Welcome back, readers!
It's good to have you here. Today I'm excited to share with you an interview that I trust you'll find inspiring and enlightening. Please join me in welcoming author Carolyn DiPasquale.
Thank you for joining us today, Carolyn. We appreciate your time, input and sharing of your story here at Pen and Prosper.
Can you tell readers a little about your background and how you began your career as a writer?
I grew up in Wisconsin where I attended mediocre public schools; still, I acquired a love for words, excelling in reading and writing. That my mom was forever bent over a newspaper or book probably played a part. In any case, I loved the power of words, their ability to paint vivid scenes, persuade and move people. Whereas my science and math grades singed my cheeks, the A’s I received on papers in high school and college lifted my head. I should have started my writing career sooner, but I couldn’t manage it as a single mother. So, I’m a late bloomer—a debut author at 64.
What challenges you the most about the creative process?
Generating text, that is coming up with something unique or worthwhile to say, is the hardest part of the process. This is especially difficult when I don’t have a clear idea of what I’m writing about or there are multiple options.
What inspired you to write Reckless Grace? Is it your first book?
My daughter’s extraordinary journals—twenty volumes penned over ten years. When I discovered them, I felt like I’d struck gold. Rachel was guarded, and her death was abrupt. These diaries would finally let me in and answer my gnawing questions. However, once Rachel’s secrets started to surface through my reading, I knew this was not the kind of information I could sit on. It had to be shared. Other people, especially parents of teenage girls, would want to know how Rachel had fallen through the medical cracks and why she’d kept quiet for fourteen years.
This is not the first book I wrote—years ago, I penned a memoir about my late father, and, recently, two children’s books--but it’s the first I published.
What do you hope readers will take away from it?
I want readers to close Reckless Grace with a clearer understanding of mental illness. I want them to know how painful it is for people—especially adolescents and young adults—to live with serious disorders. I want them to know how often and how long victims live without treatment as their symptoms get more and more unbearable. I want readers to feel the voltage of that suffering so they’ll show those people kindness and/or get earlier and more effective mental health care for themselves or their loved ones. Finally, I hope Reckless Grace makes it to the nightstands of influential individuals, such as doctors and nurses and CEOs of health insurance companies, hospitals, and eating disorder (ED) facilities, inspiring them to review and improve practices and policies that would give young people with co-existing mental illnesses a fighting chance to improve their health and live quality lives.
Was there ever a time in writing this very personal account of your daughter’s bouts with bulimia and mental illness, that you felt it might be considered a family betrayal or invasion of Rachel’s privacy (particularly the diary inclusions)?
I agonized over how this book would affect Rachel’s father, my ex-husband (“Perry”), who is obviously a flawed character in the book. Rachel revealed how much he disappointed her in some brutally candid entries. Readers can trace many of her heartaches, as well as her attraction to dysfunctional men, who further hurt her, to her father. Worrying that this content would distress my ex, I cut quite a bit. Still, it was important to retain some facts. Fathers need to know how deeply their words and deeds—or lack of them—affect their daughters.
I did not feel like I was betraying Rachel’s privacy by publishing her journals; on the contrary, I believed I was helping her achieve one of her life goals: to pen her memoir. If I divulged some dark secrets, it was for the greater good, to alert people to the frightening fact that children can be battling severe mental illness without their parents’ awareness; and unless those kids get immediate help, they will suffer and decline. Still, I did not tell all Rachel’s secrets. I withheld some that would have mortified her and others that would have crushed her father and brothers.
A popular adage states that “for every loss there is a gain.” What would you identify as the greatest gain from penning this compelling memoir?
This project was therapeutic for me. Healing came not just from venting my emotions but also from understanding what had happened. Learning about Rachel’s disorders helped me grasp some of her baffling thought patterns and risky behaviors. Even her grip on substances and downward spiral started to make sense. My comprehension even of this tragic path somehow brought me peace.
In hindsight, is there anything that you would have done differently?
