An Interview With Author Ann Pietrangelo
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of No More Secs! and Catch That Look. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and her work is published on sites all around the web. Ann and her husband, Jim, are partners in WebCamp One, LLC, a website development and content creation company. When they’re not working or hanging out with their cat, Smokey, Jim and Ann can be found strolling the neighborhood or exploring their adopted city of Williamsburg, Virginia. Their children and extended families are scattered throughout the country, so there’s almost always a trip on the calendar. Their philosophy is a simple one: LIVE while you’re here and give back when you can. Ann enjoys volunteering her time to such worthwhile organizations as the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and Beyond Boobs! Jim and Ann are proud members of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and they’ve got the hard hats to prove it.
You’ve written two books, one about your experience with MS and the other your diagnosis and treatment of triple-negative breast cancer. What motivated you to write about your experiences?
People with MS tend to feel isolated, some because of physical problems, some because their families and friends don’t understand their reality. No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis is an in-the-moment account of how it feels to lose all familiarity with your own body and to be diagnosed with an incurable chronic illness that few people understand.
While in the process of publishing that book, I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. I’d never heard of it and didn’t know there were so many distinct types of breast cancer. When I made it to the other side of treatment, I felt compelled to write about how cancer changes the landscape – not only in how you view the world, but also in how the world views you. My hope is that Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer reminds people that breast cancer is less about “saving the ta-tas” and more about saving lives.
How has this changed you as a writer?
Writing the books changed everything. When readers reach out to thank me for putting what they were feeling into words – for telling their story, too – I’m reminded of the immense power of the written word. I now understand that my writing can reach hearts and minds and make a difference in people’s lives. It’s not something I take lightly.
What advice can you give to women diagnosed with breast cancer, in particular triple-negative?
It’s scary to go from finding a lump to having some tests to learning you have this scary thing called triple-negative breast cancer. When you do your research about the prognosis and look at the statistics, it can take your breath away. Please take that information with a grain of salt. Your own prognosis depends on a great many factors that are unique to you. If you want an idea about what you can expect, talk to your own doctor, who will have a much better handle on what you’re facing.
There’s no need to stick your head in the sand. Acknowledge the seriousness of TNBC, but work toward the best-case scenario. Most importantly, don’t let yourself get stuck in limbo. Treatment is hard, but while you’re in it, you’re very much alive, so don’t forget to do some living.
What advice would you give to others who wish to write their personal story?
Don’t let all the other books on the same topic stop you. No one has written your story, in your words, from your unique point of view. Everybody has a story and yours is worth telling. But writing a memoir takes a lot out of you as you sift through raw feelings and decide which details are important to the story and which are better left unsaid. You also have to think about other people who are part of your story and how their lives may be affected by inclusion in your book. You have to be careful about that. There’s a certain emotional toll to publicly sharing personal details, and you can’t know in advance what they will be. Write the story. When it’s finished, you can decide if it’s something you want to share with the world or keep to yourself. Either way, the exercise will help you get to know yourself better.
Who are your favorite authors?
I admire Rachel Simon’s work – her two memoirs, as well as her first work of fiction, The Story of Beautiful Girl, which I found absolutely mesmerizing. I’m in awe of the late Maya Angelou and her ability to take me somewhere I’ve never been and experience things I would otherwise never know. I enjoy a good John Grisham or Jeffrey Archer novel.
What books are on your nightstand now (or on your ereader)?
Some books are worth reading more than once. I recently dug out my copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to revisit for some time. I want to take it slowly and really absorb the writing.
Where is your favorite place in the world?
This is a fabulous question because it made me realize I can’t name my favorite place. Is that wrong? I feel at peace when I’m at the ocean and a green mountain view reaches to my very core. It sounds trite, but when I’m with people I love, I’m in a good place.
When did you know you were going to be a writer?
When I was a kid, I fantasized about being a writer. I loved the idea of sitting at a typewriter (a hint at my age) and banging out a story. It was just a silly childhood fantasy that I put aside for the more practical matters.
When MS rocked my world, I knew I had to reinvent myself, but I had no idea how to go about it. In 2007, my husband urged me to start a blog and it instantly reignited the writing bug. When a major website contacted me and asked me to write for them, everything changed. It was my “aha moment,” and I knew I was going to be a writer. No, I knew I HAD to be a writer. It wasn’t long before I transitioned into freelancing full time, and a few years later, I published my first book.
What is your daily writing routine?
My routine is just that – routine. That’s why it works. It’s my full time job and I treat like one. I plan on being at my desk every weekday from 9:00 to 5:00. I share an office with my husband, so we’ve fallen into some good work-from-home habits together. It’s difficult to slack off when your spouse/partner is hard at work.
Some days we break for an hour at the gym and other days we break for walks. Experience tells me that if I’m feeling unproductive, walking away from my desk is the best way to reenergize. Working from home has a major advantage in that I can adjust my schedule according to workload and how I’m feeling. It’s not unusual to find either one of us putting in a few hours in the evening or on the weekend.
What sustains you emotionally and spiritually?
Life itself. Love – our time here is fleeting, and it’s the only thing that matters.
Tags: Ann Pietrangelo, Beyond Boobs!, breast cancer, Catch That Look, CERT, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Jim Pietrangelo, memoir, MS, multiple sclerosis, Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, No More Secs!, personal story, Rachel Simon, The Story of Beautiful Girl, triple-negative breast cancer, WebCamp One LLC, writing