Interview with Indra Sena author of Closet Full of Coke


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.

Weeding the book collection

My dismantled library

In order to accommodate new (to us) furnishings, I was forced to part with my bookshelf. It was rickety and apparently IKEA furniture isn’t made to travel halfway across the continental United States.

Alas, I had to dismantle my toned down library (I have about 100+ more books in the closet), and I am conflicted as to what to do with them. As I was removing them from the shelves, several categories popped up.

My history books: namely U.S. Civil War, WWII, some Revolutionary War. Would I ever read them again? Possibly. Some I am definitely never parting with, i.e. Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPhereson, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, all of my Stephen Ambrose. Could I at least part with some? The ones with intriguing titles like “The Things your History Teacher Never Taught You About the Civil War”? Maybe. Holocaust books? Never.

My spirituality books: there are some I actually haven’t read yet. Some my mom or friends have passed on to me that I haven’t had the chance or the interest to read recently. I have a ton of John Edward books, that I’m keeping (despite the fact that my husband hates him), plenty of books on reincarnation, dreams, etc. I could get rid of the more wackier ones.  Ones that are staying?  Journey of Souls/Destiny of Souls by Michael Newton, Many Lives, Many Masters by Michael Weiss and anything by those two men.

The classics: between my husband and myself, we have a nice collection of truly classic books. Some of them are in very nice hardback editions. I have saved some of the books I loved from my childhood. I have a beautiful copy of “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My husband has “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, and an absolutely incredible, gold gilded copy of “The Inferno” by Dante Aleghieri (with illustrations). These are staying put.

However, I can’t find my copy of “Now We Are Six” by A. A. Milne. He is the wonderful man behind “Winnie the Pooh”. I received it as a gift from a friend on my sixth birthday, and as my daughter is rapidly approaching that magical age, I wanted to give her my copy. I have moved several times in the past few years and I hope that I can find my copy. Or I hope I can order a new one.

Crime/thriller: a lot of James Patterson, some books we picked up here and there over the years. I am not parting with some of my books by Cyril Wecht M.D. I know its morbid, but he has a series of books about the cases he has consulted on over the years. He used to be the corner of Pittsburgh, PA, and he is just amazing with explaining pathology. That stays. The others I can part with.

Stephen King: I can never part with these. But I will make sure they are out of reach of my daughter so she doesn’t start reading “the master” at a young age like I did. I am permanently afraid of clowns. FOREVER.

Self-help:  I have a small collection of these types of books, “Toxic Parents” and “Toxic In-Laws” by Susan Forward among them.  I will keep those.  I think I am writing a post on these types of books soon.  I have some uncategorizable books that are in this vein that I could part with, but they are wonderful all the same “Why Do I Love These People?” by Po Bronson, and “Are You Wearing That?” by Deborah Tannen.  “Reviving Ophelia” by Mary Pipher I will keep, as I will have an adolescent girl in 7 years.

I guess this is self help, I bought “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker when I was really young.  I should have listened to every word printed in that book.  It has taken me until a few years ago to start using those cues and rely on my own intuition.  I will never part with that book, in fact I reread it from time to time so I can remind myself that I’m not paranoid, there is legitimate reasons that I was creeped out by that guy in the parking lot.

Political:  Wow.  I do have a copy of Ayn Rand “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” but they are still in plastic.  I live in Texas, this state is painted red and I received some of my books as gifts.  My ideals have changed a bit politically in the last five years or so, since the right became so nutty and angry and more radical.  I do have some right wing books such as Glenn Beck(signed too) and Ann Coulter.  Those can go.  I’ll keep Stephen Colbert.  He’s dreamy 🙂

Comics/humor:  I found such gems as 3 different editions of Calvin and Hobbs.  Yay!! Definitely a keeper.  I found some Far Side collections. Came across the “Tasteless Jokes” book again.  This one will  be hiding on top of the fridge until my child is 18.  Why not just get rid of it?  It’s an integral part of my husband’s childhood, see my post here.

