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Many aspiring authors hope their book will expand their influence and impact. They dream of their book changing the world in some–often profound–way. And maybe they see themselves inspiring large groups of people through high profile speaking gigs.
Juli Dixon and her daughters offer a powerful example of how that can happen. After publishing A Stroke of Luck and the award-winning companion website, they are now sought after to provide keynote and featured presentations at state, regional, and national conferences. And their personal impact continues to grow.
This is especially remarkable since Juli’s daughter Alex was expected to never walk, speak or function independently again. In this interview you’ll learn more about the evolution of A Stroke of Luck, the profound impact of the book, and the tips Juli offers authors who want to know more about public speaking as part of their plan for bringing their book and work to the world.
Lisa: What prompted you to write your family’s story?
Juli: At age 12, my daughter, Alex, suffered a terrible illness, culminating in a stroke during brain surgery to save her life. The stroke destroyed the parts in Alex’s brain that were killing her but also destroyed her academic understandings. At first, we started writing to share our journey in its entirety with Alex, who was not always conscious, and did not know what the rest of the family experienced.
Lisa: And did that goal evolve?
Juli: The writing served as a coping mechanism for me and my younger daughter, Jessica – my co-author.
Lisa: But then Alex had such remarkable results…
Juli: My mother and I were both elementary school teachers prior to Alex’s stroke. We used everything we knew as educators to re-teach Alex. We used every minute of every day available to us to help Alex to recover. The doctors were amazed with the pace and extent of Alex’s recovery. We connected our efforts to things that motivated Alex so she would try her hardest even when barriers presented themselves. We continue to do so today, and Alex is still recovering.
Alex turned 18 a few weeks ago and she asked to see her neurosurgeon as her 18th birthday gift. Our entire family flew to where he has retired to have a birthday lunch with him. He had not seen Alex since a few months after the stroke – that was over five years ago. He was blown away by her recovery. Alex continues to amaze people with her efforts and our entire family continues to devote much of our energy to her recovery.
Lisa: So, that must have made your realize how helpful the book could be to other families—and that it could potentially lead to improved results for other stroke victims. What were the various goals you had?
Juli: Our main goal is for Alex to accomplish a full recovery and to live a productive and rewarding life. While Alex has not enjoyed a full recovery, she is living a productive and rewarding life. She will graduate from high school this year and has applied to attend college. She was even inducted into the National Honor Society this month – not bad for someone with “half a brain!”
Lisa: And she is inspiring people all over the country with her story—often accompanying you to give talks about your family’s miraculous story. What is your vision for what A Stroke of Luck can do for its readers?
Juli: My vision is for A Stroke of Luck to continue to serve as a catalyst for people who are struggling or are supporting others who struggle with illness or disability to never give up on life, to fight hard to recover and improve, and to find ways to enjoy life throughout the process. My hope is that our story will provide motivation as well as specific strategies for those who need them.
Lisa: You and Alex are doing quite a speaking tour. Can you say a bit about who the audiences are and some of the responses you are getting?
Juli: I am blown away by what has transpired since publishing A Stroke of Luck. Alex and I have provided motivational talks from Miami, Florida to Anchorage, Alaska as well as many, many places in between. Jessica, my younger daughter and co-author of A Stroke of Luck, has also joined us on many occasions. Together we have presented to students (grade school, undergraduate, medical, and graduate), physicians and other health professionals, families of children with special needs, teachers, and administrators. We share Alex’s story along with suggestions to support students with special needs or critical illnesses. Jessica provides the so-often neglected perspective of the sibling.
We are now sought after to provide keynote and featured presentations at state, regional, and national conferences. We often provide book signings after the events. We enjoy donating proceeds from book sales at the events to benefit organizations related to the conference.
Lisa: Are people putting any of the lessons of the book into action–particularly the ideas you and your mom developed for helping a young person recover their brain function after a severe stroke?
Juli: Based on the many emails we receive through our website, it seems that presentation participants and readers are implementing suggestions they take away from interacting with us or from reading A Stroke of Luck such as supporting social interactions for students with special needs, connecting learning to emotions, and never giving up on people with special needs or critical illness.
