Mental Illness in Books

IMG_8691May is National Mental Health month. If you’ve been a subscriber of this blog for awhile, you know that I’m passionate about destigmatizing and discussing mental health. I like writing about characters who struggle with mental health issues. In fact, I have a novella coming to E&GJ Little Press soon about a man struggling to deal with a mentally ill woman he once loved. Stay tuned…

Memoirs aside, my main problem with mental health in fiction is that it’s not portrayed well. Often times, the mentally ill character is frightening, or a caricature. But I shouldn’t complain, because at least authors are trying to portray these characters in a positive light. We’re all talking about mental illness, which isn’t something we did in the past. But I caution you to use stories as a bridge to discussing mental illness. Don’t assume you know what someone’s going through, just because you read about it. Even if it is accurate, everyone’s experience of mental health is different.

I’ve taken this opportunity to list my 10 favorite books that portray fictional characters with mental illnesses. In no particular order…

  1. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Naess Thirteen-year old Conor has a monster come to visit him, and helps him deal with grief over his mother’s illness. This story was great because it shows how people can grieve before an event happens. So often, we think of grief as a discrete event, occurring after a loved one dies, and having an ending point. Through the story, this demonstrated that grief can begin in anticipation of a loss. Genre: Young adult
  2. All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven Violet and Theodore are on opposite ends of the social spectrum, but are both contemplating suicide. They become friends and start a project together. It’s told in dual point of view, and both of them are heartbreaking. But as one of them starts to recover, the other gets worse. It’s a powerful, haunting story. Genre: Young adult, but may not be appropriate for all teens
  3. Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon Maddy can’t leave the house because she’s literally allergic to everything. Olly moves in next door, and Maddy watches him, getting more and more interested in his life. They become friends, first messaging, and eventually, Maddy risks her life to meet him in person. I can’t tell you why this book is about mental health without spoiling the ending; but trust me, it’s not a rip-off ending where Maddy’s crazy and everything’s a dream. It’s fantastic. Genre: Young adult
  4. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell Cath struggles with anxiety. So much anxiety. When she goes to college, she expects to live with her twin sister, but her sister wants them to meet new people. At first, Cath makes it to class, but can’t even go eat dinner alone. But eventually, she makes friends and some of her anxiety eases up. And, like real life, Cath isn’t the only person in her family who’s struggling. Genre: Young adult
  5. The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick I talked about this one during my A to Z blog, so I’ll be brief. But I liked this one because Pat just got out of the mental hospital and is learning how to live, and his romantic interest, Tiffany is strange and does unexpected things. But they find something in one another that’s important and lovely. Genre: General
  6. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher This book (and the TV series on Netflix, which I haven’t seen) have become very controversial recently. Books about suicidal characters are nothing new, but this book is under fire because it’s about a girl named Hannah who leaves tapes for 13 people, explaining how they contributed to her suicide. Some people who kill themselves want revenge against people who wronged them, and Hannah gets it. There’s also a part where she tries to get help, but the counselor brushes her off. It’s portrayed as if Hannah did everything she could have to get help (though she doesn’t). I debated about putting this book on the list. I liked it, but I’m an adult without suicidal thoughts, and not going to be triggered by a book like this. For a teen who’s contemplating suicide, this could be a dangerous book. If you like dark books, this is an excellent one, and it does a good job of showing how bullying can contribute to suicide. But it’s definitely not for everyone. Genre: Technically Young Adult, but not appropriate for all teens
  7. All Around the Town by Mary Higgins Clark  Laurie is kidnapped as a small child, and returned years later. She leads a normal life until after her parents die, when her history of trauma from being kidnapped and her subsequent dissociative identity disorder come to the surface. Honestly, I don’t know how good of a depiction of dissociative identity disorder this is. I’ve never worked intensively with someone with the disorder. From what I’ve read about the disorder, the book seems well-researched and legitimately portrayed. In any case, I love this book. Genre: Thriller
  8. 600 Hours of Edward, by Craig Lancaster Edward has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. His life is a set routine. When a new neighbor with a nine-year-old son move in, things change for him. At first, he struggles with the change, but over 600 hours, his life becomes different and better. I liked this book because of the way it portrayed his OCD. Too many books and movies just go for obsessive cleaning, but the disorder is about so much more than that. It’s a fast read, and I loved all the characters. I especially loved how the neighbor, at first, reacted to Edward with fear. Because that’s what would happen in real life, and the book doesn’t shy away from ugly truths. Genre: General
  9. The Silver Link, the Silken Tie, by Mildred Ames This is one of my all time favorite books. I just randomly found it at a flea market one day, and it seemed interesting, so I picked it up. Tim has always felt out of place, ever since a family tragedy that he feels responsible for. Felice has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is an orphan, and an outcast among her peers. When the two of them are thrown together, working on the school newspaper, they absolutely hate each other at first. Though they don’t fit in anywhere else, they find that maybe they fit together. Genre: Speculative Young Adult
  10. Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock This is a book about two girls who experience abuse from their father. The sisters decide to run away from home to escape the abuse… the ending is one you won’t forget. This is a fantastic, underrated book. Genre: General

