Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Wrap-Up (aka y’all are AWESOME)

I promised myself I wouldn’t cry while writing this post and I’ve already lied to myself. Great. This post is going to be a mix-up of me just gratuitously thanking people so so so much for all of their efforts and things I’ve taken away from this event.

It would be an understatement to say that I think Shattering Stigmas is one of the most important endeavors I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of. Even if my blog isn’t hugely big or popular, even if we don’t have the power to build Rome in a day and end mental illness stigma once and for all, I feel that the work we do during Shattering Stigmas is really important. And that work is giving people space and a chance to tell their stories. That work is listening to each other and broadening our compassion, empathy and understanding of the human beings around us. That work is an act of storytelling, of faith and of love.

I hope that I can continue to be involved in efforts as valuable as this one throughout my life. I am applying to help plan my graduate school’s first ever Mental Health and Arts Festival. I go to a very special school within NYU that promotes these ivtersectionalities and part of a very special group of bloggers who’ve I’ve been blessed to co-host this event with. I don’t think I would even consider applying for this new opportunity if it was not for having them, and Shattering Stigmas, in my life.

I would now like to thank everyone who made Shattering Stigmas an amazing event for me. First off, a HUGE thank you to everyone who came onto my blog and has been reading the posts and leaving comments. Y’all rock.

Next up, a huge thank you to my fellow co-hosts. I swear I’m not tearing up again (I’m lying). It has been such an honor to work with y’all, plan with y’all and read the posts and see the content y’all have had on your blogs these past two weeks. Taneika, it’s been so lovely making a friend from around the world. Vlora, I love your bubbly enthusiasm. Inge, you’re such a lovely, kindhearted person and I just want the best for you. Shannon, I feel like you’re the mom of the group who kept us on track. And Holly, thank you so much for giving me that chance to write last year, which led to my interest in co-hosting this year. Your support is invaluable to me. I love y’all so much, and the rest of us reading this should check out their blogs/channels:

Holly @ The Fox’s Hideaway

Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight 

Inge @ Of Wonderland

Vlora @ Reviews and Cake

Taneika @ Flipping Through Pages

Now. my posters. Thank you so much for participating in this event for me. Thank you to Tiffany, Amy and Akemi who did Q&A’s for me, taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer my questions. Thank you to Paula for writing such a long, thoughtful and helpful guide to helping your friends and loved ones with anxiety. Thank you to Hannah for writing the post that’s closing out this event on my blog. Thank you to my two anonymous posters. I hope y’all saw how your voice matters, even if your name is not attached to the work. And thank you to Katie, Scully, Cody, Troix, Lyla, Shalena and Aurora to writing beautiful, thoughtful and powerful posts. I am in aw of all of your strengths and especially your writing. I can only hope I will be blessed to have some of you return to the blog for Shattering Stigmas next year.

And finally, a reminder that there are still two Shattering Stigmas giveaways. We are giving away six mental health reads from Book Depository. The book is your choice and if you’re my winner, you can pick any book purchase up to $15. If you want recommendations when you win, I got you. You can enter that giveaway here:

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway HERE!

I am also giving away a self-curated self care kit on Twitter. RT+Follow, US only, no giveaway accounts and you can enter here.

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Posted in Shattering Stigmas

To the Ones Up Front by Hannah Moskowitz

I am so pleased to introduce Hannah Moskowitz as the final poster for Shattering Stigmas on my blog before my wrap-up. I think that her message about writing more subtle mental illness rep is super important and a great reminder as we close this event. You can find Hannah, who has written several young adult novels including A History of Glitter and Blood, Not Otherwise Specified and Gena/Finn (with Kat Helgeson) among others, on Twitter or her website.

CW: General discussion of mental illness, including bipolar disorder and eating disorders, throughout. 

Everything’s louder in fiction. Conversations are snappier, kisses are deeper, death tolls are higher. It’s like when I was in high school theatre, putting on makeup before a show. Up close, you look ridiculous with your overdrawn lips and bright patches of blush, but once you’re washed out under the stage lights, that’s how the back row sees you. A book needs to be able to hold its own against all the other books, and God knows there’s always going to be something out there flashier and grabbier than yours. I’ve yet to meet a contemporary author—hell, probably any author—who hasn’t heard from a critique partner or an agent or a publisher, or maybe even just from that nagging voice of self-doubt in their head, that their book is too quiet. That it won’t stand out in the marketplace. That teenagers wouldn’t pick it up compared to something louder.

