Posted in Shattering Stigmas, Uncategorized

Q&A with Mia García, Author of “The Resolutions” and “Even If the Sky Falls”

Meeting an author when they’re a debut and then getting a chance to watch their career and advocacy within the community is one of the greatest joys of being in the book community. That’s why I’m so excited to welcome author of THE RESOLUTIONS and EVEN IF THE SKY FALLS, Mia García, to the blog today to talk about mental health. When I’m not grilling Mia about the mental health rep in her books, she is endlessly passionate about the environment and diverse latinx representation in kidlit. Keep up with her on her website, Instagram and Twitter. You can buy her latest book THE RESOLUTIONS from Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million and Book Depository. You can buy her debut EVEN IF THE SKY FALLS from Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books a Million and Book Depository.

Taylor Tracy: One of the goals of Shattering Stigmas is to dismantle the stigma against mental illness by creating a safe space for people to discuss and raise awareness about mental health via their favorite mental health reads and personal experiences. What does mental health awareness mean to you and how does it intersect with your creative process?

Mia García: It means many things. It means being kinder to myself and understanding that there’s no such thing as perfect – that even in my personal mental health journey, I’ll never achieve perfect, and that is OK. It’s about being as honest as I can be with myself, my writing, and my characters; it’s about the imperfections and messiness of understanding and the fragility in opening up; it often means finding bits of myself in my characters, caring for them, imbuing them with the hope that doesn’t always come every day.

Hopefully, it means understanding myself better, and making connections, and, if possible letting others know that they are not alone.

Taylor: In The Resolutions, Jess has arguably the most “explicit” mental health representation in her arc. But Nora, Ryan and Lee all go through their own emotional struggles as well. Can you talk a bit about how you came to write the emotional issues that each character goes through and what it was like to bring them all together in a book that is also funny and sweet?

Mia: All four characters have little pieces of my present and past – they helped me examine my own current mental health and helped me look back into my past to realize I’ve been dealing with these feelings for a very long time, I simply didn’t have the language or knowledge to understand what was happening.

As you said, while Jess has the most explicit mental health rep, all four of the main MCs are working through strong emotional issues like familial guilt, fear, heart-break, and feelings of simply not being enough that I struggled through, and still am to this day.

Nora and I share a deep love for baking and family and I remember grappling with the fear of expectations versus my own desires. Ryan got my artist worries – that panic of not being good enough for your art, not worthy, it’s often crippling and hard to put aside. Though not Huntington’s Disease, my family has a long history with a certain chronic illness that I was diagnosed with two short years ago, I was able to explore some of my depression, fears, and hopes along with Lee.

And, of course, Jess, who echoes my long history with anxiety.

Now I feel like I need to apologize to my characters for giving them all my issues!!

I think in the end the humor and sweetness comes from my love for my characters – I genuinely want them to succeed – and the value that humor has as a medicine, a way to keep going, a way to analyze when the world feels too much. I find that often humor allows me the time to take the breath I can’t seem to take.

Taylor: Grief is something you wrote about in Even if the Sky Falls and The Resolutions. Can you talk a bit about what brings you back to discussing this issue in different ways in both books and do you plan to continue exploring it in your writing in the future?

Mia: I recently realized that grief and death are recurring subjects in everything I write – I’m not sure where the subject came from and I can only guess it is connected to the loss of all four of my grandparents, to whom I was close to in varying degrees and to my Puerto Rican heritage.

My abuelos helped raise me as both my parents worked full time, and I can’t think of a single childhood memory that they aren’t a part of directly or indirectly. When they passed we never stopped thinking of them, telling their stories, conversing with them as we cleaned the gravestones, or kept tokens from their lives in our homes, or on our bodies.

Their loss exists in this eternal space in my heart where they are forever alive and forever gone that is essentially the cornerstone of grief.

Taylor: What are some of your favorite examples of mental health representation from other Las Musas?

Mia: Excellent question!! The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante does a beautiful job of examining grief, guilt, love, and family and how it all bleeds together and impacts multiple characters’ mental health and the lengths we will go for family.

And NoNieqa Ramos’s The Truth Is examines a survivor’s mental health in a way that is heart-breaking, frenetic, and funny; it examines the process of grief and self at the intersections of race, sexuality, and pain.

Honestly, I recommend looking through all Las Musas books as there’s much to be said about seeing yourself represented in books and media in a positive light that does wonders for your sense of self and mental health.

Taylor: What are some of your other recommendations for great mental health representation, whether it’s in books, movies, TV, etc.?

Mia: Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After is BEAUTIFUL and lyrical and wonderful and heartbreaking. I highly recommend it.

Taylor: Are there any mental health issues you wish were more widely represented in middle grade and YA, or issues you hope to write about but haven’t had the chance yet?

Mia: I don’t have a specific issue I’d like to see more, just more in general, along with intersections of cultural, sexual, and racial identities. I’d like to dig deeper into my own experiences with anxiety. I can look back into my memories all the way to the 1st grade and say with certainty I’ve been having anxiety attacks since then; I just couldn’t name it and to be honest, I don’t think I would’ve been believed if I could, so having more representation in general would be wonderful for the kids/teens reading and adults as well. How different would my journey be if I’d had help at that young age? Would I be better equipped now?

Taylor: Do you have any self-care tips, tricks or secrets you’d like to share, especially for writers?

Mia: It takes constant reminders to remember that this isn’t a race, to go at my own pace regardless of how slow I think I am; to not compare who got what deal and who is writing what; to take deep breaths and focus on the story you love.

If you’ve been having some bad moments, I recommend being silent with friends – which sounds weird – I know. About three years back I had a very dark period of time where I was having constant anxiety attacks and what helped the most was sitting next to someone, watching TV with a friend, or skyping with my sister while she did her daily stuff. I didn’t have to say anything, or do anything, they were just there, and often that helps.

M. García was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She moved to New York where she studied creative writing at The New School, worked in publishing, and lived under a pile of to-be-read books. She is the author of Even If the Sky Falls and The Resolutions from Katherine Tegen books (an imprint of HarperCollins). You can find her at http://www.mgarciawrites.com.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with Fadwa @ Word Wonders

There are so many people in the book community that I look up to and admire for the incredible work they do. Fadwa, who you can find on Twitter and on her blog, is one of them. I am so happy to welcome her to the blog today to talk about her mental health series she’s been doing on Twitter, mental health rep in YA and more! 

Tay: Can you talk a little about the experience of dealing with mental health issues on a person level, but then also seeing them from the perspective of the medical field as a student? How has that been illuminating and/or frustrating?

Fadwa: It’s definitely been…enlightening to say the least. I’ve dealt with PTSD since I was five, anxiety for the past decade, and a few depressive episodes in the same amount of time and studying these mental illnesses as well as others in depth has been both incredibly validating and difficult. On the one hand, I keep thinking “yes, my struggles are real, I have all these symptoms and here’s why, so I really am not making it up” especially when it comes to depression, since the kind I have isn’t really chronic. On the other hand, it makes me feel exposed (even if no one in class/the hospital knows that I actually struggle), it makes me feel as if I’m being looked at through a magnifying glass and every part of me is being dissected. So it’s a struggle, but the good of it outweighs the bad by far.

Tay: Recently, you started a Twitter series called #WWTalksMentalHealth where you talk about various mental health issues and debunk myths and stereotypes around them. Why did you start this series, what has the response been like so far and what are your hopes for it in the future? 

Fadwa: Yes! I have psychiatry classes this semester and they’ve thought me so much already, and made me realize just how many misconceptions most people have when it comes to mental health issues and how much lacking the overall knowledge and education around mental health is, so I took it upon myself to share what I learn (not all of it of course, since a lot of what we learn is specific to health professionals) in the hopes of shattering the stigma (ha!) and bringing more awareness. So far, I have two threads and they’ve unfortunately gotten less attention than what I hoped for, don’t get me wrong, they’re getting interaction and being read by people who either feel seen or educated, which is the goal, but I hope that in the future, the series starts gaining more visibility as to reach as many people as possible.

Tay: So many of the conversations in the bookish community are focused on the experience of it within the United States (and maybe the UK, but almost exclusively the US). Can you talk a little bit about the perception, management of and stigmas against mental illness in Morocco?

Fadwa: Mental health awareness is unfortunately almost non-existent in Morocco, which breaks my heart because a lot of people struggle with mental illnesses, like everywhere else. And it all comes down to the lack of education. Most people hear think that if you need to see a therapist, need to get meds, then you’re weak or cr*zy, or something that they don’t want to deal with, which automatically puts you on the margins of society and get people to look at you either with pity or disgust and really, who wants to deal with that? So when you struggle with you mental health, you either refuse to go see a therapist or hide it from the world. The treatment of mentally ill people in our society is pretty bad, and it breaks my heart.

Tay: Shattering Stigmas is an event centered on continuing conversations around mental illness to debunk the stigmas around it. Why is talking about mental health important to you?

