🚧Under Construction 🚧The discussion questions for featured books are edited from the ones in the private Facebook and Goodreads groups. There are also spoilers throughout.
Short List of Featured Books:
Dove Keeper -January 2019
An Unquiet Mind - February 2019
Birth of A New Brain - March 2019
Letters To My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls - April 2019
Firefly Magic - May 2019
Don't You Fall Now - June 2019
Lady Saturn - July 2019
Turtles All The Way Down - August 2019
On Writing - September 2019
Detailed List of Featured Books With Discussion Questions:
Dove Keeper by Emily Deibler - December 2018
Dove Keeper is a gothic horror novel written by Emily Deibler.
We actually met in my high school poetry club, and while I haven't seen her since high school, it's been a pleasure to follow her success online over the years.
Dove Keeper is a gothic horror novel centered on three powerful women who lived in Rennes, France in 1918. The novel is written by Emily Deibler, a dedicated writer, artist, and nerd who explores trauma, grief, abuse, and neurodivergence in her writing. Shehas discussed writing with depression and anxiety on the blog. Some of the characters are loosely based off her ancestors who were executioners (which is so cool). The main themes of the novel include trauma, feminism, LGBT, and neurodivergence.
- If you are reading Dove Keeper or plan to, what are your thoughts going into the novel or just from looking at the book cover?
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Dove Keeper was the perfect fit for me. Toward the end, my heart was pounding, and I was scared, but not - triggered - I guess, would be the word. It was just the right level of horror without pushing me over the edge.
- Let's talk about my favorite character, Rosalie:
Rosalie is the mother. At first, she comes off as sort of a cold woman? Like, she's very harsh, but I began to understand where her harshness comes from. Her past. We learn that Rosalie lost her sister and her son. And her nephew, André, reminds her of her sister especially.
"The lift in his brow and the color of his hair, that hair that never quite remained in place, it reminded Rosalie too much of—she needed to breathe— Her sister, her little sister with blood welting her sheets, the pillow, drying on her mouth the morning she died."I feel like my past has made me kind of cold and harsh, too. People say I'm really sweet but I can be an asshole. The anxiety of learned helplessness from trauma is something I'm still working to overcome. I can see it when my boyfriend is talking about the future, and I'm like, well.... you know, a meteor could hit the earth or we could fall out of love, cause like, we have no control over anything AT ALL (and then my heart starts beating really fast and I start yelling about how we've just been plopped on planet earth with no explanation like how dare God or whoever do this to us???)
My point is, I spiral. Because I can't seem to handle the unpredictability of life and I'm trying to protect myself from inevitable pain. And I can see that in Rosalie. While she's not trying to protect herself so much from pain, she desperately wants to protect Marcy from her life, the life of an executioner's wife.
But her words only hurt Marcy and push her away. It was so hard to read because I also saw a family member of mine in Rosalie. I realized that the way Rosalie tries to protect her daughter but actually pushes her away is what this person has done to me without meaning to. Marcy wants to marry André. André wants to be an executioner. Instead of having a heart-to-heart with Marcy, Rosalie tells her she'd rather her DIE than marry an executioner.
- So, what did y'all think of the ending of Dove Keeper?
I remember where I was when I read the ending. I was sitting in my brown chair by the window, my neck craned over the book with my fingers in my mouth. I couldn't stop chewing my fingernails because damn it Jehanne WHY!!!!!!
"All she needed was a match because she hadn’t thought that far. Fire, the ecstasy of release in the throes of agony when she, a small tear, traveled upward upon the path of Creation and melted back into God’s eye."I still don't understand why Jehanne had to die. I'm still angry. I mean, it was beautiful, the symbolism, the sacrifice, the full circle because she was previously burned at the stake. But ugh! I just wanted to see her relationship with Marcy blossom. I was so excited and then it just went up in smoke. pun intended.
I DID learn that there is a sequel recently, though! It's called Birds In A Cage. I don't really know what to expect. It comes out in May, and I really want to see Marcy blossom. I want to see Rosalie cycling again. I'd also like to learn more about Anatole and his life. He's such a quiet, sweet interesting character that has such a violent job and I just wanted to follow him around all day like when Marcy followed him to work!
Dove Keeper is an intense, beautiful, intricate book. I skimmed over the surface of its complexity. I didn't even mention the manor. The boy with a key in his mouth. I'm not an expert book reviewer or critic. I'm just typing into my computer at midnight about a book I read that I loved and want to share with you all.
You can buy Dove Keeper on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2TdowOx
Emily Deibler has been a patron of mine for over a year. I'm so thankful for her support and advice on writing as I attempt my own novel. You can find her on Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/emilydeibler
An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison - January 2019
- Had you heard of An Unquiet Mind before reading it? Has it been as you expected or have some parts surprised you?
An Unquiet Mind is a classic, so I'd heard of it before and read half of it a few years ago but never gotten through it. I'm so glad I gave it another go, though. The style reminds me a lot of one of my favorite books, The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn R Saks (a more recent memoir by a professor and psychiatrist with schizophrenia).
"I became both by necessity and intellectual inclination, a student of moods. It has been the only way I know to understand, indeed to accept, the illness I have; it also has been the only way I know to try and make a difference in the lives of others who also suffer from mood disorders. The disease that has, on several occasions, nearly killed me does kill tens of thousands of people every year: most are young most die unnecessarily, and many are among the most imaginative and gifted that we as a society have."
The book begins with a prologue: Redfield at 28 years old in 1974. She's running around at 2 in the morning, trying to get out her manic energy. And I definitely related to that.
Redfield had a privileged childhood. Her family supported every wild idea she had. Even in this opening scene, her privilege is clear. A police car pulls up, asking her why she's running at 2 am. Her colleague mentions that they work in the psychiatry department, and the police officer leaves them alone assuming it's research, I'm guessing. I immediately remembered my run-ins with the police that never escalated beyond a ticket or a cop car ride. Redfield is up front and open about her privilege, and during Black History Month especially, it's so important to acknowledge that not everyone has this privilege.
Most books begin with an inciting incident. It's an event that hooks the reader. Jamison's inciting incident seems to be the plane crash that happens next to her elementary school as a child. This event interested me because mental illnesses are the result of genetics AND environmental factors, including trauma. Jamison writes,
"The memory of the crash came back to me many times over the years... I never again looked at the sky and saw only vastness and beauty. From that afternoon on I saw that death was also and always there."
-Do you think this event could have contributed to the onset of Jamison's bipolar disorder?
I'm not an expert, but it was an interesting thing to consider. Besides that, Jamison reports that she was a happy and artistic child. Her parents supported her. Her memories are mostly happy. She wasn't the "problem" child growing up or the black sheep, as one might expect. I also enjoyed the full picture in regards to her family. Her father had mood swings all throughout her childhood. She describes him as Mary Poppins at one point, illustrating the important reminder that mental illness doesn't occur in a vacuum. Even if a family SAYS there's no history of mental illness, I'm honestly inclined to believe that actually no one admitted or sought help for their mental health problems, but maybe I'm biased because that's sure as hell the case in my family.
-If you have bipolar disorder, what were some things that stuck out to you so far?
I related so much to the big ideas that I don't follow through on. This passage stuck out to me, as well:
"I knew something was dreadfully wrong, but I had no idea what, and I had been brought up to believe that you kept your problems to yourself. Given that, it turned out to be unnervingly easy to keep my family and friends at psychological bay."
-Was there a certain point of time that you *knew* something was wrong? For me, it was a slow process that started sometime around 8 years old (when my delusions and mood swings were very rare but unsettling enough) and really came to a head in 9th grade when I started to believe people were following me, and my depression made it feel as though I was trudging through a foot of water 24/7. And of course, I didn't tell anyone. What could I say? And how could I say it?
"Hey, Mom, I know you worked all day and you're tired and we're waiting on you to cook dinner, but also can you drop like $50 a week for me to go talk about my feelings with some stranger?"
It seemed selfish and silly. I felt very alone. When I read books like these, I feel like I'm reading a letter from a friend, and I want to message them. That's how I know it's a good book.
- One quote that stuck out to me especially was when Jamison is describing her manic episodes and the ensuing damage.
"It goes on and on, and finally there are only others' recollections of your behavior - your bizarre frenetic, aimless, behaviors - for mania has at least some grace in partially obliterating memories. What then, after the medications, psychiatrist, despair, depression, and overdose? All those incredible feelings to sort through. Who is being too polite to say what? Who knows what? What did I do? Why?"
Mania, ugh, mania. I love it, and I hate it. I crave it and resent it. I am most productive when manic. Sometimes, when I have shit to do and need a kick in the butt, I've even induced a manic episode. I usually regret it, though. It's like flying too close to the sun. The heightened creativity and productivity fade into merely heightened senses, rambling pages, incredible irritability. Everything HURTS. And then, and then, and then... the damage. The friends I've screamed at, the people I flicked my hand at in the hallway and ignored because I was too busy solving (in my mind) the meaning of life. The throwing of shoes and baby Jesus in the nativity set (yes, I speak from personal experience.) What's worse is, there have been times when I don't even remember doing these things.
Jamison got me thinking about the intricacies of mania. Why do you think mania comes with memory loss? Have you experienced memory loss as part of your mental health issues? Do you think we should hold people accountable for things they don't remember they did when manic or having a mental illness episode? Is a person, when manic, still themselves?
I have to write down notes for myself when I'm manic. My opinions change, my interests flip flop. "Don't delete your blog! Don't change the mission again! Don't change your major again!" The me of yesterday... she's always trying to remind me of things I decided on and then forgot. I have several social media accounts, pen names, deleted and then reactivated. It's embarrassing. My manic behavior embarrasses me, but more than anything, I hate that I hurt others. I hate playing clean up and apologizing, only to have to do it again a few months later.
- Another thing Jamison talks about is her violent behavior. I have always been so hesitant to even admit this to others. I mean, people already think the mentally ill are monsters and murders. Why add to the noise? Why prove them right (in their eyes)?
