People usually don’t ask me about the story behind Purge; they’re usually more interested in when it’s going to be published, who the publisher is, can they get it on amazon, etc. I think the story behind Purge is important, though. I did not sit down one day and decide to write a memoir.
I started writing about treatment when I was in treatment.
A brief overview: I spent 88 days in an anonymous residential treatment facility in the Upper Midwest during the summer of 2004. My diagnosis ranged from anorexia, binge/purge subtype (this was actually inaccurate) to eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). At other points in time I was diagnosed with bulimia and depression. I was 22 turning 23 during the time I was in treatment.
Purge began as journal entries. Nothing could’ve prepared me for what I would experience and bear witness to in treatment. Some of my journal writing was cathartic, but some of it was to simply record what was happening around me. When I left treatment I pored over my journal entries, pictures and documents from treatment and realized that together, they formed a cohesive narrative. Less than a month after my discharge, I was back at the University of Minnesota MFA program, taking a nonfiction workshop, and I found that all I could write about was treatment. The words literally flowed from my fingers.
At first, I wrote 20 pages of diary-like entries. Gradually, I lengthened these and placed them in some semblance of chronological order. Next, I started incorporating documents, such as insurance statements, meal plans, therapy assignments etc, as they complemented my writing and added a new dimension to my manuscript. Throughout the fall and spring of 2004/2005 I wrote and wrote. This was not always easy. Writing about my experience with eating disorders and treatment is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In fact, next to recovering from my eating disorder, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I spent a lot of time driving around the Twin Cities, listening to cds and thinking about writing. I pumped my friends and the women I was with in treatment for information. My manuscript grew into a thesis. I spent a lot of time in various coffee shops that let me run exorbitant tabs (thanks Blue Moon, A Fine Grind, Purple Onion and Espresso Expose). I spent a lot of time in therapy and sending angsty-emails to my thesis advisor on Sunday afternoons.
During the spring of 2005, I applied for the Prague Summer Program Eda Kriseova Fellowship (using Purge), and I won! I spent a month in Prague during the summer of 2005, where I explored the Czech Republic and Poland, and continued to work on Purge. Spending the summer in Eastern Europe definitely beat eating disorder treatment. I had an amazing time in Prague, and it solidified my belief that I had the power to overcome my eating disorder. Once I won the PSP Fellowship, something changed inside me and I lost any ambivalence I may have had about recovery. I knew that I had reached the point where I no longer saw any benefit to engaging in my eating disorder. I didn’t want to waste my time in Prague engaging in eating disorder behaviors.
I spent fall and spring of 2005/2006 working on my thesis. After I graduated from the MFA program, I spent a month in northern Vermont at the Vermont Studio Center, where I spent a lot of time reading books, sunbathing and swimming in the Gihon River, drinking cheap beer around nightly bonfires as well as working on writing a query letter and beginning the search for an agent. I also wrote the prologue and epilogue to Purge.
I found Agent Barbara (Irene Goodman Literary Agency). Other than my thesis advisers, Julie Schumacher and Patricia Weaver Francisco, I think Agent Barbara has been the biggest champion of Purge. She hooked me up with my publisher, Seal Press.
I have been in recovery since 2005, and part of why I wrote Purge was to help others who are struggling with an eating disorder as well as to dispel some common myths surrounding eating disorders (more on this later).