Update on 1/19/19: My memoir, Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival, and Transformation, can be pre-ordered now. It is a #1 new release in several categories. I would love it if you helped me make near-death experiences more mainstream.
Comparable Titles: Part of the publishing journey is figuring out where your book fits in amidst many published books. Since this is my first manuscript, I want to share my writing and publishing journey with students and others. I completed the first draft of my memoir Healed at the end of the summer, and I am working on my second, third, and fourth revisions.
Angels in the OR is not just a near-death experience story; it is a tough, raw, honest portrayal of my survival, relationships, teaching experiences, and my eventual triumph over trauma. One of the many themes of the book is how the lessons from a near-death experience can benefit many people and assist in their healing.
The Joy and the Agony of Writing: I’ll be honest—writing a longer work like this has proven exhilarating. Revising and rewriting entire sections or scenes of a manuscript is challenging, but even the challenges can be important lessons. While writing this memoir, I’ve learned how to tell the truth gracefully and what parts to emphasize or eliminate. Crafting the story and jumping around in time was one of my favorite parts of the revision process.
When I felt bummed about the many revisions, my editor reminded me that Jeanette Walls revised her lovely memoir The Glass Castle eight times. I can only pray that my writing will occasionally be as lovely as Jeanette Wall’s prose.
Writing a manuscript is not a quick, easy task, especially when you work full-time; nonetheless, it is a labor of love. Writing is often an obsession for those of us who stick with it. As Charles Bukowski says in the poem “So You Want to Be a Writer,” “unless it comes out of / your soul like a rocket, / unless being still would / drive you to madness or/ suicide or murder, / don’t do it. / unless the sun inside you is / burning your gut, / don’t do it.”
Despite warnings like these, many English majors and others continue to dream of writing a memoir, novel, or screenplay. Years ago, I hoped my first book might be a book of poetry or categorized as literary fiction. However, when National Geographic interviewed me about my near-death experience, I realized that the brief blurb featured in their magazine did not capture the complexity of my journey, and I knew I had to write this book. I’ve never tried to sell a manuscript before, and I hope my process might benefit students and others in their writing journey.
Themes: My memoir echoes themes from many books besides books about near-death experiences, but the beginning and ending of the book clearly centers around my near-death experience. Much of the middle of the book deals with the aftereffects of an NDE and my mission from the afterlife. Some of the titles listed below are more inspirations than comparable titles, but when I explain my book these are the titles that come to mind.
Though my NDE was a life changing event, I wrote Angels in the OR mainly to help spread good energy into the world, and to help others heal from personal wounds, not to become a definitive source of NDEs.
Near-Death Experience Comparisons:
Dying to Wake Up: A Doctor’s Voyage into the Afterlife by Dr. Rajiv Parti (2016) published by Atria Books: Though I did not experience hell or past lives during my NDE like Dr. Parti, I identified with several themes in his book. Before his NDE, Dr. Parti’s primary motivation was materialism. Material success was a drive before my NDE, and when God told me to return to my life and work as a teacher I struggled with the idea. However, I found that the divine light’s mission was exactly right for my life. Teaching and serving others healed me and expanded my life in ways I never could have imagined. In Dying to Wake Up, Dr. Parti briefly discusses his struggle with addiction. A commitment to health and wellness is present in several chapters of my memoir. Energetic healing helped me address anxiety and PTSD, the after-effects of rape. Like Dr. Parti, I am motivated to help others find greater spiritual, emotional, and physical health in their lives.
Dying to be Me by Anita Moorjani (2012) published by Hay House: Anita Moorjani’s story is inspirational and exceptional. Like Moorjani, I saw angels sending healing light through my surgeons. I was losing feeling in my left leg before surgery, but I regained complete feeling in that leg after my surgery. These beautiful light beings wanted me to know that they were there to assist and help. They also wanted me to be aware that they could work through me in the future, and that they work through many others on the planet. Moorjani’s message of self-love and listening to one’s intuition is one that I discuss at the end of my memoir. Of all the near-death experiencers, her loving message is one that I resonate with the most. She also addresses women’s roles in society. I clearly address rape culture in my book, and the importance of healing from toxic backgrounds.
Lucky by Alice Sebold (2002) published by Little, Brown and Company: Lucky is a searing memoir about a rape that occurred when Alice Sebold was a freshman in college. The book examines how rape affected her friendships, her relationships with her family, her identity, her attempts at romance, and her sense of safety in the world. These areas of my life also became challenging after I was raped. The aftereffects of rape, stalking, and harassment extend for years, and I cover these aftereffects in the second half of my book. PTSD and sexual trauma is profoundly painful and can even threaten to diminish the light of an experience as profoundly beautiful as a near-death experience. As Sebold says, “You save yourself, or you remain unsaved.”
Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (2005) published by Scribner: Frank McCourt became the hero of many English teachers and professors when his first book Angela’s Ashes came out. Like McCourt, I experienced neglect and poverty as a child. My favorite sections to write in this manuscript were the sections about my teaching experiences. I went into the teaching field fully believing that God and the angels might work through me, and the love and hope that I had for my students transformed my life in ways I could never have imagined. Their journeys taught me much about myself and helped me find the courage to heal my wounds. Their successes became my success. I can tell that McCourt enjoyed writing about his moments in the classroom and including stories about his students.
Second Sight by Dr. Judith Orloff: I list this book because Dr. Judith Orloff felt more comfortable incorporating her intuitive gifts into her practice as a psychiatrist. Directly after my NDE, I feared my intuitive gifts and didn’t want to be labeled a psychic, intuitive, or medium. Using guidance in the classroom as a teacher felt perfectly natural, and I never labeled this type of guidance. I simply helped the students I could help and opened myself up to assistance from the other side.
When I received a message from God that my contract as a teacher/professor was completed and that I could do “whatever I wanted to do” (even continue to teach if I wished), my mind raced in various directions. I wondered if my contract was up because I might die soon. This made me want to write my story in case I didn’t have much time on this earth; I wanted others to know the lessons from my near-death experience.
Eventually, I realized I probably had more time on the earth, and if I applied the same principles I learned during my NDE to any work, all will be well. In other words, work to inspire and help others grow.
Comparable Titles: Many unknown writers make the mistake of comparing their manuscripts to great books which have sold millions of copies and that is not my intent. I thought about adding Why be Happy When You Could be Normal by Jeanette Winterson to the list of inspirations mainly for her examination of dysfunctional parents and a difficult childhood, but this is mainly covered in one or two chapters of the book.
Of course, I’m also tempted to compare my book to Wild by Sheryl Strayed , but I didn’t hike the PCT to overcome my personal struggles. I know that nature has the power to heal us, and her story is a great testimony of this truth. My near-death experience was the awakening that I needed to eventually find my way to greater healing, and my memoir is an attempt to bare my soul in the hope that readers might relate, connect, deepen their own healing journey, and perhaps find the courage to share their own stories.