What's your background?
I've been a psychologist, professional vocalist, activist, artisan and
teacher before becoming a writer, but my most profound lessons have come from
learning to cope with my dysfunctional family. I've worked in a state mental
hospital, drug treatment center, halfway houses for psychiatric clients, and in
private practice. I'm also an award-winning vocalist and songwriter, working in
nightclubs, corporate and private parties. As an activist, I worked with
environmental and community self-help groups. I've taught junior high school,
human potential workshops, and esoteric and meditative techniques. My fiction
has been published in Northern Journeys, a literary magazine of the Pacific
Northwest, and I've written articles and music reviews for SF Weekly, done
business editing, public relations, grant writing. I also co-authored and
self-published "Being Yourself: Twenty-Four Ways to See the Light",
self-help book that promotes spiritual awareness and peace of mind. and written
two mysteries, as yet unpublished, that got rave rejections from New York
publishers. I live with my artist husband, Dan Cooper, near San Francisco.
How did you come to write "Daddy's Girls?"
While I was waiting to hear about my mysteries, although I still wanted to
write, I didn't want to try another mystery if those two couldn't sell. I'd
read Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones," in which she suggested
the exercise of writing in a cafe to occupy the part of your brain that would
otherwise interrupt the flow to tell you you stink and will never amount to
anything. I invited a friend to try it with me, and once a month we'd meet in
cafes for lunch, then choose a theme, write for half an hour. Afterward we'd
read our pieces aloud and comment on each other's work. I found myself writing
scenes from my childhood, fictionalized into first-person short stories. My
friend encouraged me to keep writing them, and I did, because I trust her
literary taste. The result was Daddy's Girls. The story is fiction with a dash
of magical realism, an allegory that explores the nature of insanity, fear,
betrayal, and what it means to love. I feel now that my previous books were
lessons in writing fiction, preparation for the personal story I have to tell.
Everything I've ever done has come together in this book, which I hope it will
be of value or comfort to people in similar situations.
Is the story autobiographical?
"Autobiographical" isn't quite right, since it isn't as much about me
as it is about my sister and her plight. The framework is similar, the details
are completely invented but emotionally true, although almost nothing actually
happened as it appears in the book. Many of the Allison parts reflect my own
life, since she's in my position in the family. Some of the Ruth and Cherie
scenes are mine as well, and some loosely based on their lives, but most are
completely invented to develop the character or atmosphere. My aim was to share
the insight and compassion I've gathered from my sister's schizophrenia and my
own work as a therapist.
In overlapping vignettes, each of the women tells her own story of coping
with their dysfunctional family, revealing the dark forces beneath the family's
middle-class veneer as they struggle to love one another. The three first-person
perspectives illuminate their differences, similarities and influences on each
other, and build in complexity to create compassion for these people, lost in a
psychological morass they don't understand. Ruth, the mother, abandons her
dream to sing with a band because her parents insisted, and marries for revenge
instead of love. Her bitter regret permeates the atmosphere. Allison, her elder
daughter, protects herself by withdrawing into books until she develops the
courage to escape. Cherie, the younger daughter, has a dimly-understood mission
from God, assigned before her birth. But once submerged in the circumstances of
family life, her understanding of her purpose is clouded by her frustration and
a genetic predisposition for insanity that eventually manifests in
schizophrenia. Still, her extremes are exactly proportional to what her family
needs to discover their ability to love.
How does "Daddy" fit into all this? Why that title?
Fathers are girls' first and sometimes strongest interaction with the
opposite sex, and the reactions they get shape their self-concept. Not only is
absence or distortion as influential as a loving presence, but women, and
particularly the women in Daddy's Girls, try to use sex as a way to get
attention from men, even their own fathers, because it works, if only
And the pattern of looking for approval/self-esteem through sexuality sets up
the patterns of competition with other women (even one's sisters or
mother/daughter), and the willing assumption of unnatural standards of beauty
that can strangle.
Although Warren (and Jack) are shown only in relation to them, all three women
grapple with and define themselves in terms of their father's/husband's
strong presences and those ambivalent relationships taint their relationships
with other men. It's through the men that the genetic predisposition to mental
illness is passed down.
How did you escape your sister's fate?
It's not that I've escaped, but that I have a different mission. Like
Allison, I was extremely introverted, fearful and painfully shy. Retreating to a
world of fantasy sheltered me from my family's volatile atmosphere, and when I
couldn't hide, I tried to do whatever was required to not get noticed. To my
mother, that made me a good child, especially in comparison to my sister's
outright rejection of the status quo. But it stunted my emotional development so
dramatically that I figured I'd major in math in college because I was good at
it and it didn't require relating to anyone. Then I discovered psychology, and
grew fascinated by the concept that you could understand why people behaved as
they did, and how to change.
Did it help?
Absolutely. As I studied and practiced, I began to sense who I was apart from
my family, which gave me the courage to break out of our pattern and choose the
way I wanted to live. Throughout the variety of things I've done, I've
always dedicated myself to self-examination and meditation. I try to use the
circumstances of my life as tools for growth, which has given me the courage to
confront my obstacles, and to create an interesting life and a long term,
mutually nourishing, intimate partnership with a wonderful man. From my
dual perspective as a psychologist and sister of a schizophrenic, I've come to
consider of insanity as a metaphor for spiritual purpose. In trying to come to
terms with my life and my interaction with my sister and her illness, I like to
think that her soul is both learning and teaching through living like this.