I would have kept better track of my sources. In college, I was taught to write my sources of information (quotes, paraphrases, and summaries) and source facts (author name, publisher, date, etc.) on three-by-five-inch cards and file them in a little index card box. I thought it was silly and never did it. When starting this project, I nixed the notion again, reasoning that my sources were within reach; my books on mental illness and addiction in one bookcase, and my hardcopies of scholarly studies in another bookcase in three-ring binders, all borrowed material carefully bookmarked with hot pink sticky notes. However, as the project progressed and my sources multiplied, my (slipshod) system began to break down. My proliferating sticky notes began to peel off. Or I forgot to bookmark new sources or remove sticky notes when I cut certain quotes. It became harder and harder to retrieve my original borrowed material when my editor cut sources that I later had to restore. Had these sources been recorded on those silly little cards and alphabetized in that silly little box, I would have saved myself a lot of time and aggravation.
What has been the most gratifying aspect of publishing the book?
Hearing feedback from readers who have been helped by this book. Last week, on Messenger a woman wrote: “Hi Carolyn. I am almost finished reading Reckless Grace. It took me awhile to be able to read without constantly weeping, broken-hearted over what you, Rachel, and your family all went through. Carolyn, it’s a masterpiece. This is a book that is an essential read. You have given a gift to the world.”
This week, another woman wrote “I just finished your book. I had a hard time reading it at first since it hit so close to home, but once I got halfway, I just devoured it. Your story resonates SO MUCH with me! Rachel’s journals are incredible. She was such a beautiful writer and expressed her feelings so amazingly. I can’t even tell you the emotions I went through because she articulated so much of what I know Lexi [her daughter] was feeling. Your story really made me realize how much the borderline personality disorder played into Lexi’s inability to handle life situations, and how it drove her to unhealthy coping mechanisms. It has really opened my mind to what caused her struggles. And I can relate so much to your side as a mother - the constant search for help, desperately seeking financing, hope soaring, then the disappointing blow of relapse time and again. I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing honestly and openly.”
What would it surprise others to know about you?
I suppose because I project this cultured, feminine persona, people are always surprised to find that I like to shoot. Their brows really rise when Phil brags that I hit the bull’s eye more often than he does.
If you could have one literary “super power” what would it be?
I wish I were more imaginative. I envy fiction writers who dream up palpable characters and plausible plots. I think it would be great fun to breathe life into a set of characters, place them in a unique situation, and let them run. I forget which famous author said his characters take on such a life of their own, that he can barely keep up with them. My mind doesn’t work that way. When given a fiction writing prompt, I draw a blank. I’m much more comfortable writing about things I know.
Do you have any other projects in the works that readers can look forward to?
I’m writing a sequel to Reckless Grace, a fantasy that takes place in heaven.
I know this contradicts what I just said above. I’d need an imagination to write any fantasy. And heaven tops them all: “Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard” how awesome it is (1 Cor. 2:9)." Even as the topic draws me, I quiver a little, wondering if I’ll be able to pull it off.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Carolyn DiPasquale grew up in Franksville, Wisconsin, graduating from UW-Milwaukee with a double major in English and French. In 1983, she moved to Rhode Island where she raised three children while pursuing her Master’s in English at the University of Rhode Island. Over her career, she taught literature and composition at various New England colleges; worked as a technical writer at the Naval Underseas Warfare Center in Newport; and wrote winning grants as a volunteer for Turning Around Ministries, a Newport aftercare program for ex-offenders. She has been an active member of the Newport Round Table, a professional writing group (founded in 1995), since 2013.
DiPasquale currently lives in Richmond, Rhode Island where she has started working on a sequel to Reckless Grace. She has also ventured into writing children’s books. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and baking with healthy ingredients, hiking and trapshooting with her husband Phil, and volunteering at the New Hope Chapel food pantry in Carolina, Rhode Island.
Learn more at her site:
Please share your thoughts or questions regarding this interview in the comments section.