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Many Kinds of Magic

                    When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find                   their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of          Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative.            There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be            different, and it will affect them in ways they could never predict. From the                mundane to the profound….
              There are many kinds of magic, after all. -Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus)

Hi! Thanks for joining me for my literary rants. Let me tell you a bit about myself.

First of all, I’m a nerd. A huge nerd. Like, a Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering,  quote-Firefly-and-proudly-call-myself-a-Browncoat nerd. I’m also a voracious reader, a homeschool mom, and an introvert. I’m more than a little awkward, and I express myself better in writing.

I’ll read pretty much anything, with the exception of romance novels. Sadly, I’m bereft of any sense of romanticism. I tend to gravitate towards fantasy, YA, and sci-fi, but I’ve been branching out more into nonfiction lately.

Because I homeschool two book loving little goobers, I’m also pretty up-to-date on children’s books, so I’ll discuss those here from time to time as well.  Honestly, I’d read picture books anyway, but having kids is a good way to browse the children’s section at the bookstore without getting too many weird looks.

I absolutely LOVE hearing bookish opinions and reading suggestions from other people. If you read a review and think it’s total bunk, tell me so. Tell me why. If you agree, props are good too. More than anything, I want to connect with other readers. Join me in discussion and let’s have some literary fun!

* On Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB
*Browsery app: Witty and Sarcastic BookclubMany Kinds of Magic

Hollow Men by Todd Sullivan

Image result for hollow men by todd sullivan
Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

There was a lot more to the book than I originally expected. I made the mistake of thinking that, because it’s a short book, there wouldn’t be much detail. I was wrong. The world is fully formed, including customary responses to situations, histories, and even social expectations. I am incredibly impressed.

Sixteen-year-old Ha Jun goes on a quest. It’s expected of young men, as a way to earn honor and glory. However, sixteen is much younger than the usual age. His glory-hungry father has trained him for this-plus he has a glyph blade, so he’s sure to succeed, right? Hopefully? In his pursuit of honor, Ha Jun joins a monk, a knight, a solider, and the dark elf Windshine on a journey to destroy a demon. As all fantasy readers know, a quest can create the coolest of stories.

This book goes in unexpected directions, and is chock-full of action. Where this book stands out, however, is in the richness of its lore. For example, there’s a man-eating tiger mentioned at the beginning of the book. Instead of just being a tiger with unfortunate taste, more is added to make it memorable. If the author were to ever write a book of legends from his world, I’d be first in line to buy it.

I did struggle to adjust to certain things in this book. The last few fantasy books I’ve read felt less formal (for lack of a better term) so emotions, while definitely present in this book, seemed to be buried a little bit deeper. It took me a couple of chapters to get used to that. It added depth to the characters, seeing the small ways they conveyed emotion.

Lastly, I have to mention the cover. It has a Forgotten Realms feel to it, and definitely grabs the eye. This is a very well-written novella, and one I recommend to those who like their fantasy with a unique, diverse feel.

The Conference of Birds by Ransom Riggs


With his dying words, H—Jacob Portman’s final connection to his grandfather Abe’s secret life entrusts Jacob with a mission: Deliver newly con­tacted peculiar Noor Pradesh to an operative known only as V. Noor is being hunted. She is the subject of an ancient prophecy, one that foretells a looming apocalypse. Save Noor—Save the future of all peculiardom.

With only a few bewildering clues to follow, Jacob must figure out how to find V, the most enigmatic, and most powerful, of Abe’s former associates. But V is in hiding and she never, ever, wants to be found. (taken from Amazon)

                   A few things I mention below will be spoiler-adjacent. I don’t think they give away any important plot points, but reader beware.

I was disappointed with this book. That’s not to say it was bad; it wasn’t. It just wasn’t good. The entire book just felt like filler, a big breath taken between scene changes. It honestly seemed like a waste of time.

Ransom Riggs continues to improve as a writer. His skill wasn’t the issue here. It’s just that a good chunk of the book was spent trying to figure things out. It was a “hurry up and wait” situation, which left me wondering what the point was. I felt like a large part of the book could have been condensed and added to either the previous book, or the next book in the series.

I did enjoy seeing more of the entire group of peculiars again. Several of them were missing from A Map of Days (the previous book in the series), so I was happy to have them make an appearance this time. I also enjoyed learning a bit about Noor and seeing how she adjusted to her new life.

