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Author Interview – Sean Murphy

What inspired you to write this book?

When my mother died in 2002 at the age of fifty-nine, I found myself both shattered and honored to have been a witness. In order to live and to keep her memory alive, I needed to make sense of her death.

I knew I would inevitably write about her, but I wasn’t certain what form the material would take. Eventually I realized it could be –it had to be– a memoir. The result is Please Talk about Me When I’m Gone.

The antagonist of this particular tale is cancer, but implicit in the narrative is an appreciation that a struggle with illness -and the ways it can unite or disintegrate families— is a true story for too many people. It can be a horror story or a ghost story, a love story and a real-life fairy tale, where memory and devotion are capable of outlasting death.

The memoir unfolds in a range of voices —first person, second person, third— from the points of view of a mother, a father, a son. The story of one woman’s life and death is interpolated with meditations on the causes and effects of alienation and empathy, faith and friendship, and the cultivation of an artistic sensibility. The whole is an examination —and interrogation— of sickness, grief, love, and remembrance.

My ultimate goal is to promote awareness, and I am working closely with cancer-affiliated groups and charities to raise funds. My experience has reinforced a belief that nobody should (or need to) go through this alone: if my memoir builds solidarity and empowers anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation, I know I’m honoring my mother’s memory in a way she would advocate.

What topics in your book or background do you think book clubs would find interesting?

The topic of death (in general) and losing a loved one (in particular) are ones that many people, for many reasons, are unwilling or ill-equipped to grapple with. This memoir, in addition to telling the story of my mother’s life and how that experience shaped me, also interrogates issues of existence, lessons learned from dealing with a terminally ill patient, and suggestions for how I’d advise someone, based on my experience, to avoid mistakes we made, or understand things we wish we had known. By discussing this, I think everyone benefits. My experience thus far visiting book clubs has resulted in very useful, occasionally emotional, discussion.

Tell us about your career outside of writing and how it influenced your writing.

I’ve been publishing fiction, reviews (music, movie, book, food), and essays on the technology industry for almost twenty years. I blog at bullmurph.com and write regularly for PopMatters. My background in academia prepared me to use a love of art to ask questions (of myself, about the world) that enhance our ability to understand existence, and each other. Inevitably, a love of experiences and things: food, drink, sports, conversation, the outdoors, and the solitude required to think and write, all influence, and inform the things I write.

Describe your style of writing.

I would say I try to use an economic style to increase the emotional import, while allowing the reader to react and color the writing with their own feelings and impressions. This memoir uses very short chapters and shifts back and forth in time to give an accurate approximation of how memory works, particularly when dealing with grief. Although it’s a very personal story, I sought to write in a way that respectfully deals with universal themes in ways that any reader can, and will, understand and relate to.

Which authors have inspired you?

Too many to list, but I’ve been inspired and influenced by Poe, Melville, Flannery O’Connor, Milan Kundera, Kurt Vonnegut, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Keats, Shelley and Bukowski. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is one of the more important books in my life, and I regularly revisit Catch 22, Invisible Man, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and anything by Orwell.

 

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"As an oncologist treating a difficult and often fatal group of cancers, I witness firsthand as patients and their ‘villages’ cope with the diagnosis. So many decisions, so much emotion, and everyone does it a bit differently. No one path will serve; instead it is a truly individual course we choose. Sean Murphy’s book is a great new resource for patients and families, and frankly for us all."

- Dr. John Marshall, Chief, Oncology at Georgetown Hospital

May 27, 2015