Posted on 09/27/2018 at 09:40 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Storytelling has long been in author C.A. Wittman’s blood.
A lifelong reader, she went from spinning yarns for her friends to submitting short stories to publishers (at age nine!) to penning a hundred-page romantic novel a few years later.
Even as an adult, when she shifted her focus to other endeavors, her father would drop gentle hints about where her passion and talents were.
Like many childhood authors who rediscovered the calling as adults, it took a time of upheaval to put Wittman back on this particular creative track.
Writing was a return to her childhood in more than one way, though.
The main character of her first novel, The Visitors, is being raised under unusual circumstances ... which echoes Wittman’s own youth, featured in two memoirs.
Synanon Kid and its follow-up, Synanon Kid Grows Up, describe the time Wittman and her mother spent in the “experimental lifestyle community” known as Synanon.
We primarily spoke with Wittman about her writing journey, but if you need to know more about Synanon and cults in general, check out this post she did a few years ago and then come back to meet her!
SADYE: What prompted you to pursue publication as an adult?
C.A.: I began writing my memoir during a time in my life when I was going through some financial and emotional struggles.
Having gone through a divorce and a significant life change, moving to Inglewood, California, from Maui, Hawaii, with my youngest child, I suddenly found myself in a small apartment without too many social connections, income looking a bit dire, and feeling lost.
I began to think of my mother when she was young, a single mom with me, a child born out of wedlock, at a time when people didn't look too kindly on single moms.
She had little social support and was suffering from depression when she checked into Synanon.
I thought about the fact that I was in my early forties, had enjoyed a successful, prosperous life, been married thirteen years, and raised six children, yet at that time, looking about my apartment, I felt like a failure.
It was then that I felt real compassion for my mom and desperately wanted to understand her desire and compulsion to join a place like Synanon, as well as to make sense of my own past.
SADYE: Were there restrictions on what you could read at Synanon?
C.A.: We were not a religious cult, more a social experiment than anything.
While we had many odd rules and customs, there was never a ban on particular literature, movies, or media.
SADYE: What was the biggest challenge for you in writing your memoirs?
C.A.: I found that once I was halfway into the rough draft, I didn't care to write about that time in my life anymore.
Instead, I wanted to return to my fiction, but I pushed through.
SADYE: What do you hope readers take away from your memoirs?
C.A.: At the time I began writing Synanon Kid in 2013, I felt that there was a vast ignorance in American society regarding the proliferation of unscrupulous private communities and religious cults in this country.
These communities that governed like mini dictatorships very often had innocent children and adolescents amongst their followers, who found themselves trapped in unlawful situations, bereft of even minimal legal intervention.
From 2013 to the present, there has been a flood of literature and movies about this particular topic, and I am glad that more light has been shed on shadowy and dangerous groups because this signifies the first step in the prevention of child abuse that has sadly taken place in many cults.
I also wrote Synanon Kid as a sort of homage to my peers, the children I had grown up with in the commune.
There have been many books, memoirs, and articles written about Synanon over its thirty-plus-year lifespan, but very little said about the children and what it was like to grow up there.
SADYE: What has been your most rewarding piece or pieces of feedback, in all your writing?
C.A.: The most rewarding feedback I received on Synanon Kid is from other grown Synanon kids, who reached out and told me that my book gave them a voice.
The story provided some sort of proof of what we had endured.
SADYE: Do you struggle with how much people focus on your Synanon identity versus the sum of you?
C.A.: People often remark that I'm well adjusted for what I've been through, and I can understand where that comment is coming from, especially if the memoir is the only thing you have to relate me to.
I am nearly fifty now and have lived so many lives and gone through many experiences, as most people have.
Synanon is part of who I am, but it doesn't define me.
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Categories: Author Interview