Interview with Karen J. Foli

Karen J. Foli has been writing for the past nine years. She holds a Ph.D. in communications research and a masters degree in nursing science. Aside from her memoir, Like Sound Through Water: A Mother's Journey Through Auditory Processing Disorder (Pocket 2002), she has interests in mystery/suspense fiction, and the healthcare issues faced by parents of struggling children.

Her other publications include short stories in the Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, Futures Magazine (fiction), and an article in the The Journal of Healthcare Quality. She is also a contributing author to Nursing Theorists and Their Work. The author enjoys living in a rural area of Indiana with her husband, John, and their three children.

QUESTION: Tell us a bit about how you started to write?

KAREN: Although I have a background in healthcare and teaching, when my older son was born, my husband and I decided that I would stay at home for a while. During this time, I did something I'd always wanted to do: write a book.

Looking back, I can see how totally naïve I was about the whole process and how much I underestimated what it took to be a good writer. Yet to become a better writer, you have to write. I persevered and took classes, went to writers' conferences, and had the "workshop" experience, where others vigorously critique your work.
Mystery and suspense fiction had always entertained me -- from childhood through adulthood. So my first book-length work was in that genre. The rejections came swiftly at first, then the letters from agents started to ask to see some of my work.

Still, getting fiction published in today's market is really tough. After writing three suspense novels, I began to write short stories, as much for the release from longer works as to satisfy my need to keep my work circulating. I also started to realize how much I'd learned by writing the novels and that the first two probably shouldn't be published. I'm currently working on revisions to the third.

QUESTION: So how did you end up writing a memoir?

KAREN: Rather serendipitously. My short story, "A Danger to Others," won the 1996 Mary Higgins Clark Mystery/Suspense Short Story Contest. This was a very inspiring event, especially since I'd been writing for five years. I was in the middle of trying to figure out what was causing my son's delays, and it was tough time for me and for the family.

When I won the contest, I felt that maybe this was what I was supposed to be doing. Then I realized that my son's story beat out anything I could have imagined. I also felt that other parents and children could be helped if I wrote what Ben had been through. People should not only know more about auditory processing disorder (APD), but they should also understand how parents and children look at life when early struggles are present.

QUESTION: How did you find a publisher for Like Sound Through Water?

KAREN: I began to query agents. Several expressed an interest, but some saw my story only from a mother's point of view. They didn't see the bigger picture of what my story contained. Several agents told me I "could write," but that they couldn't see an audience for the book.

I sent my work to an agent, Jodie Rhodes, President of the Jodie Rhodes Literary Agency. She understood what I was trying to say. And more than that. She helped me fine-tune my proposal and get it to the right editors' desks. Jodie's faith in this book helped capture the attention of several publishing houses.

This triggered an online auction, an extremely exciting experience. My editor, Tracy Behar at Pocket Books-who is wonderful-also understood what I was trying to make the public aware of. She wanted an expert in APD brought in as well and that's why my book is currently being promoted with Teri Bellis's When the Brain Can't Hear. This book is helpful to parents in understanding APD testing, diagnosis, and treatment.

QUESTION: What does your book offer the reader?

KAREN: The majority of the book is Ben's story, however, the final chapter, "Hindsight and Help," is a general overview of APD and includes interviews with parents. While I'm not an expert in APD, I am an expert when it comes to understanding what parents and kids go through in the system. I understand what it's like to see you child struggle, to feel different, to feel frustration when the correct diagnosis is elusive. My book offers a view of what it's like to be a parent in these situations as well as general information on APD.

QUESTION: Who might benefit from reading your book?

KAREN: I've had parents of autistic, mentally ill, learning disabled, and even a parent who tragically lost a child tell me that there was a part of the story that they could relate to. The story touched a common thread with them. Maybe it was the feeling of being different or feeling excluded from other parents because their child was delayed, disabled, or sick. Maybe it was the feeling of being inadequate as a parent, emotions they were hesitant to express because of guilt or societal pressure, but feelings that I included in this book.

The feedback from the teachers and principals who have read the book has been very positive. My son had one special second grade teacher that made a critical difference in his life and mine. She knew Ben was behind and that he needed to catch up. But first, she recognized how scared he was and told him it was okay to fail. That compassion made all the difference.

When I started writing the book, I knew I was going to have to honest and authentic. It's that authenticity that reaches out to the reader. Dr. Edward Hallowell's foreword does an excellent job of summing up what my book is all about. I am very grateful to him for his eloquent and kind words.

QUESTION: What are you working on now?

KAREN: Several projects. One focuses on adoption, another area of personal interest. The other project is a parent guide to understanding the roles of different health providers. I'm gathering material, researching the topics, and shaping the proposals. It's a lot of work, but really important so that an editor sees a book as viable and credible. I also continue to work on mystery short stories and am revising my suspense novel.

I am proud of how eclectic my work is. I'm also an editorial associate for Future's Magazine (fiction) and enjoy helping writers revise their stories.

QUESTION: What advice would you give to beginning writers?

KAREN: Understand that it is a process that takes time. The ability to write well is somewhat inborn, but a lot of it is learned. The myth of thinking that you'll write the next best seller won't sustain you for very long. And in fact, when you really start to understand writing, that myth won't mean a thing.

QUESTION: What advice would you give to parents who have children who are delayed or struggling?

KAREN: While I was earning my Ph.D., I had two part-time graduate assistantships, and was also a consultant in long-term care facilities. This was before marriage and kids. Looking back, that was a piece of cake compared to being a parent -- of any child.

Parenting is tough. It involves sacrifices on a daily basis. The choices are also hard, and there's no immediate feedback. You kind of feel your way out of love and caring and pray you're doing the right things. There are moments that I'll remember for the rest of my life when I was truly petrified -- when Ben's delays were at their highest point, the feeling that I wasn'tpaying enough attention to my second son, and when we decided to adopt our daughter and faced all the unknowns of that situation, for instance.

But having said that, I can think of nothing more wonderful than having your child hug you or say that he/she loves you. I am so proud of my three kids today, and I know I couldn't have done it without my husband's help and support.

On a more practical note, I think parents are an undervalued resource in today's health care structure. They aren't given enough credit for the information they have about their children. They are also confronted at times with overwhelming information that triggers grieving and unfortunately, denial. It's really helpful when professionals are sensitive to that.

I hope my book is read, not only by parents, but also by educators, childhood specialists and other health care providers. And that by reading it, there is more compassion, more openness to the discussions, and more knowledge about APD. That's been my hope all along.

© 2004 Karen J. Foli   Contact Karen