Sunday, June 9, 2013

Featured Author: Matt Patterson

I'm happy to have Matt Patterson here today to tell us about his memoir, My Emily, a bittersweet account of a little girl's brief but meaningful life, told by a father who both celebrates her life and grieves her death. If this book doesn't touch your heart, just drive yourself to the nearest funeral home, because you're dead. This book isn't only a must read for parents of special needs children, but it is also a must read for people who question the power of God, and people who are seeking to find answers in the midst of pain. Matt shows that God is at work in ways we don't understand, but even in tragedy there are blessings. My Emily is free on Kindle on June 11-12 and .99 June 13-16.


About the book:

Honorable Award Winner - 2012 Reader's Favorite Book Awards

Finalist - 2012 National Indie Excellence Book Awards

Finalist - 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards



This book tells the story of a hurting family, an amazing little girl and a mysteriously faithful God.

Emily wasn't born perfect - so one might think. 

She was born with Down Syndrome and many would jump to the conclusion that she would have very little hope for a life with any significance. Two years later came the diagnosis of leukemia. What little hope remaining turned to no hope whatsoever - or so one might think.



The life of this little girl, with all its perceived imperfections, had great meaning. Her loving nature and courage touched the hearts of everyone she met. She also taught them how to value their own lives - even with their many "imperfections."

Interview with Matt Patterson:

You have a journalism background and have been a writer for over twenty years, yet it took you about twenty years to write My Emily. What finally made you decide to write the book?

Some 20 years ago, I sat down at my desk in a noisy newsroom and began to bang out my weekly newspaper column for a small daily in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

I covered the courts and crime beat for The Daily Mining Gazette, but I tried my very best to distance those stories from my column.

I tried to present my readers with a different side to the guy whose by-line was normally associated with misdemeanors or felonies. The column was my opportunity to show readers I was human and that I actually had a sense of humor. And as a relatively new father, my young daughters were normally my subjects.

But on this particular column, this was going to be difficult and special simultaneously. It was our first daughter’s birthday. I wanted to relay in this column how much she had taught and touched me in what seemed to be a very short time here on earth. This column was about my two-year-old daughter Emily, who about a year prior, had passed away after a brave battle with leukemia. Emily was also born with Down syndrome. 

This column – as short as it could be – walked readers through her birth and eventual death. It told them of our shock and dismay at hearing words like Down syndrome and leukemia. It was short and sad. It was touching and a tribute.
For me, it was a release.

Two decades later, God has turned my tragedy into blessing and grief into mission.

This newspaper column has turned into a book – My Emily – and this book is my small effort to help families who have special needs children, little ones battling cancer or those heartbroken parents who have lost a child. Writing the column, the book and even this interview is comfort for me. It’s an opportunity to perhaps help or touch someone.

I love the story about when Emily was born and you thought she was a boy. Would you tell it again for those who haven't yet read the book?


To say I wanted a boy would be a massive understatement. I think any father has that frame of mind when expecting their first child.

With this enthusiasm and preoccupation of having a boy I did make a slight mistake at the height of delivery. 

As I continued to coach my wife to breathe and push, I began to see the crown of the head. The shoulders and torso quickly followed.

I yelled out – “It’s a boy!”

The nurse then quickly advised me, “Uh, Mr. Patterson – that’s the umbilical cord. You have a baby girl.”

I tried to make a quick recovery and said something like … “I knew that.”
Right Matt.

Sure.

It's great that you can laugh at yourself. Tell us about Emily before she got sick.

She was just an absolute bundle of joy. Always had smiles, kisses, high-fives, and love for anyone and everyone. Actually she carried this joy with her even through her treatments. Nurses and medical technicians would actually try to change their assigned patients to be able to care for her. Her joy and love was so very pure. It’s truly hard to put into words sometimes.

I know rocking Emily to sleep every night was so special to you. What's another of your happiest memories of Emily?

Besides getting my morning high-fives and “smoochies” (kisses) from her, I’d have to say seeing her smile when I walked in the door from work are memories embedded in my mind and heart.

