Deborah Kasdan—Roll Back the World: A Sister’s Memoir

Cover of the book Roll Back the World: A Sister’s Memoir by Deborah Kasdan showing a typewriter on a desktop, along with a childhood photo of the author and her sister, with the title in red and white type over a black background.

Roll Back the World

Deborah Kasdan
She Writes Press, October 17, 2023
Paperback, $17.95, ebook $9.95
Paperback ISBN: 978-1647425715, eBook ISBN: 9781647425722

Kasdan reports:

When my older sister died in 2003, I felt an overpowering urge to write a book about her. Rachel, a budding poet, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1965 and lived for decades on the margins of society. I knew her as a creative and courageous woman. I wanted other people to know her too.

I delved into cartons of family letters and thousands of pages of hospital records to reconstruct her innumerable admissions, discharges, and re-admissions. I explored diverse viewpoints on the treatment of severe mental illness through a steady diet of reading and webinars. I took a Family-to-Family course with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a course that wasn’t available in the 1970s when my father co-founded the NAMI chapter in St. Louis.

Portrait photo of Deborah Kasdan by Dariusz Terepka

Deborah Kasdan
Photo by Dariusz Terepka

I talked to people who knew Rachel. That included the only mental health worker who was able to see past Rachel’s grave disabilities and help her obtain supportive housing. I learned about the effects of overmedication and involuntary hospitalization and realized how much damage had been inflicted on her.

What I didn’t realize when I started out was how hard it would be to excavate my own feelings. I was working for IBM then and logic was my comfort zone. It took years of personal therapy to sort out my own grief and guilt.

A long-time technology writer, I had never written a book. After I retired in 2015, I attended writing workshops where I learned to relate to readers more personally. I then wove together a braided memoir of three stories: Rachel’s, our family’s, and mine. A freelance book editor helped me shape it further. In 2021, after five agents read and rejected it, I signed a contract with She Writes Press, a hybrid publisher that provided design, proofreading, printing, and distribution.

My advice: invest in one more round of editing than you think you need, and do that early on. Experienced as I was after 35 years of writing and editing for businesses, I discovered that a book for the public requires many eyes, especially when it’s your own story.

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Banner image adapted from original photo by Deborah Kasdan.

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Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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