If you’ve read any of these, did you like them? Why or why not?

On Wednesday, I’ll post my list of best non-fiction books about mental illness.

 

Lessons Learned

IMG_8639Not long ago, I had a new story, Welcome Home, published as a guest writer for On The Premises.

I love almost every story OTP publishes. That’s saying a lot, since even my closest friends and I vary widely in readerly taste. One of the reasons I believe their stories are so good is because they offer edits to their writers. On acceptance, they suggest things that should be changed.

In my story, one of the things they said is that I needed to tone down the “lessons learned” aspect of the story. I have a tendency to not trust my readers to get my point. So sometimes I say things. Then say them again. Then say them one more time, just in case the first couple of times didn’t quite make my point clear.

(Do you get my point?)

I ended up getting a copy of the story that had been edited already, and when I read through it, I sent a note back to the editors that nothing had been done to it. It wasn’t until I compared the stories side by side that I realized it had been edited. Not a lot was taken out, and what was taken out didn’t change the meaning of the story. It didn’t make it harder to understand.

I keep telling myself to trust the reader. But re-reading the story, and believing it was the same version really brought the lesson home for me.

I know that I love when I figure something out within a story. And by over-explaining myself, I’m cheating the reader of that experience.

I wish Word had a “find preachy text” search function. But since it doesn’t, I guess I’ll have to try harder to find it myself. It’s just hard to know when my point has been made.

Anyone else have experience with this, either as a reader or a writer?

Open Letter to The Writer Who Left My Group

IMG_8652Dear Writer Who Left My Writer’s Group,

I was sad when you dropped out of our writer’s group. You had good input, and I really liked your story.

I felt bad about it, like it might be partly my fault. See, at our last group, you got a tough review from another writer. And you also got a tough review from me. I don’t think I remembered to tell you how much I liked your story, and I should have. Maybe that would have helped.

See, I’ve been there. Two months into my writer’s group, I got a tough review from the same person. I fought tears during group, trying to put on a brave face, like it didn’t bother me. I thought I did a good job, but other people could probably tell how upset I was. I know I could tell how upset you were.

After that group, I thought about just giving up. Not writing anymore. It seemed pointless. I mean, I’ve been doing this for awhile, and if I’m not where I want to be, then why bother? I almost dropped out of group.

Then, I got together with a friend, who said all the things I needed to hear at that moment. That the critiquer was just trashing my work because he was jealous of how awesome I am. That he didn’t know what he was talking about. That obviously he was just an idiot with no taste. I mean, my friend was wrong. But it got me out of that funk I was in.

See, the problem was that my critiquer was right, and I knew he was right. That’s why it stung so badly. He wasn’t right about everything, of course. But he was right about enough that I knew I needed to take a good hard look at my writing.

I’m going to confess; I’ve been a lazy writer. I haven’t always worked as hard on a piece as I could. And should. My anger inspired me to be a better writer.

My critiquer is now a good friend. And I really count on his input, because I know he won’t sugar-coat anything. It still stings from time to time, but I don’t take it personally anymore.

So back to you, writer who left. I was going to tell you all this. I wanted to contact you after group and let you know that we’ve all been there, that I like your story, and encourage you to keep going.

But your profile on Meetup didn’t allow me to send you a message, or give me any way to contact you. And then you left our group, so now I really can’t get in touch.

