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Tiffanie DiDonato was born with diastrophic dysplasia, a rare form of dwarfism that affects the development of bone. As a child growing up in Massachusetts, Tiffanie yearned to do the things most of us take for granted: buy age appropriate clothes, drive a car without special equipment, even something so seemingly mundane as take out the trash. Very early on, Tiffanie realized that the world around her wasn't going to adapt to her and that she'd have to adapt to the world in order to realize her dreams.
Undergoing a series of lengthy and excruciating bone lengthening surgeries, Tiffanie embarked on a controversial journey that would eventually gain her an exceptional fourteen inches in height but cost her years of physical and emotional pain. With the help and strength of her family, Tiffanie learned to combat the attitudes of an often intolerant world, fight for the things she wanted in life, and establish independence and self-efficacy despite the odds.
Dwarf is the moving story of one girl's determination to define for herself what it is to be "normal." It is a journey through overwhelming struggle, personal strength, and ultimate triumph. It is a book that reminds us that happiness is worth fighting for, regardless of the adversity we may face.
Tiffanie Didonato graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth with a BFA in writing and communications. She's now a weekly columnist for the online magazine, Encore, where she also runs an online book club.
Q. You write about the criticism you received from various sources regarding your surgeries. Have you received feedback from dwarf communities? If so, how would you describe that feedback? What do you think motivates the negative criticism you've received?
I did receive feedback from the LPA (Little People of America). They told Good Morning America that they didn't condone what I had done. I feel like this is an unnecessary judgment. I've also read personal blogs written by other little people that not only bash my decision, but also harshly criticize my mom for allowing me to undergo such a procedure. People wrote letters that said I was vain, a sell-out and worst of all, going to be a horrible parent if I had a child born with dwarfism. I don't know what motivates these disparaging comments. I'd describe them as annoying, but not hurtful. I know what real pain is and these opinions don't compare. It took me awhile to understand that. I wish I could have told my teenage self as much. Today, I'm too busy making a cup of coffee, shopping, taking out the trash or giggling with my son to hang on to the negativity.
Q. Dwarf deals with several emotional events in your life. Which was the most challenging for you to revisit and why?
The most challenging event for me to revisit was the death of my best friend, Mike. As I was writing and trying to find the right words to go on the page, little details about Mike's behavior started to stick out—and, worst, sink in. I recalled with so much clarity the expression on my mom's face when I told her he committed suicide and I swear I could hear myself scream all over again. I couldn't help but wonder: Why I didn't pick up on the clues about his depression? Why didn't I make more of an effort to find out what was going on his life? I assumed all was OK and, because of that, a part of me will always feel that I failed him as a friend. More than ever, I missed him while I was writing and wished I could pick up the phone.
Q. How has writing about your experience affected your understanding of these events?
To be honest, reflecting on the experience hasn't really helped me understand the event. I don't think one can fully understand why a person decides to commit suicide. I will never comprehend what made me stick it out on this Earth and what made him give up. But it has helped me close the chapter, so to speak. It helped me remember the great times we had together and cherish them always. And it sure as hell made me appreciate everything so much more. At least with this memoir, Mike will live on with readers and he will never be forgotten.
Q. Were there any surprises for you while writing this book?
Ha! Yes, there was a big surprise. I became pregnant! I was so focused on writing, gathering together portions of my diary and tuning up the raw material with my co-author, Rennie, that—oops! Here comes baby!
Q. Your parents play a vital role in your story. What is their opinion of your decision to share your story?
My mom is very supportive. She's happy and proud that I accomplished my goal. She's even happier that I was honest and upfront about it all. And I know she's hopeful that my experience can help someone else—no matter the goal one may seek to achieve. My dad, however, is a very private person. I spoke with him while writing and asked for his blessing to share the story about his father and mother. He agreed, yet I don't think it has hit him yet that this is a real book, to be shared with real people everywhere. Or maybe it's quite the opposite? Maybe it has hit him, but he's suppressing it. He doesn't talk much, so I doubt I'll ever really know what he's thinking. And that could be a good thing.
