March 10, 2013

Author Q & A: Fine, By Me

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

As do many authors, Katherine Lippa has carried her book around in her head for many years.

It began five or six years ago when her mother informed Lippa that she had found her childhood journal.

"The first thing I said was, 'Did you read it?'

"And she said, 'Of course I did. You've got to write a book."'

And so she did. Her book, "Hiding in Water: A Memoir Based Mostly in Reality," is at times a funny and at other times a harrowing account of her childhood in South Portland.

As she explains in the book, in the years before she was born, Lippa's father co-founded a group in which participants believed they could levitate and move buildings with their minds. His parenting style was based on the idea that people have psychic nature and that with training, a child can harness and build on those abilities.

It was, needless to say, a bizarre childhood -- and not always great. Lippa debated calling her book "Memories of an Invisible Girl," because that's how she felt as a child. Turns out, she realized that she wasn't invisible as much as she was hiding.

Lippa, who turns 40 this spring, has taken most of her adult life coming to terms with her upbringing and family dynamics. For many years, she lived as far away from Maine as she could -- all the way to California to pursue her dream of acting. Once she finally returned home and made peace with her past, the book presented itself.

We spoke at the Portland Public Library early last week. 

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: I felt like mine was a unique slant on a universal story. In some ways, I was just a kid growing up in the '80s, enjoying reruns of "The Brady Bunch" and worrying too much about the possible effects of the Cold War. But I had this father who claimed to be a prophet from another planet and who told me that I had superhuman powers. It became an extreme symbol of what we all experience.

So many of us learn as children what we think the world is like, and then we spend the rest of our lives looking for supporting evidence. It's those moments when we realize that things aren't what they seem that throw us for a loop. That's what I wanted to write about: Reconciling belief with reality and learning to accept, with compassion and humor, that life isn't black and white. 

Q: You included some very personal moments in here. Why? And what was it like to write some of those chapters?

A: I've always had a "go big or go home" attitude about the things I create, whether it's something I'm writing or a staged piece I'm performing, or even a painting -- though I don't consider myself a painter, and if you saw my work, you'd likely agree. I did struggle, however, with including some of the more personal scenes. It's my life, and now it's out there for people to read and evaluate. More than that, even though the story is about me, it does speak of others who didn't necessarily bargain for a memoir in their futures. Ultimately, I decided that a large part of the book and my reasons for writing it wouldn't make sense unless I included those portions.

Writing those scenes wasn't as tough as I thought it would be, but editing was a challenge. It was important to me to read and re-read those scenes so that I could imagine myself as a person who might pick up this book. There's no need to bombard a reader with graphic images, but there is a need to be clear. When it came down to it, I felt proud of myself for being able to craft those scenes in artful ways that aren't too explicit but remain honest. 

(Continued on page 2)

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