Question: How did you first become interested in writing graphic novels?
Answer: “This is such a great question because there is actually a story behind it. Since I’m all about the story and believe firmly in the precept that all human beings are “story creatures”, it makes it all the more relevant and significant. My first foray into the world of graphic novels came about because of a dream. Really! I was in my second or third month of an intensive inpatient program in Center City, Minnesota. You first need to understand that my life was falling apart around me; I wasn’t certain that I would still be married and I definitely knew that my previous vocation as an ELCA pastor wasn’t going to continue. (Church leadership generally frowns on ordained leaders committing felonies—you see, I had been arrested for felony trespassing while in a blackout on alcohol and benzos. That’s another story, though.) So one early morning I sprang out of bed. It was my Eureka! moment and I knew what I wanted to do. You see, the previous week my father had gifted me a book, a graphic novel. Its title was “Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth.” The book’s topic was a unique historical take of Bertrand Russell’s attempt to prove the foundations of mathematics. I know, right? The thing was, the book was actually quite good. I thought that if the author of that book could pull something off like that . . . well, how cool would it be to create a graphic novel looking at the Twelve Steps and the precepts of recovery? Since I had some other experience reading entertaining graphic novels and also productions more focused on teaching through comics, I thought, “Why not?” So, back to my dream—I dreamt that I wrote and produced this graphic novel. The next day I immediately called my wife and told her of my dream. I can’t remember her response, but since I was in pink-cloud territory I’m sure she took my over-enthused news with a grain of salt. But the dream stuck with me. Then, over the next nine months, while living in a sober living environment in Saint Paul, I began to plan and get in contact with artists and publishers to make the dream a reality. The goal to publish the work took much longer than I anticipated though. It was a tough sell, but the publisher finally had worked back and forth with me enough to make the project a reality. In fact, they stated to me that they had wanted to produce a book like that for a while, but hadn’t yet found a gifted-enough writer and artist. I worked diligently with Spencer Amundson, my artist, over the next two years. And . . . voila! “Sobriety: A Graphic Novel” was born.
Question: How did your own personal experience with addiction, recovery, and the 12-steps influence your writing for “Sobriety: A Graphic Novel”?
Answer: “Deeply. My experience and my beliefs essentially served as a foundational guide for me while I was writing the book. The process I went through to learn how to take the good of the Twelve Steps and leave the rest became a fundamental goal of what I wanted the book to do. And what did I want the book to do (and what do I think it actually does quite well)? I want the book to reflect the good and the bad of the Twelve Steps and let people take what spiritual tools they have to offer and leave it at that.
Question: One character, Matt, has a particularly difficult time coming to terms with the spiritual aspect of the 12-Step Program. Since this can be a stumbling block for many people, what were your main goals in addressing this?
Answer: “Yeah, Matt. I love him! The biggest stumbling block with Twelve-Step recovery for many is the focus on spirituality. Even the word — spirituality — brings about strong emotions for many people. When I speak publicly about addiction and long-term recovery, spirituality is one topic I nearly always try to remember to cover. And I start by redefining what spirituality actually is. Do you know what I believe spirituality is? It’s each person’s own journey to learn how to become a more authentic human being. That’s it. I think when you look at it this way (and I suppose, look at the whole “God” language, too), it makes the Twelve Steps less threatening. There’s much more behind a more robust and accurate answer to this question, but because we’re limited with space, I’ll have to settle for the above explanation and one other thing. Matt served not as some “idiot who doesn’t get the Twelve Steps” or the one who just needed to “be straightened out.” No. Instead, I think many of Matt’s critiques in the story are both legitimate and well thought-out. Most addicts are extremely intelligent people! So, I think I mostly wanted a character who reflected the very real and legitimate criticisms of AA or NA and Twelve Step recovery.”
Question: Each character in your book has different experiences and personal issues but their common bond is their addiction. Why do you think this is this an important concept for people in recovery to understand?
Answer: “You put your finger right on it! Excellent question and it’s got a clear and simple answer. Everyone’s gonna be their own person. It’s always been that way with every society throughout history and with any group. At the same time, I really do believe in the disease model of addiction. We all have the same ailment. Publicly, and when I have enough time to explain it, I don’t actually use the term “disease” because it triggers people so much. I use the term “induced mental illness” because that’s actually what addiction is.”
Question: You have written several other books including the prose work, “Faraway: A Suburban Boy’s Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking.” What is your motivation for writing books that tackle such complex topics and stigmatized issues?
Answer: “The human condition is a loud, quiet, loving, hateful, confusing, terrifying, horrifically bedazzling, and wholly strange existence. We live in a wonderful and odd melange, a mosaic of experiences and relationships. The one constant that a person can find in anyone’s life, and certainly within any human society on the planet, is the story. Human beings are story-creatures. So, my goal in confronting complex and stigmatized issues is to get people to enter those stories and begin to think differently! Which, incidentally, is the goal of recovery itself! How about that?”If you or a loved one would like to learn more about the 12-Step Program and how it’s used in conjunction with behavioral therapies and specialized therapies at Nova Recovery Center, call (512) 605-2955 to speak with our admissions team today.