Interview with Shari Bookstaff, author of "When Life Throws You Lemons...Make Cranberry Juice!"

Shari Bookstaff grew up in Milwaukee, WI, dreaming of becoming a marine biologist. She made it to California and is currently a biology professor, teaching at a community college near San Francisco. While her specialty is marine mammals, she recently expanded her course offerings to include a class on the human brain. Inspired by her own medical trials, Shari continues to merge her personal and professional interests.

Shari lives with her two children (and two dogs) in a small town just south of San Francisco, near the ocean. While her disabilities make life harder, she is determined to continue walking on the beach, attending concerts, and cheering at football games.

You can find more about Shari and When Life Throws You Lemons…Make Cranberry Juice on her website at

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Shari Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing professionally and how your journey led to writing your latest book, When Life Throws You Lemons...Make Cranberry Juice!?

A: I had a brain tumor removed in 2006, which was supposed to be “routine, simple, with no lasting effects.” A complication ensued, keeping me in the hospital for many months and leaving me with some life-long challenges. Through it all, my mind was clear, and I remembered everything. People, including close friends, did not know how to act around me or what to say when my world imploded. I wrote a book about my experiences with doctors, nurses, therapists, friends, and family. While my story certainly can come off as tragic, flashes of my wicked sense of humor lighten the tone of the book.

At some point during my nine-month hospital stay, I decided to write a book about my experience.

In the hospital, with nothing but my mind for company, I thought about how I would write a book. The rehabilitation center I was at specialized in brain injuries, and it was suggested to me that I write stories about the twelve patients staying there with me. My speech and physical writing skills were coming along very slowly at the time, so I wasn't up for conducting interviews.

I came home at the end of March 2007. I wasn't walking, driving, or working. Going to outpatient therapy kept me busy during the day. My kids kept me busy at night.

Writing the book started with long emails that I wrote to friends in the middle of the night. I had always been able to express my feelings better through writing than through talking--and express them I did!

By January 2009, I had read the entire Harry Potter series twice and I was ready to go back to work. I started going to an Adaptive Physical Education class at my college, helping in labs, and giving guest lectures. The busier I got, the more I did! I realized my experiences may be valuable enough to share. Those emails I wrote to friends in the middle of the night were a start. I divided my thoughts into "chapters" and got started. Once I had enough, I looked for a publisher. Publish America called me to tell me they accepted my story for publication at the beginning of 2009. Once I had a publisher (and a deadline), I set daily writing goals for myself. I went through my medical records (a two-foot high stack) and legal records for dates and names of medical procedures. I also interviewed friends to get parts of my story that I wasn't "there" for.

I finished the book in June of 2009, and it was published in October 2009.

Q: I love your title…can you tell us why you chose it?

A: Whenever someone is going through a tough time, people grasp for the “right” words. Some tell you to put your faith in God; others tell you to see the glass as half-full.

“Think positive!”

“It could be worse!”

“What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”

“God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.”

And of course: “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade”.

If I squeezed lemons into a glass, I’d have lemon juice. Who wants to drink straight lemon juice? At the very least, I need to add sugar. So, I need to take life’s lemons and add life’s sugar to it.

My favorite drink is cranberry juice mixed with lemonade. When life throws you lemons, make cranberry juice! Take life’s lemons, and add some sugar and cranberries. But where can you find life’s cranberries? While my lemons had always been large, sour, and smacking me in the face, my cranberries had always been small and elusive. I really had to pay attention to find my cranberries, and I had to be willing to recognize them. My cranberries ranged from a rub on my shoulder to a friend installing my dishwasher.

Putting a positive spin on life’s disasters doesn’t always work. This book is not about making lemonade out of lemons, but looking for and finding sugar and sweet cranberries to add to the lemons. Finding, and accepting, life’s cranberries makes the journey much more palatable.

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

A: My story is meant to inspire people to look for, and accept, positive things in life in spite of, not because of, negative things. In other words: don’t try to make lemonade out of lemons. Add sweet stuff to your lemons instead!

Q: Can you tell us the story behind your book cover? Did you choose it or did your publisher, Publish America have full control? Were you happy with the decision or did you have something else in mind?

A: The cover was designed by the publisher. It shows a “lemon” faucet dispensing cranberry juice. While I had a different cover in mind, I am happy with the concept and the design.

Q: How have you approached marketing your book? Do you have someone doing it for you or have you had to do most of the marketing yourself?

A: I would LOVE to have someone do the marketing for me. As a biologist, I know nothing about marketing. Also as a biologist (and teacher), I can’t afford one. So, I do it myself. I made a Facebook page, started writing a weekly blog, and held a book-signing.

I’ll let you know how successful this all is after my appearance on Ellen!

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

A: Most survival stories tend to be about appreciating life and realizing how the tragic event that happened was really a good thing. People say they find out who their real friends are, experience a deeper sense of faith, or in some other way describe how their life has changed for the better. My philosophy is different--I'm not trying to put a positive spin on my tragedy. My basic premise is to look for, and accept, positive things in life in spite of--not because of--negative things.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

A: I flipped to a section where I discuss people’s reactions to my condition. Many friends didn’t know what to say to me, or how to act, so they avoided me. They may have avoided me because seeing me scared people because they could no longer deny their own vulnerability. I was a healthy person. I never did drugs or smoked. I stayed in shape and had a reasonably healthy diet. I was a good person. If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.

What’s the solution? You have to read the book to find out!

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

A: I jokingly said that I could write a book called The Brain Tumor Diet and make a fortune. I’m actually considering a book that is not a “diet” book, per se, but has something for the mind, body, and soul.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Shari. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

A: I have a blog:, which I try to update weekly. I set it up to continue telling my story.

You can find me on Facebook at

An autographed copy of When Life Throws You Lemons...Make Cranberry Juice! can be purchased through the book’s website at
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