Professional:  I am a nurse, my husband has a degree in chemistry.  We have textbooks, manuals, dictionaries, books with titles such as “How We Die”. Kind of freaks people out.  But our friends who call with medical questions or to tutor their children in chemistry (or physics or math) are grateful for the information.  I think the medical and chem stuff with stay.  That shit is expensive!

Oddities:  I found my second grade yearbook.  I only posted the cover on FB and have already had pleas to not post the pics.  I will comply as I look like a chipmunk who was recently electrocuted and dressed  by the wardrobe department of “Little House on the Prairie”.

I found my husband’s freshman and sophomore yearbooks.  He went to an all boys Catholic school.  He looked like a bobble-head until his body caught up with the rest of him, sometime in college.

I found my daughter’s baby book.  I hate having to answer questions to her like “who is that strange man holding me?” “Honey, that is your biological father”.

And, finally, my awesome collection of the Babysitter’s Club books.  To keep or not to keep.  I loved them.  I can’t be sure my daughter would be so enthralled about a group of 13 year old girls who babysit in Connecticut in the 80s.

I’ll spend the next week sifting.  And just imagine.  I have 200+ books on the kindle.  If they were in print form, I’d be swimming in books!

Any thoughts on what to keep or take to the half priced book store?  What have you done with ever growing book collections?


The Real World: Memoir

The first true events or memoir type book I read was The Diary of  a Young Girl by Anne Frank.  That book shook me to the core.  In school, you learn bits and pieces about WWII and the Holocaust.  I read about Anne Frank when I was in middle school, and I couldn’t believe what had happened to her.  Later in high school as a junior, part of a semester was devoted to Holocaust literature (Primo Levi, Eli Weisel) and culminated in a trip to the National Holocaust Museum in D.C..  That was an education.

I don’t have any particular type of memoir that I look for when I’m browsing, if it catches my eye, I’ll bite.  Assuming that the writer is being completely honest, they are putting themselves out there for examination, and you have to admire that.  Seldom are memoirs published about regular, everyday people who have everyday lives and are doing the right thing.  Most memoirs are written by people who have screwed up a bit, even if they aren’t in the public eye.  Accepting responsibility for those actions, in print, and in a location where everyone in your family, town, and the world can read is pretty ballsy.

Famous people memoirs:

Other than Anne Frank (who became famous as a result of her diary), I have read a few famous people memoirs.  What is the appeal?  I don’t particularly like the paparazzi and the TMZ crap, but my husband is a rock n roll encyclopedia.  He argues that he was born in the wrong decade.  I, on the other hand, came into this relationship without such an education.  I know the music if I hear it, but only recently have I begun to tell the difference between the wailing of Robert Plant and Steven Tyler.  Or the guitar expertise of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan (blasphemy coming from a Texan).  And it doesn’t help that Stevie covered Jimi.  And that Jimi often covered Bob Dylan.

Music is a very important part of my relationship with my husband, has always been since we were teenagers, and when the older gents started writing down their memories (while they are mostly intact), I decided reading them might help me out a little.

I have read Keith Richard’s  (and James Fox)”Life”.  It is well written and it does read like you are having a conversation with “Keef”.  I am not a huge Stones fan, I never really listened to them before seriously being with my husband, but I enjoyed reading this book.  I enjoyed reading how he came up with some of the signature sounds on particular songs, how he had the idea for lyrics and parts of songs.  I can’t do it (songwriting or instrument playing), so it is fascinating to me.  And the anecdotes about his legal issues, drug use, and affairs were amusing as well.  Keith owns up to his drug use, relationship issues, etc.  I admire that.

I have also read Steven Tyler’s “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?”:  A Rock and Roll Memoir.  It is not credited with another person as a writer.  As much as I enjoyed the same things I enjoyed while reading about Keith Richards, it was like Steven was holding things back, or glossing over parts.  I knew considerably more about Aerosmith as they enjoyed a comeback during the 90s on MTV and I am a part of that generation.  I just expected a bit more…honesty?

