Q&A with Domenica Ruta
Q. With or Without You has been compared to The Glass Castle and The Liar's Club. What do you feel sets your story apart from other memoirs?
A. I intentionally avoided memoirs as a genre during my drinking years because I didn't want anyone to ruin my pity party or kill my buzz. While writing the first few drafts of my memoir I continued this abstention, but this time to protect myself from being influenced. I didn't know what a memoir was supposed to look like structurally or sound like tonally, and this ignorance felt to me like a precious state, the ideal place to start. After a couple of drafts, when I felt like I knew the basic shape and texture of this thing I was writing and was secure in that at least, I went on a memoir spree with an intentionally innocent curiosity. How does So-and-So do it? It was a great experience. I remember the day I read that Mary Karr's mother had the same gun my mum did, and I was so happy. It felt like an omen, or a blessing from the queen. I think all of the mother-daughter stories, the addiction stories, the traumatic childhood stories, speak for themselves. I consider myself lucky to be another voice in this chorus. What we have in common as memoirists is a subjective observation of a common humanity. It's what everyone has in common, whether they write their life stories or not.
Q. Your book is intensely personal. How did you decide to tell such intimate stories to the world?
A. I tried not to think about that aspect for the first draft. I wrote as if no one in the world would ever read a word of it, and told myself, if the issue of personal revelation becomes relevant, I will be more grateful to have this problem than I will be worried. But this approach is critical to writing anything. There are too many voices telling you that everything is a bad idea from the start. I'd never get anywhere if I considered these things in the beginning stages of development. It's a good thing writing is 90 percent rewriting, because with every new draft, I was growing as a person and a craftsman. I was getting stronger and more confident in my decisions--what to tell, what not to tell.
Q. What do you hope readers will learn or take away with them from your book?
A. The point of almost all memoirs, especially the sub-genre of trauma and recovery, is the simple promise that there is hope. I hope my book expands on this--that like hope, there is also beauty, everywhere and always, as long as you are willing to search for it. Ultimately I want readers to feel they've been given a good story, something worth retelling.