“On Tuesday, I was a respected civil trial lawyer making six-figures. On Wednesday I woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed charged with attempted murder…and then it got worse.”
If that doesn’t grab your attention, then I’m not sure what will. This week’s book is Straight Pepper Diet: A Memoir, by Joseph W. Naus; it’s his first book and the subject matter is heavy. Sex and alcohol addiction, black-out drunk episodes, and felonies, just to get you started. It is the (true) story of walking the line, and finding yourself on the wrong side of it, all alone, with no safety net. In this space, only you yourself can begin the long trek back to sanity--to living. And only if you choose to. Thank God Mr. Naus did as it has allowed him to share with us his remarkable story. One that is laugh-out-loud hilarious at times, shut-your-eyes cringe worthy at others, and rather unexpectedly hopeful. Most of all, Straight Pepper Diet is honest: Brutally, refreshingly, amazingly so.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Joseph a few questions about this must-read book. Enjoy…
B: For all of your potential readers, explain the title: What is a “Straight Pepper Diet”?
JN: That’s a reference to a phrase from the book “Alcoholics Anonymous”, page 69 of the 4th edition. Straight Pepper Diet, relates to the phrase, “Sex is the spice of life”. Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, was pretty funny. The way Bill used it, it was a reference to overdoing sex, but for me it’s a reference to sex addiction and a wink-wink to 12-steppers.
B: I’ve often thought that the most difficult part of writing, or creating art of any kind, is being true to your craft and putting yourself out there for all to see (judge). You definitely had to do that for this memoir. Was there ever a moment where you thought “I’ve said too much”, or maybe “I haven’t said enough”?
JN: With regard to other people, I protected their anonymity by using false names. As far as myself and my experiences, I tried not to protect myself. I tried to write aide-memoire style. I write what I sensed. I write in film scenes. Just press “record,” and let the tape roll. If it’s a sex scene, I write it how I remember it happening. I don’t blur anything out. If it’s a fight scene, there’s going to be blood. It’s dirty and detailed, like the human experience.
It was a little tough to put my mom out there like I did. She didn’t dig that at all. But, when one reads my story and sees what I went through as a kid, they understand that, at least, I deserve to be able to tell my story. Most readers didn’t think poorly of my mom. It was just the way it was. Same with my dad. I love them both very much. Mom died of lung cancer in April 2016 at 63 (don’t smoke!!!), and she forgave me, and I forgave her. She’s a hero in my eyes.
B: Your addictions weren’t the only struggle you faced in life: You grew up in poverty, dealt with your parent’s addictions, and had unhealthy relationships early on in life as a result. But you survived; came out on the other side. Is there something you attribute that to?
JN: I used to say “that which does not kill me, only makes me stronger”, but that’s some b.s. The truth is, I got all twisted up and grew emotionally crooked and developed coping mechanisms that saved me and then almost killed me.
It’s always been about choosing life over death. I’m here, so I didn’t ever choose death, but there were times where it certainly seemed like a good option. But then I always thought of the possibilities of life. I’m one of those people that can float into the clouds by petting my cat or witnessing someone being kind to someone else or just driving through the desert at night. I can read a good book and become overjoyed. I brought my fiancé a bag of potato chips today, and she was so stoked. I live for that. As long as joy is a possibility, I’m going keep answering rounds with my chin down and hands up.
However, the B-side of being me is that I get triggered by triviality, especially when more than one “bad thing” happens at once. I don’t cry over spilled milk, but spill the milk and drop the eggs, and I’m searching YouTube videos on how to tie a noose. That’s when I lean on my cocktail of spiritual activities to get back to the joy in life.
B: What prompted you to tell your story?
JN: So many reasons. I always wanted to write a book. I never did because I thought writing was a pipe dream. I had a great story to tell, so I wrote it. I thought it might help people understand addiction and what it’s like. I thought it might help someone stop digging and get help. I thought it best that I tell my story, not the State of California and the California State Bar.
B: Do you enjoy writing? Do you have anything else in the works?
JN: Sometimes I get in the zone, and I can barely type fast enough. The scene just flows out of me. It’s fun. I’m possessed. I feel like I’m a writer, a good writer, even. Other times I feel like I need a nap and every word I write makes my eyelids heavier, and what the hell am I doing writing anyway? I’m not a writer! I’m a fraud. I’ve trained myself to keep on writing no matter how I feel.
My next book is the sequel to Straight Pepper Diet. I’m really excited about it! I’m writing it now. I’ve got about 75% of the first draft done. Internally, spiritually, my journey after the time-period covered by Straight Pepper Diet is much more interesting that the two years of triage-mode I was in during the time-period covered by Straight Pepper Diet. I think people who have survived something really traumatic like a death of a loved one, a divorce, or a life-altering injury, will deeply relate to my next book. It’s like: Oh my God! I survived. Now what? How do I live now?
B: Where can our readers find your book?
JN: www.straightpepperdietmemoir.com has all the various retailers for paperback and e-book. Or just google “Joseph Naus” or “Straight Pepper Diet”. It’s also available on Audible, and people have been really liking that platform.
B: For all of the first time authors out there, any advice?
JN: Think of writing a book like making a movie. And if you have the most incredible book and can’t get an agent or big publisher, send us the first chapter at www.killermcmillanpublishing.com in pdf. It should be gorgeous and should demand that we see the rest of the book. Good luck!