Author Lynne Podrat: Portraying the realities of disability and family

Author Lynne Podrat

Listen to Me is a memoir by the author Lynne Podrat which was published in the year 2021. It follows Lynne’s relationship with her younger brother, Bruce, who was born with a genetic disorder, Down Syndrome. Undoubtedly one of the best memoirs we’ve ever come across, Listen to Me is one book that’ll shake you to the core. 

After the release of the book, we, at Vowelor, had an exciting conversation with Lynne about her writing. But, before we continue with her interview, here’s a little something about her:

About the Author: Lynne Podrat

Author Lynne Podrat

Lynne Podrat is an author, based in Florida and has recently published her memoir, ‘Listen to Me’. It follows her relationship with her baby brother, Bruce. She is an alumna of the Pennsylvania State University, Arcadia University, and Gwynedd Mercy. She has worked in the fashion industry for more than fifteen years, and then as a teacher and Administrator in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania School District where she taught English, literature, composition, and history. 

Further, Lynne shared her life, writing journey, inspirations, and more interesting things about herself. Here are all of her interesting answers:

Tell us about yourself, your family, your occupation, passions, etc.

As a retired teacher and Administrator from the School district of Philadelphia, the support of children and animals remain my number one passion in life.  Of course, included are my two granddaughters. Not that I don’t love my son, daughter, and daughter-in-law, children and dogs hold a special place in my heart. While at my home in Florida during the winter months, so my husband and I can be there for our grandchildren, I tutor elementary school children through the organization, Building Better Readers, mentor Middle School/High School Students through Take Stock in Children and work with shelter dogs at Peggy Adams Animal Rescue.

Florida also affords me the opportunity to dragon boat, kayaking, and paddle boarding, my second passion, water sports. However, Vail, Colorado, my summer home offers the best of both worlds, not only water sports like white water rafting, but, hiking the Rockies, and rock climbing, an equal passion for the water. My son, daughter, and grandchildren share my love of rock climbing and my daughter loves to hike and is a retired rower.

When and where were you born and bought up?

I am a Philly girl, born, bread, and raised in that city, not the suburbs where so many people I meet were raised but claim to be from Philadelphia. A graduate of Philadelphia Public Schools, I was raised by my paternal grandparents until I started kindergarten. My parents, two younger brothers, and I lived in a small semi-detached home where my parents remained until moving to Florida. My brother, Bruce, was moved into a group home at the age of five.

What were you like in your childhood? Any good memory you would like to share?

I was quiet and shy, but very independent as a child. I wanted to do everything by myself and was encouraged by my paternal grandfather, Zadie Pop, to climb, build and explore. Of course, my grandmother did not approve. There are quite a few funny memories to share that paint the picture of ME.

My grandparents and I spent summers in Atlantic City, NJ as my grandfather worked at the Convention Center for the season. My grandfather and I spent every Saturday and Sunday morning either walking or riding my tricycle on the boardwalk. One morning we found a pigeon on the ground still breathing.  Although only two years old, I insisted we bring it home to save its life. My grandfather made a leash so I could “walk” my pigeon until it healed. Once healed, it flew away and my heart was broken. I was inconsolable until my grandfather told me I was no longer free to climb or swing on anything. He helped me understand I had done such a good job of healing my pigeon that now it was free to live its life the way it needed to live.

Being a gymnast and climber from an early age, one of my heroes was the swashbuckler Zorro. Now living with my parents in our new home with a new three-piece sofa, I spent many happy hours jumping from the sofa cushions to the backs of the sofa while swinging on the window shade pulls, brandishing my pretend sword, saving the people of my village. I ultimately broke all three backs of each sofa piece so I moved on, sliding down our banister until I broke that as well.

My next-door neighbors owned a collie and cat with whom I played and helped care for all of the time.  When the cat had her litter, I was asked to care for the kittens to give mommy cat a break Having a baby brother, I appreciated his need to be swaddled, I used my little brother’s baby clothes to dress/swaddle the kittens and walked them around the block in his stroller.

Even though I was a tomboy, I loved to dance. I never missed watching American Band Stand with Dick Clark and mimicking the dancers to learn the new dance steps. American Band Stand, Sally Star, and Zorro were my favorite television shows.

What do you think has been your biggest achievement till today?

I have been very lucky in my life to have had the opportunity to support and positively influence thousands of young lives as a teacher and Administrator, but, after writing and publishing our story, the realization that I saved my brother from being placed in an institution has to be and will always be my greatest achievement. No matter the books published, medals won in racing, or positions held in organizations, nothing will ever mean more to me than that.

What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing?

