A Connecticut resident, Mandel is celebrating the re-release of her memoir, Replacement Child (Seal Press, $16), today. Mandel began her writing career as a reporter after majoring in English and Journalism and college. She later branched out into public relations and corporate marketing, where she worked for more than 20 years as a marketing director for several Fortune 100 companies. Mandel is currently a student in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton, and continues to balance her business writing with fiction, non-fiction, and articles.
Replacement Child was first self-published in 2009, and won awards from Writer’s Digest and the National Indie Excellence Awards; positive word of mouth and strong sales resulted in a traditional publishing deal. Hartford Magazine noted, “This touching take of healing and understanding explores the sometimes unconscious expectations of love.” Further, Raging Bibliomania called the book “a very powerful memoir” while The Social Frog enthused, “This is a wonderful read…It really takes you on a journey of one person’s struggle to examiner who they are and where they come from.”
From the publisher:
Judy L. Mandel was born into a family crippled by grief. But it would be years before she would discover the shocking circumstances of their loss.
Replacement Child tells the true story of a horrifying accident: A plane crashes into a family’s home, leaving one daughter severely burned and another dead. The death of the child leaves a hole in the family that threatens to tear it apart. In an attempt to fill the painful gap, the parents give birth to a “replacement child.”
In this powerful story of love and lies, family and hope, Judy L. Mandel tells the story of being the child brought into the world to provide “a salve for the burns.” As a child, she unwittingly rides the deep and hidden currents of her family’s grief—until her discovery of this family secret, years later, changes her life forever, forcing her to confront the complex layers of her relationships with her father, mother, and sister.
Now, Ms. Mandel invites readers to journey between the lines of her memoir...
1) What inspired you to write REPLACEMENT CHILD – and how did the project evolve from earlier essays to full-length manuscript?
In some ways, this book was always in the back of my mind. Growing up, the very air in our house was infused with the story. My parents put aside notes, letters and news clips about the plane crash that killed their seven-year-old daughter, and gravely injured their two-year-old in 1952, and gave them to me when I started writing in college. That material, along with all the stories they told me over the years, formed an unsaid understanding that I would someday write about the tragedy and how it defined their lives. I learned through my writing, that even though it happened before I was born, that plane crash also defined me.
It was shortly after both my parents died that I decided to write the book. I’m sure it was a way to keep them with me for a while longer, but it was also a way for me to figure out my role in the family story. I was two years into my writing and research when I came upon the term “replacement child” and felt strongly that I was indeed born to replace my sister who had died in that crash.
2) You’ve had the unique experience of self-publishing (and promoting) the book before landing a traditional publishing deal. How did your background in marketing help – and what advice would you give to aspiring writers who are looking to get noticed?
If a writer is looking for an agent, and traditional publishing deal, there are plenty of books out there about how to write a query letter and proposal. If there are no takers after a period of time that you think reasonable, you may want to consider small independent publishers or self-publishing. In my case, I was convinced that there were people who would want to read Replacement Child, and who would benefit from my story, and so I formed my own imprint for the book. My marketing background, hiring designers and other vendors, gave me the tools to tackle the production. I also had experience in promotion. But, I have to add that book marketing is totally different than anything I had done before and I had much to learn! There is still a great deal for me to learn. My last bit of advice is to be persistent with either publishing path you decide to take.
3) Tell us about the unique aspects of writing memoir. How did you set about recapturing old memories – and was it difficult to balance candor with discretion in telling your story?
I think one unique aspect of writing memoir is a sense of responsibility to be truthful in the telling. Many times I questioned whether to include certain things that my parents would not necessarily have wanted in the book. My criteria was to leave in those scenes or information that illuminated the essence of our family dynamic, my parents’ struggle to recover from losing a child, to save their marriage, to rebuild a semblance of normalcy while also dealing with another somewhat disabled child. It was also important to me to define my experience as a replacement child.
4) It’s been said that expression is catharsis. Have you found this to be true? How has your own understanding of self and family changed throughout the process of writing this book?
I would agree with expression being catharsis, but I also like to point out that catharsis is not necessarily transformed into art. Writing, I believe, is that transformation, which I can only hope I have achieved in this book. That said, I learned a great deal about the nature of my family and myself, including my epiphany of being a replacement child. The research and writing led to meeting other replacement children and realizing that our ranks are many and diverse: from adoptive families, to holocaust survivors and their children, to children who survive any tragedy or accident and become a kind of replacement for the one who was killed.
As I delved deeper into my father’s experience, I gained an understanding of the man that I never would have had otherwise. I visualized his run home at the news of the plane crash, seeing it blasted apart and in flames, his wife and baby whisked away to the hospital and then waiting for hours and hours before his older daughter was found in the ashes. As it does in many cases, that understanding of his pain was the foundation for forgiveness.
5) You write in a variety of styles and genres in addition to memoir. How do these experiences in craft influence one another – and what do you find to be helpful in achieving balance?
There are basic elements of good writing that transcend style. Figuring out how to enter a topic or creative story, for example, is as important in journalism and marketing as it is in fiction and memoir. My business writing encompasses a great deal of research, organization and fact checking, skills that come in handy for other forms as well.
With thanks to Judy Mandel for her generosity of time and thought.
Ms. Mandel will be making an appearance at Barnes & Noble in West Hartford (Blue Back Square) on Saturday, March 23rd, at 2 pm, to sign Replacement Child. The bookstore is located at 60 Isham Rd. Call for more information: 860-236-9900.
Readers wishing to learn more about Replacement Child can visit www.replacementchild.com.