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The Story Behind “Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs”

How did I happen to end up writing a book? My typical response has been: Lindsey gives me stories. And although that is true (there are several other reasons as well), I say in my disclaimer:

When my kids were growing up, I didn’t know there was a manuscript in our future. I didn’t walk around with a recorder, taping every conversation or logging every outfit worn. I’ve re-created stories to the best of my memory….

One of my dear friends, as encouragement, gave me a sign that says, “The WORLD is waiting to hear your STORY.” I immediately hung it on my office wall and started writing.

The World is Waiting to hear your story sign

Still, this story-telling journey has taken seven years. Seven years to write, to edit, to rewrite, and then do it over and over again. And that is a very good thing. My manuscript wasn’t ready till now.

Yet, if I were totally honest, my writing journey actually started decades ago, when I was a youngster living in Vancouver, Washington. At the age of seven, I regularly tried to find ways to make money and decided to write a neighborhood newspaper. In large, second-grader scrawl, I filled the page with very important information. You know, like: black and white, spotted dog found wandering the streets, blackberries are ripe and ready to be picked over in the big field behind the filbert trees, and the Aldridge family is growing pumpkins to sell this fall. I’d walk door to door to sell my single-page neighborhood news. As I recall, I didn’t make much money—probably twenty-five cents at the most—and only due to some kind folks who also lived on 78th Street.

Things haven’t changed much in the writing world. Most writers don’t write to make money. They write because they have stories to tell. And that’s a good thing, because it takes years to turn out a book. Sometimes it takes ages to find your authentic writing voice.

That certainly was true in my case. In the fall of 2010, I started writing Loving Lindsey (a manuscript that was initially titled Out One Ear because of one of my daughter’s unusual sayings, then The Other Kind of Special, My Forever Child, and Broken Sand Dollar—just a few of the titles that were seriously considered before my publisher settled on Loving Lindsey).

For years, before I’d ever written a word on the page, I’d been writing our story in my head. I thought it would be a cinch to get it down on paper. When I finished my first draft(s), I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to share. Several good friends (and a few acquaintances) tackled reading my early work—and I’m incredibly grateful for their kind feedback on a manuscript that was not ready to be shared.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success has a theory:

“To achieve world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of 10,000 hours.”

So when I initially handed out early drafts, I hadn’t put anywhere near 10,000 hours into my manuscript.

Since those early drafts, I’ve strived to improve my craft. I’ve attended writing workshops in beautiful settings such as Lake Atitlan, St. Simons Islands, Whidbey Island, Esalen Institue in Big Sur, the Oregon Coast, and in Portland at The Attic, as well as at various college campuses in the northwest. Joyce Maynard, Cheryl Strayed, Melissa Hart, Ariel Gore, Debra Gwartney, Jeff BakerSamantha Dunn, Pam Houston, Alan Heathcock, Jennifer Lauck, and Steve Almond are a few of the talented, well-respected authors who became teachers and mentors and have offered sage advice. I believe their feedback has improved my writing. Each of these authors has his or her own unique method of teaching the art of writing. And with each individual, I learned at least one new valuable lesson.

When I wrote my initial manuscript, it was lengthy. I believed there was just one story, starting when Lindsey was a baby and ending when she turned thirty. It had a ton of twists and turns. And so it kept growing in pages. As I sought an agent and/or publisher (some small presses don’t require an agent), I found it very difficult to give a short description of my incredibly convoluted story. After a pile of lovely, personalized rejection letters arrived, I hired a professional editor to read my manuscript and offer developmental editing advice on how I might improve my chances for publication.

“You have two manuscripts,” said Ali Shaw from Indigo Editing, adding, “with two distinct journeys.” As soon as she uttered those words, I knew she was correct. In her opinion, the first manuscript should concentrate on the time period from Lindsey’s birth to graduating from high school. Shaw pointed out the many books currently on the market about parents who learn that their child has Down syndrome or autism and the journey they took in learning to adjust to their perfectly-different-than-expected child. It really wasn’t a new story. So Shaw recommended we work on the more marketable of the the manuscripts, the one where Lindsey transitions into adulthood, i.e. her coming-of-age story. Shaw helped separate the stories and added flashbacks to the second manuscript—and suddenly, the story flowed.

