Author Interview: Linda DeFruscio

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life. Writing books is a solitary endeavor, so it’s a pleasure to meet fellow writers through these interviews. By interviewing authors across genres, I discover new books and authors, and I’m happy to bring their talents to my readers.

We are nearing the end of the 2017 Author Interview series at The Writing Life, so enjoy the few remaining interviews as I focus on finishing my second book, The Laments of Forgotten Souls. If you’ve missed a few interviews, or are just now “tuning in”, we had a great year! Happy Spring to you.

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Today’s author is Linda DeFruscio, the founder and president of A & A Laser, Electrolysis & Skin Care Associates in Newtonville, MA. Her writing career began years ago, when she was invited to write a series of skincare articles for a national magazine. Linda’s fascinating memoir, Cornered: Dr. Richard J. Sharpe As I Knew Him, was published in 2015 by Twilight Times Books.

NOTE: A week before Linda’s scheduled interview, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of a Harvard-educated, millionaire, cross-dressing doctor who’d shot and killed his wife. As I put this interview together, I realized it was the same Dr. Sharpe we would be speaking about today. Talk about a strange case of synchronicity.

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Welcome, Linda. Please tell us how you met Dr. Richard J. Sharpe, and what inspired you to write this memoir.

Richard Sharpe was my business mentor, long before he committed his crime. He was a dermatologist and I was (and am) an electrologist, so we had in common that we were both interested in people’s skin. When lasers for hair removal came out in 1998, he was one of the first to realize their potential. He bought two (they were absurdly expensive back then) and “leased” them to me and other electrologists and skincare professionals he knew. I started taking notes about my interactions with him almost from the day I met him, because I am a compulsive note taker and he was unique in so many ways. And he only became more notable (and not always in a good way) over time. By the time I decided to write about him, I had boxes of notes. And because of the notoriety surrounding his trial, eventually I had boxes of newspaper clippings and Court TV tapes and tapes from various TV interview shows as well.

I find it fascinating that you listened to your gut and began taking notes on Richard Sharpe from day one. I can imagine how incredibly difficult it was to write about your friend and business associate, but to find yourself in the middle of this murder case must have been harrowing.

In the year 2000, I was forced to make an unthinkable decision. Dr. Richard Sharpe, a man who was my business associate and friend, committed a terrible crime. I went through many stages of emotion when I learned about it, beginning with shock, then grief, then a kind of numbness. I was in the numb stage when he reached out to me, from prison, asking me to remain his friend. I knew being his friend would cost me dearly; I would lose friends, clients, and some peace of mind. But I agreed to maintain some kind of relationship with him, because someone had to. He was utterly broken and very sorry for what he did. My memoir tells his story—how he went from being a medical and business genius, and, it goes without saying, a millionaire, to being a broken man in a prison cell—within the context of my own.

Writing Cornered must have required a lot of courage, stamina, and self-reflection. What did you learn and ultimately, sacrifice in the process of writing this memoir?

Since I appear as the narrator, I sacrificed anonymity in order to tell the truest story I could. In Cornered it required much more of me. I had to really reveal myself—all my many warts included—so that the reader would understand how I came to make the decisions I did. But it was worth it. A lot of people who read the book commented on my “unfailing honesty.” I think their trust in me enabled them to better see Richard Sharpe through my eyes. Yes, he was a despicable criminal, but he was also a man who tried, and ultimately failed, to deal with his physical, emotional and spiritual burdens.

How did you come up with the title? I think it’s perfect for this book.

I was adding to my list of possible titles the entire time I was working on my memoir. But in the end Cornered, with its subtitle, seemed the most appropriate. Richard Sharpe liked to be in the limelight—and often he was, because of the many contributions he made in the medical field. But when he felt himself threatened in any way he drifted into the corner, both literally and figuratively. And frankly, I felt cornered by him sometimes, because he was so needy. So the word worked on several levels.

After watching one video about this troubled, brilliant man and the murder of his wife, I would have felt cornered by him, as well as torn by the idea of remaining friends. Human nature is fascinating.

My decision to remain friends with Richard Sharpe impacted my life in ways that were unimaginable to me at the time. I learned a lot about myself and about human nature generally because of our association. I suffered a great deal of loss too. I think any reader who has experienced shifts in their life as a result of an association with a difficult or strong-willed or mentally-ill person—whether it is a child or a spouse or a friend—will identify with Cornered.

You’ve published children’s books and this memoir. How did you come to writing?

I came to writing more or less by accident. Years ago a magazine publisher asked me if I would write some skincare articles for her. And, a doctor asked me to contribute an article to a publication called the Annals of Dermatology. I found that writing is an engaging process. If it requires research, so much the better. Now I’m working on my third book, and I’m collecting notes for a fourth book. I’m so glad I discovered writing. It has become my way of exploring the world.

