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How Writing About Being a 'Drunk Mom' Changed My Career

I drank while taking care of an infant. I was full of fire, ready to tell my story. The book got published; it became a bestseller; I received lots of praise, but also lots of criticism and even the occasional death threat. One of the most challenging and interesting gigs thatbrought on was ghostwriting somebody else's memoir. We recognized each other beyond our differences. We were both addicts.
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My first meeting about Drunk Mom (no, it's not a club even though it sounds like it, doesn't it?) was scary. There was a boardroom, and some very important people in it, and shelves stacked with very important books and I was being asked if I was sure about going ahead with my memoir.

It was considered to be really raw and risky; the editors said that I was setting myself up for lots of backlash, and asked if I was ready for it. At the time, I was full of fire, ready for anything, ready to tell my story. The worst had already happened -- I drank while taking care of an infant -- so, I've been to hell and back.

Might as well talk about it.

The book got published; it became a bestseller; I received lots of praise, but also lots of criticism and even the occasional death threat. But the most interesting thing that came out of -- cliché alert! -- putting myself out there was that I received some strange and not-so-strange gigs following the book's publication. I never expected the book to go anywhere beyond reviews and letters from readers who could relate (with the occasional one asking me to get my tubes tied and die).

But there was more. The book became something more than just a book, it was taking over my life in the best way possible. I was invited to speak at a few feminist events dealing with motherhood, I got to talk about Toronto's former mayor Rob Ford on the CBC, I was sent to Calgary as a speaker for the Spur Ideas festival where I talked about addiction and mental illness. I got invited to speak at a university about writing a memoir (and the book is part of the curriculum for two courses -- that I know of -- which is funny because I never bothered to pick up my university diploma).

I got to write about mental illness for Toronto Star, and, not surprisingly for The Fix, a magazine about addiction.

I'm sure there will be more events and I will jump at every occasion because, although I am now a fiction writer, I still want to talk about issues so many people are afraid to talk about. I shudder at the word "brave" because I'm not; I'm simply a little more aggressive and I give very few effs about what pear-clutchers might think of me constantly flaunting my demons in public.

Speaking of demons. One of the most challenging and interesting gigs that Drunk Mom brought on was ghostwriting somebody else's memoir. I can't tell you too much about him, but I can tell you that when the book comes out -- and I'm betting that it will release, as the story is quite unique and beautiful -- he will probably become an inspiration to many people who relate to his struggles and triumphs. He's actually the truly brave one, because he's a more public person than I was before Drunk Mom. His message is a powerful one that needs to be shared. He will be releasing his demons and he'll be ready to take them on (I know that for sure -- I've lived in his head). I can picture him on Oprah.

I had to become this person. He's a middle-aged man, our current family set-ups are quite different (a wife and grown-up children there; here, a little boy and a divorce); different cultures (I was born in Eastern Europe, he was born in the U.S.); completely different backgrounds, economic and professional; and his upbringing was so unlike mine that we could've been inhabitants of different planets. Even our temperaments are different: I'm reserved (despite being aggressive), whereas my confidante is loud and more open.

Yet when we met, we got each other right away. He knew me from reading Drunk Mom and wanted to meet in person, which is when we recognized each other beyond our differences. We shared the same dark sense of humour and we were both addicts. He wanted me to write his memoir. And so I did.

After our meeting we spent weeks talking about his story. It wasn't just reporting of the facts. I had to understand the feelings, too; I had to be sensitive to changes in tone like changes in weather; I had to sometimes take risks where I would try to guess sequences of events and my guesses were almost always correct.

I think the reason why they were correct was because I became this person. It was no longer me writing his memoir; It was him writing his memoir through me. I was sometimes reminded of the movie Being John Malkovich where a puppeteer named Craig discovers a portal that leads into the mind of the actor John Malkovich and starts a bizarre business venture where the actor's mind becomes a sort of amusement park.

The difference with ghostwriting and sitting in my confidante's head was that I was invited and we treated each other with respect. In the end, a lovely story came out and I've got the bug of ghostwriting buzzing loudly in my head. I call myself a fiction writer now (my first novel, GUY, comes out next fall with Buckrider Press) and ghostwriting is the perfect way to combine the world of creativity with the real world, which is, ultimately, my place on Earth.


Writers Who Didn't Study Writing