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SunLit Interviews

After his sister’s death, Adam Cayton-Holland found writing helped him with the “chaotic jumble” of life

In exploring old emails, texts and papers to write "Tragedy Plus Time," Adam Cayton-Holland felt like he was given another chance to spend time with his sister

Author, comic and actor Adam Cayton-Holland. (Photo by Ryan Brackin)

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit

Adam Cayton-Holland is a national touring comic who was named one of Esquire’s “25 Comics to Watch,” as well as one of “10 Comics to Watch” by Variety.

Along with his cohorts in The Grawlix, he is one of the creators and stars of the truTV show “Those Who Can’t.” 

His three comedy albums are all available on iTunes, and his writing has appeared in Village Voice, Spin, The A.V. Club, The New York Times, Esquire and The Atlantic. He once threw out a first-pitch at a Colorado Rockies game and people have described him as “genial” and “with decent teeth.”

The following is an interview with Cayton-Holland.


What inspired you to write this book?

After my little sister died, I was devastated. Just gutted. And it was a lot to come to terms with. As anyone who has had someone close to them kill themselves can attest, there’s just so much to process: the feelings of anger, guilt, shame, sadness. All of it. Writing this book helped me grapple with a lot of it. It helped immensely. So I suppose I wrote this book as a way to continue to think about everything that happened to my sister, myself and my family.

Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?

I’m all over the place. I love John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. I love Flannery O’ Connor. I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthey and Roddy Doyle. I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez and I love David Sedaris and Dave Eggers. I love the old crime writer Jim Thompson. Ken Kesey is a favorite. Harper Lee, Camus, Bukowski. Calvin & Hobbes is my favorite way to pass the time reading, so Bill Watterson as well! As far as characters go, it’s all about Wes Anderson for me.

Why did you choose this excerpt?

This excerpt was the prologue of the book and I think it really pulls the reader in to what I was going through. The highs and the lows of life. That’s something I wanted the book to reflect — how with mental illness it’s never black and white yet a lot of depictions you read are: someone is well, then they’re unwell. It’s much grayer than that. It all comes at you at once, in a chaotic jumble. The way life does, I suppose. I feel like this excerpt reflects that.

“Tragedy Plus Time” by Adam Cayton-Holland.

What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?

The most rewarding part of working on this book was getting to spend time with my sister, in a way. To go over her life, go over our past e-mails and text exchanges. I went through old childhood drawings and school reports of hers. It made me feel close to her. Again.

Selfishly, the most rewarding part of this book was that it was straight-up therapy for me. Writing this book was a way of mourning her.

What was the most difficult section to write in this book?

They were all really difficult. The stuff when she died was obviously incredibly hard. But the chapter leading up to that was gut wrenching as well. And traumatic. But in a weird way, it helped. Sometimes getting it down on paper, cataloging it, is a way to make it less scary. Almost like, “Okay. There it is. It’s out there. This is what happened.” I was tired of not talking about it or wondering if people knew this about me or whatever, so as difficult as those sections were, they also felt cathartic to write.

What’s one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?

I learned how my mom and dad met. I had never asked them that before. My dad was/is a civil rights attorney. My mother was an investigative journalist. She wrote some articles about one of his cases and he called her up out of the blue. That’s how they met. I loved that and I never knew it before. It’s fun when you start asking your family questions about their past and get to learn some things. It makes your parents seem so much more like people, as opposed to “Mom” and “Dad,” but actual people who called each other up on the phone and asked each other out. I liked that. I thought it was really cute.

What’s your next project?

I’m working on a movie adaptation of this book. Also always working on stand-up comedy and making TV and movies.

— Buy “Tragedy Plus Time” at BookBar

— Excerpt: “Tragedy Plus Time” by Adam Cayton-Holland