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  • Brenda Smith

Meet My Mentor - Melanie Brooks

Most authors, especially first-time authors, find mentors to guide and advise them on their writing journey. Today, I want to introduce you to a remarkable author, Melanie Brooks, who both taught and mentored me through the process of writing my book. I met Melanie on February 3rd, 2021, the first day of a writing workshop she taught online called "Unearthing Memories to Find Stories."

In the six weeks that followed, she taught our group of ten aspiring writers how to construct a meaningful memoir. In part, she shared what she learned while working on her first book, "Writing Hard Stories", for which she interviewed some of our country's most admired memoirists, documenting their treks through dark memories and breakthrough moments. Melanie learned from her conversations with these acclaimed authors how to write an honest memoir and about the healing power of putting words to experiences.

Having just started my memoir, I used so much of the advice Melanie gave us as I plodded through my first draft. When I wrote to tell Melanie I had completed the first draft of my story, she urged me to continue with the revision process and to keep in touch. Just having someone believe in you is incredibly empowering. This May, when Melanie taught another workshop on writing memoir here in Maine, I got to meet my mentor in person and spent a three-day weekend soaking up more of her wisdom as I readied my first book for publication.

In this year's workshop, Melanie shared that her second book, a memoir, "A Hard Silence" would be published in the fall, just two weeks after my book. Her story documents how, in 1985, a tainted blood transfusion received by her surgeon father during his own open-heart surgery led to a positive diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. Melanie was just 13.

Afraid of the stigma, fear and persecution associated with the condition, her father decided the family would keep his illness a secret. For ten years between the ages of 13 -23, Melanie carried the weight and heartbreaking anticipation of her father's death silently and alone.

On September 19th, Melanie came to Left Bank Books in Belfast for an author's talk and book signing. I was thrilled for the opportunity to see Melanie again and to thank her for writing a beautiful review of my book (see my website's home page). More importantly, I wanted to hear her read part of her own story aloud. She chose two excerpts: one about the day she confronted her mother to ask if her father was going to die, and a second that describes her father in exacting, often humorous, detail. Although AIDS is no longer considered a death sentence for those who contract it, there are important lessons to be learned about our human response to emergent unknown diseases and to reflect on the tardiness of meaningful research related to the AIDS outbreak. I highly recommend "A Hard Silence."

Needless to say it was a night of celebration for both of us!

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