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Nov 3, 2016

The Fear And Heroics Of Authorship

Scott Depalma is a pseudonym for an MFAD alumn who has written a moving memoir about his grandfather's suicide titled Grandson of a Ghost. As a design author he addressed his content on many levels. The design process entailed creation of the cover, inside print pages for trade paperback, inside EPUB design for digital outlets including the Apple Store, and a website. We asked him to describe his authorship, its emotional toll and its outcomes.

What triggered your revealing search for  the truth of your grandfather’s suicide?

The suicide itself became a true family secret. Completely hidden away and unspoken. But it triggered an aftermath of abusive behavior because the family didn’t get the help it needed processing grief. They stoically faced it alone. Embarrassed by the stigma of suicide. What triggered my opening up was the realization – while working with my psychotherapist – that what happened in my childhood had ramifications. There were life-long patterns of defeatist thinking that emerged. I feel compelled to share what I learned with others who – not uncommonly – do not piece together how trauma from the past continues to eat at self-perception and personal relationships throughout a lifetime. The book attempts to show that intervention from a good psychotherapist is needed, not an anti-depressant pill. I initially presented the book as fiction, but that was out of fear. At the end I reclassified it, correctly, as a memoir.

As a designer, how did the notion of authorship alter or impact your role as a writer?

I viewed the project as an art house book. The same as an art house film. It has some strong, unflinching sequences that are not intended or appropriate for mainstream audiences looking for escapism. I wanted readers to feel the same unsettling, complex reactions they get viewing emotionally-charged design or art. I maintained a detached tone throughout, which felt right as a designer, staying in the background to let the content speak.

How does it feel unloading such strong feelings?

It actually feels very scary and vulnerable. I am not comfortable sharing this story. The process was cathartic, but the sharing part isn’t. I read somewhere artists are torn between hiding and sharing. The book is more like a tool I use to piece together how past events had lasting consequences, and what I can do to go forward in a positive way.

Despite the pseudonym, has your family read the book?

No. My psychotherapist is pushing me to share with my sister, who is an important character in the book, but I’m not there yet.

You made a life in magazines, has this changed since writing the book?

My last magazine gig ended in mid-July, which allowed me to complete this project. I don’t see myself striving to re-enter that world. I’m looking for authenticity. Not sure if I can find that in media, branding, or UI/UX. Wish me luck.