So, because of all these incredible authors/teachers/editors, I’ve written and rewritten and tossed out large sections of my manuscript and then added portions back in. Am I a world-class writer now? Heaven’s no. I am a mother who has tried to tell her story about raising a daughter with special needs. Still, I am proud of how far my writing has come. I’m proud that Brooke Warner at She Writes Press found enough value in my work to select it for her Fall 2017 list.

Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs was released September 2017 by She Writes Press.

Linda Atwell and her strong-willed daughter, Lindsey—a high-functioning young adult with intellectual disabilities—have always had a complicated relationship. But when Lindsey graduates from Silverton High School at nineteen and gets a job at Goodwill, she also moves into a newly remodeled cottage in her parents’ backyard—and Linda believes that all their difficult times may finally be behind them.

Life, however, proves not to be so simple. As Lindsey plunges into adulthood, she experiments with sex, considers a tubal ligation, and at twenty quits Goodwill and runs away with Emmett, a man more than twice her age. As Lindsey grows closer to Emmett, she slips further away from her family—but Linda, determined to save her daughter, refuses to give up. A touching memoir with unexpected moments of joy and humor, ‘Loving Lindsey’ is a story about independence, rescue, resilience, and, most of all, love.

If you are a fan of the movie “The Other Sister” or the book, Riding the Bus with my Sister, you may very well like Loving Lindsey. My girl has a unique way of looking at the world—that’s for sure. And like the main characters in “Forrest Gump” or “Rain Man,” Lindsey comes up with some very unusual lines.

September 26 is just a few months away. That day will be here before I know it. As excited as I am for this dream to become a reality, I’m also petrified. There are stories in the book that are less than flattering.

When I asked Lindsey if it was okay to share our journey, she asked, “Are you going to tell the good, the bad, and the ugly?”

I assured her that yes, I would have to do just that. But it would be both our goods, both our bads, both our uglies because I certainly wasn’t a perfect mother. Lindsey paused and said, “As long as you tell the truth, it is okay by me.” Then she added, “I am pretty funny.”

I do agree. At times, Lindsey is pretty darn funny.

Loving Lindsey CoverThe prequel to Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs—currently titled, Expecting Perfect—hasn’t found a home quite yet. It is the first part of Lindsey’s story and the beginning of our blended family as well as our journey of learning and accepting that our daughter would have developmental delays. Hopefully, this book will be out soon, too. If you are interested in learning more about Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs, please click here.

I share many passions in this world: antiquing, gardening, hiking, traveling, taking amateur photographs, writing, sitting on a white, sandy beach with my husband and sipping a frozen margarita—just to name a few. If you enjoy any of these things too, let's connect! The world is better with friends.

  • Kristi Rieger Campbell

    I am so unbelievably excited for you! And, you should link this up with this week’s FTSF that’s about writing! I appreciate that you explained more of the process, too. I know that you had separated the book into two, and am thankful for the reminder that if we just keep writing, we’ll get there. 10,000 hours though? GULP.

    • I know. I know. Ten thousand hours is a lot of hours, huh? I know you’ve already made it there though. You write ALL the F*ing time! You are my idol!

  • Cheryl White Blinston

    Wow! I cannot wait to read your book. As the mom of 3 special needs children the transition to adulthood terrifies me. My oldest is almost 17.

    • Wow, Cheryl. I’m often overwhelmed by just raising my daughter. Three!?! My hat and heart goes out to you. The adulthood thing was not fun at all, but my daughter is doing wonderful now. It just took a horrific turn before we reached this lovely plateau in both our lives. Thanks for checking out my blog. P.S. Do you write a blog? If so, I’d love to visit your page. I clicked on you and it showed up only on disqus. So please share with me if you do!

      • Cheryl White Blinston

        Linda, yes. It is http://www.gracefull-parenting.com Please keep me in the loop of when the book is released.

        • Thank you! Thank you. I’d love to keep in touch. And I just went back to your site and NOW I remember. I love the picture of your beautiful family at the top of the page. I can’t wait to read more from you.

  • So exciting! And I’m glad you linked up to FTSF! I agree – most of us don’t write to make money. It’s certainly a perk, if you find that, but I do it because I know no other way to live!

    • Wouldn’t it be grand, though, if we could? I’ve been writing for a very long time. Hopefully, some day it will pay for itself, but like you, I’d do it even if it never does. Thanks for stopping by my site and checking it out.