I am such a fan of quiet books (which I guess makes my first metaphor here kind of off, since my lipstick stash would tell you I’m definitely not a fan of quiet makeup) but I think when we’re talking about YA books about mental illness, it goes beyond personal preference. We need those quiet books in a way that I’m not sure publishing understands. It’s really, really important, and to get into why we need to talk about mirrors and windows.

Mirrors and windows is a concept we talk about a lot in YA, and about how teenagers need books that function as each one for them. A window is a book that lets you see into another culture, whether that’s a straight kid reading about queer kids, a white teenager reading a Desi love story, or a healthy person reading a dystopian with a chronically ill hero. It’s the base explanation of why we read, and it’s definitely important. It’s how we learn about things that we don’t personally experience, without having to go up to someone and interrogate them and intrude on their lives. We can read without bothering anyone. It’s voyeurism in the best way. Then there are mirrors. That’s when you see yourself in a book, whether for the first time or the hundredth. You’re not here to learn; you’re here to feel like you’ve been heard, like you’re not alone. Ideally, it’s a more comfortable reading experience, because you’re seeing yourself. You’re not stretching yourself the way you are when you look into someone else’s world. You are safe and protected.

In reality it doesn’t always work out that nicely. Especially in books about mental illness. What people who write about mental illness for teenagers need to keep in mind is that the vast, vast majority of mentally ill teenagers have not been formally diagnosed, because that would involve talking to their parents and doctors in a way that’s difficult for a neurotypical kid, never mind a mentally ill one. I’ve known I was bipolar since I was in middle school, but I went undiagnosed until I was nineteen. There were people close to me who had absolutely no idea. And that’s not something that, reading about bipolar disorder in fiction, you’d ever think was possible. Bipolar disorder in fiction is unhideable. It’s catastrophic. There is nothing quiet about it, because there can’t be anything quiet about your book.

And that leads a lot of teenagers—including me, who’d known since she was eleven that something was wrong—to question themselves. Maybe I’m actually fine. Maybe it’s supposed to be this hard. I must be normal, because I am more normal than this.
So by having only these loud mental illness portrayals, we’re not only showing neurotypical people that mentally ill people are so different from them; we’re showing mentally ill teenagers that mentally ill people are so different from them, too.

Not so good.

When it comes to things like cutting or eating disorders, having only over the top portrayals introduces a whole new problem. When you’re writing a book to be a window, you have to introduce people to your topic, and in a book about say, anorexia, that often amounts to writing an orientation packet on how to develop an eating disorder. And as if that weren’t enough, teenagers who have eating disorders are going to read it and see everything more they could be doing, how much they don’t count as someone with a real eating disorder because theirs is not as big and bright and dramatic as what’s in a big, bright, dramatic book.

I’m not saying that there aren’t people with mental illness who live these stories that, to me, seem sensationalized. These stories wouldn’t exist if they didn’t happen to people. But this is the risk we run when we try to use one story to encompass a whole range of experiences. It’s a problem when you’re writing about any marginalized experience, but I’m not sure it’s as damaging in other topics as it is for mental illness. If teenage-me read a book with a Jewish main character that didn’t feel right to me, that can be uncomfortable, sure, but it wouldn’t have the devastating effect on my sense of self that a book telling me my mental illness wasn’t bad enough would.

So here’s what I ask of writers, publishers, and readers: make quiet mental illness books.

Give us something soft. Show us the range of experiences.

You don’t have to play to the back row every time. Play to that one girl in the front, leaning in, trying to see.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Start Here: I Believe by Cody Roecker

I know I’ve been gushing about all of the posters for nearly two weeks, but Cody is one of my favorite people and writers so I am especially excited to welcome him onto my blog today. You can find him on Twitter and his blog, Roecker Reviews

CW: Mention of Rape/Incest/Molestation along with Mental Illness (PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety)

Everything is serene, calm waters gently billowing across the ocean. The sun is bright, a yellow sunflower in the sky. The trees are the most vibrant of greens, contrasting the other colors of a perfect day. The simple things have such immense beauty, but that purity only lasts for so long. The sense of belonging, the sense of trust, the sense of love that doesn’t dissipate.  

