Rosemary Keevil has been a TV news reporter, a current affairs radio show host, and managing editor of a professional women’s magazine. She has a master’s degree in journalism and is currently a journalist covering addiction and recovery. Rosemary has two grown daughters who are content with their chosen careers. She lives in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, with her partner and her sheep-a-doodle. Rosemary has been clean and sober since 2002. You can find her online at https://rosemarykeevil.com/
Shauna Kosoris: Your first book, The Art of Losing It, just came out in October. What was it like, writing your life’s story and sharing it with the world?
Rosemary Keevil: It is actually only 12 years of my life, not my entire life. But they were intense. Those twelve years included: the frenetic, anxiety-ridden, 18 months when I was careening about from medical emergency to medical emergency (both my husband, Barry, and my brother were dying at the same time); the deep love story of my husband and me; caring for my two confused, sad and needy daughters; trying to pursue my career; my spiral into addiction and alcoholism; and my recovery.
I had to be prepared to be judged by my shameful behaviour such as driving drunk and high with my children and their friends in the car. The book could be subtitled, “How not to parent, but then have you and your children turn out not half bad.” In fact, both very resilient daughters are thriving.
But I felt it was important to be brutally honest as ultimately, I would like this book to serve as a resource for people going through similar circumstances. If I “fess up” to my disgraceful behaviour, but come out the other side, it means the reader or their loved ones also struggling with grief and addiction can do that too.
I also chose to write the book in the present tense as I really wanted the reader to feel the seismic magnitude of the emotions I was experiencing. But writing in the present tense about events that happened years ago poses challenges. I could not infuse the benefit of hindsight. For example, I was completely paranoid about getting at all physically close to my brother who was dying of AIDS in 1991 or, in fact, to my gay hairdresser. Today, I know that is just ignorance.
How did your family feel about you sharing your story?
My 32-year-old daughter embraced it as she is writing her own memoir, but my other daughter, now 34, is fiercely private. Although I have chronicled her life with me until she was fifteen, she does not want me to talk at all about her life after that during the promotion of the book.
While I did try to disguise people, places and things by renaming them, but it was really a very thin disguise. For example, my late husband’s father started Teck Resources in the 1950’s at Lake Temagami in Northern Ontario and the lake plays a significant role in the book. Well, I called it Lake Seratami in the memoir and claimed it was a forestry company, not a mining company. I recently wrote an article for the Temagami Times about my memoir and spilled the beans!
My sister and brother-in-law, who play small but important roles in the book, I named Hal and Sal, again thin disguises if you know my family. They were good sports about it. When they sent my congratulatory flowers, they signed the card with their fictional names: Hal and Sal.
You have been a journalist for many years. Was it strange examining your own story rather than someone else’s?
The first draft was a disaster. As Brooke Warner (editor and publisher) told me during the first edit, “I believe your background as a journalist gives you a disadvantage here because journalism is all about telling. It’s about informing the reader of what happened. Memoir is the opposite. It’s about evoking emotion.” If I am to believe my reviews, I think I eventually tackled this challenge successfully.
What has been a different experience during publicity for the book was being the one who was being asked the questions. I have always been the interviewer, not the interviewee, so it was difficult to get accustomed to that. This Q&A is a case in point.
Well I hope it’s getting easier for you as time goes on! So how long did it take you to write your memoir?
It feels like it took forever. The first draft was actually written in 2007! I attended the Muskoka Novel Writing Marathon one weekend that summer and wrote my whole story in 50 pages. The next version was in 2011 when my thesis for the University of British Columbia School of Journalism was entitled “Mother’s Little Helper: The Intergenerational Aspects of Addiction in Females.”
Then I did not revisit my memoir until 2017 when I worked with manuscript editor Brooke Warner of She Writes Press out of California. She kept me on a timeline and was a content and “arc” editor as opposed to a copy editor. That took a year and a half, and then I had to look for a publisher. I was accepted by She Writes Press which is a hybrid publisher—a combination of self-publishing and traditional publishing. I pay an amount to the publisher, but the standards are as high as for a traditional publisher and the author reaps similar benefits such as traditional distribution.
Then there were the final edits and fitting into the She Writes Press publishing timeline.
As it turned out, my publishing date happened to be in the middle of the COVID epidemic and the US presidential election. I had to do a Zoom launch instead of a traditional in-person launch which is often done at a bookstore.
My book was published on October 6th, 2020. Choosing the date for the Zoom launch was tricky. I scheduled it for 5:00 p.m. PDT on October 22nd before finding out that the final Trump-Biden debate was that same evening! At first blush, I thought I was going to have to reschedule. Then, as it turned out, the debate was to start at 6:00 p.m. so people would likely be gathering around a screen of some sort anyway. I was one helluva warm-up act!
(You can watch the launch of The Art of Losing It on YouTube.)
What was the most interesting fact you came across while doing research for The Art of Losing It?
As a journalist, it was second nature to thoroughly research non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and AIDS while my husband and brother were dying in 1991. In addition, I recorded everything that happened day in and day out in a reporter’s steno pad which was in my purse at all times. I had also hoarded all the hard copies of medical information like appointments, test results, etc. These turned out to be invaluable resources which, when writing the book, I combed through to ensure I got all the medical details correct.
But I also had records of the emotional journey that both Barry and I were travelling. I had kept my own detailed journal of this time. In addition, Barry left me a diary of the last two months of his life. In it he writes that he, “was sorting through all my banking files and pictures etc. and realized that maybe if I spent the little energy that I have on a diary about my thoughts and feelings it might be more interesting for Rosemary than my 1986 car insurance.” As it turned out it reads like a sorrowful love story—exuding love, adoration and appreciation for me.
You’re so lucky that he left that for you. So what are the most important takeaways from The Art of Losing It?
Firstly, if you or a loved one are scorched by grief and loss and alcoholism or addiction, you are not alone. These struggles are not uncommon. They are part of life. They can be scary, and the consequences can be huge. One may never really climb out of the depression and sadness associated with loss, and people die from drug and alcohol abuse. But some fortunate people, like me, can and do make it through.
Secondly, it takes acceptance and understanding that the only way past it is through it. I found this to be true for both grief and addiction. Grief is exhausting. Grievers need to accept that and allow themselves the time to be tired, to have breakdowns, to look after themselves, and to be sad. Death of a loved one carves out a hole in the soul, but the ragged edges of this hole will soften in time and with therapy.
With addiction, it is also important to accept all your shameful behaviour, address the reasons you were numbing yourself, and clear out the wreckage of your past.
For me, therapy was important, as well as the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. They were instrumental in my learning to understand my dysfunctional coping mechanisms and learning to formulate functional ones. I know AA is not for everyone but there are some elements which really work such as dealing with resentments and making amends to people you have harmed.
I end the book with, “I will never lose the guilt I have over how I parented the girls in the absence of their Dad, but I have acceptance. It is what I am doing about it now that matters today.”
What are you working on now?
I am toying with fiction—a real stretch having been a journalist for decades—but I am taking workshops and am looking forward to the challenge.
Let’s finish up with a few questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?
Mary Karr is a brilliant and prolific author of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. She literally wrote the book on memoir: The Art of Memoir. Karr also wrote the penultimate addiction memoir, Lit.
Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
And what are you currently reading?
I belong to two book clubs. I just finished Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist and Our Lives Revealed, by Lori Gottlieb. This is right up my alley as I am no stranger to therapy and actually write about it a lot in The Art of Losing It. The other book is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. It has topped the New York Times Bestseller List for months. I tend to gravitate to non-fiction so being shoved towards novels is good discipline for me. Sometimes I even like them!