CS: Why did you write Witness to the Dark?
Bob: I wrote Witness to the Dark for two reasons: because I needed to, and because I figured out how to. Writing a book, any book, particularly one about my suicidal daughter, was never something I would ever do. But so much happened so quickly, we had so much trouble accessing services, and because knowing what to do next was never obvious, I decided to write it all down and see if I could find some answers for myself, for other parents, and maybe even for some of the professionals we had met along the way.
CS: Did you make an outline before writing? How did you plan out the book before writing?
Bob: I didn’t know I would be writing a book until a few seconds before the first words came out. There was no outline. Author Steve Kluger, in his book My Most Excellent Year, found a way to incorporate instant messages, emails, and graphics into a compelling story without converting them to prose. I had piles of lists, letters, and forms. Knowing I could include them made it possible for me to begin.
CS: What was your writing process? Was the book concept clear from the beginning or did that get refined or changed? How?
Bob: Although our real-life story still hadn’t played out enough to have a real ending yet, I figured that if I wrote everything down, maybe I would find the clarity to nudge it toward a somewhat happy one. I went back to my notes and started typing. I tried to write every day, but when I got stuck, it was because I was searching for some other story from my past to use as an analogy for what we were going through during that time. These anecdotes became an important theme throughout the book and ultimately helped me realize that it really is my story, too. The book ended exactly where I always hoped and thought it would.
CS: Your book deals with a very difficult and personal subject matter and I’m sure it was a very emotional process. How did you remember the details without getting lost in the emotions? Did you have ways of reaching out for support while writing or did you keep yourself level in order to complete the project?
Bob: For me the details were easy: I had pretty good notes. One of my goals in writing the book was to understand just how unhappy my daughter was and reconcile why she felt she needed to be dead. Searching for — and ultimately finding — those answers would bring out the emotions in anyone, even me. Going to parent support group meetings kept me level. My many early readers encouraged me to continue writing a story they felt needed to be shared.
CS: What advice do you have for someone writing a memoir about a tough subject?
Bob: Be willing to talk about what is really going on. To yourself. To others. To the world. The “to yourself” is the hardest part.
CS: Why did you decide to self-publish?
Bob: I’ve met a lot of people on our journey who either need to read my book or who know other families and professionals who should. Instead of finding a publisher who would use their influence to convince a lot of unknown customers to buy it, I chose to start with the people I already know. If it’s any good, they’ll help others find it. We’re a determined bunch.
CS: Self-publishing involves making decisions about who you work with and how the final product looks. What are some of the decisions you’ve made (from type of publishing to choosing a specific publisher to book cover, editing, layout/design, promotion, etc.) and what informed those decisions?
Bob: When my daughter asked me for help to self-publish her book of poetry, Of Meadows and Flowers: And Crying and Hope, I took an adult education night class to get an overview of the process. We chose a publisher who gave us the flexibility to do as much for ourselves as we could, but also offered help where we needed it. We managed to do it all ourselves. When it came to my book, I needed more help, particularly with content, so I went to a three-day writer’s conference sponsored by Harvard Medical School’s Department of Continuing Education, which gave me the opportunity to step back and ponder what my book was really about.
CS: What advice do you have for authors who are planning to self-publish?
Bob: Be prepared to do everything. Think very carefully about whether you have the skills, and the resolve, to do it all yourself … even the little details, things like the international rights to the cover photograph. Being bad at even one step will doom your project.
CS: You have received quite a number of good reviews of your book. What advice do you have for authors seeking reviews?
Bob: Ask for advice. And then listen to it. I had lots of early readers. When I met with them, I always pushed them to tell me what they really thought and not just what I wanted to hear. Eventually, some of them did. I tried to incorporate many of their comments into my editing process. When I thought it was done, my readers still had comments, but their suggestions were more than I was willing to embrace. So I hired a book coach to help me get past myself and improve it — not for me — but for the audience I was trying to reach. I didn’t always take my coach’s advice, but I ultimately understood why I made every decision about the final product. When it came time to order a couple of professional reviews, they came back having captured the essence of what I had intended to write.
Author Bob Larsted is a formerly shy and aloof husband and father who lives in Central Massachusetts with his interesting family and dog.