It does one day. The day where betrayal ruins all of the beauty that life seemed to hold. And for me that was when I was six years old. But I didn’t really realize what had happened, I burrowed it away in a hole that I never wanted to dig into again. When I was ten years old, I was forced to when my parents said,

“Your brother raped your cousin.”

And the memories of what had happened to me came flooding back into the forefront of my mind. Tears became a waterfall, never-ending, consistently flowing. And I had to face the fact that he had forced me to do things I hadn’t wanted to do. Did I realize that at the time? Did I know what kind of horrors had been inflicted on me? No, I had suppressed that all too far in the back of my mind. I hadn’t been raped myself but I still had been forced onto my brother’s penis.

Talking about that experience was one of the best things I could have ever done, as difficult as it was. While it’s still fresh in my mind, and there are days where it leaves me debilitated, I know how to deal with hearing things that could trigger me. Ive adjusted through talking about it. Any mention of incest, any mention of molestation is very hard for me to stomach. I have to force myself to remove myself from the situation before I can even think to move forward.

And it’s hard. Every day is fucking difficult living with this kind of pain. And that’s when I realized something in my head isn’t okay anymore. I have never been diagnosed with PTSD, and I’m not entirely sure if that is something I have or not, but I do know that those memories haunt me.

Try growing up gay knowing that something like that has happened to you. It’s not fucking easy. In fact, it’s fucking hard. I hate when people say that I’m privileged and the only thing I have about me that isn’t is that I’m gay, and that I don’t have a lot of money….

There is more to my story. But I digress, growing up gay after being sexually molested at least once (I only remember it happening once, but who knows how much I actually suppressed.) was really freaking difficult because… my real emotions were scary as it felt rooted in a negative aspect of my life experience. Point being, this was hard. And life is hard. That much is abundantly clear to almost everyone I meet.

But still even with depression, and “anxiety that is worse than your depression,” I have to keep on keepin’ on. Not saying that it’s easy. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying there are things you can do that help with all the fucked up shit you’ve been through… or all the fucked up shit you haven’t been through. That’s the fucking reality about mental illness in any form… sometimes it’s caused by events in one’s life, sometimes it’s genetic, and sometimes there is no fucking explanation for the way you feel… you just know everything fucking sucks and you wish there was something you could do about it. A day that feels normal. Just one. One. Fucking. Day. That’s all it would take, you might think, one day of “normality” whatever that even is.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be neurotypical for once? Yeah, I guess. And that’s something I’ve thought for such a long time, and really I understand… I understand why you would feel that way. Most of us with Mental Illnesses have felt that way.

I know that it can be hard to be interested in things when you’re depressed or hard to focus on anything but failure when you have anxiety… but when you find that one thing… that one thing is everything.

For me, I find that coping mechanism in reading and writing for Young Adults and Young Readers. I wouldn’t be here today without More Happy Than Not, When the Moon Was Ours, Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, They Both Die At The End and so many more.

I wouldn’t be here without the authors that taught me that who I am is okay, and everything I’ve been through doesn’t make me weak. I wouldn’t have the strength to write, the drive to create stories, I wouldn’t be able to do anything I want to do in life without these people.

I am so thankful for people like Becky Albertalli, Lianne Oelke, Melissa Albert, Anna-Marie McLemore, Caleb Roehrig, David Arnold, Adam Silvera, Jasmine Warga, Leigh Bardugo, Rachel Strolle, Taylor Tracy, Marie Lu, Alexandra Bracken, Susan Dennard, Mason Deaver, Jenna Corso, and all the other wonderful people in my life. I wouldn’t be doing anything I do without these people’s presence in my life.

Find your passion. It can save your life. Surround yourself with people who bring you up instead of take you down. Do what makes you happy… search for what makes you happy. It’s going to be hard, fuck at times it might seem damn near impossible but you can do it, my friend. You are magic in a human, and if I can do this… so can you.

People believe in me, and that’s why I’m here. I believe in you, let’s start there.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

How Taboo Books Saved Me by KM

I’m really excited to finally share this post with y’all because I think it does such a good job or encapsulating the power of stories. Stories are always there for us, and I hope you all have stories that bring you comfort and joy like the author of this post.

I hate saying I’ve ever felt alone. After all, I shouldn’t feel alone for even a second. I have a supportive family and close friends who take me out to have some fun when I’ve gotten stuck in my own head. With school and work, I am constantly around others. How, then, can I claim I’m lonely?

Answer: Loneliness isn’t just about physical solitude. It can also be emotional.

Unfortunately, it sometimes doesn’t matter that I know I have people who will listen. At the end of the day, I lie in bed and wonder why I’ve been put on this planet. It seems all I do is exist. All I do is take. All I do is sit in my room, read, eat chocolate, and continue my life as my loved ones’ burden.

It took books—the ones banned and condemned and tossed aside, like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park—to make me realize I’m more than that.

For me, reading came naturally. My great grandfather stowed away in libraries to bask in the hushed quiet and devour book after book. My grandmother is Agatha Christie’s biggest fan and has written books herself. My mother is the furthest thing from a hoarder—except when it comes to novels. Reading is in my genes.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that.

When the silence threatened to drown me, when my clip-on booklight was my only reprieve from darkness, I huddled in the corner of a loveseat and read. For me, though, reading wasn’t just an escape; it was a reflection.

It sounds horrifically self-centered, but I saw bits and pieces of myself in narrator after narrator. I spotted my almost unrelenting cynicism in A.S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz. I saw my introversion in Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I found my dangerous loyalty in The Female of the Species.

With the help of young adult novels, I also recognized signs of mental illness.

The protagonist of Tamara Ireland Stone’s Every Last Word made me realize I wasn’t the only one who had streams of dark thoughts and impulses. My brain wouldn’t ever shut up. If I took notes in class, the pages would be in odd numbers—never even. These weren’t quirks I had to “put up with”; these were signs of something more.

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar revealed my own social withdrawal and clinical depression. Like Plath’s narrator, Esther, I felt I was “stewing in my own sour air.” Though I could see the years of my life as telephone poles, stretched out, all nineteen of them, there seemed to be no more beyond that. There was nothing left for me. I was alone, and the world had left me to fend for myself.

It was the scores of books I read that made me see I wasn’t alone. I never was. I was just afraid. Afraid to speak up and afraid to seek help. Yet, despite facing situations even more dire than mine, the characters of each of these novels found a way to overcome their fears and continue living their lives to the fullest.

I was going about life thinking I was alone, but I had allies all along. Some, like my friends and family, were waiting for me to reach out. Others were simply hidden in the pages of the books on my shelf.

I won’t say reading was the only thing that saved me; it took a tremendous amount of support and time to get where I am today, and I still struggle now. I will, however, say that reading is what pointed me in the right direction. It’s what showed me my feelings were not “wrong” or “too risky to say aloud,” but simply human.

Books that unflinchingly portray mental health shouldn’t be taboo. They shouldn’t be banned or censored. They should be celebrated. Reading “troubled teen” books allow young adults to see their mental illness for what it truly is: a conquerable obstacle, not an unspoken death sentence.

I still don’t know a lot, but I know this: With a book on my table, I’m never, ever alone.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

13 Reasons Why I Hate 13 Reasons Why by Scully

On this Friday the Thirteenth, I have my dear friend Scully to share their thoughts on 13 Reasons Why as a tv show that inappropriately represents mental illness and contributes to the stigma against mental illness. This post is a powerful list, pointing out some less oft discussed aspects of the show, and raises questions about issues and dynamics to consider when representing mental illness in media. You can find Scully on Twitter.

CW: Suicide, suicidal ideation, depression, gun violence

Preface: I have been professionally diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, chronic depression, suicidal ideation, and attention deficit disorder. I have attempted suicide and also spent time in a stress center. I go to therapy every week. I know my shit.

  1. The show completely ignores the American Foundation of Suicide’s guidelines: 

    Shows hannah’s suicide graphically and shockingly. Lack of appropriate trigger warnings before episodes.

  2. Hannah blames her suicide on other people: 

    Suicide is a personal decision. Factors may play into that choice but, no one/nothing kills victims of suicide besides themselves and their mental illness.

