Elder Rage, or Take My Father… Please!: How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents is a Book-of-the Month Club selection receiving 50 endorsements and 300 five-star Amazon reviews, is required reading at numerous universities for courses in geriatrics assessment and management, and being considered for a film.
Author media includes: TODAY, CNN, PBS Alzheimer’s Documentary, AARP Bulletin cover story, Woman’s Day, Prevention, and hundreds of radio/television interviews. Honors include: Media Award from the National Adult Day Services Association-and ‘Advocate of the Year’ from the National Association of Women Business Owners at their Remarkable Women Awards.
Tell us about yourself.
I am from the San Francisco Bay Area originally and live in Irvine, CA now. I was a professional cinematographer/ photographer and also taught at UCLA, and then a television executive, but I barely survived as a caregiver to my once-adoring challenging elderly father and sweet but ailing mother, both with Alzheimer’s which went completely undiagnosed for over a year.
What inspired you to write your book?
After fighting through an unsympathetic medical system and depleting my parents’ life savings and much of my own, with sheer determination I figured everything out medically and behaviorally. Passion to save others from a similar experience (especially from getting so frustrated they commit elder abuse) compelled me to write my first book and do everything in my power to educate on issues that so unnecessarily cost over a year of my life-and then nearly my life itself when I was diagnosed with invasive Brst. Cancer.
How did you choose the title?
The original title was what my grandmother used to say, ‘Once an Adult, Twice a Child’, but I worried people would go to the bookstore and ask for something like, ‘once-a-twice-a-huma-hama-I forget!’ I heard that the first word is very important for Internet searches so it made sense to start with Elder. Then, it was basically about Rage–my father’s rage at me, my rage at him, and my boundless rage with the eldercare system. Thus, Elder Rage, but who wants to read about that!
I knew the title had to show there was also a LOT of humor in it, but that was the hardest part to come up with. People always tell me they laugh and cry on the same page because I relate all the antics to famous movie and TV quotes and have theme songs — I don’t know, just came out of me that way. When I asked my best friend (whom I stayed with every time my father threw a tantrum and threw me out of the house and who had lived through the whole sordid saga with me and who kept saying, ‘You HAVE to write a book!’), what would show humor in the title–without missing a BEAT she said, ‘Or, Everything You Ought to Try Before Calling Dr. Kevorkian!’ I loved it but figured I’d be banned in Boston. So then, by brainstorming with my high school artist friend who did the cover, suddenly she blurted out, ‘Or, Take My Father… PLEASE!’, which is a play-on-words from Henny Youngman’s famous, ‘Take my wife… please!’ I LOVED IT!
The subtitle came from wanting to use more key words to help Internet searches. Since ER is a combination non-fiction novel with solutions woven in, and the last third is a self-help/how-to book on caregiving, it just made sense to use, ‘How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents’.
What obstacles did you encounter getting it published?
I self-published ‘Elder Rage’, which was almost as hard to do as solving my eldercare nightmare. I had three offers to publish it (I called 130 publishers and left a riveting pitch, 60 said ‘send it’ even without an agent–which is unheard of apparently), but the offers were for so little money (being a first-time/very-green author) AND they actually wanted majority rights to the movie if it were ever to be made into one! Well, guess what, it is being looked at by a production company! Long shot, but I’m thinking Michelle Pfeiffer for me, beautiful and THIN. Anyway, I said, ‘Gee, no thanks. I’ll figure out how to publish it myself.’ I thought, hey, how hard could SELF-publishing possibly be? Oyyyy!
After I finally got ER printed and 1,000 copies delivered (two years to the DAY I started working on it 14-16 hrs a day), I find out that more than 350,000 new books are published in English every year–that’s 958 a day! Good thing I didn’t know that before I started or I probably wouldn’t have even tried. I started to realize the competition is unbelievable to get a book noticed. Since 80% of books are sold by word-of-mouth, I went into major marketing mode! Everyone asks how I made my first book so successful. I laugh because there was just NO OTHER OPTION! I was still paying for 24/7 care with two live-in caregivers taking care of my parents and had no visible means of support–so it simply had to be. Necessity is the mother of PASSION you know!
How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I had no interest in writing my entire life and had never written ANYTHING (but a postcard) so I had absolutely no idea I had a talent for it. After solving my eldercare situation, I was so furious (more rage) that none of the many healthcare professionals I had begged for help from hadn’t told me everything I learned the hard way over a YEAR sooner. My best friend’s constant remark of, ‘Jacqueline, it is just astonishing. If I wasn’t living through this with you, I wouldn’t believe it–you HAVE TO WRITE A BOOK! (Yes, she reminds me of that seeking royalties.) After finally getting back home and searching my brain for what I was going to do with the rest of my life, I suddenly catapulted off the couch and just started to write. I have kept a journal since age 15 so I knew the sequence of events — and the damaging dialogue was embedded in my brain. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but it just flowed out of me and the long days at the computer flew by. The first draft was 650 pages–hey, I was purging!
Do you have any writing rituals?
Not really, I just keep plugging away at it until I like it. I have always had a lot of persistence, a trait I inherited and learned from my father. Isn’t that interesting that the exact trait I needed to eventually help my father was inherited and learned from him.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Since I ream so many of the healthcare professionals I came in contact with a new (you know what), I worried about being sued (even though it was all TRUE), so I changed all names, genders, ethnicity, descriptions, ages, etc. But I am sure they’ve all read it and they know who they are as the situations are unmistakable!
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing your book?
I learned something I share with those going through rough times: When life takes you to your knees and nearly destroys you, remember to search for the silver-lining. You may discover that your challenges may also turn out to be the catalyst that drives you to a higher purpose, passion and reward than you would have ever known.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
I pursued several writing/self-publishing gurus as mentors to help guide me and would probably get more. I would price ER higher to begin with, as it gets discounted right away and all the costs go up over time. Changing the price later is a NIGHTMARE because the bookstores ship back all the old priced ones to the publisher (ME) and then only order the new ones! And the old ones are all damaged by then. This also happens if you go to a Second Edition, which I also learned the hard way!
What types of books do you like to read?
What–time to read! My life is spent online working my mission of eldercare awareness and reform, speaking at conferences, and producing/hosting my radio show to help caregivers. If I have time to do something else, I don’t want to read anything. I want to watch movies, my first love–thank goodness for Netflix!
Are you working on your next book?
No, I wrote ‘Elder Rage’ to affect change not to become an author, but I am asked constantly to PLEASE write another book–we’ll see!
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Don’t even start unless you are passionate about your topic and have something different to share. Research all the other books about your subject and if you can’t find your unique hook, something that makes yours different, seek further inspiration!
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
Adults! Rosalynn Carter says it best, ‘There are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.’ Oh, and also 76 million Baby Boomers, but other than that…
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
At my website, www.ElderRage.com, love to hear from you!