There were fewer photos in this book, which was an interesting development. They were what originally drew me to the series in the first place. They’re not necessary, but I missed having them scattered throughout the book.

I appreciated how the world was opened up. By adding new areas to explore, and new peculiars to meet, Ransom Riggs has created the opportunity to really build and expand his world. Unfortunately, he also did something that really bothers me in books: he reused villains. I loathe seeing a villain defeated just to have him show up again (Cassandra Clare, anyone?). It makes a series stagnant.

I hope that in future books. the author will test the boundaries he’s set for himself and introduce new scenarios involving different problems to solve, and – gasp!- maybe even a new villain or two.

I give this one a resounding “meh.”

The Dark Stalkers by Henry Bassett

I: The Dark Stalkers (The Dead Chronicles of Martha Railer Book #1)In a town not too dissimilar to yours lived Martha Railer; a solitary individual who lived by herself, yet enjoyed the company of her close friends whom she spent time with on days out. In a realm outside of human perception, something sinister had been put into motion, and inhuman dark figures arrived in her town. They stalked Martha on her day to day activities, but was she chosen or was it chance or, perhaps, even fate? However, a simple choice of a short cut home would change everything for her…& them. (taken from Amazon)

                               Have you ever seen one of those artsy films? You know, the ones where the story-telling is so different, and the camera shots are so distinct, that you know there will never be another movie like that made, no matter how many other people try to mimic the style? This felt a bit like that.

The story itself is a simple one, but the execution is so unique that the story-line in and of itself really doesn’t matter. I’m used to books that attempt to make the reader a part of the world. This one deliberately keeps the reader at arms’ length, allowing a glimpse into what’s happening, but never opening the door all the way. It lent the book a sinister vibe, like there was a secret being held which added a sense of urgency.

The point of view switches back and forth from that of Martha and the stalkers. Martha never really reveals much personality at all. Because of that, certain things that happened in the book didn’t hit me the way I think they were supposed to. This is one of six novellas and I wonder if possibly combining them all into one full-length novel might help the characters come to life a bit more.

I can’t sum up my opinion of this book in a neat “I liked it” or “I didn’t”. I’ll settle for this: the book is intriguing and will stick with me for quite a while.

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Image result for dark and deepest red by anna-marie mclemoreSummer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes. (taken from Amazon)

     Here’s the thing: I love The Red Shoes. The original story that I know, for those who aren’t familiar, goes a little like this: there’s a girl who’s adopted by a rich family. She’s very spoiled and she thinks she’s all that and a bag of chips. She’s given a pair of red shoes, which only adds to her arrogance. After wearing them to church, despite being told not to, she’s cursed by an old man (I think who does the cursing varies). The curse is that, once she starts dancing, she won’t be able to stop (also, the shoes will superglue themselves to her feet). Of course, the inevitable happens. She even chops off her feet- which stay dancing in the shoes and bar her way into the church. Eventually she learns her lesson, prays for forgiveness for her arrogance, and her heart bursts. It’s a real upper. Deliciously morbid.

The Red Shoes  movie is more about an obsession with dance (the ballerina is performing the Red Shoes ballet). Think The Black Swan, but done first, with better acting and no sex stuff. It’s brilliant.

Since I love this fairy tale so much, I had to grab this retelling. However, I wasn’t feeling it. There are several reasons for this, although I’m sure at least a couple of them fall into the “it’s not you, it’s me” category.

First of all, the chapters are incredibly short. Because of this, it feels like small staccato bursts of storytelling and it didn’t give me a chance to connect with the story-line at all. I don’t necessarily want super long chapters in every book I read, but more than a few pages per chapter would have helped, doubly so because there were multiple points of view.

The first point of view was that of Rosella, who makes herself a pair of red shoes using fabric left from her grandparents. The shoes take hold of her and she can’t control herself or stop dancing. There wasn’t really all that much to her personality, however.

Emil was Rosella’s sort-of boyfriend. He knows the history of “the dancing fever” because his ancestors were in Strasbourg in the 1500’s when a mysterious mass hysteria (curse?) caused many people to dance uncontrollably until their hearts gave out. Because of this, he is the only one able to help Rosella.

The third point of view was that of Lavinia, a girl from the 1500’s who is blamed for the “dancing fever” that grips Strasbourg. She’s blamed because she’s different, which is what this book boils down to; accepting and celebrating diversity. It’s an important message, but not one I was wanting in my fairy tale retelling. It eclipsed the actual plot of the book and, because the book focuses so much on Lavinia being “different”, she’s not given much of a personality. She’s a plot device instead of a character and I feel like that was a real missed opportunity.