Jamison bravely admitted her behavior, writing:
"Both my manias and depression had violent sides to them. Violence, especially if you are a woman, is not something talked about with ease. Being wildly out of control - physically assaultive, screaming insanely at the top of ones lungs, running frenetically with no purpose or limit, or impulsively trying to leap from cars - is frightening to others and unspeakably terrifying to oneself and others .. I remain acutely and painfully aware how difficult it is to control or understand such behaviors, much less explain them to others. I have, in my psychotic, seizure-like attacks, - my black, agitated mania - destroyed things I cherish, pushed to the utter edge people I love, and survived to think I could never recover from the shame.”
It is hard to speak up about the very real aspect of violence in mental illness. It occurs, but it is not something that I want to readily bring up. Why would I when the mentally ill are blamed for mass shootings in America? Why would I when people don’t want me near their kids when they find out my diagnosis? The truth is, though, that I, and many others, have acted violently during episodes. The truth is that I still carry that shame and guilt, that no amount of sorry’s can ever make up for some things, that the tension I feel at family gatherings is still there for things I said in rage during an episode. Individuals with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence than the other way around, but that doesn’t mean violence never occurs.
-Have you ever gotten violent during an episode? How did you repair the damage? How do you think we should go about discussing violence in mental illness without further stigmatizing ourselves?
-How do you think Jamison's socioeconomic status affected the way she dealt with bipolar disorder?
Early on, I was struck by Jamison's wealthy parents, expensive trips to other countries, even her distaste for not going to her top school and "settling" for UCLA. It was hard not to resent her at times. She had loads of opportunity and privilege, but should she not have taken advantage of it? No, she's a great example for other writers with mental Illness, but it's important to remember all that she had to begin with.
When I read about Jamison's suicide attempt, it reminded me of Elyn R Saks in The Center Cannot Hold when she has a psychotic break. Both women had friends that were mental health professionals. This allowed them to have access to care 24/7 from various people. They were also able to educate themselves on their illness and study it, developing an intricate understanding of their illness. I think this helped them a lot, and in a way, they dedicated their life to recovery as they're both psychiatrists. What did you think of the actual suicide scene? When I read it, it seemed vague and quick, almost like what I do when I'm writing a scene and it's too painful to really dive in. Do you think this was done on purpose to avoid triggering readers or do you think it mirrored her mental state at the time?
-What were your thoughts when Jamison mentioned the connection between creativity and mental illness? Her other book, Touched With Fire, discusses this directly.
Jamison wrote that mental illness can have positive aspects "during the milder manic states: heightened energy and perceptual awareness, increased fluidity and originality of thinking, intense exhilaration of moods and experience, increased sexual desire, expansiveness of vision, and lengthened grasp of aspiration."
She also wrote that lithium interfered with her ability to "read, comprehend, and remember what [she] read." She even said that she did not read a "serious" book cover to cover for more than ten years. because of her issues with concentration and blurry vision. That broke my heart. As a writer and voracious reader, I wonder how much that influenced her mental health. I know that I have trouble finishing books myself, and I deal with a lot of shame around that because I feel like writers are supposed to read the most, but I have all these half-read books lying around. I wonder how Jamison felt about herself as a writer during that decade when she couldn't finish a book. Did she feel like a fraud as a writer? Or was it simply frustrating to have one of her favorite activities taken from her?
-What were your thoughts on the epilogue when Jamison said that if she could choose to have manic-depression or not, she would choose it have it (as long as she had access to lithium)? If you could choose whether or not you had your illness, would you choose to keep it or not?
Don't forget to leave a review of An Unquiet Mind on Amazon and Goodreads!
Birth of A New Brain by Dyane Harwood - February 2019
- Dyane Harwood is such a compassionate person, and her book was almost like a love letter written to anyone experiencing a mental illness. As a woman with mental illness, I truly felt cared for and valued. I felt seen.
As I reached the final chapters of the book, I continued to be struck by the amount of things Dyane has been through and how objectively she recounted these events to her readers. Her honesty was so so impressive. And when I read the part about how she found her husband Craig's email, it really... hit home:
"Craig wrote, 'Thanks for checking in. Dyane's mental state is getting worse. I'm at a total loss as to what I can do -- the only thing I can think of is to give her an ultimatum. I'll have to bring up separating unless she resumes taking her medication."
....I felt that betrayal. I could feel it in my chest like a weight, and my cheeks got hot. Dyane writes, "One of my greatest fears was my husband leaving me. To discover he was considering separation got me so upset, I couldn't sleep that night. The sleep deprivation intensified my hypomania and primed me for a manic outburst."
Dyane loses her temper with her husband, he calls the police, she chases him around the house, and then rips a hole in his T-shirt. The police arrive and place her in restraints, placing a 5150 hold (a psychiatric hold that "authorizes a police officer to involuntarily confine a person suspected to have a mental disorder that makes her a danger to herself or to others"). I'm going to be honest here... I was really mad at her husband at first. I'm not saying Dyane didn't need to be hospitalized, but I was angry for her. If my significant other called the police on me, I don't know if I could ever forgive them.
