Back in 2005 I had experienced several miscarriages and decided to try in vitro fertilization. That didn’t work, but for the first time my blood type was officially confirmed, B-positive. I knew from my late mother’s kidney-pancreas transplant she was O-positive, and I had my dad’s military dog tags, which read A-positive. Generally, basic biology would suggest A plus O does not equal B, so I embarked on what turned out to be a four-year search to figure out who my daddy was – and, like the joke about the dowager spending $3,000 to dig up her family history, and then $10,000 to bury it, I decided to have fun with the story and fictionalize it.
Why did you fictionalize your story?
To protect the innocent, the guilty, and the guilt-ridden. I was squeamish about some elementary school student having to deal with news about grandpa’s date 50 years earlier. The fictionalization also provided more freedom to delve into deeper truths without having to worry about embarrassing anyone. When I was in the television news business, I recall a conversation about how sometimes you have to stage things to make them appear more real.
So why did you write Who’s Your Daddy, Baby?
When my blood type was confirmed and I was told the Dad I always had known could not possibly be my biological father, I couldn’t resist pursuing what has turned out to be a bewildering, yet enlightening journey. So many funny things happened during my magical mystery tour of odd situations, and I learned so much about some quirky medical issues, I felt compelled to write about my experience. Several doctors and people who have been involved in adoption issues encouraged me to publish my story. I hope my experience can help others by shedding light on some timely, relevant issues, and readers can enjoy a few laughs along the way.
What were some of the funny things that happened along the way?
Well, there’s nothing quite like contacting a 70-some-year-old man and effectively asking him about a date 50 years ago. There were some amusing evasions, flat-out lies, and genuine memory issues. One guy a bit down on his luck swore he was in class with my mother at schools she never attended. He enjoyed the Eggs Benedict at an elegant old hotel and thanked me for treating him to fine dining he hadn’t experienced in a long, long time. But I think the funniest thing still has to be the conversation that awakened my consciousness on my paternity issue. When discussing my family medical history with the fertility specialist and noting my parents’ blood types, he said, in a lovely French accent, “I senk you better senk about zee milkman.” My husband and I roared with laughter then, and still chuckle about it. When I asked the doctor about
blood type mutations, he repeated himself, “I still senk you better senk about zee milkman.” We’ve had quite a bit of fun with that line.
It appears you have indeed been having fun with that line. Isn’t it in your music video, The Ballad of Who’s Your Daddy, Baby?
Yes, it’s part of the refrain for The Ballad of Who’s Your Daddy, Baby?– a bluesy rocker I wrote with several professional musician friends, including my buddy Ken Sparks. The video features kids performing to exquisite vocals by my friend Megan Basile, and a stunning guitar riff by musician Tom Saputo. Special thanks also to our Elvis, Lee Radek, for helping out on backup vocals. It’s a fun video, as is Nothin’ Butt a Mutt, another bluesy original, this time featuring puppies and kittens reading Who’s Your Daddy, Baby? We’re having a blast with Who’s Your Daddy, Baby? With a title like that, how could we not? My husband, the self-styled Agent Provocateur, Jon-re-Pell, has been dressing the part with wild purple outfits in tribute to the Purple King character featured in the first chapter. You can pronounce Jon’s nom-de-plume any way you like, depending on whether you enjoy this genre of literature, or you’re repelled by his outfits. You can check out some of his antics on Facebook. I’ve also produced some video excerpt readings featuring a Scottish trunk my ancestors brought to America in the early 1700s. Another features some paintings I did to illustrate the Purple King. And a video on some love letters my mother received has some amusing sound effects. Other videos may come later.
How long did it take you to write the book?
It took about three years of evenings and weekends to turn my search journal into a novel others might want to read. But I began my quest for the truth behind my biological identity in 2005, so I shudder to think this has been a seven year process.
What are the key messages you want to impart to readers?
Who’s Your Daddy, Baby? is a fun novel, but it’s not fluff.
In some ways, it’s a medical mystery. Readers will learn more about the fallibility of half-siblingship DNA testing, problems with blood type testing/mutations, the impact of several genetic mutations, and the dangers of in vitro fertilization.
It’s a family saga. This story is about Appalachian families with American roots stretching back before the French and Indian War, and a baby being created. To borrow from the Rock ‘n’ Roll-speak of that rockin’ time period for me – Who’s Your Daddy, Baby?
What advice would you give to people searching for biological relatives?
Know yourself and your biological heritage, but remember, your search isn’t necessarily all about you. Try to be considerate of others who may have been in tough situations, or may not know anything at all about you. Remember you may be rocking the worlds of many people – from parents and potential step-parents, to potential siblings and other family members. They may not, at least initially, be happy to see you. Be careful. You could be stepping into a mess you are better off avoiding. People may have had good reasons for keeping you away from certain situations. Don’t be too aggressive, or appear bitter, or interested in someone else’s money. Most people try to be helpful once they are comfortable you are not trying to take advantage of them or their relatives or friends, but you probably also will run into a few jerks. Don’t let the smarmy ones distract you. Try to be grateful for your situation, whatever it may be. Keep your cool and maintain your spirit. Some circumstances may add up to mere coincidence, and the further people travel from memories, the less stable those memories become – as a function of the passage of years, some may end up being flat-out wrong.
