Dr. Rikard shares with readers the process of writing his award-winning memoir, Hidden Epidemic.
During his time recuperating from surgery, Dr. Rikard planned to finish his devotional manuscript; however, three months after his surgery, his sister, Jenny, committed suicide. As children, he and Jenny had shared the insidious secret of their mother’s addiction to prescription drugs: “I commenced a cathartic journaling of my feelings.” Dr. Rikard narrates Hidden Epidemic from his perspective as a child, trapped in a malignant relationship with an addicted, abusive parent.
Dr. Rikard describes the images, smells, and sounds of his childhood, the overwhelming sensations that are forever imprinted on his memory. On remembering his mother’s solitary time in the kitchen, he writes, “I could smell the cigarette smoke, and the reek of tobacco.” He allowed his senses to take him back to a time and place stored in his memory, and then journaled what he saw, smelled, and felt: “One doesn’t make up a memory; instead a sensory scene gives way to another memory. I didn’t imagine Mom’s contorted face nor create Jenny’s look.” The painful memories forced him to stop and restart again and again.
Before his career as a memoirist, Dr. Rikard served as pastor of the Mulberry Street United Methodist in Macon, Georgia, for thirty-two years. As a clergyman, he wrote church newsletters and sermons for weekly services. These clerical writings “peeked into [his] humanity and influenced [his] full self-disclosure in Hidden Epidemic.” His former role as pastor and recent role as author have attributed to the hope and peace of mind he found in writing his memoir.
In addition to his pastoral position, Dr. Rikard has been a family therapist for the past thirty years and was able to lend his professional expertise on the effects of hidden substance abuse. The author’s agent, Louise Staman, comments that, “As a family therapist he has often treated children and young adults like himself.” Because of the amount of pain and torment Dr. Rikard expresses in his original manuscript, Ms. Staman encouraged him to condense his 250-page manuscript to 150 pages for the sake of the readers.
In writing Hidden Epidemic, Dr. Rikard found his lifelong habit of writing journals to be invaluable and encourages novice writers to journal. He says journaling awakens those moments—some funny, some heartbreaking—and reveals what life is. He adds that journaling exposes every facet of life and nothing is insignificant: “Nostalgia is the great gift in journaling.”
When he was a child, Dr. Rikard heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak: “Sadly the reason behind the adults’ bringing the children to the event was to be a lesson in hatred. But the insults halted as soon as Dr. King spoke. I remember the look of destiny in his eyes. His was an oratory of powerful words.” Dr. Rikard was profoundly affected by this speech and seeks to mimic the eloquence and vivacity with which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke. He encourages students of writing to read great authors who use “unexpected and potent words that make the ears stand up on the page. . . .”
Because of his powerful prose and the potency of his story, Dr. Rikard received the 47th Georgia Author of the Year Award (GAYA) for Creative Nonfiction. He accepted the award on behalf of his sister: “Jenny's life and death speak powerfully to others in Hidden Epidemic, allowing them to identify with her pain, and hopefully seek the help that is now available.”
On November 12th, Dr. Rikard, along with other award-winning authors, will be sharing their techniques and offering advice at the Red Clay Writers Conference sponsored by the Georgia Writers Association and hosted at Kennesaw State University. This conference is an invaluable opportunity for writers of every genre to hone their craft.
Written by Daisy Ichtertz
Editing by Katie Sigman