Learning How To Turn The Pages In Your Life Through Storytelling With Patti Hall
We go through certain chapters in life that we wish we could skip. Yet, as we turn the pages of our story, we sometimes can't help but reflect on how those moments, no matter how bad, shaped us to be stronger and wiser. Join your host Tony Martignetti as he talks with Patti Hall, a writer, Booksmith, and memoir coach, about the power of storytelling. Patty used storytelling in both her disease advocacy and work with coaches, shamans, influencers, teachers, leaders, and educators. Her advocacy with diseases comes from her first-hand experience with her son having a rare disease called gigantism. This page in her life made her realize that she could do anything for her loved ones, even forgetting her own needs. Tune in for a unique perspective in storytelling and transform your life.
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Learning How To Turn The Pages In Your Life Through Storytelling With Patti Hall
It is my honor and pleasure to have on the show Patti Hall. She is a writer, booksmith, memoir coach and publishing mentor for extraordinary leaders, influencers and transformational coaches. An experienced nonfiction and memoir editor and sought-after ghostwriter, she has shepherded two dozen books for publication in both traditional and self-publishing. She is the Creator of The Story House, an exclusive memoir mastermind. The curated content from which will be published, and writing books that service in fall 2021. Patti is the author of Loving Large: Mother's Rare Disease Memoir, published in 2020. She lives near Toronto with her two giants. Patti, it is truly an honor to have you on the show.
This is a treat, Tony. Thank you. I love meeting people that I've only known by name.
I'm thrilled to have you on. There have been many people who have been in contact with me and said, "You've got to talk to Patti." Before you know it, we know many people in our orbits that have brought us together. I'm looking forward to digging into your story. I have read Loving Large. I think it's such a beautiful book. It's great to be able to highlight that as well.
Patti, what we do on the show is help you to share your story through what's called flashpoints or points in your journey that have ignited your gifts into the world. There might be one or many. I want to create the space for you to feel safe to share what is on your mind and what you want to start with. You can start anywhere. With that, I'm going to turn it over to you and let you take it away.
I'd step in around storytelling. I didn't know that I would spend my life fostering storytelling. I'm certain early on that I would be a storyteller. I spent most of my childhood following my very social father around who could store a million stories in his memory bank and share them. He also used it as a way to connect with people. I learned early that the value of being a curious listener is an underplayed role in our society. I love to pick at stories. I call it story-pulling. My father always did that. He'd meet someone and would quickly do that empathic how are they assessment, which I do all the time. I'm doing it on you right now, and figuring out what someone needs to hear or to get off their chest.
Storytelling has become my world both the way I live in rare disease advocacy and the work I do with coaches, shamans, influencers, teachers and educators. Storytelling is at the core of everything. I think that's what I've dedicated my life to. I had to walk the walk with my own story. It would have been easier several years ago not to tell it. What my son and a rare disease brought to my life have ultimately been a gift of validating for me that this is what I was meant to do.
Before we jump into that, I love what you said about you having to pull the story out. Sometimes people live on the surface and they say, "Here's what's happening." The story you hear is this surface-level conversation but you had to dig and pull in.
With that comes deep empathy and compassion, and a space of being with someone if the story goes vulnerable. There are a lot of people who'll ask questions but they're not quite prepared for the answer. They don't know how to hold space for what they get. In fact, I invite that. Memoir is my passion. It always has been.
True life has never scared me. People bring their stories to me and I feel the honor of doing that, but I also have to be prepared for what I get. I think we all do. Don't ask if you don't want the answer. That genuine and authentic curiosity is the basis of connection, but we can't just do it because we think it works. We've got to do it because we want what that person is willing to share.
Before we go further, I want to ask because now I'm very curious. Tell me about your parents. What did your father and mother do?
My father was self-employed. He had a small printing and publishing company. I fell in love with paper, ink and pens. I did sit at his feet. I worked there around the paper and the production part of it for my whole life and could never get enough of it. I'm still surprised that I didn't take it over, although I do have a publishing imprint of my own that he'd be proud to see. Interestingly enough, both my parents came from farm families. I grew up in Rural Ontario and loved that. My mother was a palliative care expert. We grew up with death and dying stories. We grew up with disease and cancer stories.
The value of being a curious listener isn't an underplayed role in our society.