Alex is in contact with several children and young adults with special needs she has met through her presentations or who have linked to her after reading her blog on the website. She helps to motivate these individuals to live their best lives.
Lisa: So Alex has become a mentor—that must be so fulfilling and empowering. What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve heard from someone who read A Stroke of Luck?
Juli: Wow – that’s a tough one. I find that I might take more inspiration from our participants than they from us at times. I leave inspired to keep sharing our message in an effort to #changetheworld for students with special needs. If our story can cause a teacher, caregiver, health professional, or individual with special needs to keep fighting the fight so to speak then we must keep sharing our message. That is what we hear from people all the time. They take from our connection inspiration to never give up on themselves or on those they support – that is certainly inspirational for us!
Lisa: How about book tours? Many people say it’s not worth the time because they don’t sell enough books. I’m guessing from the venues you are speaking at that it has been worthwhile. Any advice to authors about book tours?
Juli: Sometimes when we are invited to give a talk we are left wondering, why us? Or, how will we make this work in our busy schedules? Our response to our first question is to look for ways to make connections to help people to live their best lives. Click To TweetWhen we find the connections we know we are a good fit and that we were invited because we are the right people to help. We look for three goals to accomplish during our talk and we stick to those goals. My daughters and I brainstorm how our message can be most impactful and we go with our best options. Then we make it happen. We say yes to the tour and make it work. It is amazing how one tour leads to the next and how the connections become much more clear to us.
Lisa: Any other tips for book talks or presentations?
Juli: Bring books – lots and lots of books. Early on, Stuart [Horwitz] said to keep a box of books in my trunk. I didn’t think people would want to buy them and so I felt silly bringing the books. If you connect with your audience and meet those three goals you chose to pursue, people will want your book. Trust me!
The more tours you do, the more invitations you will get and the more books you will sell. Just say yes and make it happen then try to figure out how to pack your luggage.
Lisa: Any parting tips for aspiring authors?
Juli: Try not to doubt yourself – too much. You are writing a book because you feel that you have a compelling story to share. Maybe write yourself a letter sharing why you have chosen to pursue this challenge. Re-read that letter when you feel your motivation or confidence lagging, and keep going. The journey just might be more than you ever dreamed.
Lisa: You recently provided your biggest talk ever, the Riall Lecture at Salisbury University—and you mentioned to me that it was an amazing experience. Can you say more about what made it amazing?
Juli: Alex and I presented a keynote for the Professional Development Schools National Conference last March. Several professors and students from Salisbury University attended our presentation, read our book, and went back to their university to suggest that we be invited to provide the Riall Lecture for the coming year. It is my understanding that there are two lectures per year and the people who have provided those lectures in the past are quite noteworthy. Elliot Eisner, Jonathan Kozol, and Alfie Kohn have all provided lectures. When we received the invitation I was just overwhelmed. It felt so good to know that people who knew what we had to share wanted to give us this honor.
The experience was one I won’t soon forget. We were treated like distinguished guests with an entire day’s worth of events; our posters were all over campus. There was even a dinner in our honor. The lecture was held in a beautiful auditorium and every seat was taken. Most of the participants were undergraduate students planning to become teachers and their professors. What a way to have impact on the lives of children! I am sharing a picture of the standing ovation we received at the conclusion of the talk. Alex is in the foreground of the picture. It was a perfect day.
Thank you for setting us on this path.
Dr. Juli Dixon is Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Central Florida, textbook author and speaker. She received a Bachelor of Arts in both Mathematics and Education from SUNY Potsdam, a Master’s degree in Mathematics Education from Syracuse University, and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Mathematics Education from the University of Florida. She, together with her daughters, Alex and Jessica, provide keynotes and sessions on how to stay motivated through a major productive struggle, how to support students and those with critical illness through a struggle and other related topics. You can reach Juli and fnd out more about A Stroke of Luck and the book tour at http://www.astrokeofluck.net/tour/.