Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Since the premise of my new YA was published in PM last week, I've had a lot of people emailing me about the secret hoarding that has touched their own lives. It seems that almost everyone knows someone who is a hoarder to whatever degree, but almost nobody talks about it. It is estimated to affect over 3 million American families, yet virtually everyone who grows up like this feels they are alone.
In a nutshell, the 'elevator pitch' for my book Dirty Little Secrets goes like this:
When 16 year-old Lucy arrives home to find her mother dead under a pile of National Geographics in their hoarded home, she has to make a snap decision: Does she call 911 and have the family's long-held secret exposed to the world, or does she try to 'fix' the problem before anyone finds out her mother is dead? Over the next 24 hours, Lucy digs in and discovers that everyone has secrets - some are just bigger and dirtier than others. Only she can decide what lengths she will go to to keep the secrets safe.
I'm not a hoarding expert, but in the course of writing the book, I met several people who are. There is a great hoarding community online called the Children of Hoarders. The woman that runs it is amazing and the people who are online have an enormous amount of knowledge about the disorder. They have resource information and what to look for in hoarding behavior. I urge anyone whose life has been touched by hoarding to go to the website. Just reading that you are not alone can be a really cathartic experience, although I warn you, the videos and stories can break your heart.
Squalor Survivors is another great website that can be invaluable in recognizing this disorder. They have a "degree" scale for hoarding, starting with a first degree hoarder who is simply getting behind in household tasks and the piles are starting to interfere with their life. They would be embarrased to let people in, but they would still have people over. The degrees go all the way to a fourth degree hoarder who is under a great deal of stress from the piles and mess that have caused a loss of habitability, loss of household functions such as plumbing or heat and presence of human or animal waste. Lucy's mother was a third degree hoarder.
As I was writing, the focus changed from simply telling an interesting story to making sure I got it right and recognizing the responsibility I had to the hoarding community. With the help of my experts and my new editor, I'm sure we will.
On this date: In 1955, James Dean died at age 24.