My guest this week is Robert Dinsmoor, a writer who found a cure for addiction in writing and rehab … and yoga. He has seen his share of sadness and addiction, yet is able to find ways to write about them with both wisdom and wit.
Robert talks about his journey as a comedy writer whose alcoholism landed him in rehab, where he was able to not only find healing, but also inspiration for his writing.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A few highlights from our interview:
On Finding Yoga
I was completely stressed out and feeling lost. And so I really embraced yoga and I would take several classes a week, and then I ended up teaching it. And I still teach it, I just find it, you know, it’s something to hold onto, something I can go to and relax. Because I sort of realized that a lot of what was going on is not being able to handle stress very well.
On Writing Memoirs
One of the things that I’ve tried to do, which people seem to react well to, is to try to be fairly honest and not try to self aggrandize. Feel free to be human and imperfect if you’re going to be writing a memoir, otherwise it gets kind of boring,
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Listen to my Interview with Robert Dinsmoor
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript
Howard Lovy: I’m Howard Lovy, and you’re listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. Every week I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them, and how they are an inspiration to other authors. My guest this week is Robert Dinsmoor, a writer who has seen his share of sadness and addiction yet is able to find ways to write about them with both wisdom and wit.
Robert Dinsmoor: Yeah, so my name is Rob Dinsmoor. I’ve been writing since I was 11 or so. I remember I was a big fan of horror movies and it kind of occurred to me that somebody had to write those things and so I started writing horror stories. And my parents, in their wisdom saw that, “Okay, he’s into something” and they actually bought me books of the Playboy collections of science fiction and horror, you know, and I was about 11 or 12 years old, and I just ate these things up. It was a little taste of the real adult world, and also fairly sophisticated kind of writing. So that kind of got me going on that. And I just wrote a lot of stories as a kid and had them in the school newspaper and this kind of thing.
Howard Lovy: In college at Dartmouth he continued writing for a humor magazine. And while that may not seem obvious, humor and horror, are related.
Robert Dinsmoor: I think they are kind of related and most of what I do now is horror with a little bit of a humorous edge. I can’t help it. When I was writing horror stories in my early days too I was writing kind of comical pieces, and I think it kind of reflected the kind of writing that I was reading, you know, like the Playboy horror writers always had kind of a sense of humor. You know, people like Richard Matheson, I don’t know if you’re familiar with him. He was kind of a predecessor of Stephen King. But I became more and more interested in comedy and humor writing. You know, like every kid I was a big fan of Mad Magazine.
Howard Lovy: At first, he started taking pre med courses, but he was detoured along the way to becoming what his parents wanted him to be…a doctor.
Robert Dinsmoor: Well, I started off kind of like the pre med route, I took chemistry and calculus because I was pretty good at it in high school and then I started to really not do so well and I started hating my life. So then I switched to an English and creative writing major, which I think my parents were concerned about, because at the time, you know, you become a doctor or a lawyer or you know, businessman and they didn’t consider odd career choices like writing, you know, my dad was a professor. But anyway, I switched to a creative writing and literature and I really enjoyed that. I got to write plays and had one of them produced as part of the Eleanor Frost Playwriting Competition. So I kind of tried and experimented with a lot of things and it’s a small college so I really got to play around. We did skits, I mean, we really did have a blast, as long as you know, we didn’t worry about grades too much.
Howard Lovy: After college, Robert combined his knowledge of medicine with a skill in writing to become a medical writer.
Robert Dinsmoor: I moved to New York, I had not a clue how to get ahead or even get a job or anything like that and I ended up as an ordering and billing clerk with the American Diabetes Association and then something opened up in their publications department. Basically, it was proofreading and editing their scientific journals. Oh, then I got hired by one of their competitors, who had their own diabetes magazine for professionals and then one for patients and when I got hired by them, I started writing articles without being really asked. I started writing articles and getting them published. By the time I went freelance, I’d already, you know, had a few things to show that was also a good time. It was like we’re talking the late 80s to early 90s. There was a real interest in these health magazines, Harvard Health Letter, Consumer Reports on Health and a lot of people were doing that and so I kind of got out and actually made a career out of it for a while. So I was working for a magazine, the magazine I helped to start, Diabetes Self Management, then wrote for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Howard Lovy: But while medical writing paid the bills, comedy writing was his true passion. He found a way to make the transition into a comedy troupe called Chucklehead.
Robert Dinsmoor: People barely showed up at the office. It was not a high powered office. My boss had this habit of just going, “Gotta see a man about a horse” and he’d just, like, leave at three in the afternoon. So I started to say, you know, “I got something coming up” and I’d go to the rehearsals and things like that. So it fit in nicely. It was my spare time, but I managed to make a lot of spare time to do that. Pretty soon a bunch of us came together and started doing it. And we had a nice little column for a while. We were on MTV and the Comedy Channel a couple times and we had some good venues and it was just a nice experience to kind of branch out and see how other people approached humor. And then a lot of us ended up working for MTV and Nickelodeon after that. It was a good experience. It was a lot of fun.
