Posted in Shattering Stigmas

“A New Kind of Writer’s Block” by Rey Noble

I always love to have Rey on the blog because they often know how to put words to feelings I simply can’t, but deeply feel. That is the case again with this post about anxiety and writing that I love and can’t wait for you all to read. You can find Rey on Twitter.

It’s been a hard few weeks.

I feel like I should preface that before we go into this. I’m in the thick of everything I’m about to talk to you about today, and I hope that brings you some sort of relief as you read this post. Especially if you relate. Particularly if you relate.

Four weeks ago I looked at every project I had been working on for multiple months in a row and felt like every piece of work I had done, every word committed from finger, to keyboard, to screen, was trash. That the project I was working on had done nothing for me as I was finding myself slowly stuck in its story, in the monotony of its existence. Just a few weeks prior it had felt like everything I wanted in the palm of my hand, a key to getting to where I wanted to go. I had, and still am having, multiple issues with this piece. It’s unlike any project I’ve worked on before, and that is both a good and bad thing. In my good moments, as I reflect over the last few months, I am very much aware that I have learned countless more lessons in the three months of consecutively working on it than I had ever imagined. In my bad moments, I’m aware that it’s feeling more and more like another shelved project. Something that needs to sit and think about what it’s done in the corner, dwelling always on the fact that it may remain unfinished to the end of my days. Since it’s sitting in a corner of my brain, I’m not likely forget anytime soon either.

Here’s the thing.

Since June, I have been working nonstop on this book. Also since June, I have been having a nonstop issue in my working life, that has caused nearly unending anxiety and thrown me into another depressive episode. I’m very much aware that both of these things are bleeding into my views and thoughts of this project, and more so my ability to work on it. It’s seemed the stress had once been manageable – three months worth of being manageable it seems, and I’ll admit that’s impressive. In that three months I did some impressive work. I wrote more than ninety thousand words, outlined and planned an entire revision, and then started a revision…that came to a stuttering halt. I had made it just over ten thousand words. It wasn’t even the part where I usually get tripped up in my manuscripts – usually it takes until the twenty, twenty-five thousand word mark. But as I was going through this rewrite, a massive undertaking, I came to a stuttering halt that I haven’t been able to move forward in since.

There’s multiple factors that have played into what is looking like the swan song of this project, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not sure what factor is most prominent. Is it that I had been working on it for 90 days with nearly no break, determined to finish the draft and then immediately jumping into revisions because of a self-imposed deadline? Was it that after I got rid of that self-imposed deadline, knowing that I had no use for it, that I lost all my discipline? Was it that the characters, who I usually let come to me organically, had come from outlines and character types and been built from the ground up instead of discovered? Was it that I no longer cared about the story, that outlining it had spoiled the end and left me wanting? Perhaps it was that I didn’t care enough about the story. Maybe it was a passing plot bunny that struck the cord of my heart and brought my mind more joy in that moment. Maybe it was because I had started burning a different candle when I was sitting down to work and it threw me out of my groove, forever. Or maybe it was that I had been working so hard, for so long, distracting myself from my anxiety and my depressive episode that the second I let myself slip, the lack of self-care caught up to me and pulled me straight down with it.

I’m not sure which one it was, not truly, but I do have an idea.

There is no combination of discipline, motivation, and inspiration that will ever be able to take the place of making sure you’re taking care of yourself. And while I thought I was doing a good job, what it came down to was this: for months I used my writing as a way to distract myself from my anxiety and depression rather than taking steps to take care of myself in the long run. And in no way am I saying that I shouldn’t have spent the last three months doing exactly what I did – I made wonderful strides and, like I said, I learned so much from it all. I just…also should have been actively making sure that I was taking care of my brain too, and not just making sure it was in tip-top shape to get some work done. It doesn’t matter how good my hustle is if all I have to show for it at the end is the crash and burn. If my hustle doesn’t include my self-care, then it isn’t hustle at all. It’s just pushing myself too hard. It’s disrespecting myself. It’s disrespecting my craft, and my work.

I’m still proud of the fact that I wrote and began rewriting a novel in three months. I’m still pretty proud of it so far. For now, I’m taking a break from it while I begin to play with another project, and this time I’m making sure to build in my self-care around my work. Making sure that my brain is getting the rest and nurturing it needs in tandem with seeding my creativity. That every part of me is getting what it needs as much as I am possibly able to give it, and learning that even being “disciplined” can go wrong if you’re not prioritizing the right way.

It’s been a hard few weeks – but I’m working to make sure that the next few will be better. I hope yours are, too.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with Nicole Melleby, Author of “Hurricane Season” and “In the Role of Brie Hutchens…”

I’m so excited to welcome Nicole Melleby, one of my favorite middle grade authors, to my blog for Shattering Stigmas. I loved Nicole’s heartfelt debut HURRICANE SEASON and can’t wait for her next two books IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… and HOW TO BECOME A PLANET. I’m so grateful for the multi-faceted and relatable girls that Nicole is bringing to kid lit and I always love to support a fellow Jersey Girl. You can can buy HURRICANE SEASON on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and IndieBound. You can pre-order IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and IndieBound. You can find Nicole on Twitter and her website.

Taylor Tracy: In Hurricane Season, there is the emotional arc of Fig’s Dad, who is struggling with mental illness, and then Fig, who is struggling with questioning her sexuality and the stress of managing her Dad’s mental illness to “protect” her family from CPS. Can you talk a bit about how you developed these two arcs and what you hoped to say with this story? 

Vincent van Gogh plays a major role in Hurricane Season. He serves as a lens through which Fig copes with her Dad’s illness and her role in relation to it. How did van Gogh and his life come to be a part of this story and did any research you did on his life surprise you?

Note: These were originally two separate questions that Nicole answered together. 🙂

Nicole Melleby: In spring 2017, my cousin Andrew was studying abroad in London. My aunt and uncle were planning a vacation for themselves and Andrew’s two younger sisters to go out for a week to see him. I pretty much decided I was going to crash the trip, and they, being the best, didn’t complain about it. 

At the time, I was coming out of a low period emotionally, and hadn’t really been writing anything much; it was too hard to be creative when I was feeling the way I was. But I was finally ready to try something new. I knew I wanted to explore the relationship between a father and daughter…but that was pretty much all I had. I didn’t really expect to work on the idea at all while on vacation, but I adjusted to the jet lag pretty quickly, while my family decidedly did not. So, I had my mornings to myself and I knew that the National Gallery in London was free—and I do love a free museum—so I decided to check it out.

When I got to the Van Gogh paintings, there was a tour guide talking about Van Gogh’s mental illness, and there was just…something so unbelievable relatable about what he was saying—particularly since, like I said, I was just coming out of my own depression—and I ended up going to the gift shop and buying a book of Van Gogh’s letters. At the time, the only thing I knew about Van Gogh was that he cut off his ear—so the surprising part was learning how much I felt connected to him and his thoughts and his mental illness the more I read about him, the more I wanted to understand him. 

I read all of his letters on the plane ride home, and I knew exactly what I wanted to write by the time we landed.

As far as Fig’s sexuality—I always knew I wanted to write queer stories, so I didn’t really give it much thought at first. I’m a queer woman, and I know how much these sort of coming of age stories would have meant to me when I was younger. 

The one thing I hope kids get out of this book, the one thing I wanted to accomplish, was that they know they aren’t alone, that they’re seen, that I see them.

Taylor: Hurricane Season and your upcoming 2020 middle grade, In the Role of Brie Hutchens…, deal with the emotional struggle of discovering one’s identity and beginning to share that with the people in one’s life. Can you discuss a bit about what brings you to write about the emotional journeys of queer girls in middle grade and how writing Brie’s story was different from writing Fig’s?

Nicole: Like I said, as a queer individual, it’s important for me to tell stories that I would have needed. That’s pretty much the question that every queer kidlit author is asked: Do you write the stories you needed? Of course I do! But also the answer is a little more complicated than that. The middle grade readers of now are different than when I was a middle grader—what they needed is different than what I needed, or wanted. So I try and think about what it would be like to be queer in today’s world, and mix that with the stories I wish I had when I was younger, and then just tell the most honest story I can about that journey. 

The biggest difference between writing Fig’s story and writing Brie’s, is that Brie’s sexuality plays a huge role in IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS…, it’s basically the leading storyline. Every obstacle that Brie faces stems from her awkward first crush on a girl, and her desperation to connect with her religious mom, in the face of her sexuality and what that means for her moving forward. Fig’s sexuality wasn’t what the story was shaped around, it was just a part of who Fig was. Both books also have coming out scenes—but Fig’s is short, and simple, and easy (which was something I wanted to write more than anything) and Brie’s is much more complicated, and happens over, and over, and over again. Fig’s dad accepts her (he’s even learning about his own sexuality in the meanwhile) while Brie’s family needs a little more work. 

It just goes to show that there’s no one way to come out, there’s no one story, that there are different ways to be accepted, different ways to understand who you are, different understandings of it in general. 

Taylor: I have to say, from someone who was a huge space nerd and Hayden Planetarium geek as a kid, I am SO excited for your 2021 release How to Become a Planet. Can you tell us anything about that book and what you’re trying to do with the mental health representation in it?

