Lost Connections by Johann Hari

img_1067Last week, my daughter called me. She had been feeling ill for several days. After discussing the symptoms, and her finding that she could not get through the work day, she visited an Urgent Care center.  After a couple of quick tests, antibiotics were given,  and two days later, she was fully on the mend.

 Modern medicine is truly a  marvel.  An infection that would have been quite serious a hundred years ago is now easily cured with a pill. Too bad deadly diseases like depression, addiction, and mental illness do not enjoy such a simple cure.

Doctors often prescribe pills to quiet the more serious demons that plague us, the ones that have us setting off to destroy ourselves and others. Often, the pill does little put turn us into walking zombies, but without the lust for eating brains. At least, that was my experience with pills. Johann Hari found this same sad truth in his own journey, and made it his mission to find out how we might better help those who suffer from depression and related mental illness in his book Lost Connections. 

Yes, people have received relief from pills. This book can make proponents of the “it’s just an imbalance in your brain” theory furious. After all, simple answers are always easier to deal with.

Until they don’t work.

This book hit me where I live. I have suffered from severe depression with manic episodes since my early teen years. Undiagnosed until my early twenties when I was given my first pill. When I was growing up three things were believed and presented to me in this order:

  1. Just get over it. You’re being hysterical, you stupid girl.
  2. Ok, maybe you have a hormonal imbalance. Take a pill. Get over it. Stupid girl.
  3. Don’t tell anyone you are having such self-pitying thoughts. It’s shameful, stupid girl.

Damn, I wish this book had been done 30 years ago. However, it made me understand the broken road I traveled. I instinctively knew that a pill could not “fix” me.  Depression does not go away.

The issues that cause it are real, and this is a severely malfunctioning society we are asked to make peace with. Perhaps, the crazy ones are the ones that do not have issues dealing with their lives. There is that.

But when you can’t pull yourself out of bed, when you feel physical pain because the stress of your life is so harsh, when you self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to the point of addiction, you need help. Just like someone who has an infection needs help to get better.

Depression and its various cohorts are always waiting to strike you down at weak moments. My last episode was less than two weeks ago. Only when I have these episodes in the last few years, I know they will pass. I know I am not alone.  I have friends, do what I love, look forward to the future, and have a job I adore working for at my local school system. The broken things …well, we all have broken things in our lives.

img_1068This book has helped people I love dearly who are younger and battling similar forces that I have grappled with all my life. I believe this book will make their road less rocky.

If you or anyone you know suffers from mental illness and addiction, please read this book. It does not offer a magical cure. No, it offers hope that attitudes are changing, research is expanding, and perhaps, an urgent care center with a low co-pay fully covered by insurance will eventually be readily available for those in crisis with more than a pill to offer.

The book will not give solace to everyone. I have an older relative suffering from crippling depression and addiction who came from a generation where there was such a huge stigma attached to mental illness, she refuses to seek help. She is too ashamed and that is a tragedy.

She is doing the opposite of what is shown to help. So many fall into this trap, making their depression louder and louder until it consumes them into despair. She is isolating herself from friends and family. She has stopped doing all the things she used to love. She does not feel purpose or belonging. Those are two of the many things that any human psyche, even that of the writer type human, needs to function in a healthy manner.

So please, if you feel lost, if you feel like there is no one you can reach out to, you are really not alone. Especially now days. Please, read Lost Connections by Johann Hari. You will find hope here. Truly.

 

 

Writing Without Rules by Jeff Somers

The Unabridged Review

img_1004I am a writer. I worry that I am actually too insane for my craft, over the top, off my rocker, a few short of a six pack, should possibly be locked up. Then I stumbled across Jeff Somers and his lovely tome, Writing Without Rules. I had read some of his fiction. I love his books, especially  We Are Not Good People and The Electric Church,.  Jeff is doing something right.

I thought, self, Writing Without Rules will tell me all the secrets to making a life as a writer. After all, Jeff snagged an incredible agent, the Queen of the Known Universe, herself, Janet Reid. He had to know something I didn’t know about being a “successful” writer. Right?

