Interview with Brandi Rarus: 'Every book begins with a great story' #authorinterview

Deaf since age six after contracting spinal meningitis, Brandi Rarus could speak and read lips, but felt caught between the deaf and hearing world—fitting into neither. When she realized you don’t need to hear to live a fulfilled life, she became empowered and was chosen as Miss Deaf America. From signing the National Anthem at a Chicago Cubs game to speaking at corporate conferences, Brandi traveled the country speaking out for deaf children and building awareness of what it means to be Deaf.

She married Tim Rarus, an advocate for Deaf people whose work inspired the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. Together, they have paved the way to bring new technologies that promote equal access in communication. Brandi and Tim live in Austin, Texas, with their four children: three hearing boys and the youngest, Zoe, a Deaf girl they adopted. Today, Brandi and her family are tirelessly dedicated to ensuring all children find their rightful place in our world.

Her latest book is the biography/autobiography/personal memoir, Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman’s Story of Identity, Love, and Adoption.

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About the Book:

In Finding Zoe, Brandi Rarus shares the story of her very personal path of self-discovery and the struggle of being caught between two worlds—the hearing and the Deaf. We travel with her through her mainstreamed younger years and later on to college at The National Technical Institute for the Deaf where she embraces Deaf culture and realizes that being Deaf is not a handicap, but a passport to a whole new and exciting world.

Brandi brings us behind the scenes as she takes on the world advocating for her Deaf Community as Miss Deaf America; meeting and falling in love with Tim, a Gallaudet University student leader who later helped write the landmark Americans with Disability Act on Capitol Hill. The two married and had three hearing boys—the first non-deaf children born in Tim’s family in 125 years, but with all their blessings something was still missing.

With a powerful foreword provided by Marlee Matlin, an Academy Award-winning actress and member of the National Association of the Deaf, Finding Zoe is an inspiring recollection of how two individuals who, already bonded by their diversity, come together as an unbreakable mother-daughter pair to navigate a silent world and shed light the adoption/foster care system.

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Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

Every book begins with a great story.

My adoptive daughter was eight months old when we brought her home—and we were her fifth home.  She started losing her hearing soon after she was born. By the time she came home to us she was completely deaf—which was perfect for us because we are, too!  Yet, it pained me to think how she had gone from her birth parents to an adoptive family—who relinquished her because she was becoming deaf, into the foster care system, and then finally to us.  I was angry that she had been passed over so many times in her very short life.  I made a decision to learn everything I possibly could about her life before coming to us, so that when she was older and asked me about it, I would have the answers.

As I dove into the story, I learned that, to my surprise, she had been very loved by each of the people who had let her go. Now instead of being angry, I was in awe of those people and filled with deep gratitude for the choices they’d made, because those choices led my daughter to our home.  It was perfect!  I felt it was a great story, and wanted to share it.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

I had a great story that I knew would make a great book. However, I am not a writer, so I decided that my best approach would be to collaborate with a writer on the project. After doing my research, I placed an ad with the Editorial Freelancer’s Association. The response was overwhelming. I chose Gail Harris, who is also an adoptive mother, and an author of a self-help book. Our collaboration was stellar. Gail knew exactly what would make the story most powerful. After five years of working with her on this project, my advice to authors who want to collaborate with a writer would be: Make sure that the chemistry is right between you and your writer, and that they have a deep understanding of your story, along with the passion to go with it.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

I really wanted to go with a traditional publisher and did not want to self-publish; I didn’t have the knowledge or the time to invest in learning about it.  Although I was warned by other authors to expect rejections—from both agents and publishers—it was truly discouraging to receive so many, and at one point Gail and I seriously started to consider self-publishing. But good things come to those who wait.  We received offers from two publishers: Health Communications International (HCI) and BenBella Books, who we selected—and we could not be happier.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

Nothing surprises me more than seeing my name on the cover of a book! In spite of how long I worked on the project, and the energy I invested, seeing the finished product it in its flesh is still a bit shocking, and very fulfilling!

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

None at this time, I have not recovered from this one yet!

Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

Truthfully, between four children, a full time job, and writing a book, I have little time to hang out online!  When I do, it is on Facebook and Instagram (or for the mindless act of going shopping!)

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

My daughter’s journey into my life taught me several things. I believed that what had transpired in our story was the highest triumph of the human spirit; it was like a tapestry whose splendor couldn’t exist without all those ugly little knots and loose ends hidden on the underside. The story teaches us how love can take on many guises.  It addresses the fruitlessness of assigning blame, and how what may seem horrible up close, is beautiful from a distance. It reminds us that when we are true to ourselves, we are also being true to others.

The book also carries the message that for all of the “special needs” children out there who are waiting to be adopted, there is a perfect family for each and every one. A child who is branded as “not perfect” by one person will be perfect for another.  My daughter Zoe’s being Deaf was not right for her first adoptive family, yet beyond perfect for us.  The story also shows how critical it is for Deaf children to be exposed to sign language at birth and every day thereafter!  Zoe was very fortunate that her foster mother knew sign language, and that in the end, she was placed in a home with parents who could give her the language she needed, along with everything else.  Many deaf children aren’t that lucky.
Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

Our story shows how everything had to happen exactly as it did in just the right time for Zoe to find where she truly belonged, and for me to find the daughter I had been waiting for my entire life. Despite the heartache and pain experienced by all of the characters in the story, in the end, it worked out perfectly for everyone—especially Zoe. I hope that the story inspires others to see the perfection in their own lives, and to believe in themselves and in their dreams.

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