Interview with Jessie Sholl

Have you, like me, been obsessively watching all those TV shows that have come out about hoarding lately? My good friend Jessie Sholl has just published a memoir on the subject, Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books). I read the galley several months ago and found it totally gripping. Here is what Jessie has to say on the subject:

Dirty Secret is the first memoir to be written by the child of a compulsive hoarder. How do you feel about breaking into uncharted territory?

I’m proud to be the first person to write a memoir about it, but I don’t feel particularly groundbreaking—I’m sure that if I hadn’t done it, someone else would have sooner rather than later. I’m just happy to get people talking about how hoarding affects families, and I’ll be thrilled if my book allows others to feel freer about exposing their secrets.

Were you concerned about how your mom would react to the book?

I asked her permission before I wrote a word of it, and if she’d objected at all, I wouldn’t have written it. Thankfully, she was absolutely supportive of the idea. She read most of the book before it was published and loved it.

Did you have to do a lot of research for this book, or did most of your knowledge of the disorder come from years of having been in such close proximity to it?

I did a lot of research for the book. I read everything I could get my hands on: books, academic articles and studies, interviews with experts; I also interviewed one of the most renowned specialists in the field. I enjoy the research process, so it didn’t feel like work at all. I think having been in such close proximity to hoarding helped in terms of recognizing parts of it—for example the information processing deficits that most hoarders have—but otherwise, before I began the writing and the research I really didn’t know much more about the disorder itself than say a viewer of Hoarders or Hoarding: Buried Alive.

In the book you mention that other people reacted positively when you told them about your mother’s disorder; many of them said they had a personal connection to hoarding as well. Did this surprise you?

This shocked me. One of the most rewarding parts of writing the book so far has been those moments when someone tells me about their mother, brother, cousin being a hoarder; every time I hear it I feel less freakish and it seems that the person does as well. I also really appreciate the fact that no one has ever judged me harshly, the way I feared. Maybe that expression is true: all our secrets are the same. I only wish I’d known it earlier, because I spent way too long being ashamed of something that didn’t warrant it.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a range of health articles and also a literary thriller­­-type novel about two sisters.

Intrigued? You can meet Jessie at one of the following events:

Monday, January 24th: Reading and signing at Barnes & Noble in El Cerrito, CA at 7:00 pm.

Tuesday, January 25th: Reading and signing at Book Passage in San Francisco’s Ferry Building at 6:00 pm.

Thursday, January 27th: Reading and signing at Barnes & Noble in Huntington Beach, CA at 7:00 pm.

Wednesday, February 2nd: Reading and signing at Barnes & Noble Tribeca, New York City at 7:00 pm.