Name: Patrick A. Roland
Where are you from?:
I am from Iowa but I have lived in Arizona since I was 11.
A little about yourself `ie your education Family life etc:
I am the only child of an insurance salesman (father) and certified nurse assistant (mother). I grew up on the second hole of a much esteemed Arizona golf course. I was in the Phoenix Boys Choir as a child and attended a private all boys high school (Brophy College Prep). I later went on to attend college at my mother’s alma mater in Iowa (Central College). I should note that while I always had nice things and got good grades, I never really fit in anywhere and had trouble making friends my own age. I was mocked and ridiculed a lot, especially by boys. I also had a hard time connecting with my father. He was an amazing provider, but not necessarily emotionally available. So I often hung out with or gravitated to adults/mentor types when I was growing up. I guess it makes sense that the love of my life, Pack, ended up being 16 years older than me. Unfortunately, Pack died very suddenly of a heart attack and I developed a really overwhelming drug addiction as I grieved him. After a suicide attempt about a year and a half after he died, I was force hospitalized. It was there I learned I was bi-polar. That diagnosis freed me in a way I never had been and opened me up to sobriety and happiness.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I’ve just released a book about grief and recovery called Unpacked Sparkle. It chronicles the two year period from when Pack died to my ultimate sobriety today. As I often say, I am a bi-polar, alcoholic, drug addict widow who is happy, sober and healthy. I unpacked my sparkle in the hope that my story will help others do the same.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
This particular project started with a journal I had to complete for grief counseling I finally began when I was newly sober. I also took a life changing seminar about living a life full of possibility at about three months sober. I was told the writer of the book Fight Club wrote that book as a result of taking that class, and that inspired me to start writing my own book. So over the course of about 12 days, the majority of Unpacked Sparkle poured out of me. I was on a mission and felt very inspired. I felt like I could inspire others to love themselves as I had finally learned to do and I felt like if what I went through could help others in some way, that made it all worth it.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Ironically, the first thing I wrote that got major attention was about death. In the sixth grade, my dog got hit by a car. Back then, Phoenix wasn’t the sprawling urban metropolis that it is now and we lived in one of the outer suburbs. The nearest vet was like 45 minutes away. So the dog died in my arms on the way there. I wrote a poem about her called “My dog nameth Annie” and it won second place in the whole state in a competition. I’ve been writing continuously since then.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I lost the love of my life and I went through hell with an addiction to meth in the year and a half following. Ultimately, I survived the whole thing and felt like I had an important story to tell: you can survive anything and even thrive if you learn to love yourself as you are and do the work you need to do to get yourself there. Everyone was meant to sparkle, you just have to “unpack” your baggage and step boldly and lovingly into joy.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Well this particular book is very confessional and stream of consciousness. I made a list of things I wanted to talk about and then expanded on each topic. I also chose to layer the chapters out of order because when you are grieving (and mentally ill and using drugs) everything you are experiencing is all over the place. You don’t really have calm, fluid thoughts. Your mind is racing and you feel overwhelmed. I’ve been compared to Hunter S. Thompson, but I am inspired by African-American writers like Alice Williams, Toni Morrison, Terry McMillan and Maya Angelou.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Honestly, I had a much more out there, in your face title (The Day I had AIDS, which is chapter one, the day of a Pack’s funeral that I was forbidden from attending.) but my publisher thought it was too negative and that it didn’t really speak to the whole story, which is really about overcoming all of that. I always wear these sparkly shoes that I bought at Steve Madden the last time I was high. She really liked the shoes and thought my ultimate sparkle is what the book really was about (and it is) so we started with Sparkle. I wanted to include Pack somehow since it is a book about overcoming grief and addiction, so that’s where Unpacked comes in to play. At first, I wanted it to be called Unpacking the Sparkle, but a really close friend from college who has always seen the best version of me that I am today felt like that title didn’t seem like the journey was finished. So on a country road last summer in Iowa, he and I agreed that Unpacked Sparkle really sealed the deal and told the story: I have fully unpacked and the result is total and complete sparkle!
