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June 1, 2021
By PW Staff
In this edition of our Indie Spotlight feature, we’re celebrating memoirs and autobiographies by indie authors.

In this edition of our monthly thematic roundup of BookLife titles, we’re celebrating memoirs and autobiographies by indie authors.


The Journey

Butterflies, Boards, and Blessings: A Doctor’s Journey to Thriving with Lupus

Manisha Rayavarapu

ISBN 978-0-578-85264-5

About the book: This inspirational memoir is about a young woman’s journey to becoming a doctor while living with a chronic, debilitating disease. It gives a deep, vulnerable perspective on living with lupus and the impacts that chronic illness can have on a person’s life, career, relationships, self-worth, and spirituality.

Author statement: “I wrote this book to encourage others who are struggling with a chronic illness and assure them that they can live successful, fulfilling lives. I also wanted to give those outside of the chronic illness community a deeper understanding of what life with a chronic illness is truly like. My message is one of hope and overcoming adversity through faith in all circumstances.”


Children of a Faraway War

Wendy Gruner

ISBN 978-1-77180-369-4

About the book: In their 70s, two sisters travel to the U.K. with their father’s wartime diary, using it as a guide to trace his life and death as he trained and served in Bomber Command. The story moves between the sisters’ journey and their father’s story as it slowly emerges.

Author statement: “My memoir is an account of the trip I took with my sister. We live 12,000 miles apart, so this journey in search of a father we barely knew was a powerful time of connection for both of us. I felt that it was a story calling to be told. It was also a joy to write.”


Farm Boy, City Girl: From Gene to Miss Gina

John “Gene” E. Dawson

ISBN 978-1-73462-600-1

About the book: Dawson’s autobiography is an account of his experience as a gay man coming of age in rural Iowa and his path to eventually embracing a new identity. The author passed away in September at age 89.

Author statement: “I had so much encouragement to write from many friends and relatives who were interested in the family stories I had told through the years. Early in 2019, things came together that led me to being confident enough to get the book published. Then Geoff Story invited me to be part of his documentary, Gay Home Movie. That summer, Geoff and I were interviewed for the New York Times. I felt I was speaking for the Midwest LGBTQ community, so I thought I might as well tell my complete story and see the book before I was gone.”


Loose Woman: My Odyssey from Lost to Found

Beth Kaplan

ISBN 978-1-77180-427-1

About the book: Loose Woman: My Odyssey from Lost to Found tells how a successful but quasi-alcoholic and unhappy Canadian actor came to spend four astonishing months living and working among men with severe disabilities in the south of France, and how the experience opened her heart and transformed her life.

Author statement: “Loose Woman is set in the year 1979, when I was a 28-year-old actress aware something was wrong in both life and work. That summer I landed in Provence for a brief visit with a friend who invited me to stay and help for a few weeks at a community she was running for men with physical and mental disabilities. Living and working among men with severe disabilities taught me a great deal about patience, tolerance, honesty, and grace—and about what I had to give to the world.”


Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops

Allison Hong Merrill

ISBN 978-1-64742-189-2

About the book: Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops is the story of a young woman’s journey from a powerless immigrant bride to a confident woman in command of her own destiny. This book is for anyone who has struggled with gender inequality, racism, and immigration injustice.

Author statement: “The book title echoes the narrative structure of 99 sections. The number 99 implies eternity in the Chinese language, a metaphor for the seemingly endless trials and tribulations that I’ve had to overcome to create my own destiny.”



No Blanks, No Pauses: A Path to Loving Self and Others

Shelly McNamara

ISBN 978-1-64307-486-3

About the book: No Blanks, No Pauses is an exploration of one woman’s journey toward a full and authentic life. This book’s mixture of memoir, poetry, and insightful questions draws readers in and gives them the confidence to heal, connect, and love more expansively.

Author statement: “I am a natural storyteller, humanist, respected leader, and member of the LGBTQ+ community. I began writing as a child to make sense of the world around me—from the grief of losing close friends and family to the pain of estrangement and rejection—and out of a deep desire to make the world a more respectful, loving, and inclusive place.”



Sugar Burn: The Not So Hot Side of the Sweet Kitchen

Ryan Kurr

ISBN 978-1-5077-1041-8

About the book: After leaving a career in the insurance industry and then one in massage therapy, Ryan Kurr decides to follow his dream of becoming a pastry chef. As he whisks his way through some of Chicago’s most acclaimed restaurants with notoriously difficult award-winning chefs at the helm, he learns an important recipe for self-worth and balance that includes ingredients both sweet and savory.

Author statement: “While I was in culinary school, I began journaling in great detail about my experiences, specifically while on stages (unpaid, trial day in the kitchen) in high-profile restaurants, and also working for a James Beard Award winner. As a POC and a member of the LGBTQ community who struggles with intense anxiety, it proved to be a very challenging environment to adapt to. My experiences reflect a very different perspective on the professional kitchen environment that is hell-bent on traumatic, trial-by-fire methods strictly because it has always been that way. I aimed to illuminate the realities of the culinary world while suggesting that encouraging success is wildly more productive than education through tyranny and intimidation.”