Thanks to her, I had no discomfort around the medical system. I didn't know that we should be intimidated by it. I didn't know that death and dying were processes that most people would fear even being present with. I've got a lot of grateful memories and stories that other people's table might be difficult and abhorrent. Other people I know whisper the C-word for cancer. In my family, it was my mom's work. It was what she brought to the world. I got comfortable with death and dying. Thanks for that.
She was trained as a nurse and then skilled herself up in palliative care and spiritual work as well. I was always in awe of that. Interestingly enough, when I wrote my first book, which is still published, it was a story of me being asked to sit palliative with a young man as he died. That prepared me for the work that I do now and certainly brought me what I needed when I stepped into the rare disease world.
There's something about that exposure that gives you comfort. I say comfort because comfort sounds like, "It's warm and inviting." It's not inviting. It's the level of understanding.
I reflected there for a second about how it would look obvious that I would end up doing what I do. Grief, bereavement, death, dying and disease is an area that I have had lifelong comfort with. Here I am bringing these kinds of stories to life, and I'm publishing them. There's my father with the printing and publishing company. I never put together how preordained it might look to someone, but I was helter-skelter falling on my face trying to get myself here. Don't anyone think that I knew what I was doing?
It's never quite as direct a path.
No, it isn't. I always liken it to that game. I don't know if you remember this, but there was a game called Candy Land when I was a kid. I love Candy Land because it made this idea of a creepy journey that you might go on. It made it not so intimidating. I think I've always looked at life as a little bit of a Candy Land game.
It sugarcoats everything. Tell me more about what happened as you got into your career years and then onwards.
I got a degree in Urban Planning. I got married and had a baby. I got a Master's Degree in Urban Design. I had a specialty in designing parks spaces and the areas around buildings for children. Park design was my passion, but writing was always at the core. I was the person who wasn't doing the designing anymore. I was writing about the design, the policy for the design, and the backgrounders for it.
At one point, my then-husband and I said, "If the writing is always going to come back as the career, now is the time." I left a successful urban government career here in Ontario, and decided to spend years seeing if writing was what I was going to do. The first book came along with the young man in his 40s with pancreatic cancer. He approached me and said, "Can you help me die the way I want to?" It was with some sense of control. It was a short path to his ultimate demise. I wrote my first book about that while I was there. I didn't have the skills. It probably wasn't good, but I honored the experience we were both going through for that. That gave me all of the motivation I needed to stay writing. I gave up what was supposedly the career I was trained for. It's been higgledy-piggledy but here I am.
I have many questions about this because this is an interesting thing. First of all, did it fuel you to do the work when it wasn't your journey that you were sharing?
It fueled me because it felt important to tell what he was going through but I did tell it through the lens of being his caregiver. Ironic as all heck because only a few years later, I would become my son's caregiver, even though I already had children at the time. I stepped into the caregiver role. It was as if this man was giving me the opportunity to be trained in the role. Was it easier? Yes, because I didn't feel it was about ego. I learned those early lessons that many memoirists struggle with. They say, “Is it selfish to want to tell my story? Is this about my ego? Will people think it's all about me and I can't get enough of myself?” I always say, "That's not at all what it is."
If that were true, writing a memoir would be easy because we'd be writing it like we write website copy, which is horrific to write. We would take it on as a marketing exercise, and nothing about memoir has anything to do with that. It is truly bleeding on the page, which is part of why I revere it as a genre because no one works as hard or leaves as much blood on the page as a memoirist does. It was easy.
That first book, probably why I haven't published it or gone back to it was that I didn't recognize my own voice. I didn't recognize it then because I was stepping out of the, am I wife? Am I a mother? Am I an urban government policymaker? Am I a designer? Who am I? Hearing my voice as a writer. It was a gift to have the power of someone else's story to tell. To do that, it got me over a lot of those stumbling blocks that I help writers through now.
It's funny you say that. Over the years, I've worked with a lot of people who say, "I'm ready to transition to something else." "What do you like to do?" "I like to write," but they are so afraid to write. There's this imposter syndrome that goes along with that to say, "No one would want to read what I write."
I always ask why. What is the inner script? I could pick six books that are on my desk now. I could try to judge them based on quality, but what does that even mean? First of all, in nonfiction, there's no baseline for quality. There is no measure of excellence. There's no objective lens through which to measure someone's story. The first thing I always say is, "Don't do it alone," because you can't judge yourself. You are the worst judge of your writing and your own story. This is always were. What did I do? I got an incredible book coach. I then got a second book coach. They still work together.
