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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

Hammonton grad writes informative memoir

Hammonton resident Alexandra Guillot is in the finishing stages of a new book due out in April. (Courtesy Photo)

Hammonton resident Alexandra Guillot has found a way to turn lifelong struggles into the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition.

Guillot, a 2017 graduate of Hammonton High School and a senior at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., is the author of Invisible Conversations, set to be released by New Degree Press in April of 2021.

“I was inspired to write the book because I’m a person who has had a number of physical and mental invisible disabilities from a young age that have impacted my entire life, from my life in Hammonton to going to school now,” Guillot told The Gazette.

Guillot explained the invisible disabilities with which she has struggled.

“The first one is called amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome; it goes by AMPS for short. Essentially, the term that I’ve heard is that it’s like fibromyalgia for kids. It’s a chronic pain condition. Some people experience it differently; it can only be in one body part or one area of the body, but, in my own personal circumstance, I have full-body pain ... I have grappled with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said.

Guillot said that the idea for this particular book came about because, growing up, she did not know how to advocate for herself or to share her conditions with others.

“It was a major struggle through every transition of life being able to do that. While I found some answers along the way by helping out myself, I don’t want people to have to go through the same thing. I’d like to make it at least a little bit easier for others. Oftentimes, any research I was able to find were for older people. Having to experience chronic pain at the age of 4 or 5, I couldn’t necessarily ... a doctor would hand me a textbook and say, ‘here; read up on this.’ I am 7; I am not going to get that, but thank you. Good try, but that’s not really going to work for me,” Guillot said.

The actual impetus to write the book came after several colleagues and students at Babson told Guillot about the Creator Institute, a program through Georgetown University that teaches students how to write a book and have it published.

“It seems like an incredible opportunity. It’s always something that I had imagined that I might be able to write a book one day. Don’t ask me how I thought it was going to happen, because I certainly didn’t know, but when the opportunity came up I figured, why not try it now? There will never be a right time to do it ... I was fortunate enough to be able to be in a secure situation where I felt I could take the leap and to be able to commit myself to something that I knew would be an incredible thing to do, and especially in the topic as well, to be able to have the opportunity and the honor to help others with something that I had dealt with myself—and hopefully some other things that I hadn’t dealt with. I didn’t want to turn down the chance,” Guillot said.

Guillot said that Invisible Conversations is best classified as an informative memoir.

“It jumps between three different things of parts of the book are instructional, and you can clearly source some lessons and advice from them. Others are personal stories from myself going through school or work or whatever it might be. Others are through interviews with other people of a similar age and what they’ve dealt with. You might not be able to pull a lesson from every single thing you read, but it builds a story and builds a narrative to be able to share these lessons,” she said.

Guillot said that she, too, has found much to learn from the book and the experience.

“I’ll be able to gain so many skills, just from a lifelong learner perspective. Starting in May, it was definitely a bit easier as I didn’t have any school, didn’t really have much to worry about. I wrote about 30,000 words between May and August and it felt pretty easy—then school started,” she said.

Guillot has been attending Babson College remotely this semester from Hammonton, and has been learning how to juggle writing the book while attending classes online.

“That was entering stages of getting all of the words out, getting some sort of structure, some sort of idea about what I wanted this book to achieve, and having my developmental editor along the way guiding the story along the way with what else might be missing. Within the past few months, it’s gone onto other editors who look at the entire structure of the book and gain some kind of understanding, if there are any major plot holes or things that might be missing from what I envision the book to be and what it is now,” Guillot said.

With the end of the fall semester, Guillot said that revision would take up much of winter break.

“Of course, as with anything during the pandemic, it’s all up in the air. We’ve all had our own struggles, and there certainly have been days where I didn’t know if I can do this. I haven’t been one to necessarily struggle with imposter syndrome before—I believe myself to have a great level of confidence in my abilities—but, when writing this, I thought, ‘is this too tall of an order, going to school, dealing with the pandemic and writing a book?’ But, however many months later, I’m still here, so that’s got to mean something,” Guillot said.

Recently, Guillot has been working with the editorial team at New Degree Press, which runs under a hybrid publishing model.

“It’s the middle of the road between self-publishing and working with a publisher like Simon & Schuster, Penguin and so on ... you’ve got the team behind you at New Degree Press; you’ve got that team of editors, designers, copy editors and everything who are going to work with you, while on the other hand you’re fundraising for the initial launch of it. You’re able to launch a presale campaign to fund the paperback and digital versions; the paperback, digital and hard copy; or the paperback, digital, hard copy and audio book. They give a lot of different options, depending on what you want to go with, and that determines how much money you’ll have to raise,” she said.

Once Invisible Conversations is published, Guillot hopes that the book resonates not only with those with invisible disabilities but also with those around them.

“We always know someone who has it. I think, initially, people look at this and say, I’m not the one struggling, this isn’t for me. I’m hoping for the book to be something greater than that. That’s been part of the process as well; not only looking inward, and seeing what my experiences have been, but also understanding the experiences of my friends, partners, my family and seeing me grow and deal with things like this, to be able to use this book as not only a resource for people with conditions but also for those who are around them in all sorts of situations ... You don’t have to move mountains for people, but to be a listening and supportive person, more times than not, is more than enough,” she said.


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