Vince Granata wanted to show that his family was more than what the media reported in TV clips or newspaper articles.
In 2014, his family appeared all over the news after his brother Timothy, who suffers from schizophrenia and hallucinations, killed his mother during an episode.
Now a doctoral student in UNT's creative writing program, Granata explores his family's history in his new book, Everything is Fine. The memoir has received critical acclaim, including reviews in People and The New York Times, and Granata has been heartened by the response, especially from readers whose loved ones are affected by mental illness.
He knew his mother's death was more complex than what was being reported.
"It bothered me that was the only story being told," he says. "It felt important that I could tell a fuller story about my brother and my family. The full story is the only one that didn't come up."
Granata grew up in Orange, Connecticut, with his family that included his younger siblings -- Timothy, Elizabeth and Christopher -- who are triplets. Granata was teaching in the Dominican Republic when he received the news. His brother was found not guilty due to mental disease, and placed under the jurisdiction of the Connecticut Psychiatric Review Board. The body will determine the length of his commitment to state facilities, a period that can't exceed sixty years.
"It took a long time to even think about writing about my mom's death," he says.
Granata began approaching it from a journalist's perspective by investigating mental illness.
"It was still brutally difficult to write about those painful moments," he says. "But I focused on collecting the details to try and understand this most difficult story."
While he was visiting his brother's doctor, he scribbled notes that he referred to later. He scrutinized his brother's medical records, such as his psychiatric evaluations, especially before he was hospitalized prior to their mother's death. He found his mother's old cell phone, and he was able to use some of her messages.
"There are lots of sections of the book that are based purely on memory," he says. "Our memories aren't perfect recorders. I tried to acknowledge the emotions around the memory."
There were moments when he was able to separate himself from the material while he was writing the book. And there were moments when he cried.
"I had to figure out how to get some distance or this never would have been possible," he says. "There were definitely moments -- how do I separate myself? It was just too intense. It did become an emotional experience and I had to step away."
Granata still keeps in contact with Tim, whose treatment has been tenuous at times, but is taking medication voluntarily. Although they have had difficult conversations, his brother has been supportive of the book, which Granata says "shows the whole human being he is."
Writing had always been an outlet for Granata, who knew he wanted to be a writer since third grade. He spent much of his 20s teaching high school English. He's written fiction and non-fiction, and Everything was his thesis when he studied for his Master of Fine Arts at American University.
During a writer's conference, a Ph.D. student at UNT told him about UNT's creative writing program, and Granata liked what he saw when he visited Denton.
"I was really worried that I would be stuck in my project and not break new ground in my writing," he says. "But working with Jill Talbot has been really beneficial to me. She's worked with me on essays and more creative forms by changing the predominant patterns in my writing."
Granata's long-term goal is to teach at the college level. His dissertation is still in the planning stages, but it will likely be a collection of essays on grief.
Readers have reached out to him, saying Everything is Fine has helped them with their own families who suffer from mental illness.
"That's the reader I was most interested in reaching," he says.