Interview with Indra Sena author of Closet Full of Coke

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I’m not sure if I have ever written a formal review of Closet Full of Coke for this site.  I have mentioned it here and here.  And here is my full Amazon review:

I read this book in one night. I was captivated by the story and strength and resilience of this young woman who, in middle school, began selling drugs to better her life. As I was a toddler when the narrative began, I personally cannot remember this time in American history. This book shed light on the Reagan years, and the advent of cocaine in America.

Portions of the book made me cry. The narrative is so heart-wrenching, you want to reach through the pages and hold this young girl, you want to step in for her absent parents. You keep turning the pages because you want to see how it all turns out.

What I really found lacking was more information on how the author is doing today. There was brief information at the end, but I would have found more information about her life in the intervening 25 years from her teenage years to publication equally as fascinating.

Another book perhaps?

After that review, the author tracked me down to thank me.  And we’ve  been exchanging email on occasion ever since.

I’ve been fascinated with her writing process.  What it takes to write about something so personal, so deep and emotional.  And to put it all out there.  You can tell by some of the idiotic reviews on Amazon (and especially Goodreads) that some of the people reviewing did not read the same book that I did.  Yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but instead of critiquing the book for its literary merit, they ended up critiquing the author for her personal choices she made as a teenager 30 years ago.  I recently asked Ms. Sena if she would do an interview about this subject, and she graciously acquiesced.

1)  Where did you get the idea for your memoir?  Was it something you always wanted to do after the events took place?  Or did you have a dream or a stroke of divine inspiration?
I planned to write my memoir for nearly twenty years. I was twenty years old and reflecting back on all the events of my teen years and I realized that the story had all the components of fiction. It was kind of startling to see life so perfectly imitating art. I started telling people then that one day I would write this book. 
When I finally sat down to write it twenty years later it became clear that I needed the perspective of lots of time and distance from the events to write something like this.
2) How did you decide which years to focus on?
I knew exactly where the book would end but I wasn’t quite sure how early I should start it. My first draft had an additional five chapters in the beginning that described my life when I was 13 and 14 years old. But my editor and I ended up agreeing that the clearest beginning was the day I met Armando. So my original chapter 6 became chapter 1.
 3)  How did you remember events and timelines?  Did you have journals from those time periods of your life? Court records?  Did you interview family members?
I have an overactive memory. It can be frustrating sometimes but in general it’s very helpful. I memorize everything in chronological order in my life. I can tell you what house I lived in by what age I was. I also memorize conversations, especially significant ones. Sometimes I watch a movie I haven’t seen in many years and I find I have memorized the majority of the dialogue. I memorize things that are significant to me, and I can often remember where I was, how old I was, and what I was wearing.
I do have court records. I never looked at them but I gave them to the lawyers who vetted my book and they were able to view the actual charges from the court. There really are no family members to interview except for Joan who doesn’t really remember anything.
Although I don’t keep journals I am an avid poetry writer. I’ve written thousands of poems and I did take the notebooks from those years and reread all the poems I had written. They are confessional but they didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already remember but they helped with my voice since I don’t always memorize my side of the conversation precisely.
4) Did you write chronologically, or as memories came to you?  Did you have a timeline?  Lists of events you wanted to cover?  Is there some fantastic, unabridged version of “Closet” out there? If so, can I get a copy?
I’m sorry there is no real unabridged version. I started by creating an outline and a timeline and a character sheet. Then I went through in the outline and I made a list of scenes that would take place in each chapter. I wrote chronologically but sometimes I would remember something that was going to happen a few chapters ahead and I would jump forward and place that writing into the appropriate spot.
 5) Have any of the people featured in the book read it?  If so, what were their reaction to their portrayal?
None of the surviving members of my family have read it to my knowledge. 
** I do want to note that Ms. Sena did add an “aftermath” portion to her website adding what she knew about the characters featured in her book as of today.  If you have read it and are curious, you can find it here.**
 6) Have your current friends read it who didn’t know about your past?  Was it difficult for them?  
Many of my friends had a hard time with the book. Many people were surprised that they’ve known me decades and they didn’t know the contents of the book although they knew the generalities. There were few people who felt like they couldn’t finish it because it was too disturbing. But part of that is the fact that my current friends are not the type of people that enjoy horror or scary stories like mine.
7) Was it difficult for you writing certain scenes?
I knew every scene I was going to write in advance and I really had no problem with any except the entire chapter about my sister. I saved that until last. I dreaded writing it because I really didn’t want to remember the details.
 8)  Your memoir is excellent at inserting the reader directly into a scene.  I was born in 1982, but I swear I could hear the music, feel the lace gloves.  Personally, I can barely remember what song was popular, what I wore, the atmosphere of a given day in 1998 (when I was 16), did you have to do research, or did it come from your memory?
 All the music and the outfits came from memory. I was able to grab a small photo album I have with a couple dozen pictures that reminded me of some of my more favorite outfits and I was able to write them into the book. I do seem to be wearing lace gloves in practically every photo! The music I remembered perfectly but I also have memorized thousands of songs. I could hear the music playing in my head. Still, I went to YouTube and watched the videos I spoke about from MTV, I reread the lyrics and listened to all the songs that I mentioned mostly just to bring back memories. 
9) This is a very emotional, personal, heart-wrenching story.  How difficult was it for you to put that much of your soul out there for the perusal of humanity?
 I followed the advice of my idol Erica Jong. She says she writes every book telling herself she will not publish it. I did a similar thing where I told myself I would cut out anything I couldn’t handle, or that made me uncomfortable.  She also said that whatever you don’t want anyone to know, that’s what you write about, so I did.
I cannot explain what gave me the courage to then publish it.  I have read the book myself hundreds of times since then and I cringe during some of the passages not believing I had the nerve to leave it in. But eventually I just accepted that what makes the book good is revealing all those secrets.
10) In some of the more traumatic passages, especially with the issue of sexual assault, your voice becomes more distant, more matter of fact.  That is very in line with how trauma survivors view the events they endured, as if it weren’t happening to them, but to someone else.  This lends incredible authenticity to your memoir.  Was this on purpose or was this how it just came out?
That was not on purpose and I am not aware of  as being different from the rest of the book. The book lacks exposition leaves a lot of room for readers to think and feel on their own. It gives the intimate details of the events but it doesn’t go much beyond that.
11)  Now that it has been out there for awhile, are you glad that you published?  Would you change anything about the process?
 Yes I’m very glad I published it and I don’t think I would change anything that I’ve done so far. I’m very happy I self-published and retained editorial control over my work.
One day I would like to publish a memoir of my experiences.  If you are interested in reading about some of that drama, email me and I may provide you with a link to my page that has content pertaining to my book idea.
Memoir fascinates me.  It takes a tremendous amount of courage to put your soul on paper for the world to see.  Closet Full of Coke is a tremendous study is strength, in resiliency.  An excellent read and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good read.
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