Non-famous people (yet) memoirs:

Browsing through the Kindle books one day I came across this gem:  Dying for Triplicate: A True Story of Addiction, Survival and Recovery by Todd Zalkins.  It intrigued me because as a nurse, I come across addiction, particularly prescription pill addiction, all the time.  I once worked in a pain clinic and my daily duties included looking out for patients that were diverting or who were abusing their medication.  This memoir is about a young man who had severe addiction issues.  He starts in childhood and with his early memories of drugs and alcohol.  He describes how the addiction started: he had an injury, they gave him a powerful pain killer.  He got addicted.  He tried rehab several times, but again relapsed.  He describes exactly what happens when a person is addicted to these powerful substances, that are intended to be prescribed to cancer patients, but are being prescribed for back pain.  His descriptions of the behavior he engaged in, the methods he used and why he did it, how he recovered has actually helped me in my practice as a nurse to understand the addiction process.

In the same category of drug books, Closet Full of Coke: A Diary of a Teenage Drug Queen by Indra Sena, piqued my interest.  I also posted my thoughts about this book on my post about books that haunt me.  As I was a child through the entire 80s, I know nothing about the “War on Drugs”, other than they had a bunch of assemblies at school and we got stickers that said “Say NO to drugs”.  Right.  This memoir had me completely hooked.  Written as a type of journal or diary, it is sad and did make me cry a few times.  I could not believe that this girl, at her age, could do what she did and no one really cared.  At 15, she is basically abandoned by her parents and is forced to find her own income.  As she had been selling “uppers” at school for a few years already, she meets a dark and handsome man at her regular dealer’s house who promises her that he has a new product that can make her rich.  Cocaine.  And so begins a whirlwind of dealing, dancing, spending, trips to Florida, evading the police.  Totally had me mesmerized from start to finish.

Not a sad memoir! I picked this one up via  The Snitch, Houdini and Me: Humorous Tales of Death-defying Childhood Misadventures by Johnny Virgil.  I often look for books that will make me laugh or smile instead of war, zombies, and the apocalypse.  This was exactly what I was looking for.  Even though the author is much older, I did find similarities that I guess are universal when you grow up in suburbia.  I will come out right now and identify myself as a Snitch, or in my family, Squealer.  To this day, I don’t know how it happens, but I still Squeal.  My brother is Houdini and the author mixed into one.  I loved all of the stories provided by the author, especially the ones about snooping for Christmas presents, his death defying feats (that is my brother), and war on the teenagers.  They really could have killed someone.  I’m not sure if I would have said that last sentence if 1) I wasn’t a nurse and 2) I wasn’t a mother. Overall, extremely funny and made me nostalgic for my childhood.

I decided to exclude any historical memoirs because then this post would be much, much longer than it already has become.  Another post for another day.

And don’t get me started on the non-fiction.

I read all 🙂

Laughter is the best medicine

A guy goes into a bar…

I’m hideous at telling jokes.  My husband is the joke master.  I really don’t have an entire collection of humor books. I mainly view my humor through raunchy stand up.  Laughter truly is magical and I try to laugh every day.

Some of the books I have mentioned already fit under the humor category.  The “Mercury” series by Robert Kroese comes to mind.  Another I found on bookbloggers, “There Goes the Galaxy” by Jenn Thorson, is a little bit of sci-fi, little bit of  “Hitchhikers” and hilarious.

I have three collections of “Calvin and Hobbes” comics by Bill Watterson.  When I started reading as a child, I started reading the newspaper, just like my parents.  And my mom’s favorite comic was Calvin and Hobbes, because Calvin reminded her of my brother.  Now you have a picture of what my childhood was like.  Some of the jokes I didn’t get until I reread them in adulthood.  But now as I reread them, I see my daughter in Calvin.  Karma made a mistake.

I have one lone humor book in my collection.  Mr. George Carlin.  Napalm and Silly Putty.  I like this particular book and I reread it often because it makes me laugh.  Over and over and over again.  I was raised Catholic, so I laugh even harder at times.  Dogma is one of my favorite movies, I was on the floor when I saw that Kevin Smith cast George Carlin as the bishop.  On. the. floor.  I tried to watch it with an evangelical Christian one time.  I don’t think we made it 15 minutes in to the movie when he made me turn it off.