  3. There are no signs of depression: 

    Hannah is shown constantly wearing nice outfits, with curled hair, and the perfect ‘no-makeup’ makeup. When depressed, you barely have the energy to get out of bed, let alone make yourself look presentable or even “nice.”

  4. NO ONE CAN LOVE AWAY YOUR DEPRESSION/SUICIDAL IDEATION: 

    Hannah tells Clay that if he hadn’t been afraid to love her, she would still be here. While this is true, Clay couldn’t cure her mental illness. This creates an abusive power imbalance (if you leave I’ll kill myself), perpetuates unhealthy stereotypes (only lonely people can be depressed), and to go back to point 2, puts the blame on other people.

  5. Blatant romanticization of suicide: 

    Hannah leaves her suicide “note” in the form of cassette tapes. How fucking vintage and quirky and Urban Outfitters and “manic pixie dream girl” of her.

  6. Unhealthy coping: 

    Skye says she cuts instead of killing herself. This is a very unhealthy coping mechanism and should not be seen as an alternative.

  7. Clay’s rebound: 

    After Hannah’s death, Clay goes after Skye. Skye is the token “angsty depressed teen who wears a lot of eyeliner and spikes”. Clay hadn’t really liked Skye before but, determined to not let the same thing happen to her he starts flirting with her. Don’t date someone for pity, or to make yourself seem righteous for dating someone no one else will. To go back to point 4, people with mental illnesses aren’t going to get better just because of someone else.

  8. Inaccurate portrayal of psychosis: 

    Clay struggles from psychosis and hallucinates after hearing the tapes. The portrayal of psychosis, I have been told by a friend who has this mental illness, is incredibly inaccurate and a dangerous portrayal. Also, by focusing on Clay’s psychosis, we are taking away from the main story-line; Hannah’s suicide.

  9. School shootings don’t happen because of fucking suicide: 

    Tyler buys guns after hearing the tapes. It is assumed he will shoot up the school. School shootings are caused by many things, but suicide of a student isn’t one of them.

  10. Blaming Justin: 

    Hannah blames Justin for not interfering with Jess’s rape. This is so unfair to Justin. He’s just as scared of Bryce as Hannah and Jess are. You cannot be upset at one of the victims of an abuser for not standing up to one. Bryce is Justin’s only savior from the abuse he endures at home.

  11. If you need a show to tell you not to be an asshole to someone, 

    You’re probably too big of an asshole to change.

  12. Over-simplification of mental illness: 

    You don’t suddenly decide one day you’re gonna kill yourself. It’s months of suicidal ideation, months of deep, crippling depression.  It’s making three attempts but chickening out at the last minute. It’s succeeding but going to the hospital because someone found you. It’s NOT cute, or quirky, or something this simple.

  13. Season two: 

    If the creation of a second season wasn’t enough to prove this is a desperate attempt at using mental illness to shock people and make money, I don’t know what is.

So sure, 13 Reasons Why sucks. But why does it matter? It matters because this is a very popular show. It matters because this show is aimed at young and impressionable people. It matters because this could be someone’s first introduction to mental illness in media, or mental illness at all.

By perpetuating these harmful stereotypes, you are continuing the stigma against mental illness, the same stigma that makes people, like hannah baker, not want to reach out for help. The same stigma that kills people.

Basically, don’t use me and my experiences as a scapegoat to sell your manic pixie dream girl aesthetic. Mental illness is not cool or fun. It fucking sucks and this show and shows like it are the main reasons there’s such a stigma surrounding it.

My mental illness is NOT for your entertainment. Fuck you.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with A.S. King

UnknownHello everyone! I am so, so honored, thankful and thrilled to feature one of my favorite authors, A.S. King, today for Shattering Stigmas. Amy is a fantastic writer and a lovely person. She writes unflinchingly raw, real and honest books about teens that are complex, vibrant and full of hope. Her latest YA book, Still Life with Tornado, is about Sarah, a girl who has an existential crisis and deals with the implosion of her parents’ marriage via various past and future versions of herself. It’s weird, it’s real and it’s lovely like Amy’s other YA books including Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Everybody Sees the Ants and Glory O’Brien’s History of the FutureYou can find her on Twitter or on her website.

You tackle so many critical teen mental health and wellness issues in your book from grieving the loss of a parent to bullying to domestic violence to the pressures of standardized testing. What usually comes first, the characters or the issues and contexts that they’re placed in?

Characters seem to come first for me. They show up and start talking and tell me about themselves. I don’t think beyond that. They have to tell me what to think about. In Sarah’s case, after she told me her first chapter, I thought: Why does she think there’s no such thing as an original idea? What’s so wrong with her that she couldn’t fight this claim? What’s she trying to tell me? And then I write and she tells me, eventually. In this case, I found out over time that her father is a controlling abuser and the whole family system has been adjusted in order to allow him to do this in a way that feels normal. But it’s anything but normal.

You’ve mentioned in the past that part of the fuel behind your writing is to help teens understand adults and help adults understand teens. How do you hope your writing builds the bridge for teens and adults to talk about the real stuff like mental illness?

The first step in that equation is: adults need to read the books. If they don’t, then they can’t be reached. The bridge is inside the writing. When teens read it, they feel as if someone understands them and they also, through the adult voices I write, get a chance to see why the adults around them may seem distracted or uninterested. Adults who read my books—the ones who write to me, anyway—are usually floored by the fact that they could “feel” their teenhood again and they find things there (as we all do throughout our lives) that are messing up their present day lives. I’ve had people as old as 70+ write to tell me that my book changed their mind about something that happened to them as a teen—they’d never taken it seriously before. Why? Because that’s what teens hear all the time. Not to take things too seriously. Things are “a phase.” Things aren’t so bad, this is hormones. Etc. When really, more than a quarter of teenagers are suffering from mental illness in silence because adults have a hard time taking them seriously. Teenhood is when many mental illnesses come to light. As parents, we forget that—no—we aren’t told that, so we often don’t even know it. We blow off all sorts of things. Our culture approves of this blow off. And then you end up with statistics like this one: The second leading cause of death of those aged 15-19 is suicide. If this doesn’t make us stop and finally TALK about mental illness, I’m not sure books can. Parents must be willing to walk halfway across the bridge and drop the stigma of reading a book about teenagers first, then they might be willing to drop the stigma of teens with mental illness.

If there’s anything I know, it’s that people with a mental illness usually do not know what is going on. If that person is 35, a friend or family member may say, “You should see a doctor.” But if that person is 15, a friend or family member is more likely to say, “You’ll feel better tomorrow—this is teenhood, kiddo.” So, my books are here to help young adults recognize that not only might they be going through something inexplicably hard and not just normal teenhood, but I also aim to urge them to SAY SOMETHING ABOUT IT. And if adults read my books, they might actually LISTEN. Most of the adults in my books are living with bad stuff because they feel stuck with it. I’m here to say: yeah, we’re all stuck with some stuff but we don’t have to be stuck with others. There are many ways to live life and see the world. And we can help ourselves and help our loved ones if we could just LISTEN.

Many of your books feature surreal twists such as Lucky’s visits to Vietnam in Everybody Sees the Ants, the kids in I Crawl Through It and the Sarah’s in Still Life with Tornado. Can you discuss a little bit about how you use surrealism to represent mental health or psychological journeys in your writing?

Mental illness is surreal. I know because I am surrounded by it in everyday life. Shock is surreal. I know because I’ve experienced it. Being bullied is surreal. Again, I know because I’ve been there. Psychological journeys are most important to me because they accompany every other kind of journey. Regarding mental illness, we just rarely talk about it and it’s still so surrounded by shame that people are judgmental about it rather than compassionate. Which is downright weird if you ask me. So surrealism certainly fits into my work because the world in which I live—the world in which we all live—is super surreal.

We have become a huge number of unconnected people vying for some sort of trophy. Depends who you are which trophy you’re aiming for, but we seem to have forgotten that we are all little pieces of a far larger thing. Maybe that vision is too big to fit into the viewfinder, and I get that. But in real life, we should be helping each other more. We should be talking to teenagers and helping them grow and learn and not lecturing them about how they’re always on their phones. Dude. I’M ALWAYS ON MY PHONE TOO. And so are most adults. I see them everywhere. 70% of the adults who drive by my house are literally looking at their phones while they drive. But sure, tell us again how it’s the teenagers who are ruining everything.

So yeah. Surrealism is a huge part of my work because I think life on Earth is surreal. But being a teenager—in a culture that pretty much thinks you suck and you’re stupid at every turn—is surreal. (Much like being part of any marginalized group is surreal because this same attitude rules the lives of so many people long beyond teenhood.)

 

One of the goals of Shattering Stigmas is to dismantle the stigma against mental illness by creating a safe space for people to discuss these issues and raise awareness about mental health via their favorite mental health reads and personal experiences. I know that talking and writing about mental health is important to you. Could you say a bit about why you think writing about YA is so crucial and has your view of it changed between when you first started writing and now? 

I wrote for a long time not knowing I was writing YA. This is a common story. However, I have my own reasons. (I was in a foreign country where YA didn’t exist like it does here.) But once I started writing YA knowingly, I guess I thought back to myself as a teenager and how much I needed books that made me feel like I wasn’t so awful. Or how about this? I needed books that helped me understand myself without judgment. Or I needed books where I could see myself and see a character like me succeed. I spent most of my youth hearing that I’d never get anywhere if I didn’t do A, B, or C. I was sure I was going to be a complete loser for life. Turns out A, B, and C were not the only way to succeed.

As for how my writing has changed, I don’t know. The more I meet teenagers all over the world, the more I see the stigma of just being a teenager. And the more I want to offer an outreached hand to help in whatever way I can. A small escape from the hazing, I guess. It makes me more determined to keep writing the books I do, even though I’m always broke and need a few other jobs to survive. Money means nothing compared to helping human beings. I have no idea where I got that idea, but I know I’ve had it from a very young age because I used to have recurring dreams about it. (Which you will see in a graphic novel one day soon.)

  

Are there any mental health issues you wish were more widely represented in YA?

 I had to think about this one for a while. You know, I think YA has some great representation in the fiction arena for most mental illness or emotional upheaval. What I’d like to see more of? Non-fiction. Books that are there to help teens deal with their mental illnesses and see the symptoms themselves because at this point, I’ve given up on adults figuring it out. I’m not saying all parents are awful. It took ME more than a year to figure out something was going on with MY KID. My partner went undiagnosed for 45 years and in our 30 together, I never once thought to look up his behavior to see if it was a result of a mental illness. I just thought he was being a jerk. But he was suffering. Badly. And now here we are, a family who talks openly about mental illness. Healthy—as healthy as we can be—day to day. So, I’d like to see more non-fiction, self help, maybe alongside story collections, poetry, things that both enlighten the reader to the symptoms or spectrum of symptoms of a disorder, and then a story or poem that relates. (Whoever runs with this idea, please let me know. I’d love to contribute somehow.)

  

Do you have any self-care tips, tricks or secrets you’d like to share?

I am not very good at self care. I’m working on it. One of the things I most need in my day is time alone to just sit by myself. This is hard for my family to understand sometimes because as far as they can see I’m in here in the office alone all the time. Why isn’t that enough? (Answer: because I’m working in here, not “being by myself.”) So I have learned to tell my family that I am going to go sit by myself and take some time. And they have learned that this isn’t a huge deal—and that I just need some time.

 

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Amy! It has been such an honor to host you on my blog for Shattering Stigmas.

Thank you so much for asking me to join in and thank you for your work. We have to start talking about this a lot more than we do. Books with mental health issues in them must stop being mislabeled as only “issue books” with a roll of the eyes. Because those “issues” are real and people live with them every day and I have had it with eye-rolling. Condescending to teenagers (or things connected to teenagers) never helped one single teenager. Not ever. It’s our job—society’s job—to help them if they need help and stop this consistent lack of respect. I thank you for caring enough to keep talking about it. ROCK THAT, TAYLOR TRACY!

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Posted in Blog Tour

The Greatest LGBT+ Characters by Tori Curtis

I’m Tori Curtis, and last year I published my debut f/f fantasy novel, Eelgrass. It’s a coming of age story about selkies, a beautiful (and terrifying) mermaid, and how brave you have to be to protect your friends.

In Eelgrass, a lesbian reimagining of Irish folktales, Efa and Bettan spend their days roving the sea and shore. The other selkies in their village say it will soon be time for them to settle down and find husbands. Then Bettan disappears into a rainstorm. Despite the other villagers’ reassurances, Efa can’t shake the certainty her friend’s been taken.

To rescue Bettan, she must leave behind the shallow waters of her home and find the fishwives. These half-human fish seduce men with song and devour them with sharp teeth. She doesn’t expect to find Ninka, an outrageous young woman who makes her feel giddy and who might be the key to unlocking her own courage.

I have never been good at self-restraint in the face of true love.

The first time I fell in love with a girl, I spent six months crying into my pillow, posting poems about how I yearned to be in her strong, softball-playing arms on Fictionpress. I contemplated that possibly, after ten short years on this earth, I would have to die of a broken heart. I told everyone in my 200-person middle school that I was a lesbian now.

I also told my parents, who I think must have been a little amused when I tearfully confessed that MAYBE it was possible that I was actually bisexual, but probably it wouldn’t come up, on account of no feeling I could ever feel would be as strong or as true as what I felt for my beloved.

(She knows who she is, and she deserves to be unbelievably smug.)

The first time I fell in love with a fictional gay character, I lied to my parents about staying after school for homework, jumped the turnstile, took the 1 and 9 train twenty blocks downtown to Barnes and Noble, realized that Barnes & Noble DIDN’T HAVE THE BOOK I WANTED, took the train back to the 72nd street station, and ran ten or fifteen blocks uptown to the next nearest Barnes & Noble, which also didn’t have the book I wanted.

This had a happy ending: I didn’t get my ten-and-a-half-year-old butt kidnapped, and my One True Love bought me a copy of Magic’s Pawn for my birthday. (Disclaimer: Please, if you’re ten and obsessed with an LGBT fantasy novel but too shy to ask your parents to buy it for you, talk to a librarian or do ANYTHING other than spend two hours running up and down Broadway without a cell phone while your parents think you are safely working on your math homework.)

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CW: References to transmisia and anti-lesbian slurs

It’s impossible to talk about the LGBT characters I have loved – desperately, earnestly, without reservation – without running into… dilemmas. Because so often, the characters that I’ve held in my heart for years didn’t get that kind of care from the stories they were written into. My wife read Magic’s Pawn this year – the same copy I got when I turned eleven, the same copy where I highlighted entire passages in pink magic marker – and we were both horrified not just by the things I remembered (like the main character’s soul-bonded boyfriend dying horribly) but by things I took for granted as a child.

“Wait,” she said, “so we’re supposed to believe Valdemar is a perfect utopia ruled by magic talking horses, but also there are religious orders where they will take gay teenagers and forcibly brick them into caves for the rest of their lives? And no one stops this?”

Falling in love with LGBT characters as an LGBT person is complex in a way that, I assume, falling in love with cis, straight characters as a cis, straight person isn’t. In some ways, it grows harder as we create better, more representative work. When we have the romance between Chiron and Kevin in Moonlight, what are we supposed to do with RENT’s representation of Angel and Collins, who are pushed aside to provide development for the more-important white and straight characters, who can’t get either a set of preferred pronouns or a single scene in which Angel isn’t the butt of a transphobic joke?

What are we supposed to do with characters whose writers couldn’t make up their minds: the Albus Dumbledores (Harry Potter) of the world, the Janis Ians (Mean Girls), and the Grace Polks (Joan of Arcadia)? It’s not representation to write a character all your tiny lesbian viewers identify with, make sure she gets called a “dyke” at least once, and then make ABSOLUTELY SURE that she expresses interest in men. But the heart wants what it wants.

When we talk about LGBT characters and LGBT representation, we have to worry about the personal and the political. As a writer and a feminist, nothing is ever going to be perfect, and I don’t ever want to settle. But just between us, when we’re hanging out in the cool kids club, we deserve some time for the characters we fell in love with even when it wasn’t perfect. Even if they’re Dr. Frank-n-Furter or a one-line side character in a 700-page fantasy novel. Or that novel-length Star Trek fic I almost wrote for Sulu and his husband (I’m not sorry).

If you’re LGBTQ+ this Coming Out Day 2017, I’m so glad you’re here, and I hope you get to spend the coming year with the characters who make you excited to be a part of this community.

You can get a copy of Eelgrass here: link

Visit my website at toricurtiswrites.com

Or follow me on twitter @tcurtfish

And Sapphic Book Club is going to be reading Eelgrass for November 2017, so I hope you get the chance to be a part of that.

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