That was what did it for me. I didn't know if the story had chops so I hired Linda Sivertsen. I didn't know if I had the writing chops so Linda said, "How about you work with Betsy Rapoport?" It's not someone else's credibility. It's someone else's critical eye where support is given with all the love and space you need to grow into your voice. I had that and they taught me everything that I ended up needing. I naturally flew through to coaching books myself because I realized that none of us should be doing this alone. It's so difficult to do. We're the worst judges of what's on the page.
We're the worst judges of ourselves in general.
We have no idea. I always say the first draft has to be for you. These are chapters in my book that I'm working on. The first one is for you, but the second one is for that intimate person you choose to be your reader. That selection process of who that first reader is something that I coach on so much. Don't choose your spouse. Do not choose a family member. Do not choose someone you work with. You have to choose someone who can do both.
They have a critical eye but they're going to deliver the message with love, respect and the true nature of feedback. That's when you start to see, "This hit home for me" because you do want the gutsiness, but you also want the, "I'd like to hear more of this." We don't need to be critiquing one another's writing in this world in my view. Book reviews have a place but they don't have a place in my heart.
I want to shift gears a little bit to get into the journey that you went on with your son. If you're up for it, maybe share that story because this is not for the faint of heart to go through this journey.
The reality is that we can miss a lot of things, even as brainiacs.
At about sixteen, my son, Aaron, came to me. My kids were tall as it was. They would have been tall. I'm 5'7". Their father was 6 feet tall and would have been taller himself. He had a rare disease that had not affected him as a child, ironically. Aaron comes to me. He's got painful knees. He's in Grade 10. He's like, "Going up the stairs is killing me." I’m like, "What do you mean it's killing you?" I pushed back a little bit because he was the child that could embellish a story like you wouldn't believe.
I've been the assistant coach or the trainer on their hockey teams for years. I'd seen every injury come out of a kid who played sports, but this was different. He was in real pain. I also put together that he'd been having headaches. I hadn't raised the idea of going to the doctor because my kids had no experience with doctors. I knew if I said, "We're going to the doctor," all hell was going to break loose and the wailing would begin.
They had literally no experience. They had not been to a doctor, either of them, since they were vaccinated as children. I barely knew where to go to my doctor's office. In fact, the office had moved. I got a little bit concerned about that and a few other things that I had heard in the months leading up to Aaron telling me that his knees were hurting. I saw these headaches and then we went to a very smart pediatrician's office. She took a look at him and realized that there were facial feature distortions going on.
He was extraordinarily tall. He was off the charts for what his height had been projected at. These pediatricians do these beautiful charts. He'd gone off the chart for both weight and height, which is rare. He wasn't a tall, thin, gangly, growth-spurt teenager. He was bulking up as well. This was changing his features and that pointed to a lot of things. In the end, he was diagnosed with gigantism. The root cause of which is an excess of growth hormone caused by a large tumor on the pituitary.
Some people generally say brain tumor. That gives you an idea of where it is. It's in the pituitary cavity, right in the center of our heads. We all have one and pituitary adenomas tend to grow around the pituitary and can often fill up the space that's meant not to have anything around it. The pituitary hangs like a little dime in the middle of our heads and it has space as a buffer around it because it needs protection.
He had a 3.5 centimeter, which is well over an inch tumor that had been growing possibly for 10 or 12 years. He was fifteen when he came to me. We measured them on the wall. We had these fabulously interesting little notes we would put on the wall. Somebody measures their kid's height and there he was at fifteen. He was 6'5", but we expected an ultimate 6'6" from growth projections. We expected both of our kids to be tall.
What do you do when you expect something and starts happening? You don't raise alarm bells. I didn't have alarm bells that day but I did as soon as the doctor said to me, "Does Aaron looks like his brother?" I thought to myself, "They don't look alike anymore because Aaron's features were distorting." His little brother still looked like he had always looked. The reality is that we can miss a lot of things. Even brainiacs like me can miss things. I did miss it for a very long time.
I have to ask and if you feel comfortable sharing it, what was the first emotional experience you had? Did you feel a sense of guilt? What was the first emotion that came to you?
The first emotion was, how the hell am I going to help him through this? I wondered how he would cope. Not long before, a close friend of his at school was dealing with grand mal seizures and as a result, had needed brain surgery. Also, a very close friend of Aaron’s was dying of cancer at the time. It was in late-stage cancer. These were two other fifteen-year-old boys. He had said to me, "I'm scared something like that could happen to me. This was getting close to home."
