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Interview With Author Linda Gray Sexton

Today, I’m honored to share with you an interview with author Linda Gray Sexton, whose latest memoir — Half in Love:  Surviving the Legacy of Suicide — I had the opportunity to review.  I don’t usually read memoirs, but this powerful and informative memoir examines the legacy of suicide and mental illness within the Sexton family, whose famous poet Anne Sexton committed suicide in 1974.

I hope you’ll check out the review and interview.  Please give Linda a warm welcome:

Writing confessional fiction seems similar to writing confessional poetry, but all of your published work has been in memoir and fiction.  What prompted you to stray from poetic verse and do you miss it?

I decided that delving into poetry would be too “close” to my mother’s work and so I stopped working in the genre at the time I began writing my first non-fiction book.  I can’t say I miss it, because I feel very fulfilled with memoir and before that, fiction.

Half in Love is about family legacies and suicide.  It seems that both of these shaped who you are as a writer, mother, and wife.  Do you think of this as inevitable?  Why or why not?

For me, it was inevitable, given the lack of knowledge about suicide.  I am hoping, as a mother, that my children will not be so affected because I know so much more about “legacy” and have hopefully passed that on to them, and because we have so many more medications and ways of dealing with suicidal ideation. To some extent I have passed the legacy of suicide on to my children, but I don’t believe they have to handle it in the same way.  I didn’t die.  I am still here.  I am once again acting like their mother.

And do you have advice for other children dealing with similar circumstances?

I would tell anyone who grew up in the shadow of suicide to get themselves all the possible help they can.  If they feel depressed they have to guard against the possible consequences.  Therapy is one great way to do it.  Self examination through any means is crucial.  If you understand the process you have a much greater chance to defeat it.

The “rabbit hole” often brings to mind a trip into another world, like that of Alice in Wonderland, but your rabbit hole is very different.  Would you consider them the same in terms of the emotions they generate or in other ways?

I think my rabbit hole is very different.  It generates emotions of fear.  I only disappear down it when I am depressed and suicidal, which, thank God, I no longer am, thanks to great medication improvements in my life.  I wouldn’t wish this black, black rabbit hole on anyone.

Parental approval is often something children crave, but in your opinion, can children grow up healthy and survive without it?

If you have someone in your life who provides that support and approval, then I don’t think you necessarily need to get it from your parents.  You can grow up healthy as long as you get it from somewhere.  I found a woman who gave me that kind of support when I was in my twenties and a young mother.  She let me know how great a person she thought I was; she made me feel special, and that brought my self-confidence to the surface.  I couldn’t have done it without her.

Have you continued to read poetry, attend readings, or have you broken completely away from that world since your mother’s death?

I really have broken away from that world completely since my mother’s death.  It is too painful.  Also, my work now is in a different genre, so it is more likely that you will find me at a reading of memoir or fiction rather than at one of poetry.

How would you have introduced yourself to a crowded room as a child, a young adult, and now?  How would those introductions have been different or the same?

As a child, I would have been speechless.  I don’t think I knew much about who I was.  As a young adult, I would have introduced myself as my mother’s daughter and let her put her arm around me possessively.  As a woman now, I would introduce myself as Linda Gray Sexton, memoirist, mother, wife and friend.  I have grown up and am proud of who I now am.

When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?

Sometimes I listen to music, but not any one playlist specifically.  Sometimes it is music with lyrics, but often the words interfere with what I am trying to write.  I find that classical music usually works better, so it can Beethoven or Mahler, depending.  As to habits: I get up early because I am an early riser writer; I work at the same desk at the same time everyday; I don’t answer email or the phone while I am working except under unusual circumstances.

How do you stay fit and healthy as a writer? (physically or mentally)

I go to the gym so that I get off my butt (too much sitting as a writer).  I read a lot to keep my mind active.

What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

Right now I am working on the very beginning of another memoir, this time on a more positive subject—but it is in a fledgling stage and I’m a little superstitious about talking about it so early on.  At the same time, I have been spending a lot of time putting up a terrific (if I do say so myself) website, which I invite all of your readers to visit.

For the website I have been posting blogs so that my readers can see what I am thinking, feeling and ruminating about.  I hope lots of people will join the website’s Blog and Message Board to let me know what they think about my work and the topics it raises.  I am also spending a lot of time doing guests posts and Q & A’s for my book blog tour!

Thanks, Linda, for answering these questions and for writing a captivating memoir.

  • Serena, I am glad that I stopped by and read this interview with Linda. I just posted my review of her memoir, and this intelligent interview adds just a bit of insight to my reading.

    • After reading the memoir, I absolutely had to interview Linda, and I’m so glad that I did. I had questions when I finished reading the memoir.

  • Pingback: Linda Gray Sexton, author of Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, on tour January/February 2011 | TLC Book Tours()

  • Sounds like a fascinating memoir. It’s understandable that she’d distance herself from poetry given what happened with her mother. Great interview!
    Anna´s last blog post ..Guest Post- Mary Lydon Simonsen- Author of The Perfect Bride for Mr Darcy

    • I find it fascinating what some writers choose to do in these situations…they either throw themselves into the same genre or they don’t. I think its interesting that they all seem to keep writing though. I guess what they say about writing and catharsis is not too far off.

  • Fantastic interview! Great questions (the one about how would you introduce yourself then and now was particularly interesting) and great answers too!! Thanks so much for being on the tour.
    Lisa Munley´s last blog post ..Anene Tressler- author of Dancing with Gravity- on tour April 2011

    • Lisa: I’m glad that you enjoyed the interview. I just had to ask her questions after reading that book!

  • Wow, what a powerful interview! I’d never thought of the legacy of suicide before.

    • You learn quite a bit about the legacy in the book and it is fascinating. I think if you are interested in it, you should pick up Sexton’s book.