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Meet Carolyn Boyles

09 Mar Posted by in Member Interviews | 3 comments

 

This month we get to spend some time getting to know Carolyn Boyles.  Carolyn is a remarkable woman with an amazing story to tell.

Jamie, I’ll meet you next week and pay you the money I owe you for writing this intro about me. In all seriousness, thank you for these wonderful words. I believe I have been best described by a former co-worker who said that I take my work very seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously at all.

First of all Carolyn, can you tell us a little bit about what led you to become a writer?

This short question has a long answer for me because you need some background. I do not mean anything I say in this answer to be interpreted as bragging because I’m not that kind of person. But there are some facts relevant to my answer which are going to sound like it.

I am an only child. My father was a Professor of English Literature with an international reputation. My mother taught grade school before she retired to have children, as was the societal expectation in the day. My parents were sticklers for good grades, especially in English. So I started writing very young. I always enjoyed writing. In fact, I write at the same desk that was in my bedroom as a young child.

I wrote on and off through high school. When I went to the University of Illinois for my bachelor’s degree, I chose to take two semesters of Speech Communication rather than two semesters of English rhetoric. The English department there did not have a good reputation, or I might have gone for an English degree. But I had gotten a four-year tuition free scholarship to that university, so that’s where I went.

The Speech Communication instructor I had did not like my writing. My grades were consistently Cs. I had my father critique my papers at the end of each semester and my father, who was always honest, said my writing was much better than the instructor had ever given me credit for. My father would never tell me anything nice just because I was his daughter when it came to his area of expertise. He felt it wasn’t doing me any favors in the long run.

That experience with the Speech Communication instructor left a bad taste in my mouth when it came to writing and I stopped writing completely, except for what was required in college and on the job in later years.

In 1994, I was in the auto accident which left me with a spinal cord injury and a traumatic brain injury. The evaluation of my brain injury said I would never be anything but a housewife again, because I couldn’t function at any higher a mental level. It was absolutely true as to the level of functionality I had. My family was concerned if I drove myself away from the house whether or not I would remember where I lived. I was incapable of performing anything other than basic tasks. I could still dress myself with difficulty, wash dishes, etc.

I wasn’t satisfied with that as an answer (functioning only as a housewife) so I worked at putting myself back together physically and mentally. I got a job as a Receptionist. I was pretty sure I could answer a phone and take messages. It took two years between the time of the accident and the time I started looking for a job for me to be able to physically go to a job and function well enough.

I had been serving as an Advisor to University Vice Presidents and Presidents on decision-making and had already been professionally published by this point so you understand just how far down my level of functioning was.

When I became proficient at being a Receptionist, I got a job as a Legal Secretary. It was very difficult to transition to more and harder responsibilities, but I was determined. The skills gradually returned. I kept doing this to harder and harder responsibilities until I was able to get a job doing the kind of work I used to do.

I got laid off from a really good job in 2001. However, I had complications from the spinal cord injury between 2003 and 2005, which led to two more operations. I ended up more disabled than I started out. I had no choice but to apply for Social Security Disability.

I didn’t have much to do other than housework. I’ve always been a terminally shy person and now even more so with the head injury so I don’t socialize much. My husband suggested that since I had always enjoyed writing and had been good at it, that I should pick it up again as a way to pass the time.

Instead of falling victim to your circumstances you wrote a survival book.  It’s admirable that you used this experience in your life as a way to help others.  Tell us a little bit about your book, A Complete Plain-English Guide to Living With a Spinal Cord Injury.

I’d be glad to. It’s a step by step guide for the injured person and his/her family about what to expect with a spinal cord injury. It’s not as comprehensive as I would like in hindsight because I missed a few things I didn’t know about at the time of the writing.

The introduction to the book gives my story, the details of how the accident occurred, and how I came to write the book. The rest of the book starts with the injured person being in the emergency room talking about what is going through his or her mind.

Writing this book was something God wanted me to do. I had a compelling feeling I couldn’t shake that I had to write this book after the accident. I kept looking for “this book,” but it wasn’t out there. I got the same feeling after the second operation, looked again, and still no book. After the third operation I decided I would write the book.

The research took me a full year and the writing took me another year.

