Category Archives: Mental Health

Son of a Pitch!

soap-FINAL

Hello, all you #SonOfAPitch- es! I am so happy to be a judge in this contest, which is now officially entering its second year! Son of a Pitch was the first contest I had the honor of judging.

Last January, I saw on Facebook and Twitter that Katie Hamstead was starting a new contest. I’ve always wanted to be a contest judge. I’d just had my first book published—my LGBTQ romantic suspense novel, Love or Money, which came out on January 12, 2016. I’d also signed a contract on my Other Place Series. When it hit me that I was actually eligible to be a contest judge…it was an amazing feeling. I’d spent two years of my life certain I’d never be a published author.

But I was. I messaged Katie right away asking if she needed more judges. She did!

The moral of this story is: perseverance pays off. I’m also able to tell you that the perseverance can’t end when you get that first publishing contract. I remind myself every day that all my hard work and tears are worth it. Some day I will make enough money off writing and editing to live comfortably and put money away for my kid’s college. Not that I’m uncomfortable now: even if I get rich, I’ll Tiny house 3probably still live in my tiny house on my family’s ten acre farm, but I’d also be able to rent a practice space where I could keep my drum set and other music gear. 🙂

Below, I’m sharing my successful queries, to give you an idea of what worked for me. I’m also sharing a short publication story with each.

LOVE OR MONEY

Ilove or money wrote this book because I was tired of being told my writing was okay, but my characters were hard to relate to and my plots were unexpected. I tried to write a “regular” romance, but it still turned out weird…however, the book sold easily. I didn’t send out regular queries on it. I pitched it on #PitMad, and ended up with two offers.

Query:

I’m seeking a publisher for LOVE OR MONEY, a 57,000-word LGTB erotic romance/crime thriller.
Riel almost wishes she could stay in prison. There, at least she has a girlfriend to love her, and even a cold cell is better than her situation at home.
When she’s released after serving 14 months on a drug charge, Riel has no choice but to go back to work for her brother-in-law, which is how she landed in jail in the first place. This time, he puts her to work in his strip club. He only gives her ten percent of her tips as compensation, and keeps her there with threats and coercion.
When her best friend Evan, a handsome daredevil drug runner, offers her a way out of her brother-in-law’s gang, she takes it. But after a bloody shootout, Riel realizes they’ll never be free until her brother-in-law is out of the picture, and that she’ll never be happy until she can settle down and have a quiet life with Evan.
Riel is the only one who can make those things happen. It’s up to her to save herself, and Evan, and to make her dreams of a better life come true.
I’m a board member of the San Luis Obispo NightWriters association, assistant editor and columnist for their newsletter. I have recently had a short story published by Akashic Books.
Thank you for your consideration.
THE HUSTLE
Hustle coverI didn’t query this book very widely (I only sent out a handful of regular queries, and pitched it a couple of times at pitch parties), mostly because I really threw my heart into finding a home for The Other Place instead. Even though this book is technically the first in The Other Place Series, I was trying to sell them separately. The Hustle is a new adult/adult LGBTQ magical realism suspense book (hello…genre mashup), while The Other Place is more of a YA contemporary magical realism. But I’m ultimately glad I sold them as a series.
I had gotten good comments from a couple agents & editors about this book, but they wanted a more traditional romance, which this book definitely isn’t. Those comments are what spurred me to write Love or Money.
Query:

The novel, entitled THE HUSTLE, is complete at 77,000 words.

Liria is nineteen, homeless, and addicted to heroin. She’s determined to not end up dead, like her mother, but every time she tries to get her life together, it falls apart again.
She goes to the only person she knows who might be able to help her: her father, Cyryl, whom she barely knows. He takes her in, and helps her to get clean, but it’s clear he doesn’t believe he’s truly her father. He wants a very different sort of relationship with her, and Liria isn’t interested. In fact, she doesn’t like men at all.
Liria leaves Cyryl, and lands a  job in a Vegas nightclub. There she meets Arty, who seems to be the girl of her dreams: beautiful, funny, and rich. But then Liria’s coworkers start turning up dead, and Arty is acting strange. Is the nightclub a front for something more sinister? Is Arty really who she seems, or is she using Liria as a pawn in a deadly game?
Starting a new life isn’t easy.

am a musician, and a prolific writer for young adults and adults. I have another novel, Love or Money, coming out through Limitless Publications on January 12, 2016. I am a board member of the San Luis Obispo NightWriters association, assistant editor and columnist for their newsletter, and have had a short story published by Akashic Books.

Thank you for your consideration.
THE OTHER PLACE

Iother place front cover queried this book widely before I found a home for it. Getting agents and editors to identify with a character with this level of neurodiversity is difficult.

When I was considering whether to accept Limitless’ offer, I had another publisher show interest. The acquisitions editor recommended they sign the book, but the higher-ups declined because they already had a book about mental illness on their list.