I never enjoyed writing unless inspired by an unjust issue, as far as I considered an issue unjust. My mother wrote poetry and my father’s speeches for his many volunteer organizations. Suggested edits of wordiness and syntax were always welcome, but I refused the actual writing as a burden, not fun. My first inspired, major paper, a thesis written in high school and then published in college was about Charles Dickens’s fight for the rights of children. Driven by my little brother’s birth and our world’s negative reaction to those who are different, Dickens became my hero. The irony, I received a B+ for this paper from my high school English teacher, a recipient of a Ph.D., so he considered himself an expert in his field. My college professor, a published author in the literary field, a true expert was so impressed with the research and writing, he insisted on my recognition and publishing of the paper.

Which writers inspire you?

Writers who make me think, and who drive me to search for more information about the topic or history, such as Diane Gabaldon. I have read every Outlander book and know as much about the Battle of Culloden as historians. Another author, Della Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing, had me researching marshes and life in the Everglades. Lisa See’s, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, and Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove are also examples of authors who make me think.

Writing is stressful at times. How do you relax your mind?

What a great question. I do my best writing while hiking in Vail, running in the early morning in Florida, or solving puzzles like Sudoku and FreeCell on my iPad. Because I am not focused on writing, thoughts just flow in my head. Poetry works the same way.

What is your favorite motivational phrase?

Nike said it best, “Just Do It” and Enjoy the Journey

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, take risks to support fair and just causes. People who never make mistakes, and who never voice opinions for the oppressed, are those who do not dare to dream or make decisions. Be bold in the face of doubt, let others in to help, and remember to love as much as you can.

What kind of books do you like to read personally? What are you reading currently?

My top choices are Outlander, Where the Craw Dads Sing, and books about Witches and Vampires. The Trilogy of Witches is my favorite witch reading to date. I have also devoured Anne Rice’s books of Vampires. I am currently reading, The Children on the Hill, by Jennifer McMahon for one of my book clubs and will be reading The Last Confession of Sylvia P, by Lee Kravetz for another.

If you could have been the original author of any book, which one would it be and why?

This was a no-brainer and there are two, Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. I fell in love with Narnia as a child, imagining myself in this magical land, a lion as my best friend, having always wished for a Siberian tiger as my pet.  I discovered Bridge to Terabithia while teaching 6th grade in the Philadelphia School District. This wonderful story touched my students’ lives, reaching them as nothing else could, teaching friendship, loyalty, and how to handle losing someone you love.

How is your day structured; do you have a special time to write or is it pretty much random?

Random is my middle name. Every course, conference, zoom lesson, and writing workshop taught that one must have a space specifically designed to write, a structured time of day, and x many hours designated to your writing. I find that structure stifling because I cannot write on command, I must be driven by an issue, an injustice, or a disservice to someone or an animal. My parents used to say, “She’s on her high horse.” Now, once driven, I am unstoppable, writing for hours only stopping to edit along the way. I will research and find experts to ask/listen to what has been written.

What or for whom do you write; is it for the readers or yourself or something else entirely?

I write my books for my family and my readers.

About the book: Listen to Me

Listen to Me

In the year 1967, the lives of Lynne Podrat and her family turned topsy turvy when her younger brother, Bruce, was born with Down Syndrome. Each of the family members took his birth differently and thus, reacted to it differently, but for Lynne, Bruce was nothing but her special baby brother. Bruce suffered from disease after disease for more than fifty years but Lynne never left his side. He went through it all with a smile on his face and was the light of everyone’s lives around him till he left for heaven.

Listen to Me is a dedication from Lynne to his brother in order to keep his memories alive, even though he has left for a better place up there.

What genre is your book? What draws you to this genre?

This book is a Biography/memoir to honor my baby brother. I am more drawn to autobiographies as I love history and learning about specific people I admire especially those in power.

Was there something that made you write this book?

My Dream was to be a veterinarian. From the beginning of his life, ensuring my baby brother’s inclusion with family and friends was very important to me. Now, it’s Keeping my brother’s memory alive, Now I am driven by the fear of him being forgotten.  And, although I enjoy writing poetry that pops into my head, and educational opinion pieces while an Administrator, being a writer was NEVER my lifelong dream. As I mentioned in my book, writing is not cathartic for me. Reliving challenging events with which I have dealt and moved forward takes energy much better spent on life now. I would rather take pictures.  But, not writing the book brought so much angst

What makes ‘Listen to Me’ stand out in this genre?

My story, our story, is never about being the victims. There is no resentment of my parents or the situation.

Was I angry, of course, I was thirteen years old, my DNA at this age was to be angry and know more than my parents. But this anger was more, this was fear after finding information about the institution in my encyclopedia with the most horrific photos in support of the abuse done to these poor children and adults.

