Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Victoria Noe, writer and advocate

It's not often that I get to meet one of my Facebook friends. But I had the opportunity to meet Victoria Noe last spring when she was in Los Angeles from Chicago - my hometown - and came by to say hello while I was signing books at the LA Times Festival of Books. Since then we have kept in touch on Facebook - especially at the Gutsy Indie Publishers group site. 

I'm so glad Viki took me up on my request for guest appearances on Choices during my August and September guest - athon. I'm pleased to introduce Viki Noe to you.
My Moment of Truth as a Writer
by Victoria Noe

This whole journey of becoming a writer has been fascinating and unpredictable. Without the inspiration and support of my friend, Delle Chatman, I never would’ve attempted such a drastic career change. She’s the one who encouraged me and believed in me. I owe her everything.

We have friends. They die. We grieve them. But that experience does not always earn the respect it deserves. And again, I have Delle to thank for that. Her ovarian cancer fight and subsequent death brought this all together for me.
When I began writing, I resisted the idea of revealing myself. It was inevitable and necessary, but it wasn’t easy for me. I preferred to think of myself as a teacher – with a necessary distance between myself and my readers - not standing onstage under a spotlight. I didn’t want my writing to be about me, but how could it not?

What I didn’t expect, though, was that I would become an advocate. That was ultimately what forced me to reveal myself in my writing. I’d thought my days of protesting and questioning authority figures was somewhat in the past. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In 2011 I wrote a freelance article for Chicago’s gay/lesbian paper, Windy City Times. I’ve known the publisher since the 80s and she asked me to contribute to their year-long “AIDS@30” series. Initially believing I’d be hard-pressed to remember much from my days as a fundraiser in the AIDS community, I was shocked that the words flew off my fingertips, fueled by the anger I still felt. So much hatred, so much fear, and so much of it forgotten.

The most common response from those who read it – even family members – was “I didn’t know you went through that. You never talked about it.” Unlike military veterans, those of us who’d been in the trenches at the height of the AIDS epidemic did not share war stories. That’s changing now, finally, and I’m pleased to be a tiny part of it.

I found myself in NYC, attending my first ACT UP meeting, about the time I published the second book in my series, Friend Grief and AIDS:Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends. There I met one of my long-ago heroes, Jim Eigo. We were both going to be in LA later in the month, and at his invitation, I attended a fundraiser around the Academy Award-nominated documentary How to Survive A Plague. Back in NYC a couple months later, I attended a World Science Festival event about the current state of the epidemic, and met another of my heroes, Peter Staley.

Like me, many of the founders of ACT UP have been in a kind of hibernation, a forced step-back from the activism of old that was so necessary to regain physical and emotional strength. They’re back: a little older, but no less passionate. And I find that I am, too. Because now I’m using my writing – the book and freelance articles - to shine a light on real, life-and-death issues that affect us all.

That reawakened passion spilled over into the next book in my series, Friend Grief and 9/11: The Forgotten Mourners, coming out in September. My interviews with survivors from the World Trade Center were heartbreaking. They’re the lucky ones, right? But their grief has been dismissed, even officially, because only family members are allowed to attend and participate in the official observances.

I suspect that passion will also be evident in the following book, about grieving friends in the military, since grief and survivor guilt play a role in the epidemic of military suicides. Activism is a part of me that never really left, but had been tamped down as I focused my life on other priorities.

One of the things about being an advocate, about taking a position on a topic, is that you have to be willing to offend people. There have been moments when I’ve stared at my computer screen and thought, “Boy, some people are really not going to like this; in fact, they’re going to hate it.” That was my moment of truth as a writer: was I willing to go on the record to say what I believed to be true? And isn’t that the test for all writers – fiction or nonfiction?
I’m still uncomfortable at times with my writing being about me. But if revealing myself or taking a stand is the price I have to pay to shine a spotlight on people whose grief is dismissed as unimportant, well, that’s okay with me.

A few blurbs about about the Friend Grief series:

Book 1 "It's not like they're family." Sound familiar? If you're grieving the death of a friend, you've probably heard that from people who just don't get it. And if it made you angry, well, you're not alone.

In the first of a series on grieving the death of a friend, Friend Grief and Anger: When Your Friend Dies and No One Gives A Damn, you'll meet people who also struggled after their friend died. And they'll help you answer the question: "Okay, I'm angry: now what?"

Book 2 It’s been likened to a plague, but AIDS was never just a health crisis.
The second of a series on grieving the death of a friend, Friend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends, revisits a time when people with AIDS were also targets of bigotry and discrimination. In stories about Ryan White, ACT UP, the Names Project, red ribbons and more, you’ll learn why friends made all the difference: not just caregiving or memorializing, but changing the way society confronts the medical establishment and government to demand action

Book 3 “Families only.” Those who were killed on September 11, 2001 left behind more than family members. They left thousands of friends who are often forgotten and ignored: co-workers, first responders, neighbors and survivors who struggle to find a way to grieve the friends killed when the World Trade Center towers fell. In Friend Grief and 9/11: The Forgotten Mourners you’ll learn how they adjust to life without their friends and find ways to honor those they lost on a clear, blue Tuesday.

Victoria Noi bio
Victoria Noe has been a writer most of her life, but didn’t admit it until 2009. After earning a Masters from the University of Iowa in Speech & Dramatic Art, she moved to Chicago, where she worked professionally as a stage manager, director and administrator, as well as a founding board member of the League of Chicago Theatres. Her next career was as a professional fundraiser, raising money for arts, educational and AIDS service organizations. After a concussion ended a successful sales career, she switched gears to keep a promise to a friend to write a book. Her freelance articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Windy City Times. She also reviews books on and maintains a blog called Friend GriefClick to find more information about her books and links to her social media sites. Victoria lives in Chicago with her family.


kathleen pooler said...

Dear Viki,
Having read your first two books in your friendgrief series, I can say ,without a doubt,that revealing your personal thoughts and feelings of friend grief brings it alive. We all lose friends and have experienced 9/11 in varying ways but through Delle's inspiration and your own passion to thoroughly research the topic, you have raised awareness and advanced the cause of acknowledging the grief we all know but haven't known how to deal with. Your books are powerful vehicles of your bigger mission of honoring friend grief. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the story. A worthy mission indeed.

Friend Grief said...

Thanks, Kathy!

It's been a long journey of acceptance, really, to admit and embrace what is apparently my new mission.

Your support is gratefully appreciated!

madeline40 said...

Thanks so much for being here, Viki. I'm sure my readers will greatly benefit from your writing. Also, thanks Kathy for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Viki, your words are moving and poignant. Your journey to the admission and embrace of what you are intended to do is amazing. I haven't read your books but look forward to doing so. Yours is a worthy effort.

madeline40 said...

So true, Sherrey. Thanks for coming by.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful work, Viki. Grief and PTSD can do crazy things to the mind and manifest in so many ways that are generally misunderstood by others. My husband and I arrived as new expats in the country on the day of 9/11; we were caught up in the drama in NYC and our families (including my kids) could only confirm that we were alive and well 5 days later. Our story is captured in my memoir: Out of Sync.

Good luck with your campaigns. I'll check out your books.

madeline40 said...

Thanks, Belinda, I loved Out of Sync. Even though I'm not an expat, I certainly could relate to your story.

Friend Grief said...

Thanks so much for all the kind words! I'm glad my story resonated with you.