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I want readers to know that they can be anything they want to be if they love themselves as they are and do the work they need to do to get themselves out of a bad life situation. When we are in the middle of trauma, we think we can’t get out of it and that life isn’t worth living so we want to give up. Don’t ever give up! Every single human being has their own light – their own sparkle – and you can make your pain your personal power. All you have to do is unpack the baggage that’s keeping you down.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Every single thing in the book is 100 percent real and honest. Everything happened the way I described it. I didn’t hold back, especially on myself. In fact, I’m probably hardest on myself, but I had to be to move from a place of being a guy that everything happened to to a man that makes things happen. It’s a conscious shift from victim to survivor.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
I have been most moved by female African-American authors like Maya Angelou, Alice Williams and Toni Morrison. When I was in high school, the book “Waiting to Exhale” by Terry McMillan had a profound impact on me. As I moved into college, I loved Morrison’s “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon.” As an adult, I gravitated toward self help or uplifting memoirs like “Girl, Interrupted” and “Prozac Nation.” I also love all of Augusten Burroughs’s books, especially “Dry.”
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Toni Morrison is just sublime. Her story telling is an art in and of itself.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My friends. It’s a common thread throughout Unpacked Sparkle. There were these beautiful, inspiring people who held me in their arms and loved me when I couldn’t love myself. So now that I do, the best thing I can do is honor what they did for me and put my hand out to the next person and do that for them.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
It always has been for me. I’ve been professionally employed as a writer since I left college, more than 20 years now. I started as a journalist and moved into corporate content, where I’ve been for the last six years.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
This is a really hard question to answer. I would obviously prefer that the love of my life was still alive, but then none of this would have happened. I was going through a really tough time when I met him and he used to play this song that had a chorus that went: “If somebody’s gonna make it, that somebody oughta be you.” So I guess if I can take the most painful thing I ever went through and make it beautiful and powerful, I guess I have made it after all. I hope that makes him proud.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I was trying to work through the pain of losing my dog. Oops I did it again, as Britney would say.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’m kind of between projects right now. On a whim, I did write a children’s book about a boy who everybody makes fun of that decides to wear a pair of sparkly shoes and learns to love himself anyway, but I haven’t decided to do anything with it yet. It needs an illustrator for sure. Can you hook me up?
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The writing part isn’t hard for me. But getting comfortable being so bare – so open for people to pick at – is. I’ve been made fun of my whole life for a variety of reasons, so putting myself out there in this way is scary. But I also know that the miracle happens when you step through fear, so I am doing just that to grow as a person and hopefully help others do the same.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I am hoping to!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My publisher Patti Hultstrand. We actually did a photo shoot with my shoes that was later designed into the very cover of the book.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hard part was going through all of it in the first place. Writing it was actually very cathartic. I feel like I wrote myself out of pain into the power that comes as a result of doing the work. That’s a theme for me – doing the work – it’s worth it!
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
The main thing I learned is that you can go through the hardest thing you ever imagined and come out the other side an inspiration. I learned I am beautifully broken and my story is worth sharing because there are a lot of people who are just as hurt and broken as I was. They just need to know how beautiful there are, too.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead?
I’ve actually thought about this because Unpacked Sparkle could totally be a movie! It has a lot of the same themes as this year’s Best Picture winner Moonlight and it’s just as uplifting. I think Leonardo DiCaprio would be a great me, but I also like Channing Tatum. Whoever plays my mom will be nominated for an Oscar for sure. May I suggest my favorite actress ever, Hilary Swank?
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Believe in yourself and keep going. If you have a story to tell, it will be heard.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I want to sincerely thank people for going on the journey with me and for all the kind words. Everybody who has read it has said really wonderful things to me, and this book is me, so it feels good to be respected.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I really liked the Ramona books when I was a kid. There was also a book called The Pigman that moved me when I was like 11.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
That question earlier about anything I would change. I’m STILL crying. It’s hard. If he was still alive there would be no Unpacked Sparkle. At least I made something painful beautiful.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Whitney Houston. She was the first love of my life and her voice is what inspires me and keeps me going today. I almost did meet her, but it was in the middle of some of her troubled times and she didn’t make it to the meet and greet. I was really angry about that for years, but now that I have gone through addiction myself, I understand it. I still listen to her music every day. I am right now as a matter of fact.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
I hope I will remembered as someone who took the ugliest thing that ever happened to him and made it beautiful.
Pain = Power
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I’m really involved in the 12-Step program that saved my life. Most of my life revolves around helping people by carrying the message of sobriety. I chair meetings, share my story, sponsor people, sit on committees, etc. I’m involved in something just about every single day!
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Anything on Bravo. Give me a Real Housewife and I’m a very happy guy.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Mexican food. Blue. Whitney Houston.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I probably would have been a therapist or counselor if some kind.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
His book can be found here:
Amazon author page:
His Twitter can be found at @UnpackedSparkle