“GUTS” author Janet Buttenwieser talks courage, resilience at free event | SteamboatToday.com

“GUTS” author Janet Buttenwieser talks courage, resilience at free event

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — "As a reader, the more personal the story, the more I connect with it," said Janet Buttenwieser, author of "Guts: A Memoir."

At 24, Buttenwieser, ambitious and ready to change the world, moved to Seattle with the intent to devote herself to public service and put an end to poverty in any way she could.

Within a year, her life took an unexpected turn, which became the impetus for her book.

Buttenwieser will bring her story to Steamboat Springs for a free author talk at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb 19 in Library Hall at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.

"I hope that people with chronic illnesses – approximately half of the U.S. population – will feel less lonely and isolated when they read ‘GUTS,’" Buttenwieser said. "Life can be especially challenging for those with invisible illnesses when they go out into the world."

With themes echoing Susannah Cahalan's "Brain on Fire" and Gail Caldwell's "Let's Take the Long Way Home," "GUTS" is a story of resilience, following Buttenwieser's journey as she develops an intestinal illness so rare it ended up in a medical journal.

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She spent countless hours in doctor's offices and had to navigate through misdiagnosis, multiple surgeries and life with a permanent colostomy.

Buttenwieser’s friend Beth served as a role model for assertiveness throughout Buttenwieser’s illness. And then, the friends’ roles were reversed when Beth developed brain cancer.

Eventually, Buttenwieser recovered, but her friend’s condition worsened, and at the age of 38, Beth died. To cope, Buttenwieser competed in endurance events, becoming a triathlete with a colostomy pouch.

Living in Steamboat on and off from 1993 to 1995, this will be Buttenwieser's first return to town as a published author, and Explore Steamboat couldn't resist asking her a few questions about her story.

Explore Steamboat: How and when did the idea for this book first emerge?

Janet Buttenwieser: I used to be a teen services librarian, and, while in that job, I served on a committee that put together themed booklists for teens. One year, we did a themed list about illness, so I read a lot of books about illness, including memoirs. I began to think about writing my own medical memoir at that time because writing was something I had enjoyed and was a creative outlet for me from a young age. I took some writing classes and began working on pieces of what would later become "GUTS" in 2008.

ES: As a writer, how do you determine whether a thought or story in your head will become a story for a book?

JB: From the beginning, I felt like I had a book's worth of material in my head. When ideas occur to me, it's usually evident from the beginning whether they will be very short pieces or longer ones. "GUTS” was originally an essay collection, and I kept writing new essays but still not feeling like I'd gotten the entire story out until I had two dozen essays or so.

ES: What is it that draws you to write? Is it an inherent need? To inspire change?

JB: I write to try and make sense of my experiences and the world around me. It is a compulsion and a huge outlet for me. If I don't write, after awhile I feel the same way I do when I don't exercise regularly — tired and cranky and out of shape.

ES: Can you remember back to the moment you knew you wanted to be an author? Was it a particular novel? An author you look up to?

JB: I've wanted to be an author since I was a child, not from reading any one book but just from adoration of books and writing from a young age. After college, I tried careers in social work and as a librarian before realizing that my initial hunch had been correct — I should be a writer.

ES: Was there ever a moment where you hesitated to write this story because it is so raw, so personal?

JB: There were many moments where "GUTS" was very difficult to write and where I'd get stopped in my tracks. But I never had a moment where I thought, "I shouldn't write this." Once the book was released, it was exhilarating and surreal in equal parts.

ES: Why did you want to write "GUTS"? To give a sense of hope? To inspire?

JB: Initially, it was to process the experience for myself, but as I got deeper into the writing, I began to write to connect with others who've experienced chronic illness, acute illness and/or loss.

ES: What do you hope your readers walk away with after reading "GUTS"?

JB: You are the expert on your own body, and your voice deserves to be heard. It's easy to get entangled in the mess that is the U.S. healthcare system. As a young, soft-spoken woman, it took me a long time to figure out that I had to stand up for myself and be my own advocate as a patient. But you don't have to be loud or extroverted to become an assertive person.

My wish for every patient is to receive the kind of high-quality medical care that my privilege and economic status allowed me to receive and to have the kind of support network I had when I was sick and that I continue to have for all of the challenges of life.

Copies of “GUTS” will be available for sale and signing at the free Library Author Series event, courtesy of Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Visit http://www.steamboatlibrary.org/events for more information.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@steamboattoday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.

If you go:

What: Library Author Series: Janet Buttenwieser

When: 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19

Where: Library Hall, Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave.

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