How did you get started in writing?
I was that kid who loved to read. Every Christmas in the late 1970s and early 1980s, my wish list included a ton of books that I couldn’t wait to read and then put on my bookshelf. No new, fancy tech gadgets for me—bound paper with interesting words works just fine, thank you. Judy Blume was an early favorite. Then, as I got into my preteens, I got edgier. The suspense of Lois Duncan novels became my real passion.
I thought I might become an author and so I went to Emerson College and majored in creative writing. It was there that I learned that writing is hard! You have to come up with great ideas and put them together in a cohesive and interesting way. I thought great authors just came by their craft naturally. Who knew??
I transferred from Emerson to UMass/Boston, switched my major to English, graduated, moved home, decided I wanted to work in the criminal justice system, and I got a job back in Boston. That was where I planned to stay. Then 9/11 happened, and it made me realize how much I missed Cape Cod.
I came back home, took the first job that came my way and planned on that being my life plan. Then I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Don’t be fooled, MS sucks. My first neurologist even told me so. I was supposed to be angry at the diagnosis, but what I felt most was frustration. And frustration does me in! I started to write down the things that frustrated me:
- One of the most painful MS symptoms is called a hug?
- I have to start giving myself shots made from Chinese Hamster Ovary Cells?
- How am I supposed to eat healthy to fight MS related fatigue when I am too freaking tired to prepare healthy foods? (There is a reason that Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream comes with an easy open pop top.)
Before I knew it, I was writing. And it turns out, I could write funny. So I wrote a funny book about a serious illness which eventually led to my writing this serious book about a funny person. Go figure.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing this book?
There were so many challenges with this one, the book I call the story of my heart, that it is hard to narrow down. This is my story—who else would care? Isn't it dated? We have learned so much about addiction since 1991—wouldn't it be hard to relate? Are my memories even accurate? What is the point of telling this story?
Ultimately, I think my biggest challenge was worrying about privacy issues. Not my own. If I can write about bladder control annoyances in my first book and the boob cake my friend made me when I received my breast cancer diagnosis in one of my blogs, my own privacy issues have long since dissolved. But what about other people in the story? This book was a catharsis for me, but it doesn’t mean that everyone will welcome the portrayal of my first love, the many mistakes we both made, and the people on the periphery of those mistakes.
Eventually, I decided that I needed to tell this story as a tribute to Richard, my first love. I needed to share how important he was to me and hope that by doing so, others in his life will recognize the man that the addiction took from them.
What would you like readers to feel, learn or experience by reading your book?
I would like it if people smiled at their own memories of first love, even if it didn't have the ending they hoped. That would be the experience I would treasure people having upon reading my story. The magic of that time, those strong, confusing emotions, the joy and even the pain. If my memoir takes people back to their own first love, I think that would be a poignant thing. If readers don't already know this, I would like my story to remind them that addicts can be more than their addictions. Maybe not always, maybe not without a lot of pain, but they can still have something important to offer. And finally, I would like readers to feel comfort in the knowledge that not all happy endings look the same. And that is OK.
What advice would you give to new writers?
I have two pieces of advice I like to give new writers. First, listen to everyone. Second, don't listen to anyone.
What I mean by this is that if you are in a writing group or are putting your story out to beta readers and five of them come back to you with the same comment, they may be onto something. Listen to them. What is the point of being in a writer's group or seeking beta readers if you don't value their opinion as potential readers? That said, it is your story. And you know it best. So if you don't feel like a critique is accurate, after you have opened your mind, listened and evaluated it, then in the final analysis, you have to go with your gut. But just please, please, please listen first.