I love the quote by Nayely Saldana: "We met for a reason, either you're a blessing or a lesson." It seems that Emily was both. What lessons did she teach you?


My goodness. This is a wonderful, yet difficult question to answer.

Emily taught me to never underestimate the impact one can have on others, no matter what the circumstances are. She left a legacy of courage, strength, and love that will live with me for the rest of my days on this earth.

She also taught me to never waste a moment to tell those closest to you how much you love them. I ask anyone who is reading this to take a moment and call someone you truly need to. Tell them you love them. That they’re important to you. We live in a time where communication can be shared in so many ways. If calling is awkward at this time. Perhaps a text message or a private message on any of the countless social media outlets that are available to us today. Never underestimate the power of a hand-written message on a card. The important thing is to not wait.

How does a parent cope when he's told his child has leukemia? You have to be strong for your child, but how do you find strength for yourself?

As a father, I put myself last. Any parent in this situation does this. Find the time and a quiet place to pray, meditate, and put your words on paper, if possible. From a physical standpoint, your body just runs. It finds another gear, more fuel – a level of adrenaline you’ve never experienced. I believe the emotional and spiritual aspect is as important, if not more important than the physical.

You mention in your book that prior to the health crisis with Emily, you didn't really know how to pray. Can you explain that?


Absolutely. At that time, we considered ourselves a “praying” family. We prayed before we left for school and work each morning, as well as every night before we hit the hay! I “prayed” personally and with my wife. We prayed and we prayed!

At times, I think it’s safe to say that we can get into a prayer rut. At least I did. We find ourselves saying the same thing and asking for help and for things that we look at as blessings – such as a better paying job, bigger home, better car, etc.  I now look at those prayers as selfish bellyaching more than anything. I was just going through the motions.

I point out in the book that our prayers become more humble, specific, and heartfelt once a crisis strikes. When Emily was diagnosed with leukemia – let me tell you – my prayers took on a massive overhaul.

What do you hope other people will get from your book?

I just want to convey that in even in our darkest days - God is good. He is. He really, really is.

You can open your heart to him. It can be in sadness, happiness and even anger. You can  let Him have it. He wants you to. He wants open, honest and real communication. He loves us. He wants us to come to Him. It's then we find out that He is good. Really, really good.

It’s my belief that each of us grieve differently. For example, I’ve always wanted to share Emily’s story, but was I ready to minister and comfort others some 20 years ago? Heck, 20 months ago? I’d have to say no. Now that I have a better understanding of the grieving process, I can truly say my passion to share Emily’s story and help others is at a level that’s difficult to quantify. It becomes very personal and emotional some days. There are still days when I need to lean on those closest to me for support and comfort. Sometimes all we need to be is a shoulder for someone. There have been times I was that shoulder, but in actuality, they were being mine as well.

In the book you say, "If we don't think we have experienced God's comfort yet, then we need to evaluate our attitude toward Him. Perhaps each of us should ask ourselves, 'How is my attitude affecting God's ability to comfort me?'" During the ordeal of fighting leukemia, did you feel God's comfort?

I have to say yes and no. When I did take that time to pray and meditate, I felt a sense of comfort – a relief, perhaps. Probably some of the hardest moments were waiting for test results. There were so many emotions running through my mind and heart. This comfort allowed me to recoup mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally, preparing me for that next hurdle in her treatment.

Did you treat life differently after Emily went into remission?

We treated it like the most precious gift. We weren’t going to waste a second, minute, hour, or day. And we didn’t.

The joy of remission became the agony of relapse after just a few precious months. How did you cope with the sudden plunge of the roller coaster?

Great question! I really don’t believe there was time to cope. It was a very immediate and intense focus. My reaction was, “How are we going to get Emily back into remission? What do we need to do? Tell me what we need to do. I’ll do anything. Just tell me.”

Upon Emily's passing, you talk of a line the hospital staff formed outside her room just to say goodbye. How was she able to have such an effect on people?

The words that first come to mind are: innocence, love, joy, and smile. I have such a very deep respect for those who work in the specialty of pediatric oncology. It’s so emotional. I know I could never do it.

