What kind of mother abandons her children? Donna George couldn’t imagine, until heroin and opiates became more important to her than life itself. Even drugs couldn’t mask the pain in her heart, but they could get her busted. Her choice became jail or Sunflower House, an extreme, last chance rehab she couldn’t possibly face. No other program had worked … but maybe, just maybe, tough-love counselors and a handful of colorful characters could help her find the way through the madness and back to her daughters and her better self. An intimate, gritty memoir about addiction and recovery.
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While I used fictional techniques like dialog and scenes to write Starfish, writing a memoir is different because you are relying on memory and you are trying to tell the truth. Truth and memory are elusive qualities and you have to be very honest. You are writing about other people too and you have to consider their privacy and be honorable in how you portray them. Basically you employ a rigorous honesty and also try to have compassion as your guiding principle. It is hard to share unflattering and even humiliating truths about yourself, but readers expect you to bare your soul a bit, or else why bother?
What Advice Would You Give Aspiring Writers?
I would say not to worry about being perfect in the first draft, not to censor yourself, just let it pour out. Later you can edit and revise, but first you must create the clay that you will work with. Listen to your inner ear to know what sounds right and what doesn’t. I write in scenes, and I think of it as putting together a quilt, creating the pieces and then putting them together, moving them around as needed. I’ve never actually made a quilt, but I can imagine the process. I also say to write for yourself, and not for what is popular at the moment, but that’s just me.
Donna George recovered from heroin and opiate addiction in a long-term California drug program (Sunflower House) in 1982-83, which she wrote about in her first memoir, STARFISH. She lives on the East Coast with her partner and two cats, and is currently writing a coming-of-age memoir,
I wrote Starfish because I wanted to share my story. Being a heroin addict was a demeaning, demoralizing experience. I was lost in a dark world and barely felt like I existed. I hated the things I did and the person I became, especially the ways I neglected and failed to protect my children. I thought I would die that way, because nothing I tried worked for me until I was busted and went to Sunflower House, which was such a unique long-term rehab that I always wanted to share the story of recovering in a hard-core program like that. Sunflower House was the only program that could reach me. We need more long-term programs if we want to help the hard-core addicts.
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