Learning to appreciate her as she is has taught me to go deep enough inside to
access an unconditional love.
How did writing this story affect you?
It was cathartic. As I wrote, wave after wave of poignancy, fear, guilt,
laughter, rage, sexual arousal, and grief crashed over me. Inventing the points
of view of Ruth and Cherie awakened love and compassion in me for my own
relatives that I'd never have thought myself capable of. I began to understand
that my terribly painful family life laid the groundwork for me to evolve into
who I am today, which I enjoy very much. In Daddy's Girls, I expose my dark
side, lay my deepest truth on the line, because I feel that coming to terms with
the fear and guilt we associate with mental illness can make a difference to us
personally, and to society. We alienate the mentally ill because of our fear of
how easily it might happen to us, but in doing so we not only shun the most
defenseless among us, but forfeit the chance to see how we grow, which can
provide comfort and strength. By considering insanity in a spiritual context, we
acknowledge both the lesson within it and the person teaching it. We accept it
as it is, and afford it dignity. In a broader context, when we search for
meaning in the tragic, we tap into deeper levels of existence that transform our
vision of life to bring love and peace of mind.
How does your mother feel about the book?
She tells me it's very well written and compelling reading. She hasn't
commented about the mother character very much. She gets upset about some of the
Cherie vignettes when they portray something she's afraid may actually have
happened, which shows me how hard she's still trying to love and protect her
What happened to your sister? Where is she now?
She's still in the mental health system, and as I see it, still fulfilling
her purpose. Whenever I see, speak to or even think about her, I'm challenged
to open my heart wider, to transform my grief and guilt into love, gratitude and
compassion for all she's sacrificed for our sakes. In that way, both our
mother and I are blessed by our relationship with her.
Tell me more about your spiritual perspective on the nature of mental
On the surface, the specific events in Daddy's Girls may seem unremarkable,
belying the incipient psychosis, and in a sense they are. There's a fine line
between sanity and insanity, a running monologue (or dialogue or however-many)
in everyone's mind constantly. The content is mostly automatic stuff
accumulated throughout a lifetime of trying to cope with everybody else's
stuff. Judging, interpreting, lusting, plotting, regretting, etc., are only
interpretations layered on top of pure living and feeling. In that sense, we're
all crazy. But we're all sane too. Because at the core, our idiosyncrasies
reflect our spiritual mission, and what we create and learn in our unique lives
enriches the ground of being. What drives people crazy is a question that
fascinates so many. According to the Surgeon General, one in five Americans will
suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime. And each has a family
affected by their illness, like mine was. People with mental illness are
stigmatized, mostly because we're all afraid of how easily it might happen to
anyone under the right circumstances. Traditional treatment focuses on
causes, which aren't certain, and cures, which aren't reliable. Although mental
illness may have a variety of causes-- a combination of heredity, environment,
brain chemistry, mixed with the soul's purpose-- I see it not as a
qualitatively different state of mind, but as a variation in the degree of
repression or expression of qualities we all have. It's part of human nature,
which contains and reflects all possibilities. "Sanity" and "madness"
are like different points on the same continuum, more a sphere than a straight
line, around which our psyches bounce almost imperceptibly in every moment. The
difference between "us" and "them" is in how well we stay balanced in
stressful situations without denying the truth of our emotional experience. That
is life's ultimate challenge. By examining insanity in a spiritual context, we
honor the lesson within it and the person teaching it. We accept it as it is,
and afford it dignity. In searching for meaning in the tragic, we can tap into
deeper levels of perception that transform our vision of life. If we open to our
psyches as the ground where spirit and personality meet, we can expand our
capacity for love and peace of mind. Those who "drive us crazy"
actually show us how to get sane. Whatever attracts or upsets us is a signal as
to what direction to explore to clarify our mission. Difficult circumstances
force us deep enough to touch spirit and learn what it takes to have a fruitful
life. The process of family life touches our hearts and strengthens our
resilience like nothing else, as we play out issues we understand at a
metaphysical level even as they overwhelm and confuse us in our normal
operations. Although everybody in a family (or "karass," as Kurt Vonnegut
calls our larger group of significant others) participates in the development of
the identified patient's personality and illness, it's nobody's fault. The
factors that cause insanity are bigger than individual responsibility. The best
we can do is be honest and intend to love. Experience is the teacher, no
matter the specifics. Each of us is born with an innate sense of why we're
here, and our great challenge is to realize the meaning of our lives, and the
circumstances of our lives are tailor-made to reflect it. There are no good or
bad experiences. Whatever happens to us is a reflection of the theme of our
lives, the area which will teach us the most. When we bring our inner life to
light, we can come to terms with and transform it. In the case of mental
illness, processing the fear and guilt we associate with it can make a
difference to us personally, and to society.
Do you have any other plans for the book?
I've dedicated a portion of the profits to establish a fund in my sister's
name providing situational financial assistance to people suffering or
recovering from mental illness to help meet specific needs, like tuition for
training programs, clothing for job interviews, or medical treatment. I hope to
work with service agencies who can recommend candidates and follow-up after
grants are made. I'd also like to use it as a platform to mitigate the stigma
of mental illness by emphasizing the metaphysical aspects. And I plan to write a
sequel, in which Cherie recovers, relapses, and learns to manage her illness and
understand her spirit; where Allison begins to explore how to have a meaningful
relationship with a man; and to present that man as the third viewpoint in his
inquiry into his own damaged psyche and quest to be able to confide in and
support a partner.