Nicole: I keep referring to this book as my inverse HURRICANE SEASON. The story starts off with an 11-year-old girl named Pluto having just gotten a depression and anxiety diagnosis. While HURRICANE SEASON dealt with Fig and her dad struggling with his undiagnosed bipolar disorder for most of the book, Pluto and her mom are struggling to understand and deal with Pluto’s diagnosis and what that means for Pluto moving forward. 

My friend Josh Levy (who wrote a wonderful sci-fi MG book called SEVENTH GRADE VS. THE GALAXY) actually told me that he called the Hayden Planetarium Question and Answer Hotline to ask them questions about traveling in space while writing his book, which takes place on a public school that is a spaceship. When he told me this, I had already written a first draft of Pluto’s story—and her mom’s love of outer space and how she gave that love to Pluto—and I knew immediately I wanted to write that into my story. So Pluto, while wondering why astronauts decided that Pluto (the dwarf planet) wasn’t a planet anymore, and wondering why she has depression and why her life is changing because of it, calls up the Hotline to ask all of the big questions that are on her mind. Even if they can’t exactly help her. 

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

Nicole: Here are some of my favorite Middle Grade books that feature characters with mental illness: 

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?

Nicole: Just like I said about how there isn’t one story fits all for sexuality, the same goes for mental illness. I would love more of the issues already written about, I would love ones that haven’t been written yet. Just like in LGBTQ MG—there isn’t as many stories about POC with mental illness, so I’d like a wider variety of children’s stories being told, too. I’m hoping to be able to continue to explore different stories about middle grade characters with different sexualities and mental illnesses moving forward, too. 

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

Nicole: You don’t have to write every day—I see so many writers wracked with guilt over how much or how little they write day-to-day, and it’s hard! Write how much you want to write, how much you need to write. You decide what those answers are. 

Find a group of writers who are in the same boat as you. If you’re looking for an agent? Find writers to commiserate with. If you’re on sub? Ditto. Find a debut group if you’re having a very first book coming out—because all of these stages are daunting and new and no one knows how to navigate them, but it helps not navigating them alone. 

Also: If you’re facing a rejection? I find it best to sing this ridiculous song, because it’s so ridiculous it makes me feel better every single time I have sung it to myself (which has been often, because rejection is part of being a writer!): Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I should just go eat worms. Worms! Worms! Worms!

Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. Her debut novel, HURRICANE SEASON earned three starred reviews and was awarded the Skipping Stones Honor Award for exceptional contribution to multicultural and ecological awareness in children’s literature. Her second novel, IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… will be released Spring 2020. When she’s not writing, Nicole can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea..

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Q&A with Farah Naz Rishi, Author of “I Hope You Get This Message”

There have been few upcoming releases I’ve been so excited for that I’ve started the line waiting to get a copy and meet the author more than an hour before the allotted time at BEA…and I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE by Farah Naz Rishi is one of them. I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE is out next Tuesday, October 22, and I hope each and every one of you will pre-order or buy a copy because this book is such a treat. Farah is also the sweetest human and I knew I had to get her on my blog to talk about mental health, hope and queer teens for Shattering Stigmas. You can find Farah on her website, Twitter and Instagram. You can pre-order I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and IndieBound. Please do, because I want all the books from Farah and can’t wait to see what she does next.

Taylor Tracy: Hope is such an important part of I Hope You Get This Message and not just because it’s in the title. Can you talk a bit about what makes you write about hope and the role of hope in I Hope You Get This Message?

Farah Naz Rishi: Over the course of the three years that I wrote I HOPE YOU GET THIS MESSAGE, each member of my family died, beginning with my dad, then my brother, and finally, my mom. It almost sounds unbelievable; I think even now, I’m still a little in denial. But after losing my brother, I found myself in a very, very dark place. Writing this book quickly became a way to find the words I needed to hear to save myself. It’s funny because this book was always meant to be one about finding hope in the darkness, even before I lost my family. I had set out to write a book to help others feel not so alone in a world that often feels nihilistic, in a world where, with all its human-driven environmental destruction and war, it’s almost easier to get swept up believing that nothing matters because it’s easier than fighting to survive. But I hadn’t expected it to become so incredibly personal. How was I supposed to write a book about hope when I’d completely lost mine? That was the challenge. And that was why writing this book became so integral to my own healing. By watching Jesse, Cate, and Adeem endure so much hurt in the face of a world that was literally falling apart around them, I couldn’t help but feel a little less alone. A little more inspired to keep going. My hope now is that it helps someone else, too. 

Taylor: Cate’s mom has schizophrenia, and your representation of her is a woman who is sick and needs help, but who also loves her daughter. Can you talk a little bit about how you developed the relationship between Cate and her mom in the book?