Fadwa: Like I said, in my country, talking about mental health issues can be seen as rather shameful and I sometimes feel like I’m screaming into the void when I try to get into the topic, but that won’t stop me. Because there’s so much work to do, and if I let that silence me, there will be no progress done. I just want people to be able to talk freely about their struggles without being scared of the way society will view them or reject them. It’s also to get neurotypical people to recognize signs and manifestations of mental illnesses in their loved ones, the more educated about these issues they are, the easier it will be for them to actually be helpful.

Tay: What types of mental health issues or mental illnesses would you like to see more widely or better represented in books?

Fadwa: All of them! But especially those that are stigmatized the most like schizophrenia, personality disorders, bipolar disorders, etc… people with these illnesses are often viewed and depicted as dangerous which can be pretty destructive, so they need accurate portrayal the most, to end that stigma around their illnesses. Also, I’ll be selfish and say PTSD, there are SO MANY different ways it can manifest, and I’ve only read one book that gets it close to my own experience (Girl made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake) and the more it’s represented in books, the bigger a chance there is for people with different experiences with PTSD to see themselves.

Tay: What mental health/mental illness tropes are you tired of seeing in books?

Fadwa: STOP VILLAINIZING MENTALLY ILL FOLKS. I’m sorry for yelling, but it’s true, the most common way of depicting us is rude, lazy, abusive, neglectful, and for the most unlucky of us, dangerous. And yes, mentally ill people can be all of those, just like the neurotypical can be as well. It’s not because of the mental illness. There’s also another one I hate, it’s when the mental illness is used as a plot device or for shock value. Please trash that.

Tay: What do you wish bloggers did to make the bookish online a community a better place re: discussing mental illness?

Fadwa: Use content warnings. PLEASE. I’m begging you. It doesn’t take you much but it saves us from a whole world of heartache and spiraling down into dark places. Also, please try ridding your language of ableist terms, like crazy, stupid, and using actual mental illnesses as hyperbolic adjective such as “He’s so bipolar/psychotic/a psychopath/a sociopath”, I know we’re used to having them as integral parts of our everyday conversations, but if I managed to not use them anymore, you can too and it won’t change anything to your quality of life.

Tay: What are your top self care tips, tricks and secrets?

Fadwa: Oh lord. I suck at self-care and have only started putting a conscious effort into it a couple months ago so I’m definitely not an expert. One thing that has been my lifeline for as long as I can remember now is music. A lot of people say that you should listen to uplifting music when feeling down but that’s never worked for me, it only made me feel worse, I like listening to music that I can relate to, that feels like it understands me, it makes me feel less alone.

I’d say don’t be afraid to put yourself first and be selfish about your well-being, this is something I still struggle with but it can be necessary for your own sanity sometimes to just take a step back from life (if you can) and just focus on you and what you need to get better, even when what you need isn’t really what you want. Because self-care isn’t always a walk in the park, it’s making decision that might suck in the moment but that you know will be better for you in the long run. I wish I had more advice but self-care is such a personal thing that what might work for me might not work for you, so all I can say is figure out what helps YOU and do it, even when it’s hard.

Enter our *international* giveaway for a mental health read of your choice!

Interested in more Shattering Stigmas posts? Check out this post that Ben, one of our amazing co-hosts, put together listing every single Shattering Stigmas guest post and giveaway so you don’t miss a thing!

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

A Q&A with Jenn Bennett, Author of ALEX, APPROXIMATELY, STARRY EYES and SERIOUS MOONLIGHT

jenn.jpgI am so, so, so pleased to welcome Jenn Bennett, one of my favorite YA contemporary romance writers, to the blog today to talk about writing mental health into swoony rom-coms, self care and more. If you haven’t read Jenn’s books yet, I can bet you’ll want to by the end of this post and if you love Jenn’s books as much as I do, you’ll definitely want to read on. You can also find Jenn on Twitter or at her website.  

Tay: I’m interested how the pieces of a plot come together for you. A Jenn Bennett book seems to be one part complicated family relationships, two parts swoonworthy sex positive relationships, one part quirky work setting and one part poignant heart and representation of issues. What generally comes first for you, plot, setting or character? And at what point do you start weaving in mental health and illness representation?

Jenn: Every book is different. Usually, though, some kind of a plot comes first, and that’s only because I’m beholden to my publisher. I can’t pitch characters to my editor: “I have this great idea for a girl with urticaria who likes astronomy.” That doesn’t cut it. Publishers want a plot-based hook: “I have this great idea for a romance between two teens who get stuck in the wilderness together after a camping trip goes wrong.” So that’s generally what I start with, to generalize things. However, the mental health aspects…those usually pop up when I start writing and getting to know my characters.