Anna-Marie Mclemore used colors to great advantage in telling her story, and was able to paint a vivid setting for the dance fever, but the story in and of itself never felt fully realized to me. It turns out I’ve read another book that this author’s written, and that one wasn’t my bag either. I think it’s just one of those things where my reading personality and her writing just don’t mesh.

I have a feeling this book will get good reviews and become very popular, but it most definitely wasn’t for me.

I do highly recommend watching the 1948 movie, however. It’s fantastic.

Mental Health in Literature: A Conversation with Author Fiona West

Finishing up my weekly series on mental health and literature is author Fiona West. Thank you so much for contributing!

First, can you tell me a bit about your book?

The Semi-Royal is about a woman who’s under immense pressure, being both a princess third in line to the throne and a widely-renowned doctor. She’s in denial about a lot of things, her attraction to her brother’s best friend being one, and it’s the story of her slowly coming to accept and make peace with herself and her body.

One of things I wanted to explore in this book is the relationship between a woman’s mind and her body. One of the things that frustrates Rhodie is that her body isn’t really under her control…as a doctor, she knows a lot about the body in general, but an event in her past has caused her to lose faith in her body. And I think that’s a connection we don’t talk about enough: a lot of mental suffering is caused by worrying about our bodies and what they look like. I know as someone with a chronic illness, it’s really impacted my relationship with my body. I hated it. I hated that it didn’t do what I wanted it to, I hated that it didn’t do what other people’s bodies did. And over time, I had to learn to see it differently: that a flare wasn’t my body failing me, it was just part of a complicated situation. My body is still keeping me alive, my heart’s still pumping, my lungs are still taking in air. And when I shifted my focus from what my body couldn’t do to what it could, my mental health improved tremendously. I had to learn to re-interpret symptom flares as communication from my body instead of a betrayal. In a word, I had to learn compassion for my own body. I still fail at it plenty, but it’s something I’m working toward, and it’s something I wanted to write about. Mental health is a journey. And even though it’s fiction, Rhodie’s story reflects that. It was a really difficult balance to give her enough progress that we felt her story was resolved and still portray that it was an ongoing struggle for her.

Do your characters go to counseling?

For Rhodie, counseling was necessary. Several members of her family and her boyfriend all try to talk to her about her disordered eating, but she’s so deep in denial that she really can’t believe it until she talks to a professional. She valued his authority. And more than that, I think what she really needed was an outside voice. Someone who wasn’t going to remind her of her royal responsibilities and how this might look to the press. Just someone to come at an issue from another angle, one we can’t get to on our own. In the book, Rhodie likens the experience to one of those paintings that looks like an old woman to some people and a young woman at a mirror to others. That’s what counseling has been to me: just a different perspective on my own life. And it did help her. It gave her a way to move forward in repairing her relationship with her body. It was slow, of course, but so many good things in life are.

Have you had any experience with counseling? How has it affected you?
I still remember when I was about fourteen, I was going through my mother’s planner looking for a phone number (remember when people had paper planners? Good times.). On her calendar, she’d written ‘counseling’ on the month’s agenda. Being helplessly curious, I paged back: she’d been going for months. When I asked her about it, she gently told me that the counselor was helping her and my dad work through some things in their marriage and that it was nothing to worry about. That it was, in fact, proof that they were going to make it. (Spoiler alert: they’re celebrating 45 years in May.)
That’s the shift we need to make as a culture: throwing away the idea that counseling is a busted bucket for a sinking ship and instead see it as the personal flotation device that we keep with us, just in case. When I went on a cruise, we all stood around in the bar, doing the drill about what to do if there’s an emergency. But we didn’t throw our life vests overboard after that. Those devices are good for all kinds of things: kids who can’t swim, snorkeling trips, a cushion for your butt on a hard bench. We kept them in their designated spot in our cabins, close at hand. That’s how I want us to think about counseling: a tool for the right situation. I’ve met with a counselor once: sometimes, once was enough. It got me through that storm, helped me get my boat rightside up again. I’ve met with other counselors for several months: those issues were deeper. Sometimes, a hug from a friend or a listening ear was enough. Sometimes, just a good jungle yell and a cry was enough. But it’s silly that we still talk about counseling in hushed tones instead of getting on the roof and letting everyone know how much it helped. Let me start: it helped me, and while I can’t speak for others, I think it’s something worth trying, even before it’s an “emergency.” Do a drill: try it on and see how it feels.

