My guest today is Linda DeFruscio, author and founder of A & A Laser, Electrolysis & Skin Care Associates. Her memoir, Cornered, is about her friendship with Richard Sharpe, the millionaire dermatologist from Gloucester, MA who was convicted of killing his wife in 2000.DeFruscio is presently writing a book on skin care and completing another of profiles based on interviews with transgender people, many of whom are her clients.
What was the hardest part while writing Cornered?
Because I do some of my best thinking right before I fall asleep, it can be a challenge to remember what it was I wanted to jot down. Also, I began this project with boxes and boxes of notes; it was sometimes difficult to organize them into what would eventually become chapters.
What themes do you explore in Cornered?
Mental illness is a major theme in the book. I think it is fascinating to see the many varieties of responses to a dilemma people can have based on the way their brains work. Certainly whether or not Richard Sharpe was mentally ill when he committed his crime was a matter of interest to everyone who paid attention to his trial. Also, because I am the daughter of a criminal, I started visiting prisons well before Richard Sharpe was incarcerated, and as a result, I probably know more about prison life than most people. So, crime and prison life are also themes I explore in the book. Loyalty, love, family and patience also play big parts.
What obstacles or fears must a memoir writer face? Any tips on how to overcome them?
You don’t want to stray from the truth and yet you don’t want to insult anyone either. Abiding by the guidance of my literary lawyer, I changed almost all the names of the people I mention in the book. In some cases I even changed their professions and where they lived. There were some very juicy details that I had to delete because my lawyer felt they could be construed as “damaging” to an individual. So there was all that to contend with. On the other end, I was so afraid of forgetting some detail that would be important to the story. I relied on notes, yes, but some of my notes were written hastily, on post-its or napkins and once even on a paper plate.
What makes a good memoir?
In every instance I was driven by a strong desire to tell the truth. I’ve been a truth-seeker since I was a kid, probably because I was exposed to a lot of deception growing up. I was always trying to figure out what was true and what wasn’t. Maybe that’s why I became a note taker, and then a writer, in the first place.
Do you also enjoy reading memoirs? If yes, would you recommend a few good titles?
Yes, I prefer nonfiction to fiction. Recently I read She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan, which I would recommend highly. I also like reading biographies such as books written about well-known people, whether the Kennedys or Whitey Bulger. People become famous — or infamous — for a reason. I always want to know why.
How did you feel when you finished writing your story?
What is your worst time as a writer?
Before he was incarcerated, Richard Sharpe lived in a gorgeous house near the sea in Gloucester, MA. The first time I saw it I recognized it as the house I had always dreamed of. After he was incarcerated I had the chance to buy it, and I did! But a series of events befell me, and I wound up losing it not long after Richard Sharpe died. This was a painful event to live through, and it was painful all over again to write about. But I forced myself to write about it, and even to include details of experience, because I thought it might save a few potential homeowners from making the same mistakes I made. I can safely say that this was my worst time as a writer of this particular book.
Again, taking notes, and writing prose based on those notes, is my hobby. It is my way of exploring the world. I don’t have “a best time” regarding my writing. It’s what I do, so it’s all good.
What advice would you give to aspiring memoir writers?
Stick to it and get it done, but enjoy the process along the way.
Interview by Mayra Calvani
Originally appeared in Blogcritics Magazine