I sat down with Denise Alicea of The Pen and Muse to discuss my memoir, The Dog Story: A Journey Into a New Life with Multiple Sclerosis. Here is an excerpt from that interview:
Interview with author of The Dog Story, Matt Cavallo.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I am originally from Hingham, MA, which is about 18 miles south of Boston. I currently live in Chandler. I am married with two boys, ages five and three. I also have a neurotic Wheaton Terrier pictured on the cover of the book.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
I suddenly lost functionality from the waist down in the spring of 2005. Not only did I lose my ability to walk, but I couldn’t go to the bathroom either. Up until this point, I had not been sick a day in my life.
My story is an in-the-moment narrative non-fiction which follows me from the initial onset of symptoms, through the hospital to my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and recovery. I started this story as a personal journal, but as I shared it with those around me they thought that I had the ability to help others with my story. While these are tough subjects to talk about or share, I wanted to use my personal experience as a means to help others that are going through personal health issues.
How do you create your characters?
Luckily everyone in my life is a character. I tried to capture the essence and spirit of everyone involved in my diagnosis. It is interesting how those closest to you react when faced with adversity. As I lie in my hospital bed trying to come to terms with my condition, those closest to me were falling apart at my bedside. My wife would break out in hysteric fits of laughter, my mother was blaming herself for me being born, my dad all of a sudden knew a hundred people with MS that played tennis and hiked mountains, and I even had a friend that thought that drinking Pedialite would regenerate spinal fluid after my spinal tap somehow. These are all raw, visceral reactions that captured the human experience of seeing a loved one experience personal tragedy at a young age.
I went on to work at a neuroscience clinic, where I would witness similar behavior as families and friends would see their loved ones go through devastating diagnoses. I always would draw on my personal experience to help coach my patients and caregivers through the tough times to accept their new reality. I say things like, “we have eyes in the front of our head because we were never meant to look back.”
What inspires and what got your started in writing?
I have always been a writer since I was a little boy. I can’t draw nor do I have any talents with tools, but the pen has always been my friend. I always liked to write things down, so I could look back later and analyze what I was feeling at the time. Looking back at my state of mind when I was writing The Dog Story it is amazing to me how much I have grown. Writing is a picture which frames a moment in time.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I write everywhere. For me, writing is my release. If you have a thought, write it down to capture the moment. If you don’t write it down and the moment passes, you will never recapture that thought again.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
My ideas come from the world around me. Some ideas I’ve had have been good, while others not so much, but you never know until you put it down on paper.
What do you like to read?
I like to read other personal stories. Story telling is the oldest form of communication and valuable life lessons can be learned from other people’s experiences.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
My advice to others who are thinking of writing a book is to start with the end in mind. When I sat down to write The Dog Story, I created a roadmap of critical scenes that helped shape where the story was going to go. Having a roadmap for the story allows you to keep the story focused.
There is also no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting. Put it all down on paper because you can always go back and edit. If you feel the need to be perfect with every sentence you will find yourself with a bad case of writer’s block.
I get a lot of emails from readers and the theme continues to be that once they start reading The Dog Storythey typically finish it in one sitting. The reason my readers cite over and over is my chapter length. I kept many short chapters so readers have a sense of accomplishment. Then, they are too into the story that they have to see what happens next.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The Dog Story is all about being vulnerable. Sharing a personal story of this nature is hard to talk about. People have a hard time talking about short comings with their health. Guys especially keep health issues close to the vest because any weakness may be perceived as being less of a man.
I had an email from one reader whose husband had recently been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She shared with me that her husband is not able to articulate what he was going through. A friend gave herThe Dog Story and she read it cover to cover in a day. Then she gave it to her husband. She told me that after they both read it, they sat at the kitchen table and cried together as he was finally able to open up to her using my story as a reference point.
She went on to say that now she had a better understanding of her husband’s struggle and that my story brought them closer together. Now, he has let his guard down and is able to openly discuss his condition. This is incredibly meaningful to me as this was the intention of sharing the story.
This is not a story about Multiple Sclerosis. This is story of a couple in the prime of their lives that have their life turned upside by a health scare. What I did not anticipate is that people are reading this story who want a story of overcoming adversity. When facing loss or a health scare, we typically go through the five stages of grieving. I still grieve my old life, but my new life as a person living with Multiple Sclerosis has opened opportunities that I didn’t know existed prior to being sick. I am in a Yoga video that was featured on Good Morning America, I got to be in a film documentary with Ann Romney and spent time with her learning of her story with MS, I completed my Master’s in Public Health Administration and work as a clinical educator helping doctors, nurses and therapists learn how to integrate software into their hospitals, but the most important thing is that my story helps people like that husband and wife break barriers due to illness or adversity.
Today, I am happy, healthy and feeling great. I have been doing a lot of motivational speaking around the country, using my story to help educate others. I appreciate the opportunity to connect with you and your readers. If you or a loved one is going through a challenge please check out The Dog Story. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll feel good in the end. Please check out www.mattcavallo.com to learn more or to email me directly. Thank you for the opportunity to get the word out!
For the rest of the story please visit The Pen and Muse: http://thepenmuse.net/2012/10/20/interview-author-dog-story-matt-cavallo/