Janice Hall Heck is coauthor with Bob Ossler of a brand-new book release, ADHD! You’ve Got My Attention! Strategies for Meeting Life’s Challenges. They coauthored Triumph Over Terror, published in 2016, a book about the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on NYC, and Ossler’s counseling interactions with broken-hearted people who lost loved ones in the national tragedy.
Heck, a life-long educator in the field of special education and administration, is also a
professional writer, having written a book about teaching writing to children with learning disabilities during her teaching years. Retired now, she writes, edits, blogs, maintains a website, and plays mahjong in her free time. She splits her time between New Jersey and Florida.
Bob Ossler, her writing partner, has an interesting combination of skills. Paramedic.
Firefighter. Air-sea rescue diver. Pastor. Funeral Director. Chaplain. Published writer. He’s now retired and lives in Cape Coral, Florida with wife, Susan, and their three-legged Chihuahua rescue dog, Maya. He volunteers as chaplain for the Cape Coral Fire Department.
Here are a few FAQs about their two books.
Jan joins us today to talk about her ventures in cowriting two books with Bob Ossler.
Jan, first tell us about your background in writing.
I was of those quiet little girls who didn’t pay attention in class but daydreamed stories. That was more fun than doing math or social studies. But throughout school, I enjoyed writing and got good grades.
Later, as a teacher of children with special needs, I tried to identity what students were doing correctly in their writing, rather than red lining their errors. Then I set challenges for them: to increase the number of words they wrote, to add descriptive detail, to add action. We used the writing process where we wrote drafts of stories or reports, then revised them together, then published them on the computer. With this process, students could see that they could become writers, and they improved over time.
Positive reinforcement of their progress encouraged them to write more. From that experience, I began to do workshops on teaching writing to children with learning difficulties. Later, I wrote a book on the topic. The book is out of print now, but it did go through three printings with a traditional special education publisher.
How did you and Bob Ossler become involved in writing together about the September 11 terrorist attacks?
A writer friend and I started a critique group in a church where Bob was associate
pastor. The pastor of the church told Bob, “You have a story to tell. You need to go to this group.” So, Bob joined us even though he claimed that because of his learning problems (dyslexia and ADHD) he couldn’t write a cohesive sentence.
He shared some of his compelling stories about his interactions with broken-hearted people at Ground Zero, and we were enthralled. We agreed that he needed to write his story. We gave him two weeks and asked him to bring a written story to the group for critiquing. We promised to help guide him in his writing.
But two weeks later, he came to the group empty-handed. No story. He said, “I can’t do it. I get too upset. PTSD sets back in and disrupts my life.” In addition, he worried about his spelling and grammar.
I asked him if he could write emails. He said he could. I asked him to send some of his stories by email. He agreed to that. The following few weeks, he sent me over a hundred email “brain dumps” with his thoughts on 9-11’s aftermath. While the stories were long, non-sequential, random, and sometimes rambling, I could see the power in them.
I took Bob’s emails, cut and pasted them, and organized them into topics, then pressed Bob for more sensory details. What did you see? What did you smell? What did you taste? What did you touch? How did you feel?
We used all kinds of techniques to get his story written. We used a tape recorder and let him talk. I wrote out questions on email for him to answer. I listened as he told stories to other people and noted details that he missed on his first retellings. We had long telephone conversations to gather more details. I basically coached him through the entire writing process.
This process was emotionally exhausting for Bob, but he was willing to keep at it. We met for three hours a week for months to go over stories and to add details. Then we went to a writers’ conference with the roughest first draft of a book in history. While several editors and publishers expressed interest in the book, one got very excited about it and insisted we send her the manuscript. After that, we worked with that publisher, Scoti Domeij of Blackside Publishing, to produce the book.
How did the book on ADHD come about?