The struggle for diverse books is real. Be sure to read them, recommend them, and give them reviews, so agents and editors begin to see the market for them.

Query:

I am seeking representation for THE OTHER PLACE, a YA Contemporary novel with elements of magical realism. It is complete at 75,000 words, and is a stand-alone novel with series potential.
Justin just wants to draw and be left in peace, but when his mother takes up with a man who thinks his schizophrenia can be cured with prayer, he has to find a new home or risk involuntary commitment in a religious facility.
He runs off to San Francisco, where he’s discovered by a gallery owner. His bizarre and beautiful drawings create a stir in the art world; people rave about his genius and flock to see his work. Meanwhile, Justin is homeless, couch surfing and battling his mental illness.
He reconnects with a girl named Liria, who has been appearing in his visions since they met back in his hometown. Liria, it turns out, has been sharing those visions. Compelled by their deep connection, she leaves her jealous girlfriend in order to be with him, supporting them both on her meagre income.
Then they discover that the gallery owner has been hiding something, and Justin realizes that being a genius can have a downside. Surrounded by people who want to exploit his talent, he must fight not only for his career and his freedom, but perhaps for his life.
I am a musician, and a prolific writer for young adults and adults. I have another novel, Love or Money, coming out through Limitless Publications on January 12, 2016. I am a board member of the San Luis Obispo NightWriters association, assistant editor and columnist for their newsletter, and have had a short story published by Akashic Books.
Thank you for your consideration.

 

Activism Proposal: Going Homeless for the Homeless and Neurodiverse

mentalI’ve been inspired by the women who ran from NYC to DC to raise money for Planned Parenthood. I’ve had an idea, and I want to put out feelers to see what kind of support this idea would have, because it will be a difficult thing to do and I need to know it would have an effect before I set out to do it.

I would like to walk from here (Yakima, WA) to our state capital (Olympia, WA), a distance of around 180 miles. I would be living homeless, in order to raise awareness and money about the plight of the homeless and neurodiverse. I wouldn’t be accepting money directly for these causes – I would ask for pledges to charities like NAMI.

I’d like to know who would be willing to donate, and who would help me by amplifying my social media presence with regard to this. I would love to hear your thoughts, and would love it even more if you’d retweet, reblog, or share this post to see if any of your friends might be interested in supporting me one way or another on this journey.

If I got enough awareness, my next trip would be to DC.

And yes, I’d be living homeless, as authentically as possible, but I’d make it as safe as I could in ways I will brainstorm with you and discuss later.

Who’s with me?

Why I Decided to Live in a Tiny House

Tiny house 3It has been suggested to me that I blog about my experience living in a tiny house. I’m going to do that, not only because I’m having a lot of fun figuring out how to live this way, but also because I need to shift the focus of my blog for a while.

I currently live in an 11 x 14 cabin that I renovated myself, along with a 6 x 6 bathroom addition that I built mostly out of reclaimed wood. I live very cheaply, growing and preserving most of my own food. I’m not yet making perfect use of my space or my situation, but I enjoy the (constant) work in progress, and I’m having a lot of fun living this way.

This first blog post is going to detail how I came to live in a tiny house. My future blog posts will get into the nitty-gritty of my daily life: how I arrange and utilize my space; how I grow, process, and cook my food (this is mostly an excuse to take pictures of my beautiful canned goods and share my recipes); how I budget; and probably a bunch of other random stuff and off-topic tirades.

This isn’t the first time I’ve lived in a little house; in fact, it isn’t the first time I’ve lived in THIS house. Tiny house living is something I can honestly say I did before it was cool.

The year was 1998. I was finishing up my bachelor’s at The Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington, which is some sort of weirdo clown college where you can “design your own education”. This means you can write a “independent study” proposal saying you want to explore the possibility of cat telepathy. The college will undoubtedly approve this proposal, so then you can spend the whole quarter lying in bed staring at your cat, write a report on the experience, and the college will give you 16 credits as long as you pay your tuition. They don’t have to pay a professor, and you don’t have to listen to one. It’s a win-win.

So, anyway, I spent the last two quarters of my senior year doing one of those independent study contracts. I moved back to my hometown in Eastern Washington State and helped my mom start a small organic farming business.

My parents live on a beautiful ten-acre fruit orchard, which is where I grew up. It’s also where my dad grew up—my grandparents owned 40 acres back then, but sold off 30 of it. It’s been a working farm for way over a hundred years, so whenever you dig in the dirt or explore the rafters of the old outbuildings you find some pretty bomb-ass stuff, like those glass beads white people used to trade to the Native Americans; and boxes of 1950s porno, which is mostly just boobs.

One of the old outbuildings is a little eleven-by-fourteen cabin built in the ‘30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was one of the Depression-era programs started by FDR. When I moved back home for the farming gig, I decided I’d restore it and live there.

