Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Feature: Normal, with Author Janet Bettag

Normal is the true story of the author’s survival and recovery from a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. It poignantly and humorously addresses dealing with altered self-image, finding ways around barriers, and appreciating the play of serendipity and synchronicity in our lives.

Welcome, Janet. You have a fascinating story. How long have you been writing, and how did you start?

Technically, I started writing when I was about 9 years old. I did a newsletter for a youth group of which I was a member, and I’ve been writing ever since. However, I didn’t really start writing as a profession until 2010 when I started working on Normal and contributing feature articles to a golfing magazine. Funny thing, the articles I was assigned to write were very loosely related to the sport. I wrote about charitable organizations that derived benefit from golf outings, profiled the chef at an exclusive golf club, and wrote about a studio that handcrafts knives, pens, and golf accessories. At the publisher’s request, I even did a fun piece on the best places in the metro St. Louis area to shop for holiday gifts for golfers.

How did you come up with the title of your book?

The working title of the book was Normal Is So Overrated because that’s the conclusion my brain aneurysm support group came to after much discussion. Trying to return to normal after brain trauma is like trying to eat broth with a fork…it just keeps slipping away from you. I shortened the title to Normal after the cover art was designed because I felt that word paired with the image most accurately conveyed how I felt at the start of my journey.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Not at this time. I recently retired from a municipal police department after serving for 17 years as the police chief’s administrative assistant, so I could focus on my writing.

How would you describe your book in a tweet? (140 characters or less.)

Got #brain #trauma? Read #NORMAL. True story of #author’s recovery from a #bleed. Sample here: NORMAL on Amazon

Why did you decide to write this book?

Normal is a book I tried for more than a decade not to write. Then a good friend pointed out to me that telling my story might make somebody else’s journey a little less difficult. I started reflecting on that suggestion and realized that without the support of other aneurysm survivors I might not have made such a great recovery. There’s a more complete explanation in the book, but the short version is that I wrote Normal to give support and encouragement to other survivors and their caregivers, to increase awareness of the condition, and to help raise funds in support of aneurysm research focused on patient support, early detection, and prevention of ruptures.

Excerpt from Normal:

Chapter 3 – Ghost in the Mirror

“We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”  –-Stephen R. Covey

Days and nights transposed themselves and faded one into the other. There was no distinction between dream and reality and only a thin curtain separated unconsciousness from awareness. A figure in a long, blue robe drifted across my field of vision. Were my eyes open? Was I seeing this phantasm or experiencing a fragment of some reverie?

As the fog of sleep lifted, I became acutely aware of the stranger walking silently through the room, seemingly unaware of my presence. Who are you? I arose and followed the figure down the hall and into the bathroom, but as soon as I stepped inside she vanished. Confused and frightened, I pushed aside the shower curtain. I was half expecting to hear the eerie, slashing violin notes from the Psycho shower scene and genuinely fearful of finding a maniac lurking there with a butcher knife.

The tub and shower were vacant. I was alone in the small room. Where did she go? Previously skeptical about all things paranormal, I didn't relish the possibility that I had seen a ghost; yet there seemed no other logical explanation.

While washing my hands I glanced up and caught my reflection in the mirror. I examined the cold and seemingly lifeless entity whose dull gray-green eyes stared back at me without a hint of recognition. Who are you?

The specter in the mirror was a startling and terrible vision. Staples formed a gleaming ‘C’ along a surgical wound above the left temple. A cross-stitch pattern of black sutures sealed an incision slashing across the neck. Approximately one-third of the head was shaved, exposing bare scalp. Mousy brown hair lay tangled, matted, and sinfully unwashed over the remainder. I quickly averted my gaze from this female version of Frankenstein’s monster who pretended to be me.

This was not the first time I had seen my own ghoulish reflection, but my previous glances were buffered somewhat by medications and my general lack of connection with anything outside myself. Somehow I didn’t know whether to be frightened, sad, or apathetic. That’s not me. I felt disconnected from the image staring blankly at me. Where am I? Simultaneously hoping and fearing that I would find the strange intruder, I wandered aimlessly through the house, blissfully unaware that something was amiss.

The next day I spotted the phantom again. The figure materialized in the bedroom just as I awoke. During the days that followed, she appeared to me more frequently. Eventually, she began haunting me elsewhere in the house. She never spoke to me, nor did I speak to her. I always followed her and she always vanished as though she had never really been there.

The encounters always ended the same way. I would follow her around until she entered one of the bathrooms and disappeared. It wasn’t as if she faded away. She was there one instant and gone the next. My awareness of her would dissolve the instant my eyes fixed on my own reflected image. Oddly enough, I don’t recall ever seeing the woman when there were other people present. It was as if she waited until I was alone and vulnerable to make her appearance. What had begun as curiosity became fear. Sensing some connection between the ghost and the face in the mirror, I became terrified that I was insane in addition to being brain-damaged. Thinking it was only a matter of time before I lost all concept of reality, I wasn’t about to tell anybody what I had been experiencing. In my irrational state, I was terrified that if I did so, I would be institutionalized.

About the author:

Janet Bettag is a career administrative professional and an award-winning writer. She is also a ruptured cerebral aneurysm survivor. Normal recounts with poignancy and humor the effort required to reconnect with reality and move forward in the weeks, months, and years following the life-altering event.

Her works include published magazine articles, short stories, book reviews, and paranormal fiction. Janet lives in O’Fallon, Missouri with her husband, Mike. She is currently writing a ghostly novel.

Goodreads author page