Friday, August 19, 2011

An Interview with Michelle O'Neil

Those of you that read this blog know I love. Michelle O'Neil. I love Michelle and everything about Michelle. She is my human. I don't have heros, I have certain humans that I wholly admire for their amazing ability to be human. She is a shining example of such a human. She is a wonderful wife, mother, friend and writer. Her writing speaks to me in a way few other writer's words do.

I have had the privilege of journeying through with Michelle on her memoir-writing path since 2006. I even got to read a much earlier draft of this book, which has come so far and is such an example of what stick-to-it-iveness and skill can do!

Friends, I bring you an interview with writer Michelle O'Neil:

1) Why did you decide to write your story as memoir?

I played with the idea of fictionalizing it, but no matter how I tried, it just didn't feel right. One of the themes running through Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar was this fear of being found out, and trying to hide. Having to pretend what was happening in our home wasn't really happening. Shame. I think writing and publishing my story as fiction felt like more hiding. Hiding is no longer tolerable to me.

2) How did you know what the framework would be?

Initially, I wrote a really long, everything but the kitchen sink, get it all out version, (you now Carrie, you read it…poor thing) and then spent a very long time whittling away at it. As I was writing, I would remember songs, TV shows, fashion trends and memories came flooding back along with the scenes. I had tons of material.  

3) How did you decide which episodes to include, and which ones to exclude?

Once I figured out what my point really was, it was easy. My point, was to cultivate empathy for kids growing up in dysfunctional homes. To humanize them. Not to feel sorry for them, per se, because there is a tenacity there, but to open up what might be going on for them, their rich inner worlds, so they might not be written off by teachers and other adults in their communities. Small actions on the part of healthy adults had a profound impact on the trajectory of my life. I wanted people to know it doesn't take much to profoundly help a kid from a troubled home. Sometimes just inviting them over for a meal can teach them skills which will serve them well.

So once I was clear on that, it was easy to figure out what to keep. Not necessarily easy to cut, because you get attached to your scenes but you've got to do it!

4) How is your family reacting to the publication?

For a very long time in our family, I believe I was seen as "overdramatic" for taking a hard stance against my father. He was not invited to my wedding, we were estranged, etc. Reading my book has helped others in my family better understand the reasons for my decisions around him. My sister was often out of the house and did not experience as much of our father's dysfunction as I did. She was off living an adult life while I was still in the thick of it. And there was a lot she had just blocked out. My brother, being a boy, had a completely different experience. Both are dealing with our father in their own way right now, but I feel loved and supported by them. 

My mother has always been very supportive of my writing and doing whatever it is I need to facilitate my own healing. She is not sure she's ever going to read Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar, and I support her decision not to, if that's what she chooses.  

My young brothers are from a different time period, a different world! I'm not sure the story even interests them that much and as of yet, I don't think they've read it.  

5) When will you have your kids read it, if ever?

For a long time, I didn't even let my husband read my manuscript. I had this fear it would be too painful for my loved ones to bear. The thought of my children one day reading it paralyzed me and made me unsure about  going forward with it. Children of dysfunction often feel they are "too much" or a burden.

Something shifted when I talked with a therapist about it. She assured me my husband was a grown man, and he could take it, and sharing my story was important for our relationship. She was right.

I feel certain my children will one day read it, (we've agreed to revisit the issue when each is at least fifteen) and I'm confident they will not be devastated by it, but proud of their mom, for breaking the cycle so they might lead happy healthy lives. 

6) What has surprised you from the whole process?

With technology today, it is much easier than I thought it would be to independently publish. Gone are the days of having to order a thousand hard copies to sit in your garage and mock you. With print on demand there is very little upfront cost. Of course if you don't want your book to suck you should invest in good editors.

7) What would be your advice to someone just starting to write memoir?

Have a writing practice. Make time every day to write (or almost every day). Write everything. Especially that scene you'd rather not. Eat good food and drink pure water, and sleep. And step away from the computer and exercise. If you are just starting, just write. Don't worry if it is good. Don't share it with many people while it's new and tender. Go to writing workshops and find friends like Carrie Wilson Link, Jenny Rough and Courtney Sheinmel to have in your corner. Seriously.

8) What do you know now, that you wished you'd known then?

I know now, that my writing, whether brilliant or sucky, does not determine my value as a person. If I'd really known that in the beginning, I'd have taken myself less seriously and had a lot more fun. While I am always learning and striving to be a better writer, life is supposed to be fun.

Thanks so much, Carrie!


Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar is available in paperback on Amazon or in ebook form on Smashwords


Dee said...

Thank you, Carrie, for publishing this interview with Michelle. As a person who is trying to become a better writer, I found this interview extremely informative. I can easily see why you and Michelle are such dear friends.

Learning how she came to fashion her memoir will help me, I hope, as I write. Peace.

kario said...

Yay! I love that you guys did this. And I love that I got to be there for that first writing workshop in 2006, too. This is a powerful group of women writers, yessirreee! said...

Thank you so much Carrie! And you too Kari! Though Jenny and I met even before that, on a mountain in Colorado! And Courtney was later, in a living room in CT. I love my writerly friends! xo

Tanya Savko said...

Great interview, Carrie! I always love your questions, and Michelle's answers are so insightful, as always.

terry said...

Can't wait to read it--I just bought and and have a week at the beach--heaven.

Wendy said...

I read it and i must say, I couldnt put it down. I really felt connected to Michelle. I have been long time readers of both of your blogs and am very excited for Michelle. Thanks for promoting her!

Elizabeth said...

Great interview -- I love Michelle's work and have just gotten her book in the mail!

Amber said...

Great job here! This book is so good, and everyone should read it. Thanks for letting us all understand more about the process.

i love you both.