Our book, ADHD! You’ve Got My Attention! resulted from a conversation with Bob’s
police chief in Millville, NJ, where he volunteered as a chaplain. The chief had read in Triumph Over Terror, our first book, that Bob had ADHD. His son was having difficulties in school and his big question for Bob was: “How did you overcome your learning problems to become a successful adult.”
Bob spilled out what he had learned through his own struggles in school.
Later that day, Bob told me about that conversation with the police chief. My response: “Bob, that’s your next book. You’re successful in life. Tell people how you overcame your learning difficulties.”
And that’s how it started. As we wrote this book, Bob had to review his school years and his learning problems and think about how he coped. He did have many failures, but he also had successes. He figured out what worked for him and what didn’t work. We put those strategies in the book.
Conventional classroom learning didn’t work for him. He couldn’t sit still and focus on uninteresting lectures. His inability to maintain attention on a “talking head” (the teacher) prevented him from digesting the material covered. Daydreaming was far easier and more interesting. His reading slowed him down. He did manage to squeak through high school, but his weak writing skills and test-taking skills forced me to drop out of several later-in-life academic pursuits.
But Bob found success and eventually obtained a doctorate in pastoral ministry. Along the way, he identified ways to circumvent his learning difficulties.
He found success as an adult with an external studies program at Moody Bible Institute: self-paced, individualized instruction, programmed learning, and after a time, oral exams. Oral exams enabled him to show my mastery of the material covered in the courses. A mentor encouraged him and enabled him to keep going. After seventeen years of part-time study while working full time, he earned that cherished degree, a Masters in Pastoral Ministry in May of 2000. He then became ordained as a chaplain. Later he earned A Doctorate of Pastoral Ministry.
My role in writing this book was to help develop his stories and help Bob identify the many strategies that he unconsciously developed as he coped with his struggles. I added insights from my own teaching and administrative years about teaching children with learning differences.
Note: While the official name of this learning problem is Attention Deficit Learning Disorder, I prefer to think of it as a “learning difference.” Disorder and deficit are far too negative to use with these learners who simply learn in less restrictive settings with engaging methodologies.
What words of wisdom do you have for new writers?
Advice to new writers?
- Practice your craft. Write, write, write. If you can’t write, and you think you have a compelling story, find a writing partner, and work out an arrangement. Executives have secretaries to write their letters and reports. Do the same. Just keep writing.
- Join a local critique group. If you can’t find one, start one up yourself. You never know. Writers are the most supportive people around. They will nurture you and guide you in your writing. Even if you only write your memoir for your family, it will be a good experience. But be ready to hear all critiques…even if you don’t like what other writers have to say. That is the hardest part about writing, but in the end, that is the best part. If you listen to your critiquers, they can help you write better. You don’t have to take all their advice, but you need to evaluate it all and use what feels right for you.
- Go to writers’ conferences. There you will meet accomplished writers and novice writers. Attend the craft workshops and hone your skills. The excitement (and yes, sometimes discouragement) of a conference will help you keep going with you own writing. Don’t give up.
- In your writing, look for ways to connect with people and the emotional difficulties of life. Find their point of pain and help them work through it. For Bob and me, it has been our faith in God that has pulled us through difficult situations. In writing, we share the most vulnerable parts of our being in the hopes that sharing our pain will help others share theirs. Once a person talks about their pain, healing can begin.
- Keep writing.
How do your family and friends support you?
One, family members and friends learned not to ask every time they saw one of us, “How’s the book coming?” That is a most frustrating question. Sometimes we made great gains in writing, but then we realized we needed to slow down to revise, edit, polish, and live life. Writing takes time. Our first book took one full year to write. Our second book took three years.
Two, our family members bragged in our hearing that we were writers! Sometimes we felt shy about calling ourselves writers. Who were we? Nobodies. But our family and friends didn’t see it that way. They loved us and supported us.
Third, they gave us time to write without interruptions.
All in all, our writing journey has been rewarding, cathartic, emotional, and sometimes fun. Maybe we’ll do it again! But not yet.
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