What if your first published personal essay were in the New York Times? What if your memoir proposal was snatched up by a publisher in your first round of submissions? Then, your name might be Tim Elhajj, author of Dopefiend: A Father’s Journey from Addiction to Redemption. Tim talked to us today about how he came to memoir writing. Looking forward to meeting up with him again at Wild Mountain in March!
Theo Pauline Nestor: How did you get started writing?
Tim Elhajj: I loved to read when I was a boy but had a hard time imagining myself as someone would could pull a story together, much less a book. I went to college later than most and ended up in a fiction class taught by Alice Sebold. More than anything else, Alice gave me the sense that writing was a lifestyle. Not so much a profession (though it can certainly be one) as a way of looking at the world. In that class I first started to see myself as a writer. I began thinking about the various narratives that were most important to me and looking at the world as a writer.
TPN: How did it feel when your essay was published in the Modern Love column? Did that impact how you saw yourself as a writer?
TE: Exciting! “As a Father I Was Hardly a Perfect Fit” was my first published work. It’s a story about my relationship with my oldest son and I savored calling him on the phone the Sunday it came out and hearing him describe his own feelings reading it. The impact it had on me was huge. If you read the story, you’ll see I don’t mention at all that I’m a recovering heroin addict. After it was published, I realized that if I were going to explore my relationship with my son in my writing, I would have to be willing to reveal more about my life–especially my years in early recovery. I eventually turned away from the childhood memoir I was working on and started work on what would become my first book, Dopefiend: A Father’s Journey from Addiction to Redemption.
TPN: Tell us a bit about Dopefiend.
TE: Dopefiend is a recovery memoir, but it’s really about the lengths a father will go to find a satisfying relationship with his son. Sometimes you have to follow the most unlikely path to find the thing you want most.
This is the little marketing blurb I’m using to sell the book, but it’s really true. Parenting and fatherhood are the two big narratives that interest me most. It’s a theme I return to again and again in my stories. I’ve actually failed spectacularly as a parent and father and recognizing this has given me a foundation on which I can build satisfying relationships with all my kids. Dopefiend is the story of building that foundation.
TPN: What authors/books have influenced you?
TPN: Readers, want to see more from Tim? Check out the blog he edits with his wife, Holly, Junklit.