I’m sad you left, but I have to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Maybe it really went down the way I think it did, or maybe you had to leave for a completely unrelated reason.

Either way, know that I’m thinking of you, and I’m hoping I see the best version of your story out there someday.

And know that next time, I’ll make sure I tell other writers that I like their work, try to end on a positive note. Because maybe you would have left anyway. But if I had said that it was good work, and then you left, I wouldn’t feel bad.

I’d just figure you weren’t ready.

Best of luck, wherever you are.

Doree

P.S. This comic has been stuck in my mind, so I thought I’d share it.

Mystery Blogger Award

Yay! I’ve been nominated for the Mystery Blogger Award. It’s not really about “mystery” writing or anything like that; Mystery is a play on the name of the person who started the award, Okoto Enigma.

In order to participate in the award, I must:

46150-screen2bshot2b2017-05-022bat2b7-14-092bpm

Rule #1

Rule one: Put the award/ logo on my blog. Yep, it’s that way. <—–

Rule two: List the rules. Check.

Rule 3: Thank whoever nominated me and provide a link to their blog. That was the wonderful Janet’s Smiles. Thank you!As you may guess, her mission in life is to make people smile. She does this by talking about life, music, and her wonderful crafts. I’m seriously jealous of her scrapbooks.

Rule 4: Mention the creator of the award and provide a link. I did that above. ^^

Rule 5: Tell my readers 3 things about myself.

  1. I love playing board games.
  2. I’m known for being quite clumsy. People who don’t want me to die get nervous when I do anything with a potential for injury.
  3. I love animals. I have five cats, two dogs, and various squirrels (we consider them our outdoor pets.)

Rule 6: Nominate 10- 20 people. I’ve found most of these blogs through A to Z over the years.

A Texan’s View of Upstate New York

Pen in Her Hand

Life and Faith in Caneyhead

Megan Moran (romance author)

The Cyborg Mom

While I Was Reading

The Lair of the Silver Fox

Read is the New Black

Readers of the Night

Girl Who Reads

Rule 7: Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog.

Rule 8: Ask my nominees 5 questions of my choice; with one weird or funny question.

  1. What was the last game you played, and with who?
  2. What’s your favorite word or quote?
  3. What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
  4. What do you like on your pizza?
  5. What’s your favorite question to ask other people?

Rule 9: Share a link to my best posts. Some of my favorites:

The Timelessness of Stories

How My Former Bullies are Doing Now

Words Have Power

The five questions I was asked:

  1.   Who is your favorite author? Oh, that’s a tough one. If you’d asked me even a few years ago, I would have said Dean Koontz. I don’t really have a single favorite anymore, so I’ll go with my five favorites: Bryn Greenwood, Holly Black, John Green, JD Robb, and as mentioned, Dean Koontz.
  2.   How long have you been blogging? 7 years!
  3.   Have you ever been nominated for a major award? Nope, this will be the first.
  4.   If you could play a musical instrument what would it be? I’ve always wanted to learn to play piano, but anyone who’s ever heard me sing would tell you I’m tone deaf.
  5.   Who is Carmen Sandiego and why should I care where in the world he is? Carmen Sandiego is a she! And she taught me all about geography and and about other cultures on my Commodore 64. She was a spy who traveled around the world, and I had to locate her using clues.
  6.   Extra credit question, did I make you smile today? Always. 🙂

A to Z Reflections, 2017 #atozchallenge

This is the 7th year I’ve participated in A to Z.

survivor-atoz [2017] v1Over the years, I’ve gotten better about planning ahead. Not great, but better.

One person said that she wrote all her posts in February. February! I admire people with those kinds of organizational skills.

When I was in college, if I wrote a paper ahead of time, I’d spend time editing and changing and editing until the deadline. Then I’d get a lower grade than if I just did it at the last minute.

Honest.

I wrote most of my posts a week at a time, though not all of them. Some I did on the day of.

But I’m proud of myself, because every post went live on the correct date. I’m not sure that I’ve ever gotten a perfect score before.