Well, shit. No. He’s crazier than I am and he doesn’t wear pants and he has an entire murder full of cats. Yes, I know, crows. A murder is crows. Have you met Jeff’s cats? They are definitely planning to murder someone. I can tell from the pictures of them he tweets out.

Apparently, the secret to writing is there aren’t any rules. Neil Gaiman managed to point this out in his rule #8 which is the only rule, but like 42 is the answer, Neil named the one rule #8.

Not to be outdone, Jeff wrote an entire book with lots and lots of footnotes to make the same point as rule #8. I am so very glad he did. I LOVE this book.

However, I am not quite certain why his agent didn’t tear him limb from limb after reading the first few chapters. How much whisky did he have to buy my queen to get this past her? He did everything she tells us rodent wheel spinning writers not to do. He submitted a first draft, totally unrevised, riddled with grammatical errors out to publishers. And one offered to buy the damn thing. And that is something we are told to never, ever do. And you shouldn’t unless you’re Jeff Somers and not wearing any pants.

Then there are the footnotes. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman would be proud – they are so funny…but so wrong.

I read this book in about three hours. I could not put it down. I laughed so hard that the stick that’s been up my ass the last six months came loose. My writing productivity increased 100 fold. I can’t say why. I mean there is nothing brilliant in this book. It’s almost a parody of a writing craft book.

Perhaps, it is because Jeff’s book is so much easier to stomach than something like Stephen King’s On Writing. Don’t get me wrong, Stephen had me slaughtering my darlings and writing a million words before submitting anything for publication, bless his little heart. It is no wonder there are so many monsters living in Maine with all that darling killing going on. I am not taking away from the giants that came before.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Jeff’s book, however, slowed down that proverbial rodent wheel that had me worrying that I was doing everything wrong. Three years ago I queried a book that was not quite ready for submission. And for about a year, I thought I had burned my chances at ever being published. Turns out, these kind of premature ejaculations don’t matter much. It’s simply part of the journey. Is there more whisky?

Jeff does not precisely advise writers to disregard all the guidelines for getting published.  Nah, nothing like that.  Simply put, the path to making it as a writer is different for everyone and there are no set rules as long as you have an ending for whatever bit of writing you wish to publish. Endings are important. Jeff was quite specific on that point. Which is why this review is over. It had to end somewhere. So if you’re writer, buy this book or Jeff will mail you one of his cats.

And nobody wants that. Also, this is hands down, the most fun I have ever had reading a book about writing. And Kill The Cat was a damn party of a book.

Book Review – The Road To Bittersweet

I was lucky enough to score an ARC of Donna Everhart’s The Road to Bittersweet. I absolutely loved her debut book, The Education of Dixie Dupree so I was very excited to get her latest book.

The Road to Bittersweet follows the Stamper family through trials and tribulations as a flood destroys their home in the foothills of South Carolina. Woven into this tale of tragedy and redemption is a lovely story between two sisters, Wallis and Laci. Younger Wallis is a sturdy sort of girl, very near the opposite of her fey older sister, Laci, lithe and lovely but autistic. Laci is a music savant who does not speak, and Wallis has assisted in Laci’s care her entire life.

When a young man, Clayton, appears on the scene and earns Wallis’s regard, the relationship between the sisters is tested and changed as Clayton pays more attention to Laci over Wallis.

The Road to Bittersweet is a lyrically emotional journey and a beautiful coming of age tale of faith and family. Donna Everhart is off to a wonderful start in her literary career, and I look forward too many more wonderful journeys with her work.

Draft 53 #amwriting Still

I look at Publisher’s Weekly every freaking week because you know, I got a dream. It’s fun seeing the latest twenty-something year-old signing their first six figure deal. Boy, kids today.

I try to imagine my name in Publisher’s Weekly in some six-figure deal with super cool agent and big publishing company. Only I won’t be twenty-something. That boat sailed by like a rainy spring day followed by heavy hail and damaging winds. Yeah, it shows. It’s been that kind of life.

I am writing the book and not so much this blog. I’m neglecting everything but this damn book. My Keurig gets lots of attention. Black coffee at 5:00 PM after work. Super stupid idea because then I can’t get to sleep. And by the time I get to work at 7 too freaking early in the morning, it’s more caffeine and dragging myself home at 4:00 PM in a daze. I am like some blood-crazed creature only writing is the blood I crave and must have. I’ll die without it. No, seriously.

I’m so close I can taste it. This is the book, finally. After so many half-finished, badly finished, and not-quite what I was going for books, this is the one. Probably.

At draft 53, well doubts begin to settle in. Also, a beta-reader damned me to Hell so that’s fantastic. So, my super-agent and big publisher will have to be cool with a book with the power of damnation. I shudder to think what that beta-reader would make of Cormac McCarthy. I am pretty sure my stuff is not that kind of disturbing. It’ll be fine. So back at it. I will try to do better with the blog, but I doubt my half-dozen blog readers miss me much. Draft 53. Here we go.

 

An Ancient Tome

I wrote a paper on JRR Tolkien for an independent study while in school in London, this thirty years ago. Time is beating the crap out of me, no doubt. So I wanted to travel to Oxford to have look at a few original sources kept in the University libraries.  I am big on original sources. 

One of my professors proudly supplied me with a pass. However, I did not realize there were limitations to the pass. Much to the horror of the librarians, I was drawn to a restricted section full of ancient tomes. Most were locked behind glass. That should have been a hint. 

There was, among those moldy old books, one left unintended written in a script and language I could not decipher. On impulse, I picked it up thus earning my lifetime banishment from that library. 

It was totally worth it, despite the possible apocalyptic horror it might have unleashed. Oopsie. 

In the  moment I touched that book, I felt a surge of energy pulse through me. Possibly  brought on by the horror of the ruddy security guard sputtering at me, but I rather believe that electrified pulse came from the book itself, the book wanting to impart its contents to someone, anyone. Or possibly it unleashed the apocalypse, given current events. 

All books are magic. I have no clue what was in the book I came across, be it spells of a lost power or possibly a transcription of some church records. I never could find out. My escort, the one that unceremoniously threw me out of the library into the rain, only lectured me on how rude Americans could be and would hear no excuses from me. 

I only had my imagination to go by. I think the script was Gaelic of some kind. It possibly came from a monastary but I don’t even know how old the book might have been. I did not have enough time to examine the vellum. Might it have been crafted of human skin? There was a time… but such parchment would not hold ink for so long. Well, unless there was some evil enchantment at work. Definitely a possibility. 

Yes, all books are magic and so, some are quite dangerous. Magic and truth in equal measure all in black and white. Most people avoid both of these more vehemently than they do root canal. 

My imagination crafted that old restricted book into a grimoire, a spell book for the darkest of sorcerers. And so filled my nights with horrors for years after, some demon force chasing me across time and space. 

Now, I seek a way to defeat the dark magic unleashed on me by that ancient tome, to tame or banish the demons that rose with its powers. Sadly, books of miracles, are so rare. Well, I never could find one equal to the demons that haunt me so I decided I would write one, an Idyll. I am running out of time. I can’t hold off those demons  much longer. They are consuming me so back to it.

 I do apologize if my jaunt into the restricted section of the library ultimately leads to a zombie apocalypse should I fail at my writing. Awkward. 

Living an Alternative Reality

So this happened. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Donald Trump of The Apprentice is president of the United States (a joke made on The Simpsons in 1997- not even kidding), and The Atlanta Falcons are headed to the Super Bowl. 

This is not normal. Being from Georgia, I am thrilled about the Falcons. Just amazed, startled. Like everything that has happened in the last 12 or so months, this is simply not the expected result. All that has happened is not necessarily bad, just odd. Reality has crashed into the bizarre. 

Disturbedly, my current book, a fantasy full of magic and all sorts of mystical creatures is far less odd than the real world. It makes me worry for my genre. 

At this point, if dragons suddenly emerged and took over the world, it might be less insane than the current goings on in the world. And that would quite spoil my book sales. 

Frankie, my pug, also quite magical, tells me to relax. Probably, Frankie says, I am simply in purgatory and to move on to something more wondrous, I must keep writing. So that’s the plan. For now.

If I manage to finish this book, find an agent, and publish this year despite having to reside in bizarro world, then I will know I have moved on. So back at it.