Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Wednesday Promo- Milt Trachtenberg
A little about Milt
I am a psychotherapist with over four decades of experience working with individuals, couples and families with a specialization in addictions and abuse counseling. My training was in both Social Work and Psychology but my license has been in Social Work and Family Counseling.
After many years of practice, I turned to writing to communicate some of the lessons my clients have taught me. Sometimes, in jest, I will tell a client that his or her purpose in a relationship with me is to quickly discover that he or she can do it without me. I try to be a guide who sells roadmaps through the mine fields of life. I don't choose which road you should take; I point out where the land mines are buried because they can blow you up no matter which path is the right one for you.
What made you write, "How to Get Off the Merry-Go-Round: Stories of Women Who Broke the Cycle of Abusive Relationships," a book about abused women?
I didn't set out to be a writer. I stumbled into writing at midlife. I had been a psychotherapist for 20 years. At the time, I was the CEO of a group of addiction treatment clinics. I have always had a facility for words so, as part of an effort to get community involvement in my programs, I began writing a series of 750 word articles for a local weekly newspaper about the clients of the agency. They drew such attention from readers that I caught the writing bug. Without forethought, I had 125,000 readers whose letters were both encouraging and gave me my first clue that I had a public voice.
I also saw clients as part of my work. I had as clients a number of women who were in recovery from addictions and others who were abused by either addicts or others in their lives. I decided to form a group to give them an environment of mutual support.
Between what they revealed to me and what they opened up in group, I was left with an accumulation within me of their pain, their anger, their self-loathing and their frustration at having concealed the truth from others and themselves for so long. I also was privy to their recoveries and the joy of developing the strength to grow and move on with their lives.
I like your choice of the word "made" as the key word in your question. I would take it a step further and use the word compelled. Their truths were my nightmares and I needed to exorcize them from within me. So I wrote. The first draft was in my own words, focusing on my own feelings. I felt a wrongness in it. This wasn't about me. This was about them, not just for them.
I took myself as "expert" out of the equation and fictionalized the therapist using what had been my stage name, Robert Sand, when I had had a foray in the acting world many years earlier.
I took out all the bloviating and wrote their stories from their perspectives in their voices.
I began: "Sometimes I hear voices," and allowed myself to hear those voices as if we were still in the room together.
I saw their quirks and individuality as I wrote. I fictionalized them to the degree that I changed their names and some of the surface facts of their lives to prevent identification. I kept their tone, their body language and their slow transformation into the whole person they were destined to become when they broke the cycle of abuse and saw who they were and what they could accomplish in life without the anvil of an abusive person tied around their neck.
I admit that in its inception the book was for me. It was a release of the grotesque pain that five, ten, a hundred women trusted to share with me. I saw the broader purpose for the work as I progressed through a second, better thought-out version. Perhaps others could benefit from their insights. Perhaps the pervasive silence of abuse could be broken even if just a fraction.
I did not write "Merry-Go-Round" for fame, glory or money. I have my battle ribbons from decades of service to the community. I wrote this book to cast a light on a dark corner of the world that needs to be opened to the light of day. I wrote it as a tribute to the countless women who have been battered, tormented, belittled and degraded to satisfy the ego of a weak and incompetent coward of a person who would dare violate them. I wrote it for five very special real women whose life was openly shared with me to make this work possible. Every woman in the book is real. Each is my hero.
Since I am speaking here to writers, the end result was spectacular. I sent out one one-sentence query that stated:
Would you be interested in seeing a self-help manuscript written by a professional therapist for abused women that begins, "Sometimes I hear voices?" I added my name and contact information and sent it. It was contracted by the first editor to whom I sent it.
As a final note on the work as a product. I agonized for weeks whether to place a comma between the words sometimes and I in that opening line. In the end, I opted for a naked sentence because it was blurted out, not carefully consummated.
And, as a footnote, I am proud to announce that the book is a finalist in the nonfiction category in the EPIC book awards 2011 contest.
Is this the only non-fiction work you've written?
No. I also wrote a textbook for counselors in the addictions treatment field called "Journeys to Recovery: Therapy with Addicted Clients." It uses the same fictive techniques as I used in Merry-Go-Round. I use the stories of five recovering people as teachers to show student therapists how to use themselves more effectively. I also present fables that I created to show parables of thinking patterns they need to access to work in a true recovery mode.
I was told by "experts" that a textbook written as a fable and using the parameters of a novel wouldn't sell -- that there needs to be a scholarly application referring to the works of predecessors and it must have copious footnotes. It not only sold, but it won a prestigious award from the University of Nebraska as a contribution to the evolution of thought in the social sciences. Others who received that recognition included professionals from Carl Sagan to Anna Freud to Benjamin Spock.
I am proud to say that it became a volume in Springer Publishing Company's series on Social Work as #17 so it can be found in the libraries of many universities.
I wrote an earlier edition of the self-help book for abused women called "Stop the Merry-Go-Round."
I've also had many articles published in magazines, journals and newspapers, some of which I mentioned above.
What are you working on now?
I have several projects going simultaneously. Now that I finally retired from full-time practice and moved to a lovely condo with an ocean view in Miami Beach, I have time to work on writing projects that I feel fulfill me and have the possibility of being publication-worthy.
I have written an almost finished polished draft of a dark and disturbing novel that grew from a base in the reality of "Merry-Go-Round" except it has lots of sex, murders, insanity, romance and, did I mention sex? I am about ready to run it up the flagpole to see if it will fly. It will be the first time I use a pen name for publication. I do not want it rubbing elbows with my more serious work even if the hero does walk with the angels in his attitudes, values and behaviors.
I am in the nascent stages of a tour-de-force about therapy for the rest of us who aren't lucky enough to have a clinical diagnosis. It is about my favorite oxymoron. It is written with tongue firmly in cheek and my working title is: Common Sense: If It Is So Common Why Do So Few People Seem to Have It?"
I also have a long in progress self-help book about depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder. I may never finish this one because I just can't work up the enthusiasm I had for Merry-Go-Round.
I also have a series of articles I wrote about the art and craft of writing that I developed when I was teaching an on-line writing course with Sol Stein a number of years ago. I decided that I would try to sell them as an anthology for writers who might get some benefit from my rather unique perspective of the world of writing and writers.
I also do not neglect my personal life. That is always a work in progress. My wife and son are the two most important people in my world and I never fail to realize that, but for them, I would be nothing.
Paty, thanks for having me here today. I enjoyed talking to you about my work. Through it, I hope you have gotten a glimpse of who I am, what I write and I hope the readers are sufficiently curious to check out my homepage where an excerpt of the book is presented.
You can buy it at Amazon.com in hard copy, Kindle or download.
Or, see it on e-Press homepage where it is listed first among their many wonderful books at: