“If there were any means by which I could get some control over this out-of-control story, it had to be through writing.” Vince Granata talks with Zibby about how writing helped him contend with his family’s unimaginable past trauma: Vince’s brother murdered his mother in their childhood home. They discuss living with grief, the necessity of continued support systems, and the value of writing mentors.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Vince. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Vince Granata: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: Your memoir, Everything Is Fine, everything was not fine, obviously. Tell me about your decision to write about what happened in your life. Maybe, if you can, just let people in on the events that inspired the book.

Vince: The book follows my family’s story and explores how my family was impacted by schizophrenia. Most of the book involves my younger brother Tim who became ill shortly after starting college, so in his late teens. His illness progressed over the span of several years. There were many challenges to getting him the care that he needed. Though he was hospitalized and though we tried to martial whatever resources we could to help him, we weren’t able to help him get a handle on his schizophrenia. Tragically, he was living at home for several months and during that time, began to get these hallucinations that involved our mother. Her killed her when the two of them were home alone together. That’s seven years ago now. The book tries to reconstruct how we arrived at that tragic day and then also tracks how we lived afterwards in the aftermath.

Zibby: Vince, how are you able to do these publicity interviews and have to talk about all this stuff over and over again? This must be really hard. This is traumatic, awful, personal stuff. I feel guilty even making you dive into it on one o’clock on a Tuesday. Maybe he doesn’t want to talk about this right now. How are you holding up having this part of your life be so public?

Vince: In some ways, it’ll always be challenging to speak about this time in my life and these elements of my family. For a long time, for a year after this happened, I didn’t speak about it at all. I tried to put all that stuff in a box and compartmentalize. I didn’t write at all, didn’t think I would ever write this particular book. All that happened with all of that effort to shove it away was I was just sort of eating myself on the inside. It became very clear to me that writing was going to be a way for me to begin to contend with all of these things that I couldn’t really bear to look at otherwise. I don’t even necessarily know if that’s the most healthy way to deal with trauma. For me, writing was that tool. It was something that had been a part of my life since I was in the third grade. That felt like the means. If there was any means by which I could get some control over this out-of-control story, it had to be through writing. By spending lots of time on that writing, it became easier to have conversations like this one even though, obviously, the trauma seven years later still echoes very sharply.

Zibby: While you were writing it, did you show anybody? Did you keep it close to your heart and wait until the end? I’m curious as to how you dealt with that process.

Vince: I was very lucky when I started writing this book to have just started a graduate school program, an MFA in creative writing. At that program, I met a man who would become my mentor. If I choke up a little bit, he recently passed.

Zibby: Oh, no.

Vince: He was an incredibly special person and an incredible writer. His name was Richard McCann. He worked with me for three years. Early on when I was starting this book, I would only show it to him. I didn’t feel like I could be that vulnerable with other people at first. Even more than that, I was really afraid that someone would see this piece of writing and just feel overwhelming sympathy for me and not be able to engage with it as a series of ideas, as a story that I hope has greater purpose than just to explain something sad that happened. Eventually over time, I did begin to share work as part of my graduate program and then reaching out when it came time to try to move this towards publication. That process was essential. We all have blind spots in our writing that we can’t see until another set of eyes are on it. That was absolutely essential for me.

Zibby: Clearly, there’s this traumatic, emotional story to tell, but you’re a really great writer as well. Obviously, since third grade you’ve been interested in writing. The way in which it comes across is just so gripping and vivid. You feel like you’re in there, all the details of your home and just all of it down to everything you discovered through your research going back through all the files recreating that whole day. You feel like you’re living it with you. Now you have all these readers. You feel like you live it when you dive into someone’s words. It’s really incredible the way you’ve made it come alive, unfortunately. We share your pain now because we are living it with you in a way. That sounds ridiculous, but I hope you know what I mean.

Vince: I hear you. It seems weird to say thank you for that, but I do appreciate you saying that. While there are certain elements of the experience that are impossible to convey, I do hope that there can at least be some moments where the reader feels some shared element of this story that resonates. I really appreciate you saying that.

Zibby: There were also parts of the story which shows some of your distance from where you were then to your reflections on it now, in particular, the doctor who was consulting with your family right up until the morning of the incident and how you viewed it. It was easy to have the doctor be the scapegoat. Why didn’t he insist that Tim get put into inpatient care right away? Why didn’t he make your mom call the police? Why this or that? Yet when you went over it enough over the years, you kind of had a different attitude. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Vince: In the immediate aftermath and even a year out from this trauma, I looked for a lot of easy scapegoats. It just felt easier to be angry at what I thought were immediate villains who turned out not to be villains at all, including many of the people who treated Tim. I looked back over Tim’s medical records. When I found their names, I would circle them and put angry little notes in the margins and just kind of have a temper tantrum, honestly, because that was the only way I knew at that time to try to process any of this. As more time went on, as I learned more about the systems of care that failed my brother, I realized that these were the only people that even tried. The more I learned and the more I really investigated my family’s story, I could start to see how systemically, there were bigger factors that were to blame. I could start to look at myself as well and realize all that I didn’t know during the lead-up to what happened in my family and could start to think a little bit more critically about what I could’ve done or what I didn’t do.

Zibby: I bet people reading will be thinking, oh, my gosh, I could never have made it through. How you pick up and wake up and take a shower and have the day when you’ve had this experience? How do you go on when something like this has happened? Yet here you are. You’re a published author. You obviously got dressed. You’re living your life. What do you say to people who are wondering that or people who are in the post-traumatic state themselves from something else? You’re almost a role model of sorts. I’m sure you don’t want that burden to bear at all. At least you can say that you’re still showing up each day, which is a victory in and of itself. Tell me a little about that.

Vince: It’s the love of other people. I wish I had an answer that involved three things that I did to make sure I brush my teeth every day. I know without a doubt that if I didn’t have people who cared deeply about me in my life, I’m not sure if I would’ve made it through that year, let alone write a single sentence about this. One thing I try to describe in the book and if there’s something I could’ve spent more time on, it’s the impact that my family members and my close friends and loved ones had on me during this time, and even when I didn’t think I was a particularly loveable person during this aftermath. They were right there with me. None of this, this being the book, this being me getting dressed this morning, this being me able to kind of move forward in my life, would’ve happened without that support.

Zibby: You write so well about when your friends organized the — not surprise party. I don’t know what to call it exactly. Your friends all rallied together. You went over there in the brain-foggy aftermath moment and just got to sit with your friends and be there. They were just by your side. There was one friend in particular who you were so grateful for. I’m blanking on his name right now, of course.

Vince: Charlie, actually. Just spoke on the phone with him a half hour ago.

Zibby: Aw. That’s amazing. You don’t always see such examples of amazing, deep, male friendship. This is very common in a women’s book. We’re all talking about our friends all the time. It was so amazing to see how they showed up for you and how much you got out of that.

Vince: They’ve continued to show up for me even after that immediate aftermath. I think saying that I’m lucky doesn’t quite capture it. In addition to being lucky to have surrounded myself with those type of friends, it was just affirming in that moment to have someone recognize me as the person I was for the twenty-seven years before the tragedy. One of the most immediate effects I felt of the trauma was just feeling very distant from myself and feeling alienated even from my own reflection in the mirror. I had trouble recognizing myself and placing myself. Before I could even really think about who I was before all this happened, I had other people recognize those pieces of me. That helped me back into myself more than just about anything.

Zibby: Wow. I have to say, as I was reading it, I stopped midway through and I was like, all right, I have to see what everybody looks like. In fiction, you get all these ideas in your head. I stopped. Then of course, there were all these articles. I was thinking, oh, my gosh, on top of all of this, then you had to deal with the fact that the press was involved. You had to deal with another layer including even your compassion for the photographer who was taking the picture of you coming out of the courthouse that eventually they got rid of. You had that added layer to contend with. What was that like?

Vince: Deeply strange doesn’t quite cover it. I can remember that the part that felt the hardest to rectify was that by nature in local news reporting, whether it be a news clip or a headline in a newspaper, there’s only so much space for them to describe what happened. At that point too, I also didn’t know a lot of the details of my own story. It bothered me early on. This is really through no fault of the journalists who are just working in the medium that they were given. They couldn’t capture every element of the story. They couldn’t show how this wasn’t just this sensationalized, tragic event. More than anything, what I hope the book can do for Tim in particular is to show him as someone who is more than just this person who happened to have this disease that spun out of control that led to this traumatic, tragic event. I do hope that because I have three hundred pages to work with here, I can capture a lot of the moments that you can’t see when you just read a short report in the news.

Zibby: What’s today’s update? Where are all of your siblings? What’s going on with your family? Now I feel like I have the right to pry into your life, which of course I don’t.

Vince: It’s okay.

Zibby: What’s the postscript from today’s vantage point?

Vince: I really appreciate you asking that question. I think to start with Tim makes the most sense. He and I spoke on the phone yesterday. We are still in close touch, though I haven’t been able to visit him in person for the last year. He has now, for just about four years, been consistently and voluntarily on medication. He has moved through several steps. He is no longer at the most maximum-security facility. It’s simultaneously really affirming to describe how thoughtful and how caring a person he is and how our conversations are sprawling and cover all sort of things. To see him that way, it feels great, but it also is incredibly painful because it’s just this reminder that none of this had to happen. He didn’t have to go down this particular path. He is progressing well. He’s turning thirty in September. There are many reasons for hope, that he’ll have a very rich life going forward. I am very hopeful. My sister Lizzy and my brother Chris are both doing well as well. They’ve achieved so much in their various fields. They’re living very full lives. My dad is still in Connecticut. He and I speak very often. We’ve all spoken about the book and the challenges therein. We’re doing the best we can.

Zibby: Wow. When you sat down to do this, how long did this take? I know you said it was a multi-year process. Was there ever a point where you got at the end of your program where — tell me more about the timing and the process.

Vince: I started this graduate program just a little over a year after my mom died. I’d been a high school English teacher. I was sort of edging my way out of teaching even before this happened in my family. It was actually the third-to-last conversation I had with my mom, was about my writing and about how I had set it aside for most of the years I was teaching. I had known before that I wanted to take my writing more seriously. I thought about graduate programs. When I began the grad program that I started, I didn’t think that I was actually going to write nonfiction. I thought I was going to write fiction. Shortly after arriving and then meeting Richard McCann, it became clear that this was the story I had to tell. It didn’t feel like a choice, at first at least. I began really in the fall of 2015 and for about the next three years, wrote what at first was a series of essays and then became a memoir. After that three-year period, there was about another year of revising and shopping it around and seeing if anyone was interested. There was four years of writing and revising and then a year, year and a half of publishing stuff getting sorted out. It was a long period. I think it had to be a long period for a number of reasons. One, I was learning how to write this kind of book. I had written fiction beforehand. I had studied fiction beforehand. I had read predominately fiction beforehand. I didn’t know much about the genre. I had to learn those things. It was also very helpful to work through this over a long period of time so that I could get a bit of distance and understand certain elements of the story that felt too immediate and still too sharp when I started writing a year after.

Zibby: It’s not the worst part, but the fact that now, of course, you still have to deal with the loss of your mom forever — I’ve had loss in my life. I think one of the things about it is just the finality of it. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t be like, I should’ve gone this way on that drive. Next time, I’ll go that way. There’s nothing you can do about it, which for me has always been the biggest stumbling block of the whole thing. You’re always going to have that grief and that loss. How do you maintain her connection? How do you keep her alive in your mind? How do you process that grief and carry her spirit with you, if you will?

Vince: I appreciate you asking that question. Again, I wish I had a simple answer. I know I mentioned previously that one of the last things that we spoke about, my mother and I, was my writing. If we hadn’t had that conversation, I think writing this book would’ve been much more difficult. While I know I can’t take that conversation as one of her final wishes, that would be reading a bit too much into that exchange, I think about that conversation with her so much and think about how much time I’ve spent since she died writing and how she knew what writing meant to me and how writing this book is as close as I can come to having a conversation with her or thinking about her impact on my life to this day. Unavoidably, whenever I write, she’s right there with me.

Zibby: I’m so sorry. I’m just so sorry that you lost her.

Vince: I appreciate you saying that. Thank you.

Zibby: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Vince: Aspiring authors, maybe speaking specifically here to people who are trying to write memoir or essay or specifically writing about traumatic experiences and difficult experiences, I think many people like me feel, at some point, the urge to try to sort through difficult memories in writing. I think starting that process is incredibly terrifying. At least, it was for me. If I didn’t have someone like Richard to coax me along in those early moments, I don’t know if I would’ve started. I guess I would say if you can find someone who you can trust who’s someone who’s done some sort of writing like this before who knows the ways that this type of writing can both help you process trauma but also, at times, make some things more difficult to handle, to have that kind of voice in your life as you’re going through this type of writing is invaluable. I would say try to find someone you can attach yourself to in that way.

Zibby: Excellent. Thank you, Vince. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sorry for everything you’ve gone through. Thank you for using your words to help other people who will benefit from reading this no matter what they’re going through in so many ways and just that we got to know the people in your family so well. I feel like I know your mom and Tim and your siblings and you, certainly, from how you wrote about them. I feel privileged to have gotten to know her in this way.

Vince: I’m very glad to hear you say that. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Thank you. Take care. Buh-bye.

Vince: Bye.


Everything Is Fine by Vince Granata

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