What compelled you to write Cornered?
Cornered is the story of my long and complicated association with Dr. Richard J. Sharpe, the millionaire dermatologist from Gloucester, MA who was convicted of killing his wife in 2000. He had been my friend and business mentor before his crime, and afterwards I had to decide whether I could continue to befriend him. It was not an easy decision to make. He was a troubled man who did a terrible thing. For nine years, from 2000 to 2009 when he died, the media couldn’t get enough of him. They covered every moment of his trial, his imprisonment, his various suicide attempts and finally his death. So did I, in a sense. As his friend and confidante, I achieved a better understanding of the inner workings of his mind than the jury or the journalists or the psychiatrists all told. I met most of all the people who walked in and out of his life after his incarceration. I came to understand the motivations of the various women who offered him their support—and often a lot more—while he was in prison. Having written lots of magazine articles regarding my profession (skin care) and being a lifelong note taker, I knew that I could turn my story of knowing Richard Sharpe into a compelling book.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
Nearly three decades ago, a magazine editor asked me to write a column on skin care. I had never written anything for publication before. When I handed in the completed piece, she read it and promptly ripped it up! Then she gave me a tape recorder and told me to tell her a “real-life” skin care story in my own words, and we were both happy with the result. I found my “voice” after that, and soon I didn’t need the recorder anymore. I have enjoyed the writing process ever since. It’s a bit of a hobby.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
Keeping things exciting may be a challenge for other books, but for this one, the subject matter was inherently compelling. Here you have a man who was a genius, a doctor who was as obsessed with finding a cure for cancer as he was with making the right picks on the stock market and, towards the end of his life, creating a business model that would function as an empire. But in spite of the fact that he had everything he wanted—millions of dollars, a loving wife and beautiful children, a gorgeous home, hundreds of business associates and people who admired his genius—underneath it all he was still a badly abused child, a needy, needy man who was probably mentally ill and prone to making terrible decisions in his personal life. As a character study alone, my book would be compelling. But the narration takes the reader through Richard Sharpe’s rise to power to his downfall and his unraveling. And because I was his friend, and not a biographer, I was privy to details of his life the reader won’t find anywhere else.
What themes do you explore in Cornered?
Mental illness is a major theme in the book. I think it is fascinating to see the many varieties of responses to a dilemma people can have based on the way their minds work. Certainly whether or not Richard Sharpe was mentally ill when he committed his crime was a matter of interest to everyone who paid attention to his trial. Also, because I am the daughter of a criminal, I started visiting prisons well before Richard Sharpe was incarcerated, and as a result, I probably know more about prison life than most people. So, crime and prison life are also themes I explore in the book. Loyalty, love, family and patience also play big parts.
What will the reader learn after reading your book?
They will learn how a man who seemingly had everything could succumb to deeply-rooted mental afflictions and destroyed his entire world. This world included a stream of family, friends, medical staff and more. They will experience first-hand how a man of brains but little brawn gets treated in prison. They will learn about the various types of women who reach out to prisoners (I’m not stereotyping here; the biggest thing the women who reached out to Richard Sharpe had in common was an overabundance of compassion), and they will learn a lot about me: why it was easier for me to support Richard Sharpe in his darkest hour than most of the other people he knew before his incarceration, what it cost me, and how it changed my life. They will also learn something about cross-dressers and transgender people. Readers will even learn a little bit about the best ways to remove unwanted hair, the best ways to avoid bird flu, and what to do if their house is “under water.” Hopefully readers will walk away with a lot to ponder.