It was a cute cabin, made of indestructible redwood, but it had been used over the years as a chicken coop and skeevy teenager hangout and a bunch of other things that involved a lot of grodyness that I had to scrape out. It also had one of those old wood-burning stoves—the kind people used to actually cook and bake—which was awesome, but it was all rusted out and no longer fire-friendly, so I had to haul that heavy metal bitch out of there and into one of the outbuildings. Then, because there is EVERY THING IMAGINABLE somewhere on my parents’ property, I found another wood stove—a cast-iron potbelly—and hauled THAT heavy metal bitch INTO the cabin.

After that, though I’d never done anything of the sort before, I reroofed it, put in insulation, drywall, plumbing (a sink with cold water only), a skylight, etc. etc. My boyfriend’s dad built me a bed that sat about four feet off the ground and had a built-in dresser and storage underneath. It was really cool.

I lived there for a couple of years. It was peaceful and beautiful, and I loved it.

A bunch of yadda-yadda happens here. I moved out, started working as a paralegal (a job I hated desperately) got married about sixty billion times, and had a kid. I lived a lot of places, and owned a couple of houses that I really liked, but I always missed my cabin. Whenever I went back to my parents’ house to visit, I’d walk by there…but I’d never open the door. I hate moving, so when I moved out, I left it a wreck, with food still on the shelves and clothes and weird shit you don’t want to know about all over the place. The fact that I’d left my peaceful little house in that state really bugged me. In fact, I had frequently-recurring dreams about having to clean it out, except it always had more rooms than I’d remembered, and a labyrinthine basement full of mummies and evil rodents and rotten sandwiches, but I knew if I could just get it all cleaned up and in order my whole life would fall into place and be peaceful and beautiful like it had been before. (Though, let’s be honest, it never truly had been…but my cabin had been a safe place that made me feel it was.)

Even more yadda-yadda happens now, which I won’t rant about here, since I’ve spent about 906 blog posts rehashing it already. Long story short, my marriage fell apart in a blaze of glory. We had moved to California for his job, so when he served me divorce papers, I was in this weird place with like ZERO emotional resources to call upon. I mean that literally. I’m bipolar, and I was stressed out enough that I was not taking care of myself whatsoever. I was drinking almost every day, having psychotic episodes, and attempting suicide.

I didn’t know what to do with myself and my kid. All I knew is that I wanted to keep writing books. It was something I loved to do more than anything else, and something that helped me emotionally and psychologically. Plus, my husband had told me I wasn’t capable of making a living at it, and that I was wrong to want to write in the first place: that I was selfish and immature to have that dream.

I wouldn’t allow his spirit to rise up from the grave of our marriage and force me into a bitter, hopeless life working a job I hated and that I was ill-suited for. I didn’t want him to win. I wanted to be my own woman, on my own terms.

Of course, life never works out that neatly. I wasn’t able to spring triumphant from the ashes of my old life, valiant and stable and perfect. By the time my husband served me divorce papers, I had one book published, and a contract on two more, but I wasn’t making any sort of royalties. I had editing skills and was capable of setting up a freelance business to bring in some cash, but in order to make ends meet that way (at least at first) I’d have to live cheaply. Really cheaply.

I’m lucky enough to have extremely supportive parents with a beautiful 10-acre farm, and they were hinting pretty strongly that my psychotic, suicidal, rock-bottom ass needed to come back home like six months ago, along with their beautiful granddaughter.

I love my parents, and I love the farm, but I knew I couldn’t live long-term in their house. I’m a person who very much needs to have her own space. So, it was time to finally open the door of my old cabin and start mucking out the mummies and evil rodents and rotten sandwiches. It was time to finally get my life together.

Mental Illness is Not Weakness

mentalA few days ago while addressing a group of veterans, Donald Trump said that strong people can handle trauma without getting PTSD. In effect, he was stating that only the weak are susceptible to mental health issues after they experience trauma.

I myself suffer* from PTSD. My case arises not from wartime trauma, but from physical, mental, and sexual abuse. The idea that people with PTSD—and really, people with any mental health issue—are somehow too weak to deal with the fact that life sucks sometimes, and that we need to buck up, get over ourselves, and move on, is prevalent in society. In my case, it’s a belief that hinders my recovery.

I was diagnosed with PTSD about a decade back. At the time, I didn’t really know what the diagnosis meant. I thought PTSD was something ONLY combat veterans had, and thus I thought my doctor was joking. I’d never had to experience the horrors of dodging bombs and watching my buddies get blown apart. What kind of whiney bitch did my doctor think I was, that I would be as traumatized by my own experiences as a combat veteran would be by theirs?