Ironically, it comes up in the book. There were moments where he had a headache one night and he said, "Mom, I swear, there's something in my head." All I could think of that day was he'd been saying to me, "Something's wrong with me. There's something in my head." For those few months, while two of his friends were going through major medical treatment, he'd been sitting with the idea that this was going to happen to him. I was about to tell him he was right. That was what hit me. That’s what was sitting in my mind. My reaction was delayed. I think that's typical. I didn't have time. I think if my child had been early in life and non-verbal, that would have been different. I had a full-grown fifteen-year-old who I knew was going to be a bag of nerves when I told him, and the worst is I had to be the bearer of that bad news.
It's challenging when a fifteen-year-old has expectations of what their life is going to look like. All of a sudden, you drop a bomb on them. You're telling them, "Your dreams might not be the way that they originally were intended."
That's where a parent goes. The kids were living in the moment because they have that glorious ability of the entitlement of youth and living in the present. All I could think of was, "What's this going to do to his life expectancy? What's this going to do to his quality of life?" At that moment, I didn't know. Google did become my friend fast. It was a long time ago. Medical information wasn't as accessible as it is now. Also, a big part of the story is how I got him the doctors that he needed.
I want to dig into that because I totally agree, even the information that was available was sketchy at best. You don't know what to trust. Even now, when you think about it, unless you know where to look, you can't just google things up and say, "Here's the source."
He was diagnosed with a disease that is very well-known but so little is known about it. Everyone has heard of giants. Nobody knows that it is a medical disease. Obviously, I'm generalizing. Everything I found on the internet was either some fantastical picture of a super tall person or a very large human where the eyes were blocked out, or where their features were being discussed as if they were an animal. I would find historical references to these uber-tall people who were circus performers and much worse.
Very quickly, visually stigmatizing diseases became my passion and I realized that there's a kid who's called a giant that has room in the basement. It has almost no relationship to the way giants have been portrayed in the media by us in the last couple of hundred years. Myths and fairy tales did a little bit better job of portraying the medical aspects of gigantism but also turned giants into this bone-crushing and child-eating “Fee fi fo fum.” All I could think to myself was, "This is my beautiful kid. How the heck am I supposed to reckon with these very different images that society has of people who have this incredible size and physical presence?"
Never mind the fact that the people in the outside world have this ability to not react well.
I'm overstating the obvious but we don't do well with the difference that we have been taught. It's interesting, fascinating, and world-record-breaking that the attraction to the anomaly has had more of an effect on his lifestyle in some ways than the disease. In those early years, especially before he could speak for himself or was willing to speak out for himself, my awareness of that was acute. He's walking around almost 7 feet tall. He gets a lot of attraction, not just in an NBA city but anywhere.
Tell me more about the journey from this point of now you've come to the realization that you're going to have to learn an exorbitant amount of information about this disease and help him through this process. What have been the wins and the challenges along this path that you're willing to share?
The wins have been, "You can do it if you need to and you'll do it for someone you love." Advocacy would have been my life anyway. I was already stepping into advocacy. What I know now is it's what we were all put here for. We're all speaking for someone. Even if we can't speak for ourselves, step up and advocate. If that is your neighbor who's had a fall and needs nursing care, or your child who has a weird symptom that you don't know if it's something to be concerned about, or your buddy who's dealing with depression and can't quite get to the doctor on their own. I'm not saying even in mental health and medical situations. I always knew that speaking for someone was my attraction to politics and government.
Even we introverts can speak for other people. Along the way, it was this well-intentioned effort I made to reach out to places that might have answers for him. It didn't take a lot of questions or polite emails to find specialists for him. When I think about it, I didn't spend months. He didn't have months. He was losing his vision. He was already in agony. He was already feeling the extreme symptoms of gigantism when we discovered it. He needed action quickly and testing showed the size of the tumor. It was starting to spread into other parts of his brain. It was compressing against important nerves. It was compressing his optic nerve. We had to hurry.
We're all speaking for someone. Even if we can't speak for ourselves, step up and advocate.
The very first phone call that I got from a doctor who responded to one of my midnight emails said, "You've got to get him dealt with soon. If you need to bring him here to California, bring him here to California. Here are some doctors who are leading in the disease," and one of them happens to be in Toronto. What happened for me was this wonderful conspiracy of geography where it was, "What do you mean the world expert is right here in Toronto?" That happened to be true.