I'm not saying it's never necessary or that she didn't need help, but I just can't get past my own horror at how Dyane was treated (especially after being held in solitary confinement for FOUR HOURS) even if the plan to call the police was previously agreed upon. I was hospitalized for five days. I signed myself in voluntarily, and when I tried to get out, they wouldn't let me. I still don't understand that actually. Was a 5150 hold placed on me? After I checked myself in? Is that possible? I had never even heard of a 5150 before I read Dyane's book honestly, and it has stirred up a lot of anger and lingering questions from my hospitalization, which was a horrible experience.
-Have you ever been hospitalized for your mental illness? Was it a 5150 or a voluntary check in?
I also wonder about how it's best for a significant other without a mental illness or brain disorder to approach their struggling partner.
-Is there a happy middle between a partner being a caretaker and not ever asking for help even when we need it? How do we find it?
- Dyane did such a good job showing us how to achieve stability: the importance of friends to keep us going, finding the right doctor and trying different medications and alternative therapies. I loved that at the end of the book, when Dyane reached recovery, she was looking forward to reconnecting with her husband, too. I'd love to know how they're doing.
-Do you think having a mental illness is a valid reason for ending a relationship with someone? Has someone ended a relationship with you because of your mental illness?
Reading Dyane's story really helped me get out of my own story, out of my own hard past, and remember how many of us have struggled with mental illness and had it negatively impact our life. I felt a sense of belonging, of community. I really, really appreciated Dyane's honesty about her angry outbursts and car accident, her attempts to get off medication after reading about Big Pharma (This hit home! I felt like she was reading my mind).
I appreciated it because too often I'll read a book about mental illness that either reads as victimization or glamorization of mental illness. For example, I love Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, but wow! Staying in a fancy hospital and playing guitar with our girlfriends is NOT a realistic expectation for anyone about to be hospitalized. Dyane's book is different ultimately because it was real. Authors like her cut through the noise and offer realistic help for individuals with mental illness.
- "Within hours after Marilla's birth, I became hypomanic. Hypomania is known as the 'lesser' mania in the bipolar spectrum. It is a less intense form of full-blown mania. Later, when I became manic, I had most of mania's symptoms...elevated mood, irritability, pursuing goal-directed activities more than usual, heightened energy, a decreased need for sleep, excessive talkativeness, pressurized speech, racing thoughts, spending sprees, hypersexuality, and grandiosity."
In later chapters, Harwood goes into detail about her manic behavior, and I was touched by her honesty. Right after childbirth, we see Harwood experiencing hypergraphia, and then she is gushing to Dr. Austin and handing him "a bunch of awesome gifts!" We watch as she chases down Tim Finn after a show to give him a gift. On her wedding day, she screams so loud that her "throat bled." Later, she starts a "Moms with Bipolar" support group, "courtesy of hypomania's inspiration."
Harwood's account of her mania is different because it doesn't focus on all good or all bad aspects of mania. It's a mixture of all the symptoms, which show us an accurate portrayal of what it's like to be manic. Mania is romanticized often, and while I do love the creativity and productivity that can come with mania, as I've gotten older, I've come to dislike my mania. I used to love that part of myself, but my behavior when I'm manic embarrasses me now that I am more aware of what's happening. Mania can be very hard to deal with, despite its associations with heightened creativity. It was relieving and also very important to read a book that gave a balanced view of an often romanticized symptom of mood disorders.
-What are some symptoms of mania that you like and don't like? Do you think mania is "worth it" for the creative aspects or not?
"During the years before I reached my teens, I never understood my father's bipolar illness, nor was I formally told about it until high school... When I looked at the prescription medications scattered on top of his wooden armoire, I never noticed their names. I never asked him what he needed the pills for, and I had no idea he took all those medications for bipolar disorder and anxiety."
Harwood discusses growing up with a father who had bipolar disorder. She explains how she'd run upstairs to break up a fight between her parents and how her father's drinking affected them. Later, when she develops postpartum bipolar disorder, she is able to make the connection that some of what she was experiencing reminded her of her father's behavior, specifically his manic insomnia.
"Dad, everything makes sense now," Harwood says to her father on the phone after her diagnosis.
-While it was difficult for Harwood to watch her father deal with the symptoms of bipolar disorder, do you think it was helpful for Harwood to be able to discuss her illness openly with her father and have someone who understood? Does mental illness run in your family? Is it discussed openly?
Letters To My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls
by Robin Sinclair - March 2019
March' featured book was Letters To My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls by Robin Sinclair, a queer, genderqueer writer with schizoaffective disorder. The poetry was dark and dreamlike. The story had me on edge the whole time and deserves a reread for sure.
- The first thing that stood out to me about Letters was how raw and dark it was. The theme of violence was evident from the first page when Sweet Jane talks about biting Eleanor's foot and her broken nose. I liked this.
I liked it a lot because I think a lot of us tend to shy away from mentioning any violence when discussing our illness because we don't want to scare people or give them any more ammunition than they already feel like they have. The truth is that the mentally ill are more likely to be a victim of violence than the other way around. Most individuals with mental illness are not violent, but that doesn't mean it never happens. It is a topic that needs to be discussed even though it's uncomfortable.
