to give encouragement and the will to accomplish through my history of knowing the pain of rejection. My will to encourage and enable my students is stronger than their often-evident frustration of what they cannot instantly achieve. I turn them to my plaque which states in the first line "Believe in yourself" (Ch. 25, FACING ME). That belief has given them more gain than anything I can technically do for them. It's the will to thrive that succeeds.
Could you tell us about your surgery and the subsequent boost in your IQ? I find this to be amazing!
First of all, know this: the doctors won't tell you everything! I was as surprised as you are in regards to the IQ burst! But one coping mechanism I used in approaching surgery was to ask every question I could think of to medical personnel for foreknowledge. It was not until three years later that I found out about the clinical proof of the IQ. What I did know was that something "Very Big" was happening to me. I began having a grand awareness of perception, of curiosity, of keenness that I could not explain. Try explaining a lit candle to a blind child. All I knew was that something highly major, an awareness of surrounding, was happening to me. I noticed a marked difference in my ability of perception, of memory, of future and past cognizance. By comparison, I was muted beforehand. I know medication had something to do with that muting, but it did not cover all of it. Many signals in my brain were released after the damaged are was removed.
As for the surgery, it was the ultimate act of faith in my doctor and in what I believed the Lord was opening up for me. Certainly my Christian journey made it easier because I am practiced in faith. Conclusively, I had to have complete faith in my doctor as well, and I knew Dr. Willmore had already moved mighty mountains for me and would not put me in harm's way.
My faith, my hope, and my will to overcome got me through the anticipation of what could happen to me in the worst scenario. I was prepared for the worst. I completely yielded to the Lord this opportunity. I surrendered my body to Him having Hope in what He was able to do through the doctors.
Are you currently writing? If so, tell us about your WIP.
I have written a few articles and would like to pursue this avenue. I must feel very passionately about my subject in order to be effective. I have some personal letters of great passion written in distress over personal matters. These issues are shared by many and I believe would be beneficial to the public due to my insight. I am seeking discernment in sharing these articles. I know they are highly effective.
What do you do in your spare time?
(With a burst of laughter!) What spare time!? I adore playing the piano and will go to it in the wink of an eye when I need an outlet or if I get bored. It's a guaranteed survival tool.
I enjoy crocheting and working with my hands. Even FACING ME was written in complete longhand. I believe that made it more effective.
I also truly love birds. You should see my cockatiel, Encore, who sings to me and to my students as we play. I would enjoy more time for birdwatching.
I very much adore playing worship music and am highly active in my church. I seek opportunities to offer my talents as a pianist in the general public as well. To me it is a joy to share, and that is a remarkable difference.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give an unpublished author?
I state to writers unpublished to write from the core of your very being. Do not set up pretenses. Always be truthful. In order to do this, I recommend removing yourself from all paraphernalia, phones, computer, and family settings. In other words, get isolated and your true talents with words will surface and display themselves. Do not use the first word that pops into your head. Seek the rhythm and beauty of your passage. It will come to you as you do not force it.
Who are the authors who have influenced you most?
I must say the apostle Paul has influenced me to own myself as I delve deep within and share what I know to be true . In this way I hope to encourage others.
I enjoy C.S. Lewis, especially THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, and I keenly enjoy Hannah Hurnard's HINDS FEET ON HIGH PLACES. I developed my writing skills through simple journaling and by being willing to be true to myself.
Thank you for the opportunity to share with you my experiences and my victories. It is only in sharing these victories that we encourage and enable each other.