Meet Vanessa Diffenbaugh, the author of The Language of Flowers.
R: Tell me about yourself and your family.
V: I was born in San Francisco and raised in Chico, California. I met my husband at Mount Madonna Center when I was twenty years old. Mount Madonna is a community in the redwoods near Santa Cruz, California, built on the principals of yoga and selfless service. My husband was raised there, and I was attending a yoga retreat with my family. I think Mount Madonna has had a profound impact not only on my husband, but on the family we have created together. We have two biological children and have been foster parents for nearly six years. Tre’von is now a sophomore at NYU on a Gates Millenium Scholarship—we are, of course, very proud of him!
R: I have read hundreds of adoption books, some of which were fiction. Many of these books are filled with negative stereotypes regarding social workers, birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents. Your book's characters, however, seem realistic. You do not sugar coat the hardships the characters face, nor do you smack your characters with stereotypical labels and personalities. Did it ever cross your mind that your book, though fiction, might become a resource for adoptive parents? Did you have a goal in mind when writing your book?
V: I set out to write the best novel I could write, and never thought of my book as trying to send a particular message. In fact, I imagine that if I had been trying to make a statement, the novel would have felt much more preachy and a lot less genuine! However, I am thrilled that my book has encouraged interesting conversations and thinking on these very important subjects. It was certainly always a goal of mine to bring these issues to light!
R: Your book has received praise-filled reviews from prominent authors. How do you react to the publication of your book and the positive attention it has received?
V: It has taken me some time just to get over the shock! When you are writing your first book, people tell you over and over again how hard it is to sell a novel. They recite statistics of how many authors ever find agents (I’ve heard 2%! No idea if this is true) and tell you that even if you do sell your book you’ll never be able to “make it” financially as a writer. But I did sell my book, and now people all over the world are reading and responding to it. It is very humbling to have created a story that has touched so many people from such vastly different worlds and experiences.
R: What are you working on next?
V: My next novel isn’t about flowers or foster care, but I hope that it is another topic that will be interesting and relevant to my readers. I am writing every morning and it is coming along—very slowly, but coming along nevertheless.
R: Tell me about the Camellia Network. What can my readers do to support your organization? Why are you so passionate about foster care adoption?
V: The mission of Camellia Network is to activate networks of citizens in every community to provide the critical support young people need to transition from foster care to adulthood. Youth that age out face astonishing challenges: by the age of 24, 31% will have been incarcerated, 25% will have experienced homelessness, less than half are employed, and only 3% will have a college degree. The reason I am a passionate advocate of permanency is simple: if all children in foster care were connected to lifelong families, no one would ever have to “age out” of the system.
n terms of how your readers can help, thank you for asking! We are building a national network of people who have raised their hands and said yes! I want to help young people aging out in my community. We already have thousands in our network and are growing daily. Go on our website to join the movement. If your readers sign up, they will be kept informed as we grow and begin to offer more and more opportunities to help.
Last thing: if you are in a book club sign up on our book clubs page! If your book club will support Camellia (it doesn’t matter how much or little your group can raise, we need everyone!) I will call in to a future book club meeting to answer questions.
R: At the very end of you book, in the last paragraph, you thank several people, some of whom are not your children. Can you tell me about the individuals you listed?
V: My novel is so much about mother-child relationships, that I wanted to thank all the children that have taught about the depth and complexities of these relationships over the years. Graciela and Miles are my biological children, and others are those I’ve fostered, and still others are children I’ve mentored or who I’ve known only briefly, but who taught me things I’ll never forget.
R: What advice can you give a person or couple considering adopting a child from foster care?
V: I think it is important for people or couples to know what they can handle in terms of age, numbers of kids, and behaviors—and then stick to it. There is such a shortage of people willing to adopt kids out of foster care, specifically older kids and sibling sets, that I often hear stories of social workers putting pressure on potential adoptive couples that are outside the bounds of what they are looking for—for example, a couple wanting to adopt one toddler may end up being asked to consider a large sibling set. All to often people say yes—because their heart is in the right place, and they want to help as much as possible—but if they don’t have the support or resources (internal and external!) these adoptions are more likely to fail. Better to take on what you know you can handle and do it well, even with the overwhelming need in the world!
Special thanks to Vanessa for her time and talent!