I chose to self-publish the book because I didn’t want some editor telling me to change the words. I knew what the words had to be to be right. I wish I had published it through a medical publishing company because the medical community has no interest in it because it wasn’t published by a doctor or a “real” publishing company. But I wrote it to help people. I haven’t made much money on it, but I did break even with the publishing costs.

Your book covers every phase of dealing with such a serious injury; I can only imagine the amount of time and research that went into writing this book.  Do you get feedback from the people that have been helped by it?

I have had very little feedback from people about the book, but what I have received has overwhelmed me. I heard from a lady in Croatia about how accurately it described what she had been through and how much it helped her.

[As a aside, what makes this incredible is my spinal cord injury was not found in either emergency room I went to after the accident. I never went through what I described in the book myself. It wasn’t discovered until six weeks later and only because the neurologist “just for grins” decided to do an MRI of my neck.  I truly believe God gave me the right words.]

The neurologist told me he wasn’t expecting to find anything and then he discovers a terrible injury. Through the grace of God, I did not break my neck in the accident, which is what normally causes the injuries worse than mine. I pulverized the soft discs in my neck which then pressed on the spinal cord.

The most unusual story related to the book helping people is one I could not have foreseen in a million years. One neurosurgeon did my original operation in 1995. A different neurosurgeon did the operations in 2004 and 2006. I have the dubious honor of being his patient with the most adjacent fusions in the neck. My neck is solid now from top to bottom, held together with titanium, screws, and bone.

Anyway, this neurosurgeon’s wife is also a doctor. She was in NW Arkansas a few years back and in a horrific car wreck. She was trapped in her car for three hours and had to be airlifted to Little Rock for emergency surgery.

I gave him a copy of my book right after it came out. He took it home and put it in his bookcase, and apparently never really looked at it. His wife found it on the shelf (this was long before her injury) and started reading it. She thought it was great.

After she was injured, I have been told by a mutual friend that the book has been instrumental in her being able to put her life back together. I have yet to meet her, but I’m hoping someday that will happen.

You write fiction as well, in fact the list of awards you have received for your stories and poetry is too long to include here.   Many of your awards come from different types of writing contests.   Can you share with us how you find and prepare for these contests?

Most of the writing contests I enter are sponsored by writing groups I belong to. I am a member of the Ozark Writers League, the American Pen Women (who put on the Arkansas Writers Conference every summer), Fiction Writers of Central Arkansas, the Maumelle Writers Conference, and a few other groups here and there.

Sometimes I’ll browse the Internet searching for contests, but so many contests have an entry free and Social Security Disability doesn’t go very far trying to cover contest entry fees. One website, www.thenovelette.com, puts on a free writing contest twice a year. I also get announcements from these organizations of writing contests being put on by other writers’ organizations across the country.

I have always been good at research, so I do my homework on the contests to make sure I get details right. I make a lot of mistakes because of the head injury and because it did so much damage to my memory. But all I can do is my best.

All of us as writers become discouraged about our writing from time to time. We feel we will never be published writers or that we can’t put in enough time on writing with all of life’s demands or that we will never be good enough to be a good writer. How do you deal with these thoughts?

I’ve lost count of how many times I have gotten discouraged and given up writing. I’ve almost shredded all my file cabinets full of information on so many occasions. When I get really down about my writing, I do a couple of things. I get away from it for several weeks. I am also a Prayer Volunteer for www.ourprayer.org. When I get down on myself and my life, I pray for other people.

Carolyn is also a freelance writer and photographer.  To learn more about her work you can visit her website:

www.carolynboyles.com and www.livingwithspinalcordinjury.com

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts.Carolyn Boyles

  1. Jenny Carlisle03-10-11

    Wow, what an inspiration. Thanks, Jamie for sharing this incredible story. And of course, Thanks to Carolyn for having so much courage and determination and for writing a book that must be extremely helpful to those in a similar situation. Great blog!

  2. Sheila Covey03-11-11

    I really enjoyed reading about you, Carolyn. Thanks for sharing your story! I feel I know you better now 🙂

  3. Debbie Archer05-16-11

    Carolyn, you are so inspiring. I miss you at the meetings, girl. Pray you can return soon. Wonderfullll post, Jamie.

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