I dismissed the diagnosis and refused treatment of any kind. I didn’t even investigate what PTSD was, or how it might affect my actions. I even went so far as to have that—and my other diagnosis of bipolar—removed from my medical records. I didn’t want to suffer the stigma. I didn’t want people to think I was weak or attention-seeking.

Then, a few years ago, I went through a period of very high stress in my life. The stress coincided with, or perhaps triggered, a severe manic episode, and I started writing obsessively and behaving a little oddly. My husband at the time became pretty snide about it. His behavior triggered something in me that sent me over the edge, I guess because it in some ways mirrored the behavior of a person from my past. He started to smell like this person, and sound like him. Whenever he would say something unkind to me, my emotions became uncontrollable: I’d get really, really angry, or hurt, or hysterical. I began avoiding him, disappearing for weeks on road trips.

The situation became a sort of feedback loop: the more emotional and erratic I became, the more critical my husband became of me. He told me I was an immature loser and that he was done with me, and kicked me out of the house on a couple occasions. For my part, I was drinking heavily and, eventually, cheating on him.

I wanted to either act “right”, or leave, but I literally couldn’t bring myself to do either. I was terrified to be alone, yet incapable of pulling myself together the way my husband wanted me to. I would watch myself do incredibly self-destructive things and be absolutely powerless to stop.

It’s hard for me to say that: absolutely powerless to stop. After all, lack of self-control is the ultimate weakness. I told myself, day in and day out, that my marriage and my life were in shambles because I was too weak to fix them. If I’d had any control over my emotions and behavior, I would have been able to make my husband love me again.
I was already in a severe depressive episode when my husband finally served me with divorce papers, on the day after Valentine’s Day. I had a suicide attempt (a fairly halfhearted one, since the means at hand were poor), and finally ended up in a mental health crisis center where they said, no really, you have PTSD and bipolar disorder, and we’re going to help you with them.
I’d never been able to stay on medication before. I thought the whole point of pills was to dull your brain and render you inert, so you wouldn’t cause problems for yourself or those around you. I thought they’d kill my creativity and prevent me from going manic; that I’d never have fun or feel any real feelings anymore. After all, pills couldn’t fix what was wrong with me, because they couldn’t cure weakness or repair personality flaws.
But I stuck with treatment this time, because I was tired of my life being unstable, and I had a kid to stay alive for. I didn’t know what else to do. I had to try something.
After trying a lot of different horrible meds, I was finally put on a combination that didn’t make me feel like a disjointed, sleepy puppet from the dream dimensions. It actually made me feel better.
The first time I realized they were working correctly was when I got into a very stressful situation. I’d been in the same situation before, when I was unmedicated, and I’d reacted very badly. My anxiety, self-loathing, and other distress had swelled up in me until I couldn’t see; the only thing left in me were those feelings, and so they were all I had that could inform my actions. When you feel like that, you can’t behave in healthy ways. You want to destroy yourself so that you don’t feel like that anymore.
However, with the medication, I was in control, and not my emotions. I was still upset, yes, but my feelings didn’t send me skidding into the walls off-kilter.
That’s when I realized I’d never actually lacked self-control. My brain just worked differently than most people’s, and pretty much anyone would have acted the same way if they’d felt like I had when I’d done those self-destructive things. This was probably the most amazing self-realization of my life.
Some people might still think I’m weak—Donald Trump maybe would think he’d be able to go through what I’ve gone through, and still be his pompous, egotistical self. And maybe I am more susceptible to PTSD than others, because of my bipolar or for some other reason. I don’t know.
I was in the supermarket once and saw a young woman with no arms, using her bare feet to grab cups of yogurt from the cooler and put them in her cart. I tried not to stare, but it was pretty amazing to me. I’m sure it wasn’t amazing to her, though: it was just what she had to do, because she had no arms. No one with any scrap of insight would call that woman weak. I would even make the claim that nothing was wrong with her whatsoever. If she broke her ankle, it would probably affect her life more than it would someone who had arms, but that still doesn’t mean she’s weak. She’d just have to cope in different ways.
Those of us with neurodiversity and mental illness are not weak. We just have to learn to cope differently than other people. I actually think that my experiences have given me more self-knowledge, depth of character, compassion, and insight into the human condition than someone like Donald Trump will ever have. And that isn’t a disability: it’s a beautiful thing.

*I use the word “suffer” intentionally here. I would not use this word with any other sort of neurodiversity (and whether PTSD is truly a neurodiversity, I will leave others to argue, because I think each individual can choose for themselves how they want to identify). However, PTSD is unlike bipolar, ASD, schizophrenia, and other diagnoses that are an organic part of the brain. PTSD is caused by trauma, is preventable and, unlike those other diagnoses, has no component to it that I would call desirable (and yes, I think that neurodiversity can be a good thing, though there are some struggles that definitely go along with it).

Elizabeth Roderick is an author. Many of her books deal with neurodiversity and abuse issues.