Has the writing process uncovered surprises or learning experiences for you?

Yes! I learned so much about myself through the writing of books. Loyalty is not something I ever gave much thought to before, but as it happens, it became a major theme in Cornered. I am a loyal person; I didn’t even know that before. And that’s just one example. Writing is a way of living; for all that it seems like such a passive activity, it results in lots of experiences and insights.

Linda, what do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Great thoughts sometimes find their way to me when I’m in an environment that is not conducive to writing them down. I have been known to scribble on Post-its, paper napkins, and even checkbook registers. I have also been known to run out of my office, ostensibly to use the ladies’ room but really to have a moment’s privacy to write down a thought before it slips away. The worst is when great thoughts come to me late at night. Since I have a day job, I need to get a good night’s sleep. But I know I will forget all about the great idea if I don’t get up and write it down right away. So I get up, which leads to challenges the next day.

I can fully relate to getting out of bed in the middle of the night to jot down great thoughts! What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?

No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth by Grace Anne Stevens may be one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read about what it means to be a woman. The ironic thing here is that Grace started out as a man. Another title I loved was Joan Heartwell’s memoir Hamster Island, which is about growing up dirt poor with two disabled siblings. You can see I gravitate towards memoirs, mostly about people overcoming great emotional obstacles. I also read a lot of spiritual books.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Besides Grace Stevens and Joan Heartwell, and off the top of my head, I enjoy Jennifer Boylan, Keith Ablow, and Jeanette Walls.

Who influenced you as a writer?

Marissa Lynn is the magazine editor who, the first day we met in her office, asked me if I would like to try to write an article on skincare. I went home and poured everything I knew about skincare into a first draft. Then I took it in to show Marissa a few days later. She read it, and, to my horror, she ripped it up. She said, “I don’t want this!” I was stunned. I started to cry. “This isn’t how you write!” she continued. “This sounds like a text book. Tell me real stories about real people with real skin problems. Tell me what you know from experience, not from what you studied in school.”

My inclination was to tell her nothing, other than that I wasn’t interested in working with her after all. But I took a minute to think it over and decided that would be a mistake. She was offering me an opportunity to reach many potential clients. She opened her drawer and took out a tape recorder. She said, “Take this and start talking. I’ll type it up later.” So I pulled myself together and told her a story about a man who had the beginnings of folliculitis barbae—a rare but serious bacterial infection of the deeper layers of the skin and subcutaneous tissues—and how we determined the cause of his infection and how we finally got rid of it. Marissa loved it. That was how it all began. 

It sounds like Marissa was a tough, but necessary mentor in your writing journey. Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?

Because I have my own business and work long hours, I don’t have the option of writing whenever or wherever I want. I write notes, as I mentioned above, wherever I am, as I think of things. Most of them I never look at again. But sometimes I realize I have the makings for a manuscript.

Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know.

I am a yoga fanatic. I do yoga very early in the morning, as many mornings a week as possible. I am also a closet eater of candies and other sweets that I know are not good for me. My favorite indulgence is York Peppermint Patties. So, something healthy and something not, that’s one surprise about me—though there are others.

Looking back, Linda, what did you do right that helped you write and market this book?

I stuck with it. In these times it’s not enough to find a publisher and hope your book flies off the shelves. You’ve got to accept every interview invitation that comes along, every opportunity to talk about your work, and not just right after the launch date. You’ve got to keep at it. It’s been difficult for me, because I work so many hours. But I do as much as I can and I plan to continue to do so.

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Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?

Don’t give up. Go after your dream. Persevere. The rewards for me have been huge, even though Cornered is not a best seller. Not only did I accomplish what I set out to do, but in the process I discovered answers to questions that had plagued me for years.

Well said, Linda.

Website and social media links?

www.lindadefruscio.com

www.thecorneredbook.com

www.gingerandmoecatbook.com

Where can we find your books?

On Amazon and other online sites, on my website, and in libraries and stores.

What’s next for you?

I’m completing a wonderful book about individuals in the transgender community. Because I am an electrologist, and because I was introduced to people from the trans community early on, a great number of my clients are transgender. And because every transgender individual works with a variety of healthcare professionals, I know lots of people peripheral to the transition process. Over the last two years I worked with an assistant to interview several of my trans clients. Their stories are all different and all fascinating. Now I’m in the process of adding a preface and some back matter, and deciding on a title.

The book I’m just starting is about my sister, who suffers from MSA, or Multiple System Atrophy. As you might guess, this book will describe her personal journey, and mine as well, with the context of our relationship as sisters. Again, I have boxes of notes, some of which are my sister’s ideas and insights. I can’t wait to get started.

