MC: Your seven previous books were novels. What compelled you to write about your eldest son's estrangement from the family?
JM: I was trying to write about artist Mary Yelloly, who died in 1838, but I kept grinding to a halt because of the situation at home. My teenage son's drug use had spiraled out of control, and we had thrown him out of the house. I felt it was important to highlight this problem with a drug that people don't treat seriously.
MC: What do you make of the charges that you're profiting from your son's problems?
JM: My agent urged me to think hard before deciding whether to publish. We anticipated personal criticism in reviews — but not front-page attacks from people who hadn't read it.
MC: What was your son's take on the book?
JM: Before I decided to publish, I showed it to him. He asked for very few changes, and even agreed to some of his poems going in. It seemed to me then that he was OK with it, so I was shocked when he was quoted saying he wasn't.
MC: Do you regret writing the book?
JM: If I had known the extent of the outcry — tabloids camped outside my son's flat, the toll on my family — I wouldn't have done it. What's made it bearable is the positive response from parents in similar situations.
Three to borrow this month:
A Gate at the Stairs. Lorrie Moore's return details the adventures of a 20-year-old farm girl turned bewildered nanny to a wealthy couple.
No Time to Wave Goodbye. Jacquelyn Mitchard's sequel to The Deep End of the Ocean revisits the Cappadoras 22 dysfunctional years later.
After You. In Julie Buxbaum's tearjerker, a mother is murdered before her child's eyes, and it's up to the vic's friend to figure out why.