As a writer, how do you feel about mental health portrayal in literature?

What’s saddest to me in literature is when poor mental health is depicted as some kind of moral failing by a degenerate soul. There are so many factors that go into our mental health, but one of the most poignant ones is the story of leaded gas. In his article, “How Lead Caused America’s Violent Crime Epidemic,” Alex Knapp writes that “every country studied has shown [a] strong correlation between leaded gasoline and violent crime rates. Within the United States, you can see the data at the state level. Where lead concentrations declined quickly, crime declined quickly. Where it declined slowly, crime declined slowly. The data even holds true at the neighborhood level – high lead concentrations correlate so well that you can overlay maps of crime rates over maps of lead concentrations and get an almost perfect fit….decades of research has shown that lead poisoning causes significant and probably irreversible damage to the brain. Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, it also degrades a person’s ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for ‘emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility.’” If we’re demonizing people for needing help or writing them off as “crazy,” we may never help them identify the other underlying causes, such as environmental toxins, that might be affecting their health. This is just one example, but it indisputably shows why we need to think more deeply about it as a culture, which is why I’m grateful to Jodie for starting the conversation here. (You rock, Jodie.)

Fiona West is the author of The Semi-Royal, among other books. Look for her work on Amazon.

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Mental Health in Literature: A Conversation with Before We Go Blog

Today, Beth from Before We Go Blog is sharing a very personal experience. This is incredibly moving. Thank you for joining the conversation, Beth!

I am many things. I wear many hats. For a long time, and mainly before the birth of my daughter, I was someone who defined themselves by books and the stories they bring, being a good wife to my loving husband, being a landscape designer, and generally a good human being. Especially the last one, I wanted to bring good to the world and try, even if it was in my small way, to leave the world just slightly better. However, with the birth of my daughter, the joy of my life now, my perspective, and view of life shifted and not in a positive way.

No one wants to talk about postpartum depression.

It is the gigantic elephant in the room. It is a creeping fungus that covers one’s eyes during what should be one of the most joyous times of your life. PPD is something that happens to other people, but couldn’t possibly happen to me, right? It did, and It nearly killed me. But I am here and alive, and I want to talk to you about what I went through and how moms should not be silent.

First off, let me say it loud and proud, “You are not a bad mom. Nor are you a bad person. This isn’t your fault.” Repeat it, and again. Say it first thing in the morning, and right before bed. “You are a good person, a good mom, and this is not your fault.” It is not your fault as much as having asthma or astigmatism is.

To describe PPD and how I coped with it, I am going to describe my life as a series of beats, of moments. It can demonstrate how badly I wanted a child, and how much PPD crushed me flat to the floor.

Firstly, My husband and I wanted a baby for years. We tried unsuccessfully for years to conceive. Our daughter was very much wanted and fought for. With the help of modern science and 12,000 dollars, we managed to conceive. I had an eventful and hard pregnancy. But we managed with c-section to deliver a bouncing baby girl who weighed just shy of 12 pounds.

Here is where things took a turn for me.

I was fine in the hospital for about the first 8 hours or so. Happy even. On hour nine, I started to dive down into the dark. It was almost like a light had been shut off inside me. A light my doctor said was a hormone dump that my body did not react well to.

This was the moment that I stopped sleeping.

Dramatic, huh. But completely true. I was desperately worn out. Anyone who delivers a baby will know the tired I am talking about. But, I lost the ability to calm my mind enough to sleep. I remember sitting in the hospital bed watching the clock slip from one number to another, and thinking how much better the world and my daughter’s life would be if I were not in it. These were not rational thoughts. I had fought tooth and nail to birth this child.

About 12 hours later, I lost my ability to eat. You are probably asking, “She lost it? Like it was a pair of shoes?” I was unable to eat any food without throwing up. I was uninterested in eating. I wanted no sustenance.

Twenty-four hours after that, I could no longer hold my child without having a panic attack. I could not cuddle, hold, or even be in the same room with her. I would throw up or hide in a corner in our bedroom, rocking back and forth. This wasn’t baby blues, nor was this my fault. Something was very wrong in my mind.

I battled as long as I could. When I had finally went to the doctor for myself, not just checkups for my daughter, I hadn’t slept or eaten anything for weeks. I had lost 60 pounds, my hair was falling out, and I was continually rocking back and forth. My doctor, bless her, told me they were going to help me, this isn’t my fault, and I was going to be ok. They put me on powerful anti-depression medication and anxiety meds to help get me back to proper place. It took me four months before I could hold my child for anything longer than a few minutes. It took me six months before I was watching her overnight, and eight months before I had anything resembling a normal home life. At about the one year mark, I had come back to myself. But I still battle. Now I am a happy stay at home mom to a bouncy five-year-old. She loves me more than anything. We have a strong bond. I am ok, generally, although the management of anxiety and depression will never go away. I am candid about my quest to come back to myself because I feel no shame in what I went through, and neither should any mom.

I am now an active blogger, and I use reading and writing as a means of tackling my anxiety and occasionally as an outlet. It is important to me that I can get on my soapbox every once in a while and shout to the world my love of books and writing in general. It would not have been possible if I did not say to my husband, “something is very wrong; please help me.” I have learned through counseling and looking back on myself that real courage is not struggling with something like this. True courage is looking at yourself and say, “No, this cannot stand. I am a good person that something bad has happened to. I can get better.” You are true courage mommas out there; this dark tunnel is not the end. There is so much more. I am here if you need to talk to someone. I have walked these dark paths, and the rain has fallen on me. I almost lost myself, but I made it. You will too. Just remember you are loved, and you are courage personified.

Mental Health in Literature: a Conversation with Bookish Creation

Today, Bookish Creation has kindly offered to add her thoughts on mental illness in literature. She brought up several points I hadn’t heard before and gave me much to think about. Check it out.

I think that there are several things that need to change within the literary world – and the entertainment world in general – when it comes to mental health. As many have mentioned, misrepresentation of certain mental illnesses is really harmful no matter what, but I think the change needs to go deeper than that. Most books that we see that are accurately describing mental illnesses tend to tackle the illnesses that are thought of as larger illnesses, scary ones, or ones born from tragedy that causes social skill changes in the character. While the ones that accurately look into this are good, I really feel that there needs to be a lot more stories that have characters that face the illnesses that are thought of by most people as less severe. These, after all, tend to be more common and can still cause difficulty for the people facing them.

Every day, people face mental health issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, not too severe personality disorders, social anxiety, hypochondria, and many more. While these mental health concerns don’t always require hospitalization or heavy medications, they still present people who have them with obstacles that can be difficult for them to overcome. This becomes a real issue for patients because it can cause those who care about them to misjudge them or even cause them to lose relationships all together. I honestly feel that discontent and loss of relationship is generally not due to rudeness or deliberate attempts to hurt anyone, but rather is caused by a lack of understanding about the problems the patients face. I really feel that if we start to include these mental health concerns accurately in main characters in fiction, we might start to bridge the gap of that lack of understanding more.
There is another problem that I have noticed when it comes to mental health in fiction: It tends to be the main obstacle or plot point the story focuses on. Fiction tends to take mental health issues and turn them into these almost opponents that the characters need to face. When the story revolves around the health condition it can cause it to become more frightening. This is we tend to look at the focal point of a story as being inherently negative to a point where we reject it as being something we want to deal with in our lives. This only leads to people with mental health conditions to being ostracized more and treated harshly. I truly feel that if the characters in fiction have the condition as just part of their character, much like they may have some acne or poor eyesight, yet they face some other issue that the story focuses on, we will normalize these conditions while bringing awareness to how these conditions can hinder or affect people. Bottom line here is, the main plot point that characters must overcome will almost always be viewed as bad and scary, so we shouldn’t always make mental health the main plot point if we want to remove that fear.
All in all, I feel that mental health needs to be represented more in books as being a normal part of the characters‘ lives. We should be bringing awareness through normalization rather than trying to use real health conditions as villains or problems to be frightened of.

Mental Health in Literature: a Conversation with Author Ricardo Victoria

Me: Thank you so much for joining the conversation! Please tell the reader a little bit about your book.

