S.E. Carson is writing a fictionalized memoir of her journey battling an eating disorder who she has named Not-Alice. The story works on discovering who someone is without their disorder, finding the voice that’s been buried, and learning to trust the sound of it.
In Carson’s own words:
“I explore the incredibly complex and manipulative relationship between a person and his/her/their disorder, and the protection that is offered from being Inside of the dynamic. The sheer complexity of the addiction is astronomical. Because, although abusive, Not-Alice really has given and promised the Little Doe so much. Protection, understanding, a pathway, a refuge. A way to survive.”
I’ve read a slice of an earlier draft of her book, and recently I read The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington, and I am struck by the idea of surrealism or fictionalization of reality to lend texture and traction to slippery and subtle truths and terrors of addiction or mental illness. I’m also wowed by the perseverance inherent in Carson’s creative process. I asked her for an interview, and she agreed!
I asked her what advice she would give to other writers who have been working on their project for years –
“My advice? Give up sometimes. If you get burned out, let yourself get burned out. Work on something else. Or don’t write at all if you need a break from writing entirely. This WIP has literally been four completely different books–rewritten from beginning to end as I figured out what it was I was trying to say. Realize that you might not have everything you need just yet in order to tell this story, but that doesn’t mean you won’t at some point. If it’s something you can give up sometimes, but can’t walk away from entirely, then keep trying. Ask for help and lean on other writers. I don’t think I could’ve kept at it this long without an amazing friend who keeps believing in me and this story when I’m like, five years past believing in it myself.”
Writing about painful memories and experiences can take a real toll on an artist. I wondered how she was able to keep her boundaries clean and high enough to tell her story. After all, many of us with our own burdens often bury those feelings rather than shine a light on them. The idea of pulling them out to examine and fictionalize seems like a Herculean task.
“Balancing the boundaries was tough in the beginning. And, now that I think about it, it still can be. Sometimes I’ll be editing a chapter in the book and things will flow together, and I’ll read back through it and just start sobbing. But not necessarily in a bad way. But that I was able to touch on something–a pain or a memory–that’s so intangible. It’s really important to me to pay attention to the feelings.
Writing as the eating disorder was also difficult. Tapping into that voice I had fought for so long – though, it was interesting to see how it would mirror what I was writing as I was doing it. Here I am, writing a book about finding a voice, and all the while the voice in my head is going, “No one is going to read this piece of crap. You don’t know how to tell a story at all.” It’s a very odd experience, and probably partially explains why it’s taken me so long to write it. With figuring out I have the power to say things, then figuring out what I want to say, moving it into something with a plot and flow, all while peeling back layers and layers with my own “Not-Alice” braying away in my mind.
Anyway, I don’t think any of that really answered your question. It’s basically just a lot of self-care and checking in. Trying not to control the emotions, but accepting them and offering compassion. Sometimes I have to go reread through my old journals for a sentence or a situation, and that can be extremely difficult. So I have to make sure I’m in a good mindset before I do that, and not overdo it, because it can be really overwhelming.”
We all know writing is a community effort. Rarely does an author make it to the end alone, and with this type of writing, support becomes even more vital. When she dreams of writing her acknowledgements page, who would Carson put at the top of her list?
“I think my biggest support is probably my friend Kathy. She’s read through this MS so many times and has listened to me vent and complain more times than I can even count. All while being a sounding board and a cheerleader and a great, great friend. She’s just never wavered in her belief of me and this book, and it’s just been really phenomenal to have someone so involved and so supportive.”
And, of course, I asked Carson if she had any favorite memoirs, fictional or otherwise, that have helped her find structure or a path for her own work.
“I–of course–have to say THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath. Just a seriously amazing book in pretty much every way imaginable to me. THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY by Jean-Dominique Bauby. And, for more recent novels, UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES by Louise Gornall is fabulous. I have also tried to read some books with unconventional narrators, like ENCHANTED by Rene Denfeld (one of my favorite books) and DELICIOUS FOODS by James Hannaham.”
We wrapped up our weeks-long back and forth of emails, and I felt like I’d been given a gift in being able to glimpse her creative dreams and her personal fortitude. I hope this interview will help others to keep reaching for their goals and keep stretching for the stars. The world wants to read your work. Never give up.
S.E. Carson writes about dysautonomia, mental health, and her dogs’ fuzzy butts. One of her proudest moments was when a child mistook her for a very tall leprechaun. @SEtotheCarson