I believe some people look at Emily’s life and say that her birth with Down syndrome wouldn’t have led to a life with much significance. Toss in the diagnosis of leukemia just two years later and that life of little significance was now at zero. I say to those who think like that – I beg to differ. This little girl whose innocence, love, joy, and smile touched these hearts enough for them to line up at 1 a.m. outside of her ICU room. Some of these people who were in this line came from their homes. And today, some 20-plus years later, she still touches hearts.

After her death, you talk of your anger with God. Understandable! How did you repair your relationship with Him?

To be completely and perfectly honest, I think I had very little to do with it. It was all God.

I was indeed mad at God. I would ask that magic question that many of us who have traveled this road and that is, “Why?”

Why do you allow a special needs child to battle leukemia? You allow her to suffer through chemotherapy and bring her into remission. Then, you allow her to relapse and endure an even more intense regimen of chemotherapy.

WHY?

Shortly after returning  to our home base in Mississippi following Emily’s funeral. I would bump into people I hadn’t seen in weeks. They would of course ask how Emily was doing. I would then have to relate that she had passed away. It was painful. I couldn’t finish the story without crying.

Thing was, as I shared the story of Emily’s strength and courage, I began to realize that each of these opportunities were the path that led me to repairing my relationship with God. It allowed me to express appreciation for everything everyone had done for her and for us.

What advice would you give folks who are going through pain or tragedy?


Here are a couple recommendations; everything doesn’t work for everyone:

Be willing to reach out and ask for and accept help! Don’t try to bury your pain. I also recommend that couples or individuals keep a journal. Pour out your heart on these pages. It’s healthy. I also recommend prayer and/or meditation. It can cleanse your heart, soul, and spirit.

One thing I do know. If you keep these emotions of pain, hurt and anger buried inside, it can lead to not only emotional issues, but it will also take a toll on your health!

You have made it your mission to tell Emily's story to the world. How are you doing that?


Plain and simple – I’ll share the book or audiobook with anyone and everyone who will read or listen. In addition, I have started reaching out to speak. I am truly passionate about sharing Emily’s story to anyone who will listen. I tailor my presentations specifically to meet the needs of any group or organization. For those interested, they can fill out the contact information on my website under the “Request Matt” tab.

Which ways of marketing and promotion have you found to be the most effective?

I think it’s different for everyone. For me? I have found the use of Kindle Select to be effective, especially when using a combination of daily cross-promotion with other authors using twitter. In addition, when having a promotion on Kindle Select, I try to implement guest posts/interviews on blogs. 

What do you do in your free time?


Free time? I get that?

I do my best to spend time with my family, go to the gym to exercise, hit a good movie or just relax out by my pool. Living in Arizona, we get a little more pool time than others who live in different parts of the country.

Where's home for you?

I have called Arizona home for the last 13 years. I love the climate here. Sure, it gets hot – then again, you don’t have to shovel sunshine. If you have air conditioning, covered parking, ceiling fans and a swimming pool – all is well!

Okay, now for some silly questions. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I recently visited San Diego. That’s not a shabby place to call home, especially if you have an ocean view!

If you could only keep one book, what would it be?

The easiest one of the bunch! My Emily, of course!

Your last meal would be...

Two foot-long cheeseburger subs from Captain Harvey’s back home in Baltimore. Extra grilled onions and extra hot peppers! Throw in a side of fries smothered in Old Bay seasoning. Why two? Hey, you said it was my last meal, didn’t you?

Would you rather work in a library or a bookstore?


I would definitely take the library over the bookstore. Why? I think the retail aspect of a bookstore would ruin it for me.

You won the lottery. What’s the first thing you would buy?

Whatever my father wants. He has ALWAYS been there for me whenever I’ve needed anything. Time to return the favor.

After making sure my family is cared for, organizations that assist families who have special needs children, those battling pediatric cancers and families who have lost children would be receiving checks, for sure!

Name five people with whom you would pick to be stranded in a bookstore.


Napoleon Hill - Dale Carnegie - Mitch Albom – Rick Warren – Jack Canfield.

