Tracie Frank Mayer: “Life is too short and too precious to be nonchalant”

In three words: never give up. PERIOD. It doesn’t matter what you are fighting for or trying to achieve or who or what is standing in your way. To reach our highest potential in life, we sometimes have to be warriors. We need to be driven and push and recognize that character is developed in […]

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In three words: never give up. PERIOD. It doesn’t matter what you are fighting for or trying to achieve or who or what is standing in your way. To reach our highest potential in life, we sometimes have to be warriors. We need to be driven and push and recognize that character is developed in difficult times. Life is too short and too precious to be nonchalant. We can overcome adversity. We can develop our resilience. Anything is possible when we believe that giving up is not an option. If you want it, if you really want it, hit that grind, be fearless and never give up.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracie Frank Mayer the author of the award-winning narrative, Incompatible with Nature–A Mother’s Story.

Residing in Cologne, Germany since 1984, Tracie is a writer and inspirational public speaker. She supports various charitable organizations, including the Parents Initiative for Children with Heart Disease of Cologne, Germany, the Ronald McDonald House, Doctors for Ethiopia and the VITA Assistant Dogs Organization.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

It was actually fate. I’d always been passionate about writing, but when I attended Seattle University, my father, a self-made businessman, made it clear that because he was paying my tuition, that I would be majoring in business. Nonetheless, I took as many writing courses as I could.

I’d been working in the family real estate business since the age of nine. When I was twenty-seven, I took a spontaneous trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. On the last day of my vacation, I met a German man whom I would marry a year later. We had one child together. The notes I began taking when our son was first admitted to the hospital at ten days old were the cornerstones of my book.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

The most interesting event in my life that set me off on the path to writing my book, was the birth of my first and only child, a son named Marc, born in Germany six months after my marriage. His father and I couldn’t wait to have a child together. Throughout my pregnancy, I had been assured at all of my prenatal checkups that my son was developing normally. In fact, I still have the electronic print out of his fetal heart rate showing that his heartbeat was steady and strong…and normal. Well, ten days after his birth, a German cardiologist told me in broken English that Marc was born, “incompatible with nature” and that I should let him die as there was absolutely no hope for him. Marc was born with only half of his heart as well as heterotaxy syndrome whereby the internal organs are arranged on the opposite side of the chest and abdomen.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

I really had no challenges in writing this book–however, I did have one major concern. It was imperative that I had Marc’s approval about telling our–his– very personal story. If I was going to write it, I would write the truth– there would be no edited emotions or circumstances. I would tell everything as it happened, and thankfully, because I’d saved all my notes over the years I was able to do so. Once I knew that Marc was good with that, then I had nothing in my way.

Honesty sets us free. I believe that truth, honesty and authenticity are basic elements of good non-fiction narratives. We want our stories in some way or another, to make a difference in people’s lives. We want our readers to learn, be inspired, engaged and to feel.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The consequences of this mistake were not funny, but the lesson I learned invaluable.

I’d had a very long day. Nonetheless, my creative juices were flowing, so I decided to stay up late, very late, as a matter of fact too late, writing and not taking into consideration the brunch I’d planned for the following day. The dining table set, and I was certain that all I had to do, aside from getting myself ready for my guests, was to make a quick run to the bakery. After only a couple hours of sleep, I leaped out of bed and flew down the stairs to the kitchen and saw that I did in fact, need a few extra things. The clock was ticking. I jumped into my car headed towards the grocery store, hit a car, dealt with an irate driver, in the aftermath forgot to go to the bakery only to get home to see that I’d left the front door open and Kasimir, our dog, was gone. All unnecessary stress because I hadn’t gotten enough sleep and couldn’t focus. We can’t work all night and play during the day. We’ve got to pace ourselves. It’s like playing cards: you gotta know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m very excited to be working on the sequel to my book.

Briefly, here’s what it’s about:

Unfortunately, my marriage fell apart after twenty-four years and Helmut and I found ourselves in a very nasty, acrimonious divorce which lasted five years. Marc sided with his father and did not speak to me during this entire time. The love and security for which I had left my family, friends and country for was gone–that devastated me and scared me down to my bones.

I’d been a Hausfrau in the most traditional sense of the word since the outset of my marriage; my son and his health, my husband and his happiness, home-cooked meals, fresh flowers and scented candles throughout our home were my top priorities. Helmut earned the money and I didn’t know how to pay anything more than a grocery bill. Suddenly, I had to figure out a way to make it on my own. It was staggering.

My divorce was never realized. Well into the fifth year of our standoff, a month-long silence on Helmut’s end unnerved me. I didn’t know if he’d changed lawyers–again–or conjured up some other fabrication of the truth–again–or simply had just found another way to punish me with more hardship and grief–again. Come to find out, he had died–the one thing he had never done to me before. I am actually a widow.