What advice would you give to adoptive parents about children searching for biological parents?
Be kind, understanding, supportive, and try to maintain a sense of humor. Curiosity about something so innate to your being as your biology is natural. But keep loving, and maintain the patience that likely played a part in you choosing to be a parent. I know of many cases where adoptive children felt compelled to seek out their biological heritage and became even more grateful for their adoption.
In your novel you talk about several characters being adopted, but each handled it differently. Why did you feel compelled to search?
I guess it’s the family obsession with genealogy and inherited hard-headedness, along with an appreciation for adventure and an intellectual challenge. It seemed fascinating and amusing on one level, and somewhat frightening on another. As the doctor daughter of one of my potential paternity contenders told me, it’s important to know your family medical history. Many potentially serious, or even fatal, conditions can be treated if you know about them in time. The search forced me to pay more attention to my health, and has made me more appreciative of the family I know.
What advice would you give to parents or others who might be contacted by biological children or other relatives they don’t know?
It may sound trite, but try to be nice. Investigate and protect yourself from scam artists and nutcases, but be as open as possible. Once you are confident the person is the real deal, provide information. Don’t play games. Don’t be a coward. It’s not the child’s fault he or she is curious. Avoiding the inquiring progeny can be more infuriating than outright rejection, and it probably is not a good idea to make an enemy of the inquirer (or most other people, for that matter). In what can be a bittersweet process, you don’t have to bring an unknown child, sibling, or other relative into your life, but you and your family might be better for it. Try not to appear overly self-absorbed. Most people understand you and/or the relative(s) in question are not the only people who ever have made mistakes, and there are worse things to have done than help create a human being who is loved by others. Depending on the circumstances, for the previously unknown parent, the people who love you may be more forgiving than you might expect when it comes to acknowledging your child. Of course, that presumes you are a loving, lovable person. Yes, it probably won’t be easy, but most important, enduring positive influences in life are not always easy. Whatever the circumstances, the child is your legacy, whether you know it, acknowledge your blood relative, or not. Also, remember the inquiring child has rights too, and you and/or your family really don’t want to make any demands of someone you gave to someone else to raise, or failed to support, even if you may not have known of this progeny.
For biological parents searching for a long-lost child, don’t be cruel. Think hard about your motives in disrupting the lives of your child and his or her adoptive family. If you make any commitments, keep them. Try to avoid what may be seen as rejecting someone twice, and do your best to safeguard your new-found progeny from complications with your family.
For anyone involved with contact from a long-lost relative, try to stay flexible and patient, unless someone becomes abusive, and then you may need to protect yourself. But in general, judging from the stories of most of the people I know, situations may change for the better after the initial awkwardness and people become more comfortable with one another. Of course, that is the optimist in me, and every situation is innately unique.
What advice would you give to parents about a child questioning his or her biology?
Stay calm. Honestly and fully explore the questions with your child, especially if your progeny is old enough to understand the complications of sex. Don’t leave questions unanswered. Those unanswered questions may haunt someone long after you are gone.
What advice would you give to people about saving old love letters? And conversely, to people who find them?
As my late grandfather used to say, don’t write anything down anywhere you could not live with being published on the front page of a newspaper. If you don’t want someone finding letters, destroy them, although I must add, you may be throwing away pieces of family history that might be deeply appreciated by others someday. I feel more blessed every day my mother saved her letters, allowing me a glimpse into her life before I was born.
If you find old love letters, remember, you are only seeing the writer’s perception in any particular letter, and just because someone saved old love letters does not necessarily mean he or she was trying to leave some sort of coded message for posterity. Don’t presume the Da Vinci Code. The existence of old love letters may mean someone simply never threw away any personal letters, which have become more of a treasure in the electronic age.
My vote is for saving letters, and savoring their content in warmly reflective moments after the parties involved have passed, when the mere sight of a person’s handwriting or words written about him or her bring a spirit you are missing back to life, even if only briefly in your mind.
Would you recommend in vitro fertilization?
I never would want to tell anyone not to pursue dreams of becoming a parent, but be careful. It is a painful, expensive process. Pay attention to potential side effects. I never would have subjected myself to the ordeal if I suspected my family had a history of cancer. I would not recommend it for women over the age of 42, unless you are dealing with donor eggs of a twenty-something relative. A woman has lost half her eggs by the time she reaches 33, and that void reportedly causes the remaining eggs to deteriorate more rapidly. My procedure didn’t work out, for a variety of reasons, but I don’t regret going through it, even though I’m living with the side effect of a migrainous vertigo disorder that at times has been debilitating. The knowledge I gained through the process led me to meet people I otherwise would not have met, who I like, and I continue to enjoy other intriguing, fulfilling experiences, like writing a novel a mainstream publisher is enthusiastic about publishing. I likely would have regretted not trying in vitro fertilization.
