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Sarah Leavitt on Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me

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Sarah Leavitt

ABOUT Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me

What do you think readers will find most notable about Tangles?

Tangles is a graphic memoir about my mother dying of Alzheimer’s. A number of readers have told me that it’s the first graphic narrative they’ve read (I use the term “graphic narrative” to include both fiction and non-fiction comics). It takes them a few pages to get used to the form, and then they dive in. Other readers have mentioned how frank the book is – for example, scenes where I show my family arguing, or struggling to cope, or doing personal, intimate care for my mom when she gets really sick. Readers have also said that they got a good idea of who my mother was, and how deep a loss this disease created for my family. Some people have said they were surprised that there were funny parts!

Have you acquired any good anecdotes surrounding this book? If so, could you share one?

Someone told me that he bought the book and his ten-year-old daughter started reading it and after a few pages said, “Wow – there are five swears on this page.” Her eight-year-old sister said, “I thought it was a comic book.”

I like this story because it really highlights that graphic narrative is a huge category, and isn’t limited to superhero comics for kids – not that there is anything wrong with superhero comics for kids, just that there is much more out there. Including memoirs about illness that contain swears! I also like the story because I love it when kids say “swears” instead of “swear words.” And I also like the part he told me next, which was that his wife read it and cried and cried.

Did researching and writing this book teach you anything or influence your thinking in any way?

It taught me how hard it is to tell a true story in a way that makes it bigger than just a diary entry. Like you have to take these people who you know in real life, members of your family, and make them into believable and compelling characters. Not by making stuff up, but by telling it in the right way, choosing the right scenes, including or deleting the right information. And I learned how hard it is to draw a whole book!

Since the book has been published, and strangers have been reading it, I am learning how incredible it is to connect with people who got something from the book, who identified with the story, or who learned from it. I am often surprised by what people take away from the book. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the people who are affected by Alzheimer’s, and how important it is that we create art in response to this horrible disease. Our society needs a cure, we need support and treatment, and we also need art. It can comfort us and move us and help us understand.

What would you most like readers to tell others about Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me?

I’d like readers to tell others what moved them about the book, what surprised them, what made them uncomfortable and what comforted them. If they’re talking to people who are unsure about reading a graphic narrative, I hope they’ll reassure them that it’s not so strange once you get into it. And I also hope readers will go on to reading other graphic narratives, if the form is new to them.

Can you suggest one question readers might find interesting to discuss, concerning you, your writing in general, or this book?

When someone has Alzheimer’s, they lose so much: memories, language, the ability to care for themselves. Without these things, what remains? What does this person become? What happens to our relationship with them? What happens to our love for them, and theirs for us?  (OK, I realize that’s not really one question! Think of it as a question collection!)

How can readers help you promote Tangles?

Ask for it at your bookstore. Blog about it. Tell your friends about it. Review it on Chapters or Goodreads or other websites that have reader reviews. (Thank you!)

ABOUT Sarah Leavitt:

Why do you write?

I write to remember things that happen to me, to examine them and share them and try to make sense of them. I write to try to make the inside of my head a little calmer and quieter.

What is your greatest strength as a writer?

The ability to tell a story clearly and honestly, and the courage to delete things that don’t work (although I must admit that this involves a lot of whining and complaining before it gets done).

What quality do you most value in yourself?

Right now I most value my determination, because without it I would never have survived the editing and rewriting process.

In addition to writing, what else are you passionate about?

I am passionate about social justice – ending poverty, trying to save the environment, things like that. I am passionate about maintaining, celebrating and enjoying my relationships with my partner, family and friends. On a lighter note, I am extremely passionate about my small dog, a papillon named Jackson. I love drawing him, taking photos of him, going to dog agility class with him. I am very passionate about food.

What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?

I am most proud of finishing Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me.

Is there any new or established author whom you feel deserves more attention, and what is it that strikes you about his or her work?

Well, I always jump at the chance to talk about comics artists that I love. These are some that I value for their unique style, honesty and sense of humour – some of them are quite famous and others are less well-known: Lynda Barry, Aline Kominsky Crumb, Miriam Engleberg, Brian Fies, Art Spiegelman and Marjane Satrapi.

Read more about Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me

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