Later, I was able to find this lovely coincidence where my father had a neurosurgeon that he dealt with after a car accident who ended up being the world expert on the surgery that my son needed. I became a believer in this curiosity technique that I had. It's like, "Could you be the person that can help?" If you tell someone that you've got a kid that needs them, the medical community responds.
In Canada, I have only good things to say about our medical system. There were doctors that didn't respond maybe the way I wanted to, but the fact is they all responded quickly because they could perceive the trouble my kid was in. When I saw how quickly they responded, I knew my kid was in trouble. That's when I started to get hit by the shock. This wasn't something that any of us could sit on. The takeaways for me are it doesn't take a whole lot to advocate for someone, but that effort goes so far in improving the way they can move through a crisis.
Hearing what you shared along this path is to say that we all need an advocate in some way. We can all advocate for others no matter what people are going through. That's so important because, during a time when we've all been navigating this pandemic, everyone is distanced from each other but looking at each other and saying, "How can I help another person?" It makes such a difference. I don't mean to sound so out there, but it's true.
We don't know the difference we're making for the person we're speaking for. I have a friend who was going through a possible medical crisis with her dog. She said, "Can you come with me? Can you tell me what questions I should ask?” That right there is a load off your plate. You're not in there alone. Somebody else is making you feel qualified to handle the problem. You've got somebody to brainstorm with. The uber loneliness and isolation of COVID have taught us that connection can be such a small effort on our part but it can mean the world.
For folks in mental health dilemmas, it's never been more acute than now but chronic disease suffers even more isolated. Has it been difficult to get the medical care that you need if you're not dealing with a COVID case or if you're not in complete crisis? It's tough to get the care and attention that you need as a chronic disease patient. It's been tough through COVID. Advocacy has become more important than ever in my mind.
That's one of the things that I'm worried about during this period of time, which was these people who have these diseases which are chronic. What happens when everyone is like, “Don't come here?”
You can't come to the doctor's office. Don't go to the ER. You can't get an appointment for months. You can't see your doctor face to face. What if you have something that needs to be physically examined? That's been brutal during these months.
There are many things that I would love to explore further.
We can do part two around the campfire because it’s really warm.
I wanted to take a moment to say, "What have you learned about yourself in this journey up to this point?" We haven't even dug deep into the journey that you've gone on to become the coach that you are, the book coach, and all the other fantastic things you're doing right now. What have you learned about yourself? You've shared a lot already but what are the 2 or 3 things that come to mind?
Bluntly, I suck at self-care. I could call myself by any label. I'm a highly sensitive person who also happens to be an empath, who also happens to be an Enneagram 2. I'm a human service organization. That means I will give until I drop. No matter how many times I hear it or I'm analyzed or one of my fabulous coaching clients points it out, I won't change a thing. I can't change a thing.
It means that from time to time, I will fry my brain. I take too many calls in a day. Sometimes I spend too much time editing a manuscript. I have to reel myself in. What I've now learned was when Aaron was ill, I didn't know how to reel it in. Now, I reel it in and I just take the time to recalibrate but I didn't use to know how to do that. The long and short of it was I learned that caregivers nearly killed themselves.
I learned that people who are built like me would do anything to be in service. That means you'll put yourself in a dangerous situation in a relationship. That means you'll stay too long in a working relationship that isn't serving you. That means that you will give without being paid for it. It means that you'll lose sleep, stop eating, not exercise or travel anywhere. The lengths to which one person who loves another will continue. The greatest learning experience of all of this for me is that love is the great binder of all. I've seen this now percolate into my work. I'm building books. I am in love with all of my clients. I'm in love with their projects.
Do you know what that does? That means I want to say yes to everything. I get hungry. I keep building side businesses and hiring other people to help me. I see myself as this machine that can't be satisfied and that's been difficult to see. The benefit of that is that I'll look after anyone. The downside of it is that I'll run myself into the ground. This isn't a new story but it is one that I relearn every day. It looks like you do too because Enneagram 2 is human service machines.
Everything you said from the moment you started talking could have come straight out of my mouth. That's exactly my feeling. I’m a two as well. There's something about what you described as being in service of others. It sounds self-serving to say that but it is true that when you do that, and you give up yourself in that process, you lose sight of the fact that you need yourself to be in that equation.