Swim Home: Searching for the Wild Girl of Champagne

Kathleen McDonnell

ISBN 978-1-5255-6847-3

About the book: The award-winning author and playwright Kathleen McDonnell takes the reader on a quest to unravel a 300-year-old mystery and restore to history the life of Marie-Angélique LeBlanc, the woman known as the Wild Girl of Champagne.

Author statement: “Driven by a strong sense of kinship with Marie-Angélique—especially our shared love of cold-water swimming—I worked for several years trying to write a straight-up historical play about her. At a conference in France in 2017, I came to realize there was a larger story begging to be told, involving academic rivalries, disappearing websites, small-town politics, and a dark period of Canadian history. I put the play aside to write Swim Home, which documents my own search to discover the truth about this mysterious, remarkable woman.”


The View from Breast Pocket Mountain

Karen Hill Anton

ISBN 978-0-578-69660-7

About the book: A previously untold story, this memoir is a treasure trove of experiences of crossing borders and cultures, creating a life, and finding contentment in a far-off country.

Author statement: “For 15 years I wrote the column Crossing Cultures for the Japan Times—Japan’s oldest and largest English-language newspaper. The column was popular and I had a dedicated following, but I knew readers were only getting part of my story. Every life is unique, and everyone has a story, but I was aware that there are not many women who could say that they drove from Amsterdam to Afghanistan in a VW bug with a five-year-old.”


The Wrong Side of the Room: A Life in Music Theater

Norman Mathews

ISBN 978-1-73236-710-4

About the book: Norman Mathews was born in the wrong town and the wrong era, and with the wrong name. What’s a boy to do? He conjured up a more enticing, imaginary world to better navigate the perils of childhood. Byzantine twists paved the way to a career as an editor and eventually to music and theater.

Author statement: “I decided to write my autobiography because people were so highly entertained by the stories I told about my life: my childhood, my coming out as a gay man, my career as a Broadway and movie dancer, my career as a magazine editor, my career as classical pianist, and, finally, my career as a composer and playwright.”




Surviving Bleak House 

Lal Kelly

ISBN 978-1-83807-170-7

About the book: This memoir tells the story of a young mother who escapes to a women’s refuge in the night, where she and her children live for over a year. During that time, Lal not only faces her struggles, but lives with a multitude of other displaced characters with their own issues. It’s a story of bonds, heartache, and ultimately survival.

Author statement: “I wrote this memoir as a way to use my experience to raise awareness for issues around domestic abuse and mental health issues. I always knew when I left the refuge that I would one day write my story. It’s been a cathartic exercise, and took me years to write. Each chapter equals a month of living in the ‘bleak house,’ as we fondly called it.”


Ten Thousand Shells and Counting: A Memoir

Nadija Mujagic

ISBN 978-1-66240-297-5

About the book: In 1992, at the young age of 14, Nadija witnessed tanks rolling into the Sarajevo International Airport across the street from her home. This foreboding event marked the beginning of the Serbian siege of Bosnia’s capital. Shortly after, the danger escalated when a Serbian sniper kills her next-door neighbor, driving Nadija, her family, and neighbors from their homes to safer habitats. Ten Thousand Shells and Counting is the true story of a teenager who learned to survive under siege, and ultimately rose to her own personal triumph.

Author statement: “The Bosnian War and genocide on Bosniaks is still somewhat a recent event, yet somehow forgotten and placed into distant memory. A few historians have recently emerged as genocide deniers, and I feel that a story like mine needs to be told and shared to counter those who have refused to believe in the atrocities. I started writing this book in 1998, but was never able to finish it, as I pushed my emotions of pain and discomfort away. In 2005, I finally sought therapy. My therapist, who diagnosed me with PTSD, advised me to tell my story as opposed to taking medicine to cope with the PTSD symptoms. Last year, I finally found the strength and courage to finish writing it.”



 Blind Pony: As True a Story as I Can Tell

Samantha Hart

ISBN 978-1-64970-093-3

About the book: When your mother names you after your father’s mistress, you might wish you were living someone else’s life. For Samantha Hart, growing up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania was no childhood idyll but rather a violent, surreal nightmare. At age 14, she ran away in search of her father, a character she only knew as Wild Bill. What emerges in Blind Pony is a story of healing and hope, a coming-of-age narrative with intersecting themes of recovery, redemption, forgiveness, and the struggle it takes to define life on your terms.

Author statement: “I decided to write my memoir when I came upon a journal I had penned when I was 12 years old. The first line of the journal was, ‘This is a story about me, nobody special.’ It was the idea that this young girl thought she had something to say, but at the time wasn’t being seen and heard that spoke to my heart to open up and finally tell my story.”


 Clarity: A Memoir

Diana Estill

ISBN 978-0-9906442-3-1

About the book: A daughter strives to reconcile her traumatic childhood with her abusive father before dementia steals his memories.

Author statement: “Clarity  is the book I thought I would never write because the story seemed too shameful to admit. Narcissists and other predators rely on secrecy, denial, and shame to avoid detection. I wrote Clarity to explain how my dad, a womanizing child abuser, eluded public discovery. I needed to speak out. My spine couldn’t support another minute of silence.”