Mental illness and violence is a sticky topic that I usually shy away from because I don't want to approach it wrong. I'm grateful Robin was brave enough to include it in her story.
-What were your thoughts about the inclusion of violence in the book?
-As a writer with mental illness, do you tend to shy away from writing about violence or are you comfortable with it?
- The book is structured as a series of love letters between Sweet Jane and Eleanor. Even during periods of disassociation, the intellectual knowledge of an emotion Jane isn't capable of feeling is enough to keep her going.
-How do you think the emotional bond between Sweet Jane and Eleanor influenced Jane's recovery?
-If you suffer from disassociation as an aspect of your mental illness, do you find yourself cognitively clinging to emotions or to cornerstones of what you know to be true and real, even though you can not emotionally or empathetically connect to them?
(Further reading: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2686644/)
Birth of a New Brain is one of those memoirs that makes you feel like you're best friends with the author because of its honesty and authenticity. While it's too late to get the discounted price from the book service because February has passed, you can still buy the book directly from Amazon! Last month, we discussed Kay Redfield Jamison's memoir An Unquiet Mind. This month, we're discussing another memoir. One about postpartum bipolar disorder. Did you notice any similarities between Jamison and Harwood?
"Ironically, I walked through the same high school as another student who would become one of the most respected bipolar disorder authorities in the world. This student was Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison..."
- I've always loved memoirs. They're my favorite genre because they're like a case-study of oneself, and who better to study yourself than you? We know when things start to go wrong. Harwood knew that something was going on.
"My intuition kept whispering something was amiss with my brain."
- In chapter two, Harwood discusses how after giving birth, she became hypomanic which was accompanied by hypergraphia.
"In theory, hypergraphia seems ideal to writers suffering from writer's block. The acclaimed author Dr. Alice W. Flaherty reflected upon her hypergraphic experience as positive, but my hypergraphia experience was bittersweet, with an emphasis on the bitter. Fear was the primary force that drove my writing. Being in a postpartum hypergraphic state was an exhausting way to live."
Firefly Magic by Lauren Sapala - May 2019
- Sapala starts at the root of the problem:
-Can ambition and integrity coexist?
-Why do highly sensitive writers especially have a resistance to marketing?
Let's face it: people in marketing can come off as sleazy. They're put in the same category as lawyers... It's all a scam, right? But what about the lawyers who work as public defenders to help the marginalized be proven innocent? And what about the people in marketing who have a product that can save lives? Sapala boils this down to integrity.
If you've been working on your book for months to years, you already have an audience in mind. You want to reach your readers. Marketing your book - getting it out there - shouldn't make you feel sleazy because there's no lack of integrity for wanting to share your creation with the world. It's about the way you get your creation out there, such as sending out newsletters to email addresses that never signed up for your newsletter... Now that would be a lack of integrity.
As we delve further into Firefly Magic, Sapala has some questions for us to think about in terms of marketing and money before we get into concrete ideas to market our future or current books as highly sensitive writers with mental illness:
-"Is there anything you think you might have to do to be 'good at marketing' or to market your book that might compromise the rules you live by?"
-"If you're self-employed, how did you decide on your rates? How does raising your rates make you feel?"
-"How do you feel about incredible amounts of abundance (money, love, good food, a beautiful house)? Do you think you deserve it?"
- This week, we are talking about social media! Something that people tend to either love or hate.
In chapter 3, Sapala discusses how she wasn’t interested in being on social media because she is more introverted and only shares her emotions after having the chance to process them. This trait butted heads with her mentor side, though. The side that felt compelled to open up in order to help others. To make that connection by sharing stories. And isn’t that what writing is all about: reaching through the isolation of our private thoughts to make a connection with a stranger who happened upon a poem or a story of ours?
As Sapala puts it, “I want to share my stories with the whole world. At the same time, I don’t want anyone to look at me.”
Does that sound familiar?
Social media is a way to make these connections, to reach other people. It’s a “big party,” as Sapala explains. And not everyone wants to party all the time, especially introverts and highly sensitive people.
For shy people, social media is an easier way of making connections, but because it’s virtual, some of us tend to say things we never would in person. Those of us with bipolar disorder know all too well the feeling of looking over our Twitter or Facebook timeline after a manic episode. It’s embarrassing, to say the least...
So social media can be a good thing or a bad thing… like everything else. It’s all about balance and boundaries. If you’re in the middle of promoting your new book or growing your social media accounts, Sapala has a few reminders for you...
🚨”Only accept Friend requests from people you like and feel comfortable with.”
🚨”Unfollow anyone you still like, but whose updates you aren’t interested in for whatever reason.” You don’t owe anyone an explanation for taking care of yourself.
🚨”Don’t ever read your stream. Instead, make LISTS and use them!”
🚨”Make a ‘writer friends’ list, an ‘inspiring people’ list, a ‘bookstore’ list, a ‘help with marketing list,’ and any other list you can think of and only read tweets from your lists. This is the number one rule I teach writers who are getting started on Twitter. If you thought your Facebook was a river of nonstop information, Twitter is like Niagara Falls.”