Well more than talk about a particular book (as you reviewed the first one and I’m still working on the sequel), I would like to talk in general about the series. Tempest Blades is a series of stories where the characters have to learn to deal and work through their personal struggles on par of them going into adventures that put them in the position of saving the world –a world where magic and science coexist-. The three main characters: Fionn, Gaby and Alex, are blessed or cursed –depending on whom you ask- with the Gift, this special source of power that enables them to do superhuman feats, but which process of obtaining it is more than traumatic (as in dying). Supported by a cast of friends, and able to wield the titular Tempest Blades –sentient weapons of great power- they are able to face menaces that border in the eldritch abomination territory. Fionn, -who is the eldest- is a former war hero that retreated from the world due the traumatic experiences that made him lose his family, and his best friend, and is only starting to return. And his return is accelerated by agreeing to help a friend to find a missing person. This is compounded by the fact that along the way he finds himself in the role of mentoring Gaby and Alex, which have the Gift, like him, but lack experience in its use. And Fionn realizes that life does give you second chances. The story progresses in the next book (the one I’m currently working on) along the mentoring process and the ramifications from the events of the previous one.

Me: How does mental health play a role in your book?

In the already published one, Tempest Blades The Withered King, it plays a role through Fionn, who suffers from a degree of PSTD and depression, as result of his past experiences, and that informs his actions on the book. In the current sequel I’m working on, -tentative subtitle: Cursed Titans- I’m trying to explore more about depression, through another of the main characters, Alex. This stems from both the events of the previous book and traumatic events from his past that have gone unresolved and come to head into the present in a self-destructive way, which is pushing him to unhealthy limits while being a hero. Depression and the way it affects a person can take different forms.

Me: I know you mentioned your character deals with depression: was that difficult to portray?

In a way. Since I’m drawing here from my own personal experience and struggles dealing with depression, so I know exactly how the character feels. But it is difficult in two particular aspects: write it in a way that put the reader in a place where they can observe how depression feels, without being triggering or impeding the narrative from telling the overall story. And given that I’m not a therapist, but a sufferer from depression, it makes me wonder how much I should share or how far I should go and still be of help for potential readers that might suffer from depression as well. It is also difficult because I need to be careful of not putting myself into a mindset that backfires on my own mental health. At the end of the day I’m trying to write a hopeful story. Basically, it’s like walking on a tight rope. So I hope I can pull it off in an adequate manner.

Me: What are your thoughts on therapy and if/ when it can be useful?

I think therapy is useful and a good way to determine what kind of mental health issues a person might have, or as preventive health care. We need to learn that taking care of one’s mental health is not a sign or weakness nor that you necessarily have an issue that needs care, but as part of one’s overall well-being maintenance. Therapy is also a good way to help someone to get better when mental health issues are present or work to prevent them if possible. But for therapy to work, the person going to it has to want it to work. And it takes time, as it is a tough process. There is no easy solution so that has to be taken on consideration. Therapy is a process to teach you how to work out things with the help of a friendly, non-judgmental shoulder. At the end of the day, it is always good to have someone to listen to us and help us realize things that on our own might not be possible.

Me: As a writer, how do you feel about mental health portrayal in literature?

I’m not sure I can respond accurately, as I haven’t read all the books that dwell in the issue, so I don’t want to generalize. Something I have noticed though, is that often the mental health of main characters is not even mentioned. We expect our heroes to be strong and resilient and always overcome any kind of trauma derived from their escapades. But rarely it is explored the mental toll from the characters’ actions. We see a character killing another, maybe in self-defense, maybe to save the world, and that action takes a toll in a person’ psyche, in the real world. But in literature it tends to be glossed over (I myself am guilty of this, but I’m trying to improve). Same with a character surviving a war, or another traumatic experience. This, because writers tend to see the characters as objects to be used rather that ‘beings’ that can have feelings and thoughts. Curiously enough, one of the most interesting, if subdued, explorations of mental health and the toll adventure takes on a person that I’ve read, is The Lord of the Rings, in specific with Frodo near the end of the book, when the hobbits return to the Shire. Frodo is a bit despondent. I would dare to say that he suffers from PSTD. Carrying the ring or experiencing Mordor the way he did it wasn’t easy. So when he returns to the Shire you can see that and how it affects his actions to the end. I would dare to say that Tolkien draw a bit from his own experiences as soldier. Another pitfall in media seems to be that there are works were there is a generalization or poor job portraying mental health issues, even stigmatizing them, such as using them as an excuse for the antagonist to be the way they are, rather than understanding that anyone can have them and that they are not to be used as an excuse for trying to conquer over the world, sort to speak. Sadly they have become a crutch for many writers and the way the talk about the topic, really hurt those that suffer from mental health issues. Thus, it is necessary to reframe how, we as writers, use and understand mental health issues, how they can affect anyone and how is good to ask for help, or how a person suffering from them is not automatically a bad person. That heroes, like Frodo, can suffer mental health issues too. That going to therapy or asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather of strength as you are acknowledging that you are not fine, but want to be. That depression is not just ‘being sad’ or something to get over it. That it takes time to mourn, to work through PSTD.

