Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Interview with 'crafty' memoir writer Kathryn Vercillo

Photo credit:
Julie Michelle Photography

Kathryn Vercillo is joining the blog today to give us a glimpse into her non-fiction book, Crochet Saved My Life.

Kathryn Vercillo is a San Francisco based author who has recently self-published a new title called Crochet Saved My Life. Prior to this title she published two books with Schiffer Publishing (Ghosts of San Francisco and Ghosts of Alcatraz) and self-published a book of short articles about women who crochet. Kathryn runs the blog Crochet Concupiscence, where she writes about all things related to the craft of crochet. She believes that sharing true personal stories connects people and wants to develop her career further in this vein.

Welcome, Kathryn. Please tell us about your current release.
Crochet Saved My Life is a book about the health benefits of crochet. The book includes my own mini-memoir of using hands-on crafting to heal after a lifelong battle with depression. It also includes the true stories of nearly two dozen other women who found that a hands-on creative hobby was crucial to helping them in healing from a diverse array of ailments including PTSD, OCD, pregnancy complications and chronic pain conditions. Although the book is about crochet, the stories are widely accessible for both men and women who enjoy a variety of different crafts and hobbies.

What inspired you to write this book?
I believe that each individual has a unique personal story and that sharing the story is not only cathartic but also leads to better connections with others. I believe in the value of this. I survived a really tough battle with depression and knew that an honest portrayal of this would be beneficial to myself and others. I was having some success with my crochet blog and so chose to tell the story specifically through the lens of how this craft helped me in my recovery.

As I began to do research I started to hear from many amazing women who shared the intimate details of their own difficult experiences with me. I felt that they’d entrusted me to be a channel for sharing their stories and this further inspired the direction the book took.
Excerpt from the Introduction of Crochet Saved My Life
By Kathryn Vercillo

Crochet saved my life.

I realize that this sounds completely absurd … or at the very least like a great exaggeration. I assure you, however, that it is the truest way I can possibly describe the role that crochet played in assisting me in moving through the deepest period of depression I had ever experienced. Without it, I may not have lived.

Prior to this terrible period, I had suffered with undiagnosed, sometimes debilitating, always untreated depression for nearly fifteen years. I didn’t know that depression was the problem and I certainly didn’t know how to deal with it. The delay in diagnosis was due in large part to stubbornness. I was very anti-medication, mostly anti-psychologists and believed that whatever was wrong was something I could solve on my own. The delay also had to do with my youth (I was a young teen when the problem started), a lack of self-awareness and an abundance of intelligence and creativity that made me generally keep going in some form despite many tough battles with deep sadness. In later years, I did try to reach out for help but the professionals I worked with didn’t properly diagnose me or help me in any way.

All of this is to say that by the time that I reached the desperate stage of readiness where I would accept any help of any kind (despite feeling certain that nothing could ever help) the problem was nearly out of control. I was barely functioning. I cried most of the day every day. I could hardly move. I could hardly breathe. The idea of trying to make doctors’ appointments or hold down “real” jobs was so far-fetched it may as well have filtered into my mind in another language. I couldn’t do almost anything and yet the one thing that I could do was to move a crochet hook back and forth through yarn, repeatedly pulling one loop through the next to create fabric out of air so thin I could barely breathe in it. Since it was one of the only things that I could do, it became imperative to my mental health that I go ahead and do it. When I first started to crochet, that feeling of temporary relief from the muted chaos of depression was the only reason I was crocheting.

Of course, crochet alone could never have taken me out of that desperate place. It is a craft, not a cure-all for serious illness. And yet I am also fairly certain that I could never have loosened myself from the grip of that depression without crochet. I was stuck in between that proverbial rock and a hard place and my crochet hook served as a crowbar to begin prying me out of that difficult space. I hardly knew that it was happening and yet that hook dug deep down into the core of my being and lifted me into a space where I could once again begin to breathe. In the most basic and obvious way possible I was creating a life for myself simply through the act of creating.

A year later, breathing and healing, I was not only crocheting but also beginning to live my life again. I was beginning to meet other people who also enjoyed literally crafting a life for themselves. I had been a professional blogger/ freelance writer for approximately ten years and found the medium comfortable so I decided to start a crochet blog where I found an expansive community of like-minded crafty people. As I began to share my thoughts and feelings with this community, I began to see that I was not the only one who felt that crochet had been critical to saving one’s mental health. In fact, it became obvious to me that it is more often than not the case that crocheters feel that they experience some personal health benefits from the craft although that may not be their main motivation for crocheting.

Crochet heals. Crochet saves lives.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am working on a book of creativity exercises for crocheters designed to help people use the craft to heal and improve their everyday quality of life through a more creative approach to crafting. It is due for an early 2013 release.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I was always writing. But there were levels of accepting myself as a “writer”. When I won my first poetry prize from a zine in my early 20’s I felt like I’d accomplished something as a writer. When I started getting paid to do writing work (also in my early twenties) and started actually putting “writer” as my occupation on my taxes was another landmark. When I published my first book I felt like a real author. But it’s taken about ten years of full-time writing work and the publishing of this first book that truly came from my own heart and mind to really, fully, 100% embrace that I’m a writer, every day, forever.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I’ve been a full-time writer for about a decade. I work primarily on my own projects now – my blogs, this most recent book and the next book. I supplement this with a little bit of freelance work, mostly doing articles for a few websites that I’ve been working with for a long time. I enjoy taking random writing jobs now and then to broaden my experience.

Every once in awhile I’ll also do a non-writing job such as pet care or I’ll participate in a paid focus group (I did one for a craft-related phone app earlier this year). I do it for a little extra cash but I also do it because I believe in constantly expanding the scope of personal experience to grow as a writer and as a person.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I like really cheap pens for longhand journal writing and I’m super particular about the ones I like (a certain type of Papermate).

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer! But many other things as well … a teacher, a lawyer, a fashion designer, a psychologist … The funny thing is that I’ve done all of those things to some extent. I’ve worked as a teacher at a charter school. I started law school before realizing I didn’t want to be a lawyer after all. I make clothing using my crochet skills. I have an educational background in social work and psychology, read widely on those topics and would like to do higher education in psychology. I really believe that as a writer you must also be many other things, maybe not as a career but to be a well-rounded person with lots of experience to write from!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
As an indie author it is really immensely helpful when readers support my work, whether they buy a copy of a book for a friend or write a positive review on Amazon or spread the word about my blog on Facebook. Every little bit really does make a difference in my life and career. So thank you to everyone who has done that!

Thanks for being here today, Kathryn. 

Readers, here are more ways to connect with Kathryn include:

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

Thanks for publishing my interview. Looks great and I'm really happy to be a part of your blog!