During our divorce, Marc sued me, Helmut sued me, and Helmut’s girlfriend tried to sue me after his death–all kinds of good stuff happened. Once again, as with Incompatible with Nature, the underlying theme is about having strength, fortitude, resiliency and never giving up.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

If I had to choose, I think one of the most interesting sections is in the chapter named, Shame on You.

Marc was nine years old and had two surgeries behind him. I noticed that he was becoming more frequently out of breath, physically weaker and more cyanotic. I knew this day was coming and the cardiologist confirmed my worst fears: it was indeed time for a third surgery–the surgery that would ultimately save my son’s life. Anxiously I asked him what kind of surgery would be carried out. His answer went way beyond the pale of my understanding. He said, “We won’t know until we open him up.”

Every minute counted, I had to find a Plan B and miraculously I did. The only thing I needed was for the cardiologist to sign a document saying Marc was able to make the eight hour flight from Germany to Boston. He wouldn’t sign it. He refused to sign the document that would enable me to get my son to Children’s Boston Hospital where the world-renowned surgeon, pioneer in pediatric cardiology and esteemed member of the Pediatric Cardiology Hall of Fame, Dr. Aldo Castañeda had a plan and was prepared and waiting to operate on my son and save his life.

The cardiologist’s reason for refusing to sign the document led to a confrontation between us in his office that is one for the books.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

In three words: never give up. PERIOD. It doesn’t matter what you are fighting for or trying to achieve or who or what is standing in your way. To reach our highest potential in life, we sometimes have to be warriors. We need to be driven and push and recognize that character is developed in difficult times. Life is too short and too precious to be nonchalant. We can overcome adversity. We can develop our resilience. Anything is possible when we believe that giving up is not an option. If you want it, if you really want it, hit that grind, be fearless and never give up.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

You need to know that you’ve got to give your best work and have it edited!

I read a review entitled, Is This The Worst Book Ever? Well, that headline certainly grabbed my attention. I wanted to know what this book was about, why it had earned this particular distinction, and I wanted to read more reviews (which ranged from “awful” to “masterpiece”).

I read a few passages of the book. I was left questioning if this was in fact, the author’s best work. I found that the imperfect grammar and confusing sentence structure were simply annoying. I questioned whether these ‘mistakes’ were genuine, which in turn made me wonder if the author was introducing some kind of new artistic ability to the reading landscape that I wasn’t capable of understanding. This only irritated me further. Stumbling over sentences is not an enjoyable reading experience.

We writers must also read. Reading improves our vocabulary and stretches our imaginations and broadens our perspectives.

A writer should know that curiosity is a good thing because curiosity expands our knowledge base. Once you have it, no one can take it from you.

Be aware, which in this fast-paced world is oftentimes easier said than done. Nonetheless, do stop and smell that rose. Later, write about how it looked, describe how it smelled, how you felt at that moment when you were one with it.

And finally, we need to show up and write–even if it’s just a few minutes everyday.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Daily perseverance. My story is a perfect example. If I hadn’t persevered, my son would probably not be alive today.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I love to dive into a good, deeply personal memoir. The more struggle and conflict to overcome the better. This is the true celebration of life: walking that tight-rope between triumph and tragedy and living to tell the tale.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

You know, worldwide, about 1 in 110 babies is born with a congenital heart disease. Of those babies, 1 in 4 are born with a critical congenital heart disease (CHD) meaning that they will need surgery or some other procedure in their first year of life to survive.

If I had my druthers for Utopia, I would start the RHSM (Relief of Human Suffering Movement) which would financially, mentally and spiritually support the parents of these babies facing surgery. This would including providing an amply supply of case managers, people who can provide spiritual or religious support and guidance as well as some kind of debt forgiveness or assistance. Heart warriors go through hell–the likes of which many, if not most people thankfully, will never have to endure.

Particularly mothers, most often the primary caretakers, have feelings of loneliness, incompetence and doubt which can be overwhelming on a good day. Are the poops the right color? Was that a burp or was it something else? So imagine adding the element of worrying about your baby dying to that mix. Learning special parenting skills is also not an unusual requirement for a child with a CHD.

The additional problems of financial burdens always raise the bar of anxiety. Unforeseen medical bills like gas to and from hospitals, parking costs; the costs of lodging. Or let’s say a child gets two X-rays in one day and the insurance will only pay for one, or the costs of multiple medications that insurance won’t cover. Perhaps you are a teacher and just spent a significant amount of time and effort getting things prepared for a substitute for two weeks so that you can be with your child during the time of his surgery and then you find out that the surgery has been postponed. It’s hard getting a competent substitute who is available and…the problems can go on and on and seem insurmountable. Extraordinary they are, but they are real and must be dealt with.

Yes, so I would start the RHS Movement.

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Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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