If you’re feeling anxious about starting a social media account to promote your work or you’re a long-time user of social media and feeling drained by it all (me too!), here are some social media exercises from Sapala to work through this week:
📝“Pick a social media platform that you’ve never used (something you feel resistant to would be best) and jump online right now and make an account. Poke around inside your newly made account and explore. Be brave and put yourself out there a little bit in some way.”
📝”If you already have a Twitter account, spend 20-30 minutes browsing around. Look at awesome writing accounts like Nanowrimo, Jane Friedman, K.M. Weiland, and Writer Unboxed. Look at their follower lists and see if anyone looks like they’re on your wavelength. Try following 50 new people or even 100 new people to see what happens.”
📝”As long as you’re on Twitter, keep browsing and reading bios. Whenever you stumble across someone’s bio that speaks to you in some way tweet them and tell them it resonated with you. Maybe they love William Faulkner too, or you recognize the quote they’re using. Whatever it is, reach out and TELL them you liked their thing or connected with their thing or think their thing is cool. Again, see what happens.”
📝”Now, jump on Facebook (or make an account if you don’t have one already) and get busy. Clean up your stream by unfollowing anyone negative. Browse around the groups by searching for terms like ‘introvert’ and ‘writer’ and join a group or two to see what they have to offer. Read the group posts and make comments on things that resonate with you or compliment people who shared something great. And then you already know what I’m going to say… see what happens!”
- In Part 3, Chapter 3, Sapala talks about how exhausted she was after giving birth to her son, working a day job, and a side coaching gig… all the while trying to query her novel Between The Shadow and Lo. She describes her novel as a “memoir in disguise, about all the intense years [she] had spent in [her] early 20s as an alcoholic in Seattle.”
Because of this, she was having trouble releasing her novel out into the world because it had all this emotional baggage attached to it. She switched gears and decided to throw herself into something new. She wrote a nonfiction novel called The INFJ Writer. Without the pressure of putting a perfect product out there, she was able to release this book and reach an audience that resonated with her words. Sapala describes this process as detachment.
As writers with mental illness, our subject matter can often involve our private lives. That means it can be extremely hard to detach from our work. Sapala encourages us to “step away from whatever ‘masterpiece’ you’ve been sweating over up until this point,” and throw ourselves into a project that we can just have fun with.
Here are some exercises from Sapala to work through this week. I’ll hope you’ll consider doing them and sharing even if you haven’t read the book!
📝 “Is there a specific book you’re trying to push out into the world that is giving you a major headache? What would it feel like to step away from that book and not look at it at all for two months?
📝 Get a piece of paper and write this statement five times:
‘Once my book is published I want to…’
Then go back and fill in the blanks with all the things you want your book to do. Keep writing that statement and filling in the blanks until you run out of things you want your book to do. Now read back over what you wrote. Are there any expectations in there that seem unrealistic? Are there any expectations in there that actually aren’t yours, and might be coming from your parents or your peer group?
📝 Now write this statement:
‘The way you can tell that a book is successful is if…’
Repeat the exercise above by filling in the blanks with all the statements that describe what you think a successful book looks like.
Now read over those statements. Are all of those statements really true? How do you know they’re true? How did you come to decide that’s what a successful book should look like?
📝 Now make a list of numbers one through ten. Write the first ten things that occur to you that you could create or build or put together that might impact someone else positively, and that you could put out into the world within one to two months. Read back over your list. What draws you in most strongly? Is there anything that surprises you? Pick one thing that you would seriously consider getting started on.”
Don't You Fall Now by - June 2019June's book of the month is Don't You Fall Now by Claudia Love Mair, an author with bipolar disorder.
It's a breathtaking memoir about bipolar disorder, traumatic brain injury & a mother's love.
- We meet Mair in medias res. The police are at her door informing her that her son, Kamau, fell off a parking structure. She unravels what led to this incident slowly, showing the reader and explaining to the cops Kamau’s strange behavior. Mair suspects he is experiencing manic energy and delusions about being able to read people’s minds and the like. We learn that Mair has bipolar disorder and a family history of mental illness.
“Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and addictions run in our family, knocking off aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings like a car careening out of control. The casualties ‘crazy’ leaves behind stretch across generations.”Mair discusses her mental illness and her family’s in a frank and educated tone, referring to herself as “bipolar” and her aunts as “schizophrenic.” Many people in the mental illness community advocate for Person First Language where we refer to the person first and the disability second. So, instead of saying, “I’m bipolar,” you’d say “I have bipolar disorder.”
-What are your thoughts on Person First Language? Is it necessary? Should people without mental illness always use it, while those of us in the mental illness community get to decide how to refer to ourselves? Should no one use it because the person always comes first and that doesn’t need to be said? Should everyone use it because it fights stereotypes? Share your thoughts!