Tay: Several of your books that feature mental health representation—ALEX, APPROXIMATELY, STARRY EYES and your upcoming 2019 release SERIOUS MOONLIGHT are contemporary romances and yet you strike a perfect balance between lightness and seriousness. As a writer, how do you balance these tougher, more serious issues in a genre known for its lightness and fun?

Jenn: I suppose I’m trying to do two things: (1) portray mental health issues in a non-glamorized or fetishized way, and (2) show my characters coping/dealing/facing their issues and living happy lives. Hope is everything to me. It’s my lens. No matter what genre I write, my books are always going to be full of banter, laughter, quirky characters, love, and hope. That’s just who I am as both a person and a writer. Don’t get me wrong: I think there’s great value in books that choose to focus on the grim realities of mental health issues. But stories that focus on a light at the end of the tunnel are equally important. That’s what I try to show. If you’re a character in one of my books, yes, you may struggle with depression or grief or PTSD…but you will still find love. You still have a sense of humor. You still have ambitions. You still get your happy ending. It doesn’t make you less worthy, and it doesn’t define you.

Tay: In several of your books, you work depression, PTSD and suicidal ideation/attempts into the worlds of your characters? Why are these important issues to include in your writing and what draws you to return to them again and again?

Jenn: I never set out to include them, not intentionally, but I suppose there’s some truth in writing what you know. I’ve struggled with anxiety and been on anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants. My husband struggles with depression and adult attention-deficit disorder. Writing, in a way, is digging into your own emotions and memories, so I sometimes feel as if every book I write is an extended counseling session with my ego, super-ego, and Id.

Tay: Building off my last question, in your next book, SERIOUS MOONLIGHT, you have an MC that deals very much with the psychological impacts of grief and you also have a plot thread in which suicide and comforting people we know who have struggled with suicidal ideation and attempts. What inspired you to write about these issues in a more foregrounded way than you have in past works?

Jenn: It’s strange how the title of this book was prophetic. It’s taken from a David Bowie lyric, but in a way, it influenced the tone of the story. Yes, this book is still frothy, funny, and romantic, but the mental health issues are more prominent than they were past books. If I had to guess why, I suppose it’s partly because it was written after the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Americans are living in a time of turmoil and divisiveness, and as an author, it’s pretty much my job to be sensitive, reflective, and observant of both myself and the world around me. When you’ve got your sensitive-artist antennae out, it’s hard to stop all that darkness from infecting you and leaching into your work. In addition to that, around the time I was writing this book, someone I grew up with as a teenager committed suicide, and I think perhaps his presence was a bit of a ghost inside my brain when I was writing this book.

Tay: A big part of the push behind putting on Shattering Stigmas this year was to continue the conversations we’ve started in the bookish community around mental illness. Why do you find it important to continue fighting the stigma against mental illness?

Jenn: Because I believe we’re all better off if we’re talking honestly and openly about mental illness—not ignoring or isolating it. We’re all in this together, learning to be better. I’m still learning healthier ways to think and write about mental issues. And probably still making mistakes! But I truly believe that stigmatizing mental illness makes all of us sicker.

Tay: What types of mental health issues would you like to see more widely represented in YA?

Jenn: No matter the issue, I’d like to see it being represented with more love and humanity, and less as a plot point that titillates or as a prop to make the protagonist more sympathetic.

Tay: Finally, do you have any self care tips, tricks or secrets?

Jenn: We’re all addicted to social media, and there are plenty of positive things to reap from it. But when your timeline is filled with triggers, anger, and stressors, it’s time to take a break. Even for a day—even for a few hours. Turn off your notifications, for the love of Pete! Did that? Okay, now watch a movie without checking your phone. Go for a walk. Play with your pets. Cook a meal that gives you pleasure. Read a book. Talk to your neighbor. BREATHE. Whatever you choose to do, I promise, all that breaking news and drama will still be there when you’re ready to come back. Take care of yourself first.

Thank you so much, Jenn! I’m so grateful for your time talking about mental illness!

Super interested in Jenn’s YA books now, if you weren’t already? Happy to send you down the Goodreads rabbit hole:

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart
Alex, Approximately
Starry Eyes
Serious Moonlight 
(out 4/16/19)

Enter our *international* giveaway for a mental health read of your choice!

Interested in more Shattering Stigmas posts? Check out this post that Ben, one of our amazing co-hosts, put together listing every single Shattering Stigmas guest post and giveaway so you don’t miss a thing!