Monday, October 23, 2017

New Book, Old Book

On the eve of the release of my sixth young adult novel, MEANT TO BE, I want to note that it is also the tenth anniversary of my very first novel, GET WELL SOON. GET WELL SOON will always hold a special place in my heart, not just because it was my first novel but because it was so very personal. When I was sixteen, I was hospitalized for depression. I was overweight and insecure, suffered from un-diagnosed panic attacks, and I couldn’t sit through a movie let alone one of my classes at school. My parents didn’t know how to help me, and they felt I would be best fixed up at an in-patient program for teenagers in Chicago. The program itself was kind of a mess, although from what I have heard from readers over the past ten years, that is, sadly, often the norm. What I did glean from being institutionalized for three weeks (all my insurance would cover) was that I could handle much more than I ever thought I could, and I gained many new friends and a lot of independence. Years later, I wrote a book about my experience.

I still receive letters from readers who relate to the fictional version of me, Anna, and her battles with self esteem, anxiety, and depression. Just this morning this gem, from a long reader email, greeted me in my mailbox: “It made me feel like I wasn't as alone as I thought I was as I battled this battle known as awkward preteen life. It also lit a fire under my ass, without that book there are moments I would have let pass but instead I grabbed them and made them my biotch… Thank you so dearly for being the coolest and one of the most realest authors and changing my life.” So much out in the world now is pure negativity. It’s almost impossible to allow these beautiful rays of sunshine penetrate my cloud-covered brain. On the eve of my new novel’s release, I have so many insecurities about being a writer, why it is or isn’t important in the world today, why it does or does not make me feel successful, and does anyone else hear me? But even I, a woman of forty-two who still struggles daily with depression, who finds new anxieties to fixate on each and every day, and who has two children who reflect every doubt and mistake and failure back at me, can’t pretend it doesn’t matter when someone writes to me and tells me I changed their life.

MEANT TO BE may not be based on my life. It may not even be based in this reality. I wrote GET WELL SOON to tell my story at a time when I wanted commiseration. Six novels and more than ten years later, where my pre-Obamacare health insurance doesn’t even cover mental health, I don’t want to write about reality. I barely want to live in it. Writing MEANT TO BE was an escape for me. Sometimes the book that results from months and months of writing is written because that is what the author needed to do for herself at a time when she didn’t want to be herself. I think my readers will like the new book. It’s funny, and the voice is genuine, and sex! Will it change anyone’s life? No clue. But did I think years ago when I was singing to myself in the quiet room at Lake Shore mental hospital in Chicago that I would someday write a book about my experience? That said book would win a Ken Book Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness? That teenagers would write to me, year after year, telling me how they related to my “character” and how she helped them through their own shitty situations? No way.

Happy ten year anniversary, GET WELL SOON. And happy almost-book birthday, MEANT TO BE. Here’s to changing lives.

No comments: