Love and pain are part of this 'Twelve-Step Journey'

By Patricia Corrigan
Of the Post-Dispatch
Published: Tuesday, Apr. 13 2004

At first glance, "Minus One: A Twelve-Step Journey" is a novel about a young
woman's first year in Alcoholics Anonymous as she struggles to find sobriety,
love and meaning in life. By the end of the book, the reader realizes that
author Bridget Bufford has penned a tribute to the kind of programs that help
her stay off alcohol and drugs, and that the book is about hope.

Set in St. Louis, "Minus One" opens with Terry Manescu, 26, "sweating out the
drunk" after an unplanned departure from her home in mid-Missouri. Her sudden
decision to get away comes after "broken promises, cocaine and gin, wounds
inflicted." Bufford's style is direct and yet literary, as she writes of
Terry's moments of despair (some of them leavened by tentative joy), her
relationships with women and her struggles with friends and family members.

Bufford, 45, lives in Columbia, Mo., with her partner of 15 years. She grew up
in St. Louis, and her mother and two brothers live here still. As an Amherst
Writers & Artists Affiliate, Bufford leads workshops for aspiring writers. She
also works part time for the state's tobacco community education program and
the Central Missouri Autism Project. Late in March, she answered several
questions about her serendipitous introduction to writing and her new book.

Q. You speak of "Minus One" as a love letter. What do you mean?

A. It is a love letter to 12-step programs, but it's not a love letter you'd
write when you're first falling in love. When you first get in a 12-step
program, you feel so good to be off drugs and alcohol that you glamorize the
experience. I present a more balanced perspective, because I've been clean and
sober for 21 years.

Q. You were trained as a physical therapist and worked for 10 years with
special-education students in public schools in Columbia and Jefferson City.
When did you begin to write?

A. In January of 1995, I was training for a judo meet when I tore up my ankle.
A few days later, I bought a book I had seen a year earlier in San Francisco, a
book called "An Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity." I got it
because I liked the Asian art on the cover.

Q. How did the injury awaken an interest in writing?

A. When I went to work on crutches, I fell on the ice and injured my wrist.
Then, we had a record snowstorm, and I couldn't get out at all. I've never
thought of myself as creative, but lying on the couch, looking at that book on
the coffee table, I realized the only thing that worked was my right hand. I
started reading the book, doing the writing exercises.

Q. How did that go?

A. I wrote 3,000 pages in about a year. Six months into it, I wrote my first
short story, which was published two years later. Nine months after I started
writing, I had finished a novel.

Q. So writing comes easily to you. Are you an avid reader?

A. I've always read a lot, and I've always lived my life as a story I was
telling myself as I went along. My mother, Joan Sanford, is a retired English
teacher, and I was a big fan of the classics. My all-time favorite is John

Q. In the book, Terry says, "I can't see me doing AA the rest of my life. All
the things I like about myself are linked with drinking dancing, pool, rugby,
softball. Spending time with my friends. I met almost all my lovers at the
bar." What led you to write a book about recovery?

A. There aren't a lot of fun books about recovery, and 12-step programs are
important to me. Still, I put things in the book that hurt my feelings or made
me feel I was treated unfairly. That's the great thing about fiction. Besides,
you hear great stories in 12-step programs bizarre, fantastic, absurd
stories. A lot of the book is based on those stories.

Q. When do you write?

A. I write most of my first drafts in my weekly writing workshops. I get a lot
of fresh, strong scenes there because the process is intensified. I draw on the
creative energy of the people around me. Otherwise, I go to a coffee house to
write about two hours a day.

Q. Is your writing organic or do you struggle?

A. When I write, it's like seeing a movie scrolling through my mind. Pictures
just come to me. I write lots of short narratives and may work on three
sections of a novel in the same night. With the second draft, I piece together
the quilting squares I've written, and that's not as much fun.

Q. Are you working on a new novel?

A. Yes. It's about a woman whose mother is a heroin addict. The woman works as
a fire fighter for the Forest Service I did that, and I loved it, and I've
always wanted to write about it. After the woman returns to her family, she
helps care for her nephew, who has autism. I have a fascination with autism.
There is so much symbolism in the speech patterns of people who have it. This
book is another chance to write about things I've always wanted to address.

"Minus One: A Twelve-Step Journey"
By Bridget Bufford
Published by Haworth Press Inc., 235 pages, $17.95