The book on this page belongs to my husband.  The story behind it goes something like this:  my husband belongs to a large Italian-Catholic family.  When he was 10, he received that particular book as a gift because his family knew that he liked comedy and telling jokes.  They apparently didn’t look inside.

The table of contents lists:  Dead Baby jokes, Helen Keller jokes, Polish jokes, Italian jokes, Male anatomy jokes, Female anatomy jokes, Herpes, Leper, so on and so forth.  My husband was just delighted and went right to work on his act for the family talent show.

So there is this 10 year old standing up in front of his wholesome Catholic family in the late 80s, spewing out “Truly Tasteless Jokes” by Blanche Knott.  You probably could have heard a pin drop.  And when they asked him where he heard such filth, he pointed to the guilty party who bought him the book.

I hope that someone got it on film.

Books that haunt me

Its October.  Spooky time.  I don’t do a lot of the horror show.  Other than zombies, I don’t do the rest of the genre.  No vampires, no werewolves, no chainsaws, no hockey masks.  I’ll do an occasional serial killer book or series, but not too much of it.  And I’ll do an occasional ghost story.  But that’s my limit.

I’m talking about a different kind of haunting.  Books that stay with you long after you have turned the last page (or in my case, pressed the button).  Either the character, plot, writing or all three just stay in your brain and resurface now and again to remind you about this book you read at one time.

I have a few of these.  Funny, as I read my first paragraph, these first two are of the ones I seldom do.

The Lovely Bones — Alice Sebold — this violated my self imposed rules.  1) murder 2) sexual assault 3) involving a child.  I have those rules in place for a reason, but one night I was staying at my parent’s house and couldn’t sleep and was looking for fresh reading material.  And boy did I find it.  I read the entire book in one night.  And this was before the movie was even in production.  I was literally crying my eyes out in bed as I was turning the pages.  The way it was written from Susie’s point of view, how she tried to communicate with her family, I literally hurt for Susie and her story.  A novel has never made me feel such deep emotion before.  I had become a mother the year before, perhaps that is what it was, but since that time I have held fast to rule #3.  I still want to cry just thinking about it.

The Millennium Trilogy aka The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — Stieg Larsson — this one violated the sexual assault and serial killer rule.  But the character of Lisbeth Salander drew me in.  Her fierce independence, the way her mind works, her stubbornness, but she does have a tender side.  The way she sought her own brand of justice to avenge her own sexual assault made up for violating my own “no sexual assault” rule.  I also enjoyed the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael.  I did see the movie, and although I did not like how some changes were made to the plot, I can see why they needed to be made.  And casting Daniel Craig as Mikael definitely helped as well.  And I am now a huge fan of Rooney Mara.  And it helps that she comes from NFL royalty.

Closet Full of Coke: A Diary of a Teenage Drug Queen — Indra Sena — I love my memoirs.  Being that I was born under the Reagan administration, I was not aware of the high flying partying in the 80s.  And just look at the title!!  Who can pass that one up!!  But it wasn’t the descriptions of the partying and the money that haunts me.  It is how alone in the world that this young girl is.  And she feels responsible for her younger sister.  Her parents are a mess and basically put her out to fend for herself, and so she does.  I truly felt for her, even if I wanted to go back in time and smack her around for making stupid choices.  Also what sticks with me is how this could have happened in America.  I guess I’m naive.  There are teenagers in this country that are going through this type of thing right now.  Not everyone was blessed with two parents that wanted them, stayed together to raise them and always had the best interest of their children at heart.  A wake up call for me, really.  Very haunting.

Outbreak — Robin Cook — An oldie but goodie.  This is one of the first “adult” books that I read.  No not “adult” in that sense (see my post on THOSE books here).  This was the first time I read about things like the CDC, virology, epidemiology, all of those types of things.  And I still think about them.  Obviously, since I love my post-apocalypse books so much.  And currently there is a news story on about the current fungal meningitis epidemic.  Haunting.

On that note…Happy Haunting!!  BOO!!

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