Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Truth About Memoir Writing by author Carolyn DiPasquale


Fourteen-year-old Rachel guards a collection of secrets for ten years, journaling to vent her terror and loneliness. Following Rachel's fatal overdose years later, her mother, Carolyn DiPasquale, stumbles upon her daughter's diaries. Shattered, she searches for answers, retracing her steps to figure out how parents and doctors missed three major mental illnesses. What the single, working mother recalls is a far cry from what happens, as is dramatically revealed in tandem chapters gleaned from Rachel's journals. While the mother sprints from task to task, the daughter details the baffling emergence and frightening progression of bulimia, diabulimia, and borderline personality disorder; her eventual substance abuse; and heart-wrenching reasons for not seeking help. Despite her loss, DiPasquale hopes her story lights a path for victims of mental illness while awakening all readers.


The Truth About Memoir Writing

We love true stories. Books and films based on actual events are often our first picks. Maybe we’re slightly voyeuristic because we like being privy to people’s unique thoughts and experiences. Keenly aware of this, memoir writers try to serve up truth. We report events with precision. Dig deep inside to recall our exact thoughts, motives, words. And for the most part we do. But I’ve learned it’s wise to withhold some truths.  

For example, there’s a scene in “Doves Make Feeble Mothers” in which my father sharply reprimands my sister and me, respectively seven and six, for frolicking on our front lawn half naked after a bubble bath. In truth, he had led us downstairs to his dark workshop, turned on his roaring table saw, and threatened to saw off our hands if we did it again, a fact I retained in earlier versions but eventually cut. I needed an example of questionable parenting, but this was over the top; moreover, it portrayed my generally docile father as a monster for an admittedly abusive though completely isolated incident.

I also removed morsels about my ex. In earlier versions of “Broken,” I described Perry waltzing into Rachel’s hospital room on three separate occasions after her diabetes diagnosis, eating sugary foods after she begged him not to. I had included these facts to develop his character and illustrate why tension existed between him and Rachel. However, my writing group thought Perry’s behavior was too outrageous for a father to be credible. Fearing readers might question my reliability as a narrator, I cut the scene.

I was more transparent about my parenting, liberally disclosing my many mistakes. I knew some readers would criticize me. Still, these were truths worth telling; truths readers could learn from. For the same reason, I flung open my daughter’s journals, revealing things most mothers don’t want to know, much less talk about; not to be macabre, but to illustrate the tragic trajectory of untreated mental illness. I did not want readers to miss that, nor the fact that without early, effective help people will suffer and decline. Some will die. Still, I did not tell all. I withheld some truths from Rachel’s journals that would have mortified her and other dark incidents that would have crushed her father and brothers.

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. Visit her website to follow her updates. You can also follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

1 comment:

Carolyn DiPasquale said...

Fiona, thank you so much for featuring Reckless Grace on your lovely blog! Carolyn