- The mentally ill are more likely to be a victim than the other way around. The world fears what it doesn’t understand. And as Mair puts it, Kamau is the “feared and dreaded Black Man.” Kamau has his misunderstood condition, his skin color, and his gender all working against him. As psychosis takes hold of him, he talks about losing his left to the Sun God, Ra, and his friends distance themselves. He is charged with indecent exposure for running around naked, he struggles with maintaining his hygiene, resists arrest (likely because he was scared and confused), and finally falls off a parking structure.
-What do you think about the treatment of the mentally ill by the police and today’s prison system? How do we approach the treatment of the mentally ill when it can be difficult and scary to deal with a person in the throes of mental illness even if it isn't their fault?
The American Prison Writing Archive is “an open-source archive of essays by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, as well as correctional officers and staffers.” As many today in prison are mentally ill, this archive gives us a look into the life of mentally ill prisoners and can help us understand how they got there and what they are going through. I encourage to take a look at https://survivalisatalent.com/general/writing/mental-health-reform/ because their voices deserve to be heard.
- Let's talk about Mair's writing style: her technique of weaving shorter chapters in between longer ones. These fragments also offer brief snapshots of her son Kamau's recovery progress, almost like quick cuts in a film. In one chapter, Mair writes a single sentence, the white space on the page mimicking a silence as the reader pictures her tossing and turning in the night:
"No matter hard I try, sleep eludes me."
-Do you think there is a limit to how short or long a chapter should be?
- In part 1, Mair laid out the events that led her son Kamau to fall face first off a parking structure. In part 2, she brings us into the hospital room with her and her son's "broken body." A nurse says it's a miracle he didn't break his neck. Kamau has several surgeries to reconstruct his face, while Mair juggles trying to work, be there for her other three kids, and be there for Kamau.
"In the beginning, I had a beautiful boy. In the middle he lost his mind. And now, at the end – is this the end? – Kamau took to the air on his own wings, and the wind did not hold him." -Don't You Fall Now
We watch as Mair tries to rebuild her life. She leans on her family, friends, community, and her faith for support. When she talks about her spiritual life, Mair has a wry sense of humor, but also a devout faith. It's a combination that doesn't alienate readers of differing beliefs. Mair isn't trying to preach. She is sharing what keeps her going when her life has fallen apart, all the while making the reader laugh.
"'He's a little miracle," Charlie Brown chirps again, leaving me with Kamau, and I nod, thinking of miracles, and how they often happen when something terrible has taken place. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it was a miracle, but Lazarus still had to be dead a few days to qualify. Jesus still wept when he heard his friend was dead. Miracles don't necessarily come without you getting your ass handed to you first." -Don't You Fall Now
-As a writer, do you think there is a "right" way to write about religion in a story? Do you tend to shy away from mentioning your spiritual beliefs for fear of seeming pushy or alienating readers or do you dive right into it?
- One thing that Mair does really well is ground the story in honesty. The book is inspirational, but it's not full of fluff. Its all real. Mair is not afraid to admit the truth, and because of this, we trust her. We empathize with her.
"No one tells me I will grieve the loss of Kamau's good looks. His lovely gap-toothed smile has crumbled. The front of his skull is in pieces... The awful truth is I will miss the son I had. The way he looked... Hours pass. The operating room sends text messages informing me that the surgery is going well. I update my Facebook friends, and wait, praying, and trying hard not to be an asshole about how Kamau is going to look when this is all over."
That part really stood out as brave. It must have been so hard to admit that... well, yes, Mair did worry over something superficial like Kamau's good looks. And why shouldn't she? That is her son. And she has yet to fall in love with his new one "held together by plates and screws... Dr. Frankenstein like creations."
-Do you think Mair worried about her son's reaction to her book? How would you approach publishing something about a family member that may not be taken well? Last month's book of the month was Firefly Magic by Lauren Sapala. In a Q&A about her novel based on her life called West Is San Francisco, she says that her method of dealing with bad reactions was to go ahead and send copies to anyone who might have a bad reaction just to get it out of the way. Would you pull the trigger and send family members copies or wait for them to come to you?
You can check out quotes & reviews for Don't You Fall Now on Goodreads @ https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40128053-don-t-you-fall-now
Lady Saturn by Wanda Deglane - July 2019
- Deglane references Ocean Vuong, who’s been quoted as saying that form is "an extension of the poem’s content, a space where tensions can be investigated even further. The way the poem moves through space, its enjambment or end-stopped line breaks, its utterances and stutters, all work in tangent with the poem’s conceit.”
In Lady Saturn, Deglane often uses slashes, typically a signal of a line break when quoting poetry, in the middle of lines, suggesting two types of enjambment (symbolic and physical).
-What meaning do you think is added through her use of slashes? Do you use slashes, traditional line breaks, or both?
Below are some examples of Deglane's use of slashes. [One slash (/) is what she did, while two slashes (//) indicates a line break].
▪️"i ask you why // this healing / only makes me feel sicker / you say // the moon’s made of paper / and we’re all just // lit matches / getting closer and closer.”