I would love to do a panel on this, having 4 or 5 twos that I work with on the writing side come together because we are so anomalous and misunderstood. Although I know the dark side of being an Enneagram 2, and I hope we're not speaking too much about this for those that don't know what it is, but the dark side is that we do this to serve our ego or to validate ourselves. I know that it's there. That must be there but for me, this is what I'm here for. It's that sense of rightness and alignment that I feel when I'm giving. It's all I know. It's so deeply embedded in me but there's the downside. We can talk about the pros and cons of advocacy but I’m learning that part as I go. That part, I'm a work in progress.
I can't thank you enough for sharing that such a great part of who you are. It also is something that shows that we are a work in progress and that's okay. That’s part of what it is.
There's a great new book out called It's OK That You're Not OK. It's grief and bereavement. I love that book. I have it here on my stack. I'm trying to say that every day, but that means I have to think about myself, which comes at the end of the day when I'm exhausted. I fried my brain and I haven't eaten yet, but I'm not sorry to live fully. The other kernel of truth of what’s going through with my son has taught me that we're all living very precariously. If COVID didn't teach us this, then you haven't been awake. He had to take on a change in his life trajectory, identity, health stability, and all those things that as a sixteen-year-old kid had taken on the world. He suddenly felt fragile.
He felt like something was inhabiting his body. He felt exposed because he was going to get taller and taller if we couldn't stop the growth. I learned from that and I say this expression all the time, "One phone call can change it all.” When I fall off of the rails and slip off the proverbial wagon, I say to myself, "Remember what you learned and what it's teaching you.” Remember what all these beautiful, extraordinary, rare diseases kids are teaching us. Remember what critical illness is teaching us? What COVID and mental health are teaching us?
Give until you drop.
What it's teaching us is one little circumstantial change can alter your trajectory in such a way that you will forever ask, “Why didn't I think of this before? Why didn't I see it coming? Why didn't I value what I had?” Children teach us this, but you don't have to be a parent to steal this from children. Their ability to be present and to love the most fascinatingly small things, give a child a caterpillar and a mud puddle, is something that I rarely lose sight of.
You'll see in the book that I taught myself to wake up with mantras to remind myself that he's still here. I still do that. COVID brought him back to my house. I wake up and I hear him playing with the dog. I wake up and hear his very large footfalls in the house. That's a little giant joke. When I hear him working in his office and see him driving in his truck, I think to myself, "He's still here." That's what we need to do. That's not just living with gratitude. That's living with the awareness that it can be taken from us in a heartbeat. I try so hard to live with that every day. I fail miserably every day to do it as well as I'd like to. That's what I feel it brought to me. That’s the little fire that burns within me.
I am speechless. It's so beautiful what you shared. To be a little bit selfish, my mantra is going to be, "I'm still here. We're still here." That's enough to flip it and say, "We need to all remind ourselves that we're still here." We've lived through all the worst moments in our lives. We may think that the things we're going through are the worst things in the world but we're still here. We still have a chance to get it right.
My brilliant friend and client, Mandy Lehto, says to me all the time, "We get to do this." It’s not, “I've got to do it.” I try to bring that into my life. I get up and it's like, "I got to make a coffee and I've got to do this." I hear Mandy all the time saying to me, "We get to have another cup of coffee. We get to go to the store. We get to do it." I try that. Most days, it works but I could use a permanent coach in my area. I wish I had a straight feed from some of my smart clients in my ear. It's like, "Smarten up, buddy."
I have one last question to ask you, which is what are 1 or 2 books that have had an impact on you and why?
Books are my life. This is a big question for me. I'll tell you a funny story. I was very ill as a child. I had rheumatic fever. My mother bought me two little books from the grocery store by a very famous publisher called Mattel Toys. They're works of art but they were these two little books about a funky little character called Tickle Pinkle. At the time, rheumatic fever lasted a long time but I spent days and days in bed as a child with these two funny little books. There's a pink one and a turquoise one. These goofy little characters. I think they came from Upsy Downsy town or Upsy Downsy world. I thought, "I can write stories like this."
I looked at the name of the book on the spine and I'm like, "This is what I wanted to do." I wanted to tell stories. I thought I could illustrate them but no. I did find a great friend who is an illustrator and we wrote some kids' books. That was what made me dream of being a writer. I was a little kid like I was before kindergarten. I had these two goofy little books. I still have them and they sit on a special stand on my piano. Those are the Tickle Pickle books.
