JOHN KERASTAS has worked at a global advertising agency, at several technology start-up companies and as a free-lance writer. Now, in addition to non-profit work, he spends his time blogging (www.johnstumor.blogspot.com), speaking and writing about brain health, brain tumors and rehab.
How did you come up with the title of your book?
“Chief Complaint: Brain Tumor,” that was the subject line in the memo from my neurosurgeon to my general practitioner. I did have a brain tumor, but the memo made it sound like I knew I had a brain tumor and that it was just one of several complaints, i.e. “I have a sprained ankle, a sore back and can you do something about this brain tumor?” As I wrote in my book, “I want the record to show that I didn’t even know that I had a brain tumor.”
What is your writing environment like?
I write in our attic which is the third floor of a three-story Victorian home. It’s quiet, has lots of windows and gives me a great view of the neighborhood. In warm weather I’m surrounded by leaves. And during frigid Chicagoland winters, I get an aerial view of snowy sidewalks and yards. Said differently, it gives me a nature-infused aura, calming “wa” without having to lug my laptop down to the Garfield Park Conservatory.
What is your favorite quote? Why?
“When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either” – Leo Burnett.
This exhortation to do your best, to aim high and think big, applies to everything I’ve done in my life. It was particularly helpful in imaging a post-brain-tumor life.
How has your upbringing influenced your writing?
My “voice” is unabashedly mid-western, colloquial and common. It is also a product of my upbringing during which my Grandmother often reminded me that “Self-praise is no recommendation.” I think she wanted to make sure that I didn’t get a big head. Ironically, I didn’t get a big head but, with the tumor, I sure got a crowded head.
What inspires you to write?
In terms of my book, I was told by an excellent rehab therapist that a good way to “move forward” was to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. It worked.
What do you consider the most challenging part about writing a novel, or about writing in general?
My greatest challenge is to stop writing like I talk. While this conversational writing style makes my writing particularly accessible, I sense that most MFA grads cringe when they read my writing.
Did you learn anything while writing this book? If so, what was it?
I learned that living in the moment, and not looking in the rear view mirror, is critical to recovering from a serious illness. The more you look in the rear view mirror and remember, or long, for what you “used” to be, the more difficult your recovery will be. I’ve met a host of survivors who are still lamenting about what they’ve “lost” – the ability to drive, their careers, their high energy levels due to lots of meds - that they’ve become perpetually cranky. That’s the one mistake I didn’t haven’t (yet) made.
What have you done to promote this book?
Not nearly enough which is why I’m looking forward to working with you.
What are some of the best tools available today for writers?
Well-written books. I try to read my favorite authors twice: once for the story and, secondly, to carefully observe their style and craft.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Much of what I’ve learned about memoir writing has come from the book Living to Tell the Tale by Jane Taylor McDonnell.