In the best of all possible worlds, writing a book is difficult, especially when dealing with your own life. How does a writer justify writing a memoir if nothing out of the ordinary has happened and fame is a distant dream? For Joe Rourke, it was a series of incidences that began by accepting a position at a ritzy school for overweight teenagers that changed his life, his fortunes, and his family. I asked Joe about his journey into a world he didn't expect and the repercussions of writing about it all.
I have read most of Fat School Confidential and there are some fascinating and sometimes painful memories chronicled, but I was interested in finding out about Joe's writing process and why he put such intimiate and personal details on the page.
JMCornwell: Fat School Confidential is about a time in your life that seems quite painful. Why did you decide to write this book at this time?
JoeRourke: Actually, I waited about a year to start writing the book. I needed to get the okay from key family members. By the time I did decide on writing the book, the reason was simple: I wanted to tell my story.
JMC: Most authors’ first books are autobiographical. Although that usually applies to fiction, it also applies to nonfiction. How difficult has it been to put your life on public display?
JRourke: I spent so much time writing the book, worrying about readers’ reactions was completely secondary to me. It has been more difficult dealing with negative reviews and fallout from friends and acquaintances than having my life—warts and all—displayed for all to see.
JMC: What have been the repercussions from your book from family, friends, and coworkers?
JRourke: Very few family members know that I have written a book, let alone published one. With friends, it’s been a mixed bag. Most of them seem supportive “on paper,” but treat me differently [now]. It’s hard to explain, and the changes have been subtle, [s]till, I notice them. My closest friends have been my support, but then they’ve known me all along. The people I work with today are unaware of my past, and I intend to keep it that way, unless, of course, my book [. . .] receives widespread recognition.
JMC: Are there any fictional elements in Fat School Confidential?
Some of the dialogue is not verbatim, and I’ve changed certain characteristics of a couple of the students as they were minors at the time of the story. The overwhelming majority of what I’ve written is exactly as I’ve remembered.
JMC: Considering what you reveal about yourself, the school, and your life, are you worried that someone would come back and sue you over what you wrote?
JRourke: I was worried about all kinds of things as I wrote the book. Getting sued, receiving death threats, and dealing with stalkers, [. . .] all scenarios I played out in my mind. Right before publishing, I changed the names of everyone (save myself) in order to minimize any litigious [action]. I still worry, but I’m glad I wrote what I wrote.
JMC: How long did it take you to write your book? What was your writing schedule?
JRourke: It took 4 years to write this book, much of it in fits and starts. I [worked] odd jobs--my down time was limited at best--but I made time to write. Sometimes I only had an hour, other [times] as much as three or four [hours]. [b]ut I wrote regularly. Once in a while I’d get hung up on a paragraph, but by and large I've stayed the course.
JMC: Every writer has a weakness. When I first began writing my weakness was writing dialogue. What is your weakness and how did you overcome/deal with it?
JRourke: My weakness has always been dialogue, though friends have told me how much they’ve loved certain characters; [but that] was fiction--and more specifically, screenplays. Non-fiction is a whole other ball game—especially[since this is a] memoir. I had to recall certain conversations when writing. I’ve had to futz with dialogue to make it sound more natural. I dealt with it by [. . .] facing the obstacles head on. Or I’d skip to another chapter and go back [later].
JMC: Now that you have this book finished, what would you change and why?
JRourke: Since the book has already been put out to pasture, so to speak, I don’t know if I’d change anything. Oh, I could go back and have one of my more seasoned writer friends give it a final polish and make some recommendations, but what’s done is done.
JMC: What do you/did you expect to get from your first book?
JRourke: I guess it is every new author’s wish to instantly be a bestseller. I had hoped my book would sell more than it has, but I attribute it to a lack of promotion on my part. I had no idea what I was up against once I embarked on self-publishing.
JMC: What did you get from writing your first book that you didn't expect?
JRourke: I got a great deal of satisfaction knowing this was [the] first book I wrote on my own. Other than a handful of scripts, I [had only ghostwritten] or collaborated on book projects for friends or clients. Fat School Confidential was my baby.
JMC: Do you plan to write any more books? What will be next?
JRourke: I have a rough outline and some notes detailing a sequel, Fat Life Confidential. I have a couple other projects planned down the line, including a children’s book, but I’ll probably use a pseudonym for that project.
JMC: Do you prefer writing fiction or nonfiction? Why?
JRourke: Given that this was my first solo non-fiction book, I definitely prefer fiction. I [have written] screenplays and I’ve read/critiqued a great many for agents and writing contests. Bottom line: I’m in my element with fiction.
I would like to thank Joe Rourke for taking the time to answer all of my questions. I could have asked a lot more, but didn't want to wear our my welcome.
Writing is a process and an experience in learning and evolving as you grow. Writers often gravitate toward what is easiest. For me it is nonfiction writing and for Joe Rourke it is fiction. I don't know about Joe, but I continue to face what scares me most and what I dream about doing most -- writing fiction. It is the only way to evolve and grow as a writer, so I continue writing nonfiction and blend fiction and fact in writing fiction while chiseling away at fiction. Maybe next I will try poetry -- or maybe not. What is important is writing and continuing to write
Joe Rourke's memoir, Fat School Chronicles, is available at Amazon. I suggest picking up a copy and diving right in. You've nothing to lose but your preconceptions.
If you would like to discuss your book and the writing process, contact me here at blogger.
That is all. Disperse.