What’s one of your favorite quotes?

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

What three books have you read recently and would recommend?


Oldies, but goodies. Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, and last, but not least – The Purpose-Driven Life, by Rick Warren.


Are you glad you self-published?

Absolutely! Without a doubt!

Short and sweet – it works for me. Given the nature of My Emily, I want to keep a closer eye on things. I also hear horror stories from other authors who have gone with small or what others call vanity publishers, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

For the most part, publishers – large or small – still want you to market yourself as if you were self-published. I have no problem marketing my book or myself. The atmosphere in the industry has changed drastically. Having to do the work myself has given me a wealth of knowledge. I have been approached by agents regarding My Emily and for now, it’s best that I stay self-published. This may change somewhere down the line, but for today, I’m VERY HAPPY to be self-published.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I am very focused on building my speaking platform. In addition, I am working on a book related to men and grief, which will be released later this year.


Excerpt from My Emily:

Once we heard the word “chemotherapy,” one of our first thoughts was Emily was going to lose her beautiful hair.

Emily’s soft, thin, strawberry blonde hair was like silk – absolutely beautiful. It’s amazing we stop to realize how beautiful a little one’s head of hair is when we learn that it’s going to fall out.

Bonnie was very quick to act, asking for a spray bottle with water, rubber bands and a pair of sharp scissors. My wife always enjoyed primping her little girl’s hair. From nicely brushed with a beret to pinned up with ribbons and little, braided ponytails, our Emily’s hair was always pristine.

With Emily lying in her hospital bed, Bonnie sat her up and prepared to give her a very special haircut. She sprayed her little girl’s hair and brushed it thoroughly. Before beginning the cut, she proceeded to make six tight, little braids of hair. Given the placement of the braids, I really didn’t understand what she was attempting to accomplish.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” Bonnie responded.

My wife then started to crop each of the braids. I really began to question what my wife was trying to do. “Um, if you don’t mind me asking, I’m lost here. Again, what in the heck are you doing?”

Bonnie, with tears in her eyes answered, “Emily is going to lose her hair Matt. I love her hair. I love doing her hair. Her hair could be gone for some time and again, this may be the last time she has hair. I have to prepare myself for that. I’m saving these braids for us.” 

After attaching each of the braids to separate pieces of paper, Bonnie began cutting and trimming her daughter’s hair in a short, but cute style that would limit any mess once her hair began to fall out.

It didn’t take long.

Within just a few days of treatment, her locks – one by one – began to attach themselves to her pillowcase. Then, the harsh reality of chemotherapy took its place – front and center.

Emily would often look at us and cry for help. Someone so small and so innocent had no idea why this was being done to her.  We did all we could to comfort her. We felt helpless.

If that wasn’t enough, we would then learn the incidence of leukemia in children with Down syndrome is greatly increased in comparison with the general population.

In a sit-down with our physician, he indicated that it is estimated the risk of leukemia for children under 10 years of age is increased by at least 18 times if they have Down syndrome. He told us that nearly one in a little less than 100 children with Down syndrome develops leukemia, compared with one in every 2,000 children without Down syndrome.

Wasn’t the Down syndrome enough? My gosh! I thought to myself with clenched teeth. Come on God. Can’t you give us a break? For crying out loud!





About the author:

Matt Patterson is a highly sought-after inspirational speaker, as well as an award-winning and international best-selling author.

His first published work - My Emily - has been an Amazon top-rated best-seller. This debut book has also received recognition as an award winner and finalist in the Readers Favorite Book Reviews & Awards Contest, the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, as well as the National Indie Excellence Book Awards.

Matt's background includes 20-plus years in marketing communications, public and media relations, as well as print and broadcast journalism.

In addition to speaking and writing, he volunteers his time to helping organizations and charities dedicated to assisting families with children who have special needs or those battling pediatric cancers.

To learn more about Matt and how you can bring him to speak at your next conference or event, please visit www.my-emily.com or www.mattpatterson.me.


Connect with Matt:
Website--Matt | Website--My Emily | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Twitter-My Emily

Buy the book:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

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