Would you recommend half-siblingship DNA testing?
Only as a last resort, if you cannot find DNA from a prospective parent. And then I would say, don’t get your hopes up. I would not recommend it for people whose families have lived in an isolated area for generations, or who have many documented cases of inter-marriage in their background. For people with diverse backgrounds, it may or may not work for you, and I wish you the best.
You discuss people with diverse backgrounds. Tell us more about the Melungeons of Appalachia – were there any surprises there for you in your research?
Yes, there were some surprises. Genealogists in my family began talking about Melungeons back in the 1970s and 1980s, when my late mother was found to have Mediterranean blood platelets, despite generations of documented northern European ancestry. The term Melungeon appears to have been derived from the French word “mélange,” translated as mixture. My family discussed a legend that had Mountain folk mingling with bands of Portuguese sailors chased from the more established eastern English settlements after shipwrecks off the Carolina coast back in the 1700s or thereabouts. My grandmother dismissed the theory, which might have suggested some extra-marital impropriety amongst her ancestors, although my mother’s dark hair and olive-toned skin were classic Melungeon. My mom and late aunt decided Mom’s Mediterranean genes must have been a hangover from the Norman conquest of England.
Melungeons also came to refer to the mixing of white northern Europeans with Native American tribes. My sister, with her straight black hair and deep brown skin, looks like she could have hailed from a Cherokee reservation, but her green eyes suggest Melungeon. Now this is where the story becomes even more fascinating. Later studies, including an article by a college professor of mine, entitled “Verry Slitly Mixt, ” suggest many long-time American families are more of a racial mix than they likely have contemplated. Genealogical records have come a long way with more computerization, and now, with cross referencing of more and more electronic family records, it appears many of the mysterious Melungeons have some African roots. Back in colonial days, especially in the wilderness of Appalachia, there apparently was quite a bit of mixing between escaped slaves (many of whom may have come from those Portuguese shipwrecks), and Native Americans, and white northern Europeans. People may not have told the full truth back then, fearing what, at the time, could have been a dangerous classification. During my fertility testing, I learned I have a rare genetic mutation present in only one percent of the population, which is more prevalent among African Americans. I don’t know what happened there, but I think it makes my life more interesting. I would love to know more about that potential aspect of my ancestry, but documentation from the pre-computer age would be tough to find. Not that it should matter anyway. As Biblical and evolutionary theories have noted, we are all one people, and many agree the melting pot has made America stronger.
What would your mother think of this book?
When I was in my twenties, my mother told me I should write a book someday. Back then I told her I couldn’t think of anything to write about. Little did my mother know I would write a book about her dating life long after she was gone. I guess that lends credence to the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for!”
Did you ever find your daddy?
Well, ease our suspense. Who is he?
Ah, but suspense is a main point in writing this work of fiction. There are clues in the book. To move the plot along I compressed events and amalgamated several characters and situations. But my perception of the truth is reasonably depicted, except for the last chapter. If you stop just before the last chapter, you pretty much have my true-life story.
Do you think it is fair to the parents who raised you not to tell us the ending, or to have even told this story, fictional or not, at all?
Well, like life in general, nothing about this situation has been particularly fair, but we deal with it. My mom and dad loved and love me unconditionally, always wanted me to be happy and successful. My dad told me he was relieved to talk about this situation with me, and is enjoying my success. My mother’s sacrifices for me knew no bounds, and I know she would be happy I wrote a novel intriguing enough to be published, even if it was somewhat at her expense. I think she might actually have had a hearty laugh about it. She smiled when my sister told her someone should write a book about her life. But who knows, she might rise from her ashes and smack me, although, she hasn’t done so yet, and this has been in the works for several years now. The better question here might be whether it would be fair to possibly spoil the story for readers by prematurely revealing the ending, or, outside of the book, by prematurely revealing my own search results.
What is in your future as an author?
I was working on a trilogy of novels when I became distracted by Who’s Your Daddy, Baby? In a year or so, look for the first novel in a series called Distortions. It’s about a woman convicted of a murder she didn’t commit, an amazing Rock ‘n’ Roll performer, and a character with ties to a few Presidents, in a parody of Earth far in the future on another planet.
What advice can you give aspiring authors?
Write, then edit, then edit about 10 more times before you ever show anyone anything you have written. Make sure it is as perfect as you can make it before you have a professional review it. Try to be as clear as possible in your writing and avoid mundane details and story lines. Bare your soul, but try to make your book as interesting as possible to others. Speaking of others, if you haven’t built up a social media network yet, you are way behind. With hundreds of thousands of books published every year, it’s tough to be noticed. Build up Facebook friends, maintain professional connections on LinkedIn, reach new people through Twitter, pin products on Pinterest. There’s also Google+, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, and probably several I’ve missed, with more to come. It’s all about connecting with the world. Network – you’ll come across valuable information to improve your story and help you market it later. And keep reading! As others have said, if you’re not reading, you’re probably not writing worth a damn. Learn from the masters.