Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
As you know I love to share inspirational midlife stories where women over 50 follow their dreams. Today Julie Ryan McGue who was adopted when young talks about the path to writing her memoir which details how a health scare led her on an amazing search for her birth relatives
Tell us a little about yourself
I am an identical twin. My sister and I were adopted at three weeks old and raised together. By the time I was thirteen, my parents had adopted again–this time a boy–and after that they conceived three biological children. We were a blended family, and I never sensed that my folks played favorites. I always knew I was adopted and that I was loved. Researching my adoption was not an idea I seriously entertained until I was a parent and experiencing health issues.
I was born in Chicago and raised in the western suburbs. I received my BA in Psychology from Indiana University (my twin sister attended IU also) and received a Master’s in Marketing from the Kellogg Graduate School of Business at Northwestern University.
My husband and I split our time between Northwest Indiana and Sarasota, Florida. If I’m not at my computer writing, I’m playing tennis or out for a walk with my Nikon. I have four adult children and my grandsons call me Lulu.
When did you start to write?
I have been a consistent journaler all my life. In fact, I drew upon those journals when I was writing my memoir, Twice A Daughter, which will be released this spring. When I was in college, my English professor tried to get me to change my major from Psych to English, but I was not to be persuaded. I wanted to understand people, their personalities and motivations! While I raised my children, I continued to write in my journal, but those stories never saw the light of day. When I was in my forties, I began taking writing courses at the University of Chicago. It was then that I set up my author website and started to blog. That Girl This Life is the space where I write about finding out who you, where you belong, and making sense of it. My other essays focus on family and life’s quirky moments. The pandemic has been a bonanza. It provided oodles of time and rich material to muse about.
What have been the challenges for you?
The main obstacle I faced was in getting published. Once I wrote my first paid column for my local paper, other assignments flowed in. In writing my memoir, I was challenged by deciding where to begin, what to leave out, and whether to write fiction or fact. I selected memoir because I felt the truths of my story would benefit all those touched by adoption. The last hurdle was selecting a publishing route for my book: traditional, self-published, or hybrid. I liked the freedom associated with the hybrid model. As an author, I got a choice in the title, cover and book layout, as well as choosing my publicity campaign. These things mattered to me, and I believe I made the best choice for this book.
What did you do prior to this?
Prior to this late-in-life writing career, I was deeply involved in my children’s lives. Three of my children played collegiate sports, and I enjoyed every minute of participating in those adventures. I also renovated two historic homes in the western suburb of Hinsdale, Illinois. My restoration efforts earned both homes a place on the National Registry of Historic Places.
What is the title of your book and when will it be published?
The publication date for Twice a Daughter: A Search for Identity, Family, and Belonging is May 11, 2021.
What was the inspiration behind your latest book?
When I was 48, I had a breast biopsy, and it became clear that it was time to research my closed adoption and get some family medical history. Twice a Daughter is the story of the five-year search for my birth relatives. To accomplish that task, I needed the support of my twin sister and adoptive parents, and to cross the finish line I used a search agency, adoption agency, a social worker, a confidential intermediary, a PI, a judge, and a genealogist.
While I was going through the experience of locating my birth relatives, many friends would say, “You’ve got to write this!” But really it was the many adoptees and birth parents I met through my post-adoption support group that urged me to write Twice a Daughter. In a sense, it is their story, too. The adoption search experience is complicated and unique to each adoptee or birth parent. Those outside our little triangle can’t know what it feels like to experience the loss of identity and separation from first families. This book rose from that support community and it is dedicated to them. We all deserve to know where we come from and decide where we belong.
What can you share with us about some of the main themes of the book?
Twice a Daughter is about mothers and daughters, secrets and lies, love and disappointment, joy and loss, rejection and belonging, and finding peace through acceptance and forgiveness.
How do you hope readers over 50 will relate to these themes?
Closed adoption became popular after WWII until the 1980s when open adoption gained prevalence. Because of that timeline, I believe my target audience is in the heart of the closed adoption experience. This age group will know someone who is adopted, was/is a birth parent and/or an adoptive parent. The life experiences of this age group will immediately become involved in my story. Even though this is memoir, because of the plot lines, it reads more like fiction.
Are there any key issues you wanted to draw attention to?
Adoption is complicated and every adoptee’s experience is different. By reading my memoir, it is my hope that readers will better understand the adoption experience, and that they will empathize with the role that each member of the adoption triangle plays in the equation. At the core of the adoption controversy is the clash between the right to know and the right to privacy. It is important to understand both perspectives.
What is your writing process?
An idea is usually percolating in my head. I let my writer’s brain toss it around for a while like a game of catch, and then when it lands hard, I start typing on my computer. Sometimes the idea hasn’t gelled completely, and I get stuck. That’s when I do a 20-minute meditation or talk a walk. I either come back from those experiences with a clear angle into the piece, or I put the essay away and write something else. Patience is something I take seriously when determining the right approach to a chapter, essay, or blog. I have scores of unfinished ideas and every so often I return to them to mine them for a fresh piece.
What’s next for you?
Like most authors, I have several projects going at once. I have a novel I started before I wrote my memoir, Twice a Daughter, and I plan to go back to it. The main character is an intermediary, a genealogical detective, who researches and connects folks separated from their first family by adoption or foster care. I’m envisioning that this will be a series. Right now, I am knee-deep into a coming-of-age memoir about what it was like to grow up as an adoptee and a twin. The title is still under review, but the subtitle will have something about secrets and sisterhood. Thanks to Covid and my course with Kim Brooks at Story Studio, my new memoir should be complete by late summer. I also want to take my That Girl This Life blogs and reformat them into a book.
What 3 tips would you offer women looking to write their first book?
Figure out your process and set aside weekly writing time. I write every morning at 5 am so that I can balance my family life and exercise (I play a lot of tennis-the competition is a great release.). I often write for a second session later in the day after a meditation. I always take a day off. That reset clears my brain so that I can look at my projects in a fresh way. Take a class, find a mentor, and figure out the path to publishing that works for you and your book. Never give-up.