 

As always, it’s fun to read other people’s blogs. Here are a few of my favorites:

Janet’s Smiles

A Texan’s View of Upstate New York

Pen in Her Hand

Life and Faith in Caneyhead

Megan Moran (romance author)

The Cyborg Mom

Zombie Flamingos

This year, I had many fewer visitors than in previous years with the old format. Though that may have been partly my fault because it wasn’t until after the challenge was over that I learned there was a Facebook page. I’m not sure how I missed that info, but I did. I was just posting on the actual Blogging A to Z webpage daily.

When I took the A to Z Challenge survey, I realized that I missed a lot of things I could be doing. Like, I didn’t use #atozchallenge in my titles. Because I didn’t know I was supposed to. There’s a lot of things I could be doing to get the word out about my blog.

Sometimes I feel like I’m doing great at this whole internet thing, and other times I realize how much I have to learn. (Did I just show my age there?… *sigh*)

I could say I should be better at this because it’s year 7. But I’d rather just say that I’m learning and improving every year. And as long as I’m headed in the right direction, that’s what matters, right?

 

Sharing the Positive

IMG_8227This has been on my mind to write for awhile.

I’m a member of several Facebook groups, like Humans of New York and the Kindness Challenge. But I also click any link that promises a happy story, one that highlights the positive things my fellow man does.

While most of the comments on these positive posts are encouraging and loving, I do sometimes see people ask why the person filmed and shared what they did instead of just quietly and altruistically doing it.

While I understand the sentiment, I also know that we’re in a world where, if it’s not captured by a cameraphone or on social media, it didn’t happen.

The news inundates us with all the worst stuff that people do to one another. I don’t care if the people who share these videos are looking for attention. I don’t care if they wouldn’t do this nice stuff if no one was watching.

I care that they did something nice for another human being, and I get to see that good stuff happens in the world. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Good deeds are good deeds, no matter the motivation. Spreading positivity is always better than the alternative.

We’re in an increasingly connected, visible world. I can’t imagine what it must be like, as a teenager and young adult, to have all the stupid things you said and did preserved in a public forum. So when someone shares a video of some kindness they did, don’t look at it as vanity (though it might be). Look at it as a product of the times, and be glad you got to see someone doing something nice for one another.

The world can always use more kindness.

Z is for Zsadist

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by. Fellow A to Z-ers, please make sure to leave a link to your blog in the comments.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

IMG_8478Zsadist is a character in the Brotherhood of the Black Dagger series, by JR Ward. These books are shelved in romance, and while they do have a lot of things in common with regular romance books, I think it’s an oversimplification.

The Brotherhood is a group of vampires who protect their species from the Lessers. The Brotherhood are scary, badass vampires who have no interest in humans. In this universe, vampires take blood from one another, as human blood would be too weak to sustain them.

Each book focuses on a different brother and his romantic attachment to a female. There’s sex and romance and all the typical stuff you find in a romance novel, including a “happily ever after” ending.

One of the reasons I love these books is that each of the brothers struggles with some form of disability. One brother is blind. Another has a prosthetic leg. Another struggles with a “beast” that emerges whenever he gets too emotional. And they’re still badass.

Zsadist is considered the coldest and cruelest of the brothers. When he was a young man, he was kidnapped and sold to a female who abused him physically, emotionally, and sexually. Because of that, he’s really just frightened of everyone, especially women, and uses his hard persona to keep everyone away. Though he’s loyal to the brothers, even they pretty much think he’s a psychopath.

When Zsadist meets a female who’s interested in him, he reacts the way you might expect: with fear that comes across as cruelty.

His story happens in the third book of the series, Lover Awakened. He’s really well-drawn. At times, my heart ached for him. But he didn’t come across as pitiful. He’s someone who was coping with his abuse in the only way he knew how, and I loved how he still managed to be a hero when it mattered.

It’s rare to see a male survivor of sexual abuse in a story, much less one who’s still masculine and tough. In a later book, he counsels a younger male about living with this kind of trauma, and it’s a powerful thing. The more fiction talks about it, the more we take steps to destigmatize it for the survivors.

Because his book is the third in the series, we get to see him from other points of view first. His behavior makes him look like the horrible person everyone believed. I think it’s a powerful reminder that we can never truly know another person’s story unless we’re in their head.

These are great books. If you’re not usually into romance, give these a try anyway. They focus as heavily on the vampire world and war as they do on the love story.

How do you feel about vampire books? Can’t get enough or overdone?