PW: What inspired you to write this book now?

Walter Anderson: When my mother told me the truth about my father, I promised I wouldn't share it with anyone else while my siblings were still alive. After my brother died in 2000, I shared the family history with my children and found my half-brother, Herbert Dorfman, a television writer who I now see at least once a week. Then, in the final stages of my mother's life, I told her I wanted to share the story with the world in my own way. She freed me to do that.

PW: You've already written four books. How was the experience of writing a memoir different?

WA: It was the single most difficult challenge of my career. I had to disclose intimate and embarrassing details about my life and force myself to examine experiences that I would have preferred not to revisit. I would have liked to make myself heroic and more intelligent, but I wanted to show myself struggling as I really did. It's funny, back in 1986, when Norman Mailer read something I'd written about my childhood, he called me and said, "I can tell there's something you're leaving out." He was right, but I'd given my word to my mother.

PW: What was the hardest part to write?

WA: It was difficult to explore my mother's shortcomings. [For example, one] summer I worked on a farm in Vermont only to learn that my parents had spent all the money I'd saved. I also struggled with the chapter about coming home from Vietnam. As hard as it was to write about myself committing violence, I needed to explain my decision to end the cycle of violence I witnessed as a child. It was important to me to make it clear that I am who I am despite the horrific beatings I endured, not because of them. No good comes from abuse.

PW: How did you come up with the book's title?

WA: The night my mother told me that my father wasn't really my father—which also happened to be the night of his funeral—we talked for hours and hours. As she was leaving the living room to go to bed, she turned around in the doorway and said, "Walter, you were meant to be." That rang in my ears for a long time.

PW: How do you think your insider's knowledge of the industry affected your experience with the publishing process?

WA: I was very lucky. I told my story to Cathy Hemming at HarperCollins, and she bought it before I'd even written a word!

PW: You're an avid literacy spokesperson. How do you think reading changed your life?

WA: When I was a kid, my father beat me when he caught me with a book. Years later, when I asked my mom why she still encouraged me to read, she said, "I knew if you were a reader, you'd find your way." And she was right: I read myself out of poverty long before I worked my way out. I'm probably the only high school kid who ever cut school to go to the library! Today, I still read everything I can get my hands on, whether it's a newspaper, a Rich North Patterson novel, a philosophical abstract or a psychological abstract. I just can't get enough.