Five questions with Susanna Sonnenberg

"For a couple of years I'd been publishing personal essays in magazines, and I'd found a voice I was comfortable with."

What made you choose to tell this story? An editor at a magazine had been encouraging me to write about sex in my marriage. She knew I came from a damaging and influential sexual background - both from my mother and from my own choices. I really didn't want to write it and told her no for a long time. Every time I thought about I got nauseous. But one day I just sat down to it and instead of being about sex it was really about my mother's hold on me and my vain lifelong attempts to release that hold. The resulting article seemed to suggest a much, much bigger story to me, one I was finally emotionally wise enough to tell. How difficult was it for you to commit your memories to paper? Did writing this memoir help you come to terms with your relationship with your mother? I couldn't have started to write Her Last Death without first coming to terms with that relationship - accepting its influence and its loss, two things I was always resisting. Once I'd made that peace, let go of hope, really, I could focus my energies on creating art. When you began working with this material, did you have a memoir in mind? For a couple of years I'd been publishing personal essays in magazines, and I'd found a voice I was comfortable with. I think of memoir as an impression, a personal expression of something so intimate that no one else can tell it or explain it. That certainly fit the story I wanted to write - trying to find truth when you're always being lied to, trying to shore up your own ground. Were there times you felt it was unbearable to write this memoir, that you couldn't go on? To write as honestly as possible, to put onto the page the rawest experience in an authentic way, I had to revisit these memories, many of which I'd packed away for good, I thought. But there they were, still in me, still making me who I am. It was unbelievably depressing and painful to revisit most of this. I had to reexperience the emotions and also now assess the scenes with a wiser perspective. How has your family reacted to the publication and success of this memoir? I'm not in touch with my mother or sister. The others have been supportive of me. They've respected my chance to speak, my voice, whether or not they agree with me.