Michael Grossman – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Shrinkwrapped: My First 50 Years on the Couch is a memoir describing my more than half a century as a patient in psychotherapy. It’s a personal growth story often told humorously. While parental abuse is a factor, it’s never a woe-is-me story but rather a hopeful look at the potential of therapy to bring peace of mind.

Because it begins in the forties and runs to the present, Shrinkwrapped has a special appeal to boomers. Readers can follow the emergence of therapy as a form of medical treatment–from its infancy as classical Freudian “on-the couch” therapy all the way to its modern, new age, more eclectic roots.

Finally, because the end game of most therapy is to develop a capacity for a healthy intimacy, in the end Shrinkwrapped is told as a love story.

Tell us something about yourself.

I grew up in the bible belt as a Michigander, and I trained as an English major, earning an MA from Michigan State. But I strayed from teaching English and went into businesses, creating and ultimately selling two corporations. In my sixties, I decided that if I was ever going to pursue my passion to write, I’d better use whatever life-time I had left and get going at the keyboard. So I turned my second business over to the employees and left to began work on my first book, Coming to Terms with Aging. That book examines the full-blown fear most Americans experience if they date to confront their aging. It explores our tendency to deny our mortality, the harm done by our denial, and it tells of the enormous benefits if we come to terms with it. Practical considerations related to aging issues are discussed, for example choosing to provide for end-of-life palliative care.

What inspired you to write this book?

I wrote Coming to Terms with Aging because it’s a life issue that passionately interests me. Similarly, I wrote Shrinkwrapped so others can know how transformative successful psychotherapy can be. In my case, I went from the depths of an often paralytic depression to become an adult who founded two successful business and who has been happily married for almost thirty years.

I also wanted readers to know what it was like going into therapy in the forties and fifties – when getting “shrunk” got you shunned in your community. Today, we’ve overcome that bias against “getting help,” and we consider it simply another form of personal support. But it wasn’t always that way.

How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?

The publisher of both of my books is RDR Books (www.rdrbooks.com). If that name rings a bell, it’s because RDR received world-wide press coverage recently for having fought the good fight to protect our Fair Use rights. RDR Books, working with ACLU lawyers, took on J. K. Rowling in the famous Fair Use case, battling Rowling for the right to publish The Lexicon, a resource on the Harry Potter books. I admired RDR’s publisher, Roger Rapaport, for that stand and I was thrilled when he agreed to publish my books.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

Like many, I’ve spent too much of my precious life-time making a living to survive–which didn’t provide much time for my passion–writing. I don’t regret founding my businesses, but nothing is as thrilling as seeing the first printed copy of my new books. Like most writers, I get pleasure from words and get a special delight when I read an author who uses words freshly, conveying feelings through a surprising choice of words.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

For me, the easiest and most fun part of writing is editing. I live to cut, and slash, and seek alternate ways to convey message. I can rewrite for hours, lost in the pleasure finding a better way. By comparison, the hardest part of writing is getting my initial thoughts down. This is especially the case because I’m an inefficient writer. That is, I seem to find out what I have to say as I say it, often during the first draft. I’d rather be a writer who begins from a thoughtful, well organized outline. But that more efficient way doesn’t work for me. So I plod along, cutting and pasting, slashing repetitive paragraphs, and by constantly sharpening word choice. Like many, I am often fooled by a first draft that initially seems so good , The following day I read it again, only to wonder what in the world was I thinking and how could I write something so dreadful.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

I hope readers find Shrinkwrapped as therapeutic for them as writing it was for me. My therapy helped me move beyond my naive idealizations of my parents, a child’s perspective, to develop a mature understanding of the individuals who raised me; and how that culture helped to shape me. Over time a chain of such realizations freed me to look inward, to discover an organic self, one independent of parental and cultural values. The process helped me to discover who I am really and hopefully, reading of my trip will offer insights to others on a similar personal journey.

What are you reading now?

I’ve just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett, an amazing triumph of a first novel. The Help has a special appeal for me, since as a young boy in rural Michigan, I too was raised by “The Help.” Like the protagonist in Stockett’s novel, I also saw cultural racism, for example getting off a plane in St. Louis and seeing the “Whites Only” drinking fountains and bathrooms. And as a boy, I recall accompanying my father when he looked for an apartment to rent along Chicago’s famous Lake Shore Drive, only to encounter signs in building windows that read: “No Colored or Jews.”

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

Recently departed, J. D. Salinger remains my favorite author. Cather in the Rye brilliantly captures a child’s hunger to retain innocence and sustain authenticity. I consider Salinger’s nine short stories among the best in literature and on a personal note, I liked For Esme with Love and Squalor so much, we named our daughter Lauren Esme Grossman, hoping for a little girl as precocious and loving as Salinger’s Esme. (We got one, by the way.)

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I’m working on my first piece of fiction and I’m quickly learning what authors of fiction already know – that fiction requires a wholly different set of skills than non-fiction. For example, I’m constantly discovering mistakes in my timeline or details that contract others late in the plot. I have absolutely no poker face and I am a terrible liar – so trying to fill pages with fabrication is like learning to walk anew.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Rather than offer the usual advice and promote persistence or tell a would be author not to lose heart when the rejection letters come (I could paper the Great Wall with mine), my advice is less traditional. I urge new authors to seek alternative sources to publish. Consider the many new sites on the web that cater to new writers and solicit submissions in all genres. Consider self-publishing as well as non-paper alternatives like audio and e-books. Although outstanding first novels like The Help will get published, many other excellent books never get a read from established publishers or agents. Writing and self-promotional skills don’t always coexist in the one person. So if you can’t promise a publisher a built-in audience from your own live TV show, don’t be afraid to seek publishing outlets in the fast growing virtual world. It’s a good way to start the proverbial ball rolling and see name in print early.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Coming to Terms with Aging and Shrinkwrapped: my first fifty years on the couch are available on line from the big chain stores like Amazon or Barns & Noble. Better, get them from your local Indy bookstore and support an important local proprietor. Get them on line directly from the publisher at www.rdrbooks.com. Go to my own website, www.mygreenmind.com, click on books, and purchase a signed edition worded as you direct. Finally, ask your local library to get them for you and read them for free.