At one point in Change of Season, Professor St. James gives Autumn some advice: “Write what you know, and write when you need to let go.”
This is a variation of advice writers have heard time and time again. At times, it’s almost annoying. Many of us write to heal, to share hard lessons learned along the way. Maybe we choose to write of divorce because we ourselves are children of divorce. Maybe we want others to feel less alone in the turmoil of life. Even Courtney Summers noted in discussing her protagonist in Cracked Up To Be that she was channeling a bit of her own experiences with depression.
A recurring theme in many of my stories is mental health: the ways we handle — or don’t handle — trauma and varying conditions, and how we survive to then thrive. With one in five people around you being impacted by mental illness, there is a huge group of people out there seeking compassion and support.
In fact, you’re looking at one of them.
I’m the third generation (as far as I can determine) of women in my family who’ve experienced mental illness first hand. It runs on both sides in my family, which meant I was, as I put it, a ticking time bomb. Throw in traumatic events and a perfect storm formed.
During the worst years — years spent mainly silent, believing I was just ‘defective’ or ‘bad’ — I found my comfort in music and books. I found characters who knew my level of sadness, characters who experienced hardships like mine and eventually healed. They were flawed and sometimes annoying, but I liked that. I, too, could be rather difficult company.
In my earlier years, I wrote to purge my feelings, to deconstruct the memories haunting me until I could work through them. When I write now, I look to my characters as the sort of people I have known, healed with and cared for. I want readers to look at them and confront one reality of mental illness (and it is just one; each story is unique). For those, like me, looking for themselves, I want to show them that it’s okay to cry, to sometimes shove people away or say the wrong thing. That you can heal, with time — that it’s not a quick fix and a happily ever after, but it is your life, to make your own beauty in.
I want readers to see that, like the timeless Eeyore in Winnie The Pooh, my characters are loved as they are, and allowed to self-determine their futures.
Change of Season is dedicated to N. N. is one of the ones who have been lost along the way. The story is not mine to share, but I still feel that loss. A beautiful heart lay within, a beautiful and clever mind. I mourn because I was lucky. I had the right friends, the right doctors, and I had my music and books.
I don’t want to hear of another N.
So I write what I know. And while Autumn’s trauma and life are not mine, the journey she must choose to make is one I also had to choose. I suspect many of you find yourselves seeping into the pages in similarly vague and guiding ways. In fiction lies truth, and I applaud those sharing theirs, sending out twinkling stars to light the darkest skies.
Be the light — as writers, and as people in day-to-day life. For some of us, our lives depend on it.