Howard Lovy: Robert was hoping his gig at Nickelodeon could go somewhere. But the show he was attached to did not become a hit.
Robert Dinsmoor: And it seems like a lot of my writing has sort of dead ended in certain ways. A bunch of us took over National Lampoon, and they had a Saturday night massacre and fired everybody there and they had a lot of good people. You know, people went on to “The Simpsons” and things like that. So I was basically kind of stalled out and I was still writing fiction and I wrote a bunch of stories about the comedy troupe and I was in a couple of writers groups, and I polished these all up, I put them in a book and tried to send it out and get it sold, but no luck, and I don’t think it was particularly marketable. But then, somebody that I knew from one of the yoga classes that I teach, she had her own sort of press, her own little publishing company and so I published through her Tales of the Troupe. And it was just so, after just basically nothing to show for all this work, you know, except rejection letters, it was just nice to see a product. I could hold in my hand, you know?
Howard Lovy: If you get the feeling that things weren’t going too well at this point in his life, you’d be right. But if you notice he mentioned yoga, which would hold the key to his improvement. The problem was addiction.
Robert Dinsmoor: Roundabout the late ‘90s. I just moved from New York to Massachusetts with my wife. Things weren’t going well. She moved out. And I was a heavy drinker by then, and I actually, some part of me realized, “Hey, it’d be real easy just to drink myself to death.” No one’s really there to monitor me and I was completely stressed out and feeling lost. And so I really embraced yoga and I would take several classes a week, and then I ended up teaching it. And I still teach it, I just find it, you know, it’s something to hold onto, something I can go to and relax. Because I sort of realized that a lot of what was going on is not being able to handle stress very well. New York was just completely overwhelming, and that’s when I’d start to drink really heavily and then I just kept up that habit, and to have another tool, you know, was very helpful.
Howard Lovy: And another tool was writing, which helped him deal with addiction and depression. And that was the basis of his book, Yoga Divas and Other Stories. But one of his most powerful books came after he decided to get some help for his addiction. Out of that experience came his book, You Can Leave Anytime.
Robert Dinsmoor: I went into a rehab facility in 2011, when I was just completely falling apart, you know, drinking during the day and blacking out all the time. So I ended up in this facility. In retrospect, it wasn’t the worst facility around, because there’s a lot of lousy ones down here in Florida. But when I came back, I mean, everybody knew, “You’re going to write about this?” and I said, “Yeah.” So what I wrote is almost like trying to put the reader into this facility and saying, you know, here’s the day to day life, not preachy, not proselytizing, but saying, you know, “this is my experience with being in rehab and getting sober.” A lot of little funny stories going on there and a lot of very interesting characters, young junkies, young opiate addicts and just kind of a madhouse. Having everything controlled after having the freedom of being a freelance writer was just really difficult for me. I found it stressful and I needed to do, you know, keeping a journal helped, you know, trying to stays Zen and keep my sense of humor.
Howard Lovy: Robert is doing better now and he has found writing and yoga, the key to his happiness and to find his writing voice. He’ll be releasing an anthology of his writing soon called Toxic Cookout. And yes, he’s used his experience with down and out people to create very real casts of characters. And that honesty, whether it’s fiction or memoir, is the key to creating better characters. And that goes for fiction, nonfiction or a combination, he calls fictive memoirs.
Robert Dinsmoor: I mean, I started off doing a lot of memoirs, one of the things that I’ve tried to do, which people seem to react well to, is to try to be fairly honest and not try to self aggrandize. Feel free to be human and imperfect if you’re going to be writing a memoir, otherwise it gets kind of boring, like, “Look what I did here and there.” By the same token, whenever I have villains, you know, I try to make them kind of interesting and have some good qualities because that’s what I think well rounded protagonist and antagonist really make fiction or fictive memoir, you know, more interesting and then I kind of moved in. And I’ve used a lot of real life situations.
I mean, I call it fictive memoir, because it’s not a literal relaying of the facts. It’s basically trying to remember and summon up the experience, you know, without being literally factual. And I have taken some liberties and I think in all my fictive memoirs, fairly small things, take two events that were separate put them together for dramatic effect. In my writers group, which has been a real blessing, when I was writing, firstly, Tales of the Troupe, they said, “You have to decide is this a, you know, fiction or nonfiction? Is this real or not real?” And I said “It’s both, you know, I don’t see why I have to commit to one or the other. You know, I changed all the names because it’s fictive enough that I don’t want to be writing, you know, libelous things about people, but I did want to take some liberties. And I think it makes a better story.