▪️“you were born screaming / a peeled grapefruit, ruby red / and skinned // raw, the taste of fresh bruises already / on your tongue, you were born // with no name and in seconds / one sneeze and the world swallowed // you whole”
- Over and over in Lady Saturn, there are allusions to and images of the ocean or sea. Deglane often references parts of her body as being oceanic or describes floating or her corpse being out at sea.
-What does this repeated motif add to our understanding of Lady Saturn as a whole?
“the smallest ocean lives between / my lungs // and kidneys” -Thunderbird
“say you’re drifting away in the middle of the ocean. // … // say the sea isn’t such a dangerous place. say // you’ll never drown, you’ll keep floating // ’til the very ends of the earth.” -Salvation
“I fear the sharp teeth of the monsters that live in // the abysses of the oceans. I fear their intimacy with darkness.” -Phobia
“i tried to be // a sunset / all tangerines melting into sea blood / // but caught on fire instead” -Lava Lamp
“listen for the sounds- waves crashing, a child, finding her mother. the // whales searching for home. feel the sand, slipping beneath your // fingertips. // … // the salt of the waves now cradling your body, // the rain in the air, hellbent on coming for you.” -Meditation
“there are whales swimming inside me / I feel their listless mourning // with every bend in my joints / if you were to open my mouth, only / // whalesong would spill from my sugar-tipped tongue” -Andromeda
“I’ve sunk down to the depths of the blue, // little corpse drowned eons ago when my head // was forced under.”
-Self Portrait As Coral Reef
“She’s glaciers, // not blazing but gliding smooth, not made up of // red blood, nor skin, nor bone, just ice // and time and time and time.” -In My Defense
“Make yourself big as an ocean, strong as the tides, // and if you just keep moving, you’ll survive.” -Someday I’ll Love Wanda Deglane
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green - August 2019
Green is an American young adult novelist living in Indianapolis. He's written several bestselling novels, some of which have been made into films. He's also a Youtuber and book reviewer.
He struggles with #anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). He wrote Turtles All The Way Down after a period of severe anxiety. It follows the life of sixteen-year old Aza, who deals with a type of #OCD called contamination OCD. As someone who has struggled with contamination OCD, Turtles All The Way Down is the first novel I've read that had an accurate portrayal of how it feels to live with contamination OCD.
- In an interview with The New York Times, Green said he "was about 6 years old when he first became aware of his obsessive thought patterns. He was often afraid that his food was contaminated, and would only eat certain foods at particular times of day."
I first began to experience obsessive thoughts, delusions, and hallucinations at around 8 or 9 years old. At the time, I didn't know that's what they were, but the distinct terror in my memory is there. These memories clung to me for years, demanding answers, until I was correctly diagnosed at 19.
-When did you first experience symptoms of mental illness and/or know that something about you was different?
You can read Green's full interview here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/10/books/john-green-anxiety-obsessive-compulsive-disorder.html
- John Green hits on a very real fear many chronically ill people have when Aza’s best friend creates a character called Ayala - a terrible, useless character whose anxiety is always ruining something - based on Aza. For me, watching Aza read Daisy’s stories made me wonder whether the people in my life have created their own Ayalas, in one way or another, to deal with the pain or annoyance that my disability has caused them.
“I expected the sight of Daisy to piss me off, but when I actually saw her, sitting on the steps outside school, bundled up against the cold, a gloved hand waving at me, I felt like - well, like I deserved it, really. Like Ayala was the thing Daisy had to do to live with me.”
“‘You’re so stuck in your head,’ she continued. ‘It’s like you genuinely can’t think about anyone else.’ I felt like I was getting smaller. ‘I’m sorry, Holmesy, I shouldn’t say that. It’s just frustrating sometimes.’ When I didn’t respond, she kept talking. ‘I don’t mean that you’re a bad friend or anything. But you’re slightly tortured, and the way you’re tortured is sometimes also painful for, like, everyone around you.’”
- Aza’s mom somewhat regularly puts her foot in her mouth in a way that was very familiar to me . From telling Aza that her father could be “exhausting” with the way he worried, when Aza herself is constantly worrying, to telling Aza that she had to be okay because her mom couldn’t handle it if she weren’t, her mom does a solid job of saying cringe-worthy things that very likely make Aza feel worse.
-Did Aza’s mom remind you of someone in your life? How have you dealt with those kinds of statements?
On Writing by Stephen King - September 2019
King struggled with addiction and depression. He is known for his horror novels. On Writing is a nonfiction book discussing his life and writing advice.
- In the beginning of On Writing, King starts discussing his early childhood as an "attempt to show how one writer was formed." From pretending he was in a circus and dropping a cinder block on his foot to playing in the forest with his big brother Dave, King shows us where his imagination as a writer first began to grow and how some of his earliest memories pop up in his writing.
"Our new third-floor apartment was on West Broad Street. A block down the hill, not far from Teddy's Market and across from Burrets Building Materials, was a huge tangled wilderness area with a junkyard running through the middle. This is one of the places I keep returning to in my imagination; it turns up in my books and stories again and again, under a variety of names. The kids in It called it The Barrens; we called it the jungle." -Page 30, On Writing
-Do you find yourself returning to certain places in your imagination when writing? Why do you think that is?