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LAist Interview: Felicia Sullivan, author of The Sky Isn't Visible from Here

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New York author, media maven and baker extraordinaire Felicia Sullivan is in town this week to read from and sign her Brooklyn-based memoir of family addiction, recovery and hope in The Sky Isn't Visible from Here. Sullivan will be reading tonight @ Pi Restaurant next door to Book Soup at 7pm and tomorrow @ Vroman's at 4pm.

Your book is an intensely personal look at your life. The reader not only sees your mother struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, but we see you struggle with - and ultimately overcome - these vices as well. How difficult was it to write this book? What compelled you to write it?

Writing the book from both a personal and craft perspective was incredibly difficult. Personally, I was trying to come to terms with what I had experienced as a child while also struggling with a drinking problem, all the while trying to achieve what writers set out to do – write a good story that is their own. Returning to the past – memories of the years I had spent as my mother’s daughter, my mother’s caretaker – was indeed painful, but necessary. For years I was adamant about not returning to this dark country, but living this way wasn’t necessary healthy because the past consistently crept back in my life and the harder I tried to deny it (self-medicating, living a life of my own invention), the more difficult bearing the weight of these two lives became. Ultimately I knew that confronting the past was the only way I would move beyond it.

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In some way or another, I’ve always written about my mother. When I was eight I published a haiku that likened my mother’s voice to thunder. She’s always been my subject – I can’t really recall a time in which my work hasn’t revolved around her – the one person I couldn’t, but desperately wanted to, understand. For years I was working on a novel of lifeless, unlikable characters that did mildly interesting things. I was writing a safe book because I was afraid to commit my memories, this horrific life lived, this very unsafe book, to paper. I was ashamed of my past, of living in poverty, of a mother who loved and terrorized me. I had lived a life of my own invention for so long, I couldn’t imagine otherwise.

At one point the weight of these two lives – the accomplished, in-control professional and the frightened child who never really mourned the loss of her mother – were becoming difficult to bear. Something had to give. One afternoon a friend of mine and I were trading stories about our mothers and we realized that we had both been shamed into secrecy. We were made to feel shame by our mothers, our impoverished upbringing, and a culture where not loving your mother is unthinkable.