It really is a testament to three siblings who remained devoted to each other until my brother’s death, no matter the separations, and the extended family we were so lucky to have. Some of the reviews express this much better than I;

“Her absolute commitment to his well-being is reciprocated by not only his love for her but a love of life that enables him to flourish, to be the best he can be.  As a result, the whole community of relatives, neighbors, and caregivers is inspired to become better versions of themselves.  Readers of “Listen to Me” will surely find themselves examining their own lives, and their relations with those they cherish, and perhaps take steps to strengthen those relationships.  Many worthwhile lessons to be learned from Lynne’s story, with the power of belief in oneself and unconditional love being foremost”

“This story leaves us with the knowledge that those who are ‘different’ can enrich our lives in so many ways, and that caring, on so many levels, makes the world a better place. I had tears in my eyes as I closed the book.”

“This book is a touching story about the unconditional love between an older sister and her brother, Bruce. The prose is uplifting and inspirational, without the traces of ableism that can be found in other such works. The overall message is a plea to see people for who they are, not their diagnosis, and aims to increase disability awareness.”-

“This memoir is exactly what I needed. It made me laugh and cry and helped me appreciate the people in my life even more than I already did. Bruce’s love for his family, friends, and favorite rock ‘n’ roll idols lives on through this book. His larger-than-life personality left such an impression on me; I can honestly say that I feel like I know him without ever having met him. I think about him from time to time and his essence inspires hope in me, showing me how precious it is to have an innocent view of life at any age.”

Why do you think a reader should pick this book over anything else?

I refer back to the reviews I included along with this one,

Lynne Podrat does a marvelous job of cramming the book with practical advice, resources, and also some indispensable information with some uplifting personal stories woven in. On her part, the author struck the right balance to entertain and also inform while keeping the reader engaged to learn more about how to enrich the lives of souls with Down Syndrome and also how they can reach their full potential. A story about braveness, finding your voice, and being encouraged to reach your best potential despite the hurdles. Really glad I read it!

The book highlights your connection and relationship with your younger brother throughout his life while both of you were there for each other in your own different ways. What were the hardest and the easiest things or memories for you to incorporate into it?

Reliving the beginning of our story was the hardest memory as only my parents were aware of how our journey began. My concern was how my other brother would react to these revelations.

Is there any memorable experience you’d like to share throughout the writing process of ‘Listen to Me’?

I learned to “talk to my phone” while hiking the trails of the Rocky Mountains so I could relive memories I would use in the book. I discovered the music of the Killers soothed my soul and allowed me to cry and dance with the nymphs of the White River Forrest in Vail.

Future Plans

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

I don’t know that I have the ambition to make this a career, as I have already had three careers. I think I would rather just call this a hobby so I don’t feel pressured.

Are you working on your new project? What will be your next book about?

Thank you for asking!!! I do have a children’s book titled, My Sister Wants an Elephant, that will hopefully be published this December as long as everything works to schedule. This began twenty- nine years ago as a short story for a writing class in which I enrolled to prepare for my second career as an English teacher in Philadelphia. The story is about my son wanting a llama for many years and now his baby sister wants an elephant for her birthday. Not so strange considering their mother always wanted a Siberian tiger.

What does success mean to you as an Author?

Success means people actually read my book, take something away they have learned, and recommend it to others. This memoir did win Gold from the Nonfiction Author’s Association.

Do you prefer self-publishing or traditional publishing and Why?

I self-published my memoir and have worked very hard at marketing. Not all libraries, booksellers, and National Competitions will accept self-published books. This time I will be using a publisher for my children’s book. I will reserve judgment until I see the difference in the number of sales, and how booksellers and competitors respond, to my book with a publisher’s support.

One lesson that you’d like to pass on to young debut authors.

I think this would be the same advice I would offer to everyone who has a dream. Just Do It!!! Just write. Don’t let anything get in the way.

Your opinion about Vowelor.

Responsive and supportive!!! Thank you.

A note from the author:

This memoir, touching quite a bit on parental weaknesses, in the beginning, like so many others, harbors no resentment or blame in an ‘Oh worries me” tone. The events set the stage for how three siblings, adrift on their own small vessel chose to commit to each other. Chose to find joy in their special needs brother and share that joy with the world. Bruce shared his joy and love of us with his world. Although there are designated chapters in this short novel, the chapters offer individually dated and titled milestones resembling a diary. The reader could flip through the pages at any point to become familiar with each character, especially Bruce. Down syndrome, individuals run the spectrum just as Autism and deserve to be educated, not just placed in Life Skills learning environments.

I’m hoping educators and schools learn better advocacy strategies and do not perpetuate the stereotype. I would love for this to become a made-for-TV movie so audiences can truly see and hear my brother’s voice

Want to know more about Lynne Podrat? Connect with the author on Instagram and Twitter.

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