In his second book, Frank Spinelli, MD, recalls childhood abuse and puts a new lens on a too-often-recounted tale. Pee-Shy, Spinelli's first memoir that debuts at the beginning of next year, is a tale of growing up and finding oneself amongst a muddled childhood, and a strong family. Spinelli, who is somehow both light-hearted and serious, talks about his writing process, his devoted family, and facing his childhood nightmares head on.
What spurred you to write this memoir?
I had always wanted to write about what had happened to me, but there's nothing new to tell; it's already been told. But when I realized that my molester [his scout master] had adopted children I just couldn't believe it. I felt the floor just dropped out from beneath me. I was really sick, and that's what spurred me into action. At the same time I was talking to a friend who was a writer and he said to keep a detailed journal. This didn't become the idea for a really good book until I realized he had children. That became the game changer for me.
Is this book about revenge?
No, it’s not a revenge book; if you asked me about what this book is about, it's about a family. I grew up in a very typical family, with strong Catholic values, with very strong females in my life, and I really wanted to tell a story as a doctor looking back at what happened to me. I really believe that the book is about survival because of my family. My parents worked really hard, they were devoted to their family, and we all had dinner together every night, and if I didn't have those strong values, I don't think I would be sitting here. You know, it made it really difficult to be gay. Here I was hiding a secret about being molested, and then hiding a secret that I was gay, and then I have to reveal I am gay, and reveal I was molested. I think that had I not come from this loyal and devoted family, I would definitely not be here. I'd be a mess. I don't like the word victim because you have to be able to move on as a survivor, otherwise it will kill you.
Can you tell me about your writing rituals?
I've always written; I've always loved writing. I enjoy medical thrillers, and writing them. But when my friend kept telling me to write my feelings, and my thoughts, he told keep a diary—and it was also important to keep a diary for the police. I had to remember so much.
How did people close to you respond when they read the book?
My mother read the book and she cried and called me the next day, and she said 'you know, children are like flowers, you put seeds in the ground, you water them, and hope for the best, but then somebody just comes and destroys them—and these are people you trust.' You can't possibly raise your children and keep them sheltered; you have to let them experience the world, and you trust teachers, and coaches, and scout masters to help you.
When writing this memoir, how difficult was it for you to remember all the details?
Memoir is memory, and I think of it as looking at a home movie. Obviously, five of us can look at it and see five different things, and that's the nature of memory and sense memory, and what it means to you. I have such a vivid memory of my childhood, and more or less I have flashes of memory and keeping a journal really helped. It's all about accuracy, and emotional—there are times when you're crying, it's just too close. You pretend it's not about you, but you can't help it. And you also subconsciously want to write about people in a better light, or even worse, but you have to liberate yourself and just say 'I don't care; this is the truth.'
Was it difficult emotionally to rethink and write about your past?
It takes distance. It was really hard to talk about events that aren't so far in the past because I had no distance or perspective, but as a child I had a lot of perspective. I saw as a child that I knew no other world, and I felt trapped. As a molested child, you have been beguiled and you feel trapped. It came with a lot of distance, writing about it all.
What can women take away from this book?
I grew up with strong women and really relating to women. I feel that if anything the characters in this book that are so supportive of me are the women. My mother is such a central character, and whether you like her or not she's very three dimensional. My two sisters and my two female therapists in the book—they were all driving forces. I think women will respond so enthusiastically to this book; it is one thing to read about a tragedy, and it’s another to rally and come together as a family. And I think if anyone grew up with a strong mother, they will understand.