Thank you, Linda, for a most interesting interview. I’ve enjoyed getting to know more about you and your memoir. I wish you the best of luck with your timely book on the trans community and the memoir with your sister.

About Eleanor:

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Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK
Please visit Eleanor at her website:
www.eleanorparkersapia.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who’s Telling This Story and Other Questions

I named my author blog, The Writing Life, for good reason–I love writing about my writing journey with its’ challenges, joys, and the confusing world of writing, marketing and publishing. Yes, the writing life can be confusing, and last week, I was confused in a big way with my second book, my work-in-progress.

These are the type of questions that kept coming to mind. Perhaps you can relate to the writerly predicament I found myself in.

What should you do when your protagonist and secondary character begin vying for first place in a story–the protagonist seat–and you’re swaying toward the secondary character? And then back to the main character you’ve chosen. Do you stick with your initial storyline, keeping it as is or do you take this new development seriously? You’ve already worked so hard on the story, dear writer. The manuscript might be finished, or you might be a third of the way through, but still!

Should your characters switch places, which will undoubtedly mean a rewrite and most probably, a bit more research, or do you stubbornly hold your ground in favor of the original story? You know this character musical chairs game will mean a lot more work on your part. Is this a wise move worthy of the time you’ve already spent on the story?

YES! Take the nagging feelings seriously. Here’s what happened to me last week.

I’d written nearly twenty chapters of my work-in-progress when my muse whispered, “Whose story is this?” I quickly recognized the situation. Oh, no. After I finished my very first manuscript in 2006, the second leading lady, ‘spoke’ loud and clear–clear enough for me to stop and take her seriously. I couldn’t deny she’d become the more interesting character to write as she was a feisty, wise, complicated older woman with a mysterious, tumultuous past versus a beautiful, young widow and mother with limited life experience.

Despite realizing the enormity of the task ahead–rewriting my story and adding new chapters–I forged ahead. It was the right move for me. Yes, it required many months of rewrites and writing new chapters, but I listened to my characters and my inner voice, who pointed to Ana, my secondary character. She’d been the leading lady all along, with Serafina playing the role as Ana’s long-time, loyal friend and supporter.

This past weekend, I gave this recurring theme (and nagging throughts) a good long look. I’d outlined book #2; thought the storyline out from beginning to end; I’d done a substancial amount of research; I understand my characters and their roles in the story; and I have a good story with unique, complex characters in a unique and complex setting. Okay, done. I was very pleased with the story and felt pretty confident in my main character’s ability to pull the story off. Yet I still had a nagging suspicion that wouldn’t let go–the supporting lady, also called the supporting protagonist, was speaking louder than the protagonist–was it her story? Are you kidding me? Again? All that writing and research down the drain!

Each character is important and integral to the story. I had to remind myself:

The protagonist is the main character and the principal figure in a literary work. It is her story to tell because it’s about her and her goal. The secondary characters must be chosen carefully and should contribute to the story and support the protagonist in her goal. The antagonist is equally as important as the protagonist as she will go against the protagonist at every step, causing the leading lady to act, suffer, make mistakes, work things out (or not), and help move the story forward. If a minor character doesn’t support the protagonist, it might be necessary to cut them from the story.

Then, I wrote to my mentor, master-storyteller Jack Remick, who graciously responded to my email full of confusion. He replied, “It’s good to be in chaos at this stage of the story. First question, of course, is: whose story is it? Keep going. You’ll solve the problems now that you’re worrying about them.” He was right. It was a great reminder. I’d lost the plot with so many characters in my head! (Check out Jack and Bob’s superb writing blog – bobandjackswritingblog.com)

So, the former protagonist in my WIP will have her own book on down the line. Her story is already firm in my mind, and I’ve done most of the research. I’ve put her aside for now. Who did I choose as my leading lady for book #2? The secondary character. She is complex and  vulnerable, intelligent and clueless, and at times, she’s haughty. She is perfectly flawed.

I immediately felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders when I’d decided. Once again, I’m writing with a huge smile on my face. It’s going to be an awesome story, now that I know whose story it is to tell. I think the former protagonist is somewhat relieved, as she was out of her element in this particular story. She was just waiting for me to realize what she already knew. Yes, writers speak to their characters and they answer us!

Sometimes you must get completely lost, almost in a state of chaos, to find your way. Writing good stories is like that: one foot in front of another, paying attention to the shady detours and dark corners which just might lead you to Shangri-La.

Happy writing to you!

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

 

elliePuerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, and book clubs in many states have enjoyed the book. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is happily writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.