Q. How has media exposure affected your family?
As of yet, the media hasn't really affected our family. The hate mail I received years ago was taken with a grain of salt and I believe it always will be. As things take off and the media becomes more prevalent, however, I may have a different answer later.
Q. What advice would you give another author wishing to tell her story? Is there any part of telling your story you would have done differently?
This is a great question. I would say to any author wishing to tell their story to be honest with their feelings. Don't hold back any event in your life that has shaped you—even if you find that moment to be absolutely mortifying. Someone else, somewhere in the world will be able to relate. It's OK. Most importantly, those horrific and humiliating moments are part of what shapes the person you become in this world.
Q. Of the many strong character traits you develop throughout your story, which do you think was most important for you?
Hmm . All of them!
Q. If you were to pick a single message you'd like your readers to walk away with, what would it be?
This question is easy! That message would be to fight, fight, FIGHT! Fight for what you believe in. Fight for your dreams no matter the opposition and most importantly, fight for yourself and what you deserve.
Q. What sort of writing projects do you currently have in the works?
Right now I have two projects. The first is a horror novel that my husband and I are conjuring up together. While he was in Iraq he did tons of writing to keep his mind busy and sharp. His imagination is wild! And I have lots of fiction material from my days of surgery that built up on an external hard drive. We're putting them together and have come up with a great "bone tingling" story—no pun intended. The second is a continuation of my own life story. There are many moments in my life I haven't shared and I can't wait to put them on the page. And I'm sure there's some curiosity from others about how I manage being a mom and a marine wife—that's OK, too. Down the road I would love to write a children's novel that focuses on tolerance and accepting differences. It will be a tribute to my son, Titan.
- Early on in this book, Tiffanie writes about everyday tasks she'd always wished to perform without effort. What surprises you about the things she lists? How do you think she views the world at the beginning of the book? What would change for you if you were unable to perform those same everyday tasks?
- How would you describe Tiffanie's relationship with her father? How do his actions following her birth inform their relationship? What does Tiffanie mean to her father? What does he mean to Tiffanie?
- Considering Tiffanie's description of the bone lengthening process, what is your opinion of her decision to pursue it? What does this decision say about her character? What factor, if any, does her age play in your opinion? Would you have gone through with the surgery? Why?
- What impact does Tiffanie's experience with Ms. Hart have on her? What does this experience change about Tiffanie's view of the world? What does Tiffanie's reaction to this event say about her character?
- How would you describe Tiffanie's relationship with her mother? How does Tiffanie's mother view Tiffanie? What role does her mother play in Tiffanie's life? How is this relationship different than the one between Tiffanie and her father?
- Tiffanie describes a difficult scene in which she struggles reaching the bathroom after her last surgery. What does Tiffanie learn about herself during this event? What does she learn about her mother? How does this event affect the dynamic of their relationship?
- Tiffanie eventually discovers a whole new world online. What does the internet offer her? How do online communities affect Tiffanie's view of herself?
- Tiffanie argues with her friend Mike about her surgeries. What does Mike mean to Tiffanie? What is your opinion of Mike's insistence that Tiffanie accept herself for who she is? What impact does Mike's fate have on Tiffanie?
- What is your opinion of Tiffanie's decision to live on campus during college? What impact does this opinion have on her family? What does this decision mean for Tiffanie? How does Tiffanie's college experience differ from other students' experiences?
- What is your take on Tiffanie's relationship with Eric? What does Eric offer her? How does he see Tiffanie? How does Eric's enlistment in the military affect their relationship?
- What does writing mean to Tiffanie? What is your opinion of Tiffanie's decision to tell her story? How does she benefit from doing so? What challenges do you think Tiffanie faced in presenting her story in the form of a book?
- What do you think lies in store for Tiffanie? What values or lessons do you think she learned from her journey? Tiffanie writes that, if necessary, she would want her son to undergo the same bone-lengthening procedure. What is your opinion of this? Would you feel the same had you had a similar journey?