A conversation with Author Leslie Lawrence

 In Blog

Leslie Lawrence was the founder of a marketing and advertising agency in Western Mass before she retired to volunteer and help others in her community in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. A colleague connected me to Leslie because she had written—and taken the photographs for—her pictorial memoir, I’m a lucky woman: A Photographic Memoir of a Breast Cancer Survivor, which tells the story of Leslie’s journey with breast cancer.

Leslie was already in the design phase of her book, which is raw, honest, and innovative. (I highly recommend it.) So, my role in working with her was to develop a website to market the book and create a PR strategy. I enlisted the help of my longtime editorial assistant and right-hand woman, Shannon Grossman, to help with the back end of the site, and I focused on creating content and drafting a press release and media kit. Leslie launched her book in the fall at a reading in Springfield, Massachusetts, that was as well-attended by the media as it was by those interested in hearing her message. I knew from her book that Leslie was bright and full of hope and gratitude, and those traits spilled forth in her excellent presentation. What follows is a conversation my colleague Lynn Moynahan had with Leslie. Her book is available here.

What inspired you to write a memoir?

I never had any intention of writing a book. I’m not a writer by trade, but I am a shutterbug with a passion for taking photos. I was coming up on my five- year cancer free milestone and started looking through all the photos I had taken throughout my breast cancer journey. It was at that moment that I realized my photos had inherently chronicled my first-hand experience from my breast cancer diagnosis up to my five-year cancer-free milestone.

I initially wrote the book for myself. I culled through all the photos to select those that were most representative of my experience and wrote short paragraphs to accompany them. It was after sharing snippets of what I had written with others that I came to realize that my body of work could be helpful and hopeful for other women going through a similar journey. The book evolved from there.

What is your goal in publishing?

My primary goal is to provide hope and comfort to those recently diagnosed with breast cancer and show family and friends what to expect and how to interact with their loved one going through it.  

My memoir is dedicated to my mother, Isabel Lawrence, who was a breast cancer survivor herself. Back in 1972, she agreed to share her breast cancer story with her surgeon’s patients to help them face their illness with hope. She was an inspiration to many, especially to me. I’m hoping my memoir will help other breast cancer patients as well. 

How would you describe your book?

You hear and read a lot about breast cancer but until you’ve gone through it, you really don’t know what to expect. My book is a photographic memoir that chronicles my firsthand experience as a breast cancer survivor from diagnosis to my five-year cancer-free milestone.

What role did the photos play in writing your book?

They drove the bus! It’s the photographs that tell the story. They provide an inside look at life after a cancer diagnosis. You can see it in my eyes. The fear, uncertainty but you also see and read about laugh out loud moments, sheer joy and most important relief when I reached my five-year cancer free milestone.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing about your breast cancer journey, and how did you navigate it?

I cried more writing it than I did going through my experience. I’ve been a controlling person all my life. I had to give up control after my diagnosis. I was stoic.  I faced my breast cancer head on. The whole experience of writing about it was cathartic. I had to take it in small doses. I would usually write a passage to accompany one of the photos later in the evening and let it sit on my computer overnight. There were numerous times I was brought to tears reliving the memories. In the morning, I had a fresh start to edit and refine without the intense emotion. 

What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?

The power of positive thinking in getting through not only a bad situation but life itself, the impact from small gestures of kindness and the importance of real friends. 

What suggestions do you have for someone writing their memoir or who wants to write it but doesn’t know where to start?

Start small. Think about an event in your life that had a profound effect on you. Try writing a paragraph or two about why it was significant, the way you felt when it happened, and why you think it would be of interest to others. Build on it one event, one paragraph at a time. Get your ideas out there. There will be plenty of time to organize, edit and refine. It’s the ideas that will fuel your writing … tell your story from your heart.

What would you like readers of Janice’s blog to know about you and your book?

Because I knew very little about creating a website and always had the jitters thinking about communicating with the press, I sought Janice out for her expertise in both arenas. It was a pleasure and comfort to work with her. She is professional and easy going. She’s a fabulous writer herself and was brilliant in drafting the copy for my website and directing her associate to pull it all together with an exceptionally well-designed website. My favorite line of hers is “A Cancer Story Like No Other.” That headline captured the essence of my book, and I will be forever grateful to her for coming up with it. 

She is also a whizbang at public relations, not only writing press releases, but knowing who to send them to, and following up so that on the day of my first book talk, her public relations plan garnered articles in two local newspapers and drew two local TV stations to the event. A PR coup for sure.

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