In a personal way, when my son was first diagnosed, I didn't know how I would tell the story. I was a professional writer. I had a blog at the time, which was unheard of. I had two occurrences in my life. A Canadian writer, Ian Brown, wrote a stunning book about his son and their journey with rare. I met him and attended some book functions. I thought to myself, "I get the power of storytelling for other people going through the same thing." I had that popow moment.
A couple of years later, a very good friend of mine, Maria Mutch, brought out a book called Know the Night. It changed everything for me because I could see that we could tell the story our way. We didn't have to violate the child's privacy. It could be about us but also about the person we were caring for. It could still be a beautiful piece of art. Those were the influences for me, seeing books come out in the rare space by very well-known authors. It didn't have to define you as a writer and you didn't have to violate your family's privacy in order to do it. The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown and Know the Night by Maria Mutch were big influences on me writing the memoir.
I can't thank you enough for sharing that. What you said about that is powerful because many people feel challenged about that. I've even had guests come on who I've interviewed and then said, "I can't share this because I feel like I can't share this part of my story. I feel like I'm violating my son or my daughter's privacy." I'm like, "I respect that," so we canned it. It is tough to share something so personable. Knowing that you can do this in a way that allows you to honor your own emotions and own feelings.
We are our own story. The writing skill involved in massaging the edges of the story so that you don't violate more space or you don't take up more space with it than you want to was important to me. A quick story is I traditionally publish my book with a publisher here in Canada, Dundurn Press. When I first sought traditional publishing, they wanted my son's story. I canned the whole project. I thought, "This would be great. We'll be on Good Morning America and all these things.” I was like, “No, we're both introverts. He's a young man who is already so recognizable. I'm so recognizable. I couldn't live that life.” I couldn't put that out there so I started over.
I'm not suggesting anybody needs to do that but this is where help comes in. You need an editor that says, "You don't have to give us all those details." Just say he made out okay in surgery. Jump to the pieces that your reader needs. This is where experience comes in. You don't have to give away all the details in order to tell a story. What you're trying to do is evoke the meaning and the feeling of the story. You can do that through momentum and people typically want you to move fast. Don't spend time on the details. I started over and ended up writing a book about me, not about him. I was comfortable with that. I also had his permission. There's a little sneak peek on the very last page of the book that’s a letter from him saying how okay he was with the book. He wrote that when he was in his early twenties.
I can't thank you enough for coming. It's such an enjoyable time together. Before I let you go, I want to make sure people know where to find you. First of all, they can get your book on Amazon. There's an Audible version too.
It's on Audible, Kindle, and print in bookstores everywhere, or your bookstore can order it. It's in global distribution now. I'm seeing people picking it up in Europe. Although we got a slow start because it came out the month COVID hit. My publisher has been terrific. It's now in distribution everywhere and it's available on Audible.
Where can people find you if they want to reach out and talk to you more?
Everything is at Patti M. Hall, PattiMHall.com. All my social media has an M in it. I think one of these days, I'm going to say that memoir is what the M stands for. I'm not super active on social but I respond right away. My website is always up-to-date and I'd love to hear from people.
Thank you so much for coming to this show. It's been an honor. It's great to have our audience coming on the journey with us. I know they're leaving with many great insights.
- Loving Large: Mother's Rare Disease Memoir
- It's OK That You're Not OK
- Know the Night
- The Boy in the Moon
- Audible – Loving Large: Mother’s Rare Disease Memoir
- Kindle – Loving Large: Mother’s Rare Disease Memoir
About Patti Hall
I'm an author, writing coach and publishing project manager, and a proud #memoiraholic. I adore non-fiction and especially the memoir and personal narrative genre.
I'm an architect of story. I help people design and build books. I love the way that books are constructed — their infrastructure begins from the scaffolding of an outline, chapter, scenes, backstory and reflection. The thematic structure is revealed like specks of colour; breadcrumbs for the reader to find their way to your conclusion.
I'm a magnet for story. I was built for listening, cultivating memories, and tugging at tales. I'm that person you meet at a dinner party, between the shelves at the library or in the coffee shop line that you find yourself telling your history to.
I happen to have a Bachelor's and a Master's degree, and no they aren't in English lit creative writing. My education explains my appreciation for formal writing, and my many years of coaching aspiring university essay writers.