Me: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! You mentioning that Frodo might have been suffering from PTSD made me see that character in a new light. I loved your point about it taking time to work through mental health issues.

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Withered King (Tempest Blades #1). You can find it on Amazon, among other places.

Mental Health in Literature: a Conversation

I’ve noticed a trend in fiction when mental health is portrayed: it’s either portrayed completely inaccurately or vilified. I can’t tell you the number of thrillers that I’ve read that describe the villain as “crazy,” “psychotic,” “schizophrenic,” or “bipolar,” as though having a mental illness automatically makes a person an amoral killer. Often, it’s quite obvious that the author has chosen a mental illness simply to avoid having to give a reason for a person’s actions. It made me think: do writers have a responsibility to portray mental illness compassionately and accurately?When it comes right down to it, I think the portrayal of mental illness in literature falls under creative license. How (or if) mental illness is included in a book is the author’s prerogative. However, an author that takes the time to do research and depict mental illness with compassion and understanding automatically becomes an author I’m infinitely more excited to read.Mental illness is much more prevalent in society than I think most people realize. It’s been stigmatized for so long that those who would see a doctor for any other health concern balk at even admitting they might be struggling on a mental or emotional level. I recently read a book in which a character was afraid of someone seeing them walk into a psychologists’ office and it broke my heart. It broke my heart because it’s a completely realistic reaction. I have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed over twenty years ago, but it’s something I’ve been ashamed of until just a few years ago. It’s only recently that I’ve made an effort to be open and transparent about my struggles with mental illness.You can imagine how it feels to read a mystery or thriller, only to find that the villain’s sole “motivation” for committing a violent act is simply listed as “bipolar.” Or what about those books where someone dies by suicide, but it’s an act of revenge. Really? Shouldn’t we be past that by now?I’ve been fortunate that some authors and bookbloggers have been willing to write their own thoughts on mental illness in literature. I was going to integrate them all into a single post, but what they wrote was so insightful that I’ve decided to make a separate post for each of them. They’ll be published throughout the week. Please feel free to add your own thoughts on mental illness in literature: I want to hear all opinions!

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Image result for the word is murder

One bright spring morning in London, Diana Cowper – the wealthy mother of a famous actor – enters a funeral parlor. She is there to plan her own service.

Six hours later she is found dead, strangled with a curtain cord in her own home.

Enter disgraced police detective Daniel Hawthorne, a brilliant, eccentric investigator who’s as quick with an insult as he is to crack a case. Hawthorne needs a ghost writer to document his life; a Watson to his Holmes. He chooses Anthony Horowitz.

Drawn in against his will, Horowitz soon finds himself a the center of a story he cannot control. Hawthorne is brusque, temperamental and annoying but even so his latest case with its many twists and turns proves irresistible. The writer and the detective form an unusual partnership. At the same time, it soon becomes clear that Hawthorne is hiding some dark secrets of his own.(taken from Amazon)

Murder, and suspects, and mayhem- oh my! Have you every started a book or movie and thought, “This is so great, I love it,” only to have the ending dim everything? That’s what happened to me.

It started so well. Author Anthony Horowitz wrote himself into this mystery, and it was brilliant. It made for some funny scenes, and allowed the author to explain things without condescending to the reader. Anthony was almost a Watson character. I found it highly enjoyable.

The mystery itself was an interesting one. I thought I’d called whodunnit, but I was wrong. Unfortunately, I was wrong because the culprit came out of left field. I like mysteries where- if you go back through the book after everything has been revealed- you can see the clues cleverly hidden in the writing. This didn’t happen, and it was very disappointing.

Another issue I had was the whole “why I did it” monologue. Because the culprit made so little sense, there was almost half a chapter of exposition. Blah. See why the ending fell flat for me?

If you’re the sort of reader who can ignore a rather lousy ending if the rest of the book is enjoyable, then you might like this one. The characters are interesting, the narrative very well done. The meta aspect added an extra level of enjoyment. However, it wasn’t enough to make up for the ending in my mind. Bummer, man.