published Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Chattanooga author's novel imagines Alzheimer's from a patient's standpoint

  • photo
    Local actress and author Denise Frye poses for a portrait with her new novel "Into the Fog" in the Times Free Press studio.
    Photo by Allison Love /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ABOUT HER

• Age: 66.

• Hometown: Chattanooga.

• Education: Graduate of Notre Dame High School, attended Chattanooga State Community College.

• Occupation: Retired but was executive assistant in the surgical unit at Parkridge Medical Center for many years.

• Family: Married to Bob Frye for 49 years; three children (two surviving), one grandchild.

INFLUENTIAL NOVEL

"Everything I read has influenced me in one way or another. 'A Girl of the Limberlost' by Gene Stratton-Porter started me reading [and] gave me an appetite for reading.

FAVORITE STAGE ROLE

Lucille in "The Cemetery Club" at the former Backstage Theater, her first featured role.

PETS

"I am an animal advocate. I am particularly opposed to the way they are factory farmed. I love pigs. I have a rescue dog, Chance, and seven cats.

What's it like in there, unable to remember what happened a few minutes ago, to recall your daughter's name, to remember how to travel the five blocks from your home to the grocery store?

The problem with Alzheimer's disease is that you don't remember those things and, eventually, you don't know what you don't know.

Denise Camille Frye, an East Ridge resident and actress on various local community theater stages, wondered what it was like, too. Having seen close up a family member who began exhibiting changes in behavior, she pondered what the person herself must be thinking.

That led to "Into the Fog," a novel she wrote that provides a realistic depiction of what life is like for one of the 5.4 million Americans who have been diagnosed with the disease.

The saga takes the reader from the patient's initial denial of having the disease to its final stages -- and beyond.

Frye previously has been published in several trade magazines and has written two unpublished books, "The Nestries: A Fairytale for all Ages" and a memoir in third person, "Give Us This Day Our Apple Jelly," and a three-act comedy play, "Good Grief."

"Into the Fog" is available from Amazon.com and at area Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million stores.

Q: Is there a personal reason you chose Alzheimer's disease as the topic of your novel?

A: There is. ... I had written a book, a fairy tale, but I couldn't find a publisher. ... So I took a little respite. I went to the old home place in Harrison. My brother and his wife were caring for [her mother]. He was telling me about some of the hallucinations she was having. I was enthralled by that -- some of the things she came up with in her demented state. Normally, she did not have a creative [streak], but she came up with Spielbergian scenes. I thought, maybe I could write these stories she was coming up with. But I couldn't talk to her about that, and she was not physically able to do that. Nobody has ever been able to tell another person what [it's] like. I thought, somebody needs to tell their story.

Q: Did your work at Parkridge Medical Center influence your subject?

A: It gave me, when I retired, plenty of time to work on it.

Q: Where did you find your best sources?

A: I found out just about everyone I spoke to had someone affected by Alzheimer's. They said, I know somebody or they were somebody who is affected. It was very easy for me to research what it was like to care for somebody who actually had it. I had hands-on interviews with people -- a lot of relatives or in-laws and friends. It was really not difficult at all to get that information on what it was like.

Q: Where did you turn for your medical advice?

A: There is an awful lot of research on the Internet. I was in touch daily with the Alzheimer's Association to keep up with the figures. I was flabbergasted at the number of people who are affected by Alzheimer's. I had no idea it was so prevalent in America.

Q: What should readers learn from your main character about Alzheimer's disease?

A: The most important thing they can learn is [that many people] actually have Alzheimer's before they suspect it. Long before the symptoms actually show, they can have the disease. The symptoms are so subtle. People are ready to believe that that's all it is -- loss of memory, lapses, day-to-day things you associate with aging -- [but] it may not be. If you start having problems with memory lapses, I definitely think it's important to be checked by a physician early in the game to see if it's something to worry about or can be treated.

Q: What did you learn about yourself in writing this book?

A: That I had kind of removed myself from reality [with the subject]. I had no idea it was so widespread and so big a problem. It was a shocker and eye-opener for me.

Q: Does your stage work correlate at all with writing a novel?

A: My background in the theater helped me a great deal in putting myself in the place of the protagonist. That's something you have to learn to do in theater -- to put yourself in someone else's shoes for a while. It helped me develop my character.

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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