Farah: Schizophrenia manifests in different ways for different people, and for my maternal grandfather, who struggled with finding the right medication for most of his life, it often resulted in anger and confusion. According to my mom, growing up, part of her resented him; she believed his disability was stopping her and her sisters from having a “normal” life. It wasn’t until she was much older that her dad finally got the help and support he needed. But when his symptoms began to improve, my mom said she almost felt frustrated, because now, in her mind, her father had two “competing” identities: the man whose psychiatric disability had often made him lash out, and this new, gentle father who just wanted to be there for his wary children.  But that is precisely what my mom had to learn, or rather, unlearn: that there were no “competing identities,” and that my grandfather had always been that gentle father, one who needed a little help due to his schizophrenia. The reality is that these stigmas my mom grew up on are very much a product of a time that deeply misunderstood psychiatric disabilities–not that that’s an excuse, of course–and yet, these stigmas continue to persist. I wanted to illustrate those stigmas in Cate’s journey, and also show the genuine growth throughout her journey that makes her a better person for herself–and for her mother.   

Taylor: One of my favorite relationships in I Hope You Get This Message is the one between one of the main characters, Jesse, and his crisis counselor, both of whom are queer, even if they don’t necessarily know that about each other. Can you talk a bit about that relationship and the role those characters play in the book in terms of mental health representation?

Farah: It was really important to me to portray the healthy, helpful relationship between a queer teen boy–who clearly has difficulty opening up to others–and his queer crisis counselor, because I don’t think it’s something we see enough of (though there is definitely a rise of books that do!): the normalization of seeking help, especially when young, but also the sheer difference it can make to ones’ own healing when receiving help from fellow marginalized mental health professionals. It’s hard enough being a queer kid in a rural community, but struggling with mental health on top of it all is, I think, impossible to bear alone, and I didn’t want Jesse to bear it alone, either. So who better to understand him and what he’s enduring than a counselor who has struggled with the very same things? Therapy is most successful when the patient trusts their therapist, so seeing a therapist who genuinely understands you, beyond a textbook or clinical level, can help create that immediate bridge. I want to encourage that with my writing.  One of my favorite little things about Jesse is that even though he acts like his counselor is an annoyance, whenever he’s dealing with difficult emotions, his mind always trails back to her and what she might say, how she might call him out. In that way, counseling can be a powerful, introspective tool, a life raft to hold on to when you feel like you’re drowning.      

Taylor: Along those lines, in I Hope You Get this Message, you also subtly explore ways that mental health resources are often spread thin. Can you talk a little bit about that aspect of the book and the role that therapy and mental support play both at the potential end of the world and not?

Farah: It wasn’t until I was looking for a therapist for myself that I realized just how bad the shortage of mental health professionals is, which is especially frightening when you consider the need for mental health professionals is only increasing–and given the state of the world, I think it’s hardly surprising. So with all this discussion about the importance of seeking help, the question then becomes, well, how do I find help when there’s hardly any out there? I don’t have an easy answer for this, but I do want to highlight this problem because without creating avenues for accessible care, we’re failing those who need help the most. Right now, we’re a country that would rather arm teachers than hire more healthcare professionals in schools. That’s messed up. And unless we as a society talk about it, and read about it, things will never change. 

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

Farah: Recently, I read DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY by Adib Khorram and THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER by Emily X.R. Pan and absolutely loved them both. The first deals with the adorably awkward Darius’s depression in such a refreshingly candid way while still managing not to downplay his struggles with his mental health; the latter is a sensitive, heartbreaking story of the aftermath of suicide and trauma that read more like a sigh–of pain and relief. These two books are entirely different in tone, but I would wholeheartedly recommend each as its own masterclass in great mental health rep. 

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?

Farah: I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life, and I would love to write a Muslim character dealing with anxiety, too. Soon, I hope! 

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

Farah: Writing can be very draining on your body, and I think there’s this unspoken pressure that your legitimacy or effectiveness as a writer is congruent with your ability to sit for hours on end and spit out thousands upon thousands of words in a single writing session. But that’s absolute garbage! I believe taking care of your body is the first step to taking care of your mind, so I recommend setting timers to ensure that you, if you can, stretch every 30 minutes. Think of it as a built-in part of your writing sessions. Back pain can be detrimental to a writer, and once it starts, it rarely just goes away. For me, yoga has been incredibly helpful in helping my back muscles and spine after a day of stiff sitting. And I’ll be honest, when I’m suffering from writer’s block, I’m gonna lie on the floor and flail around anyway, so might as well make a workout of it. Plus, yogic breathing exercises can also help with anxiety and stress. I recommend trying Yoga with Adrienne’s free yoga videos on Youtube. 

Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani American Muslim writer and voice actor, but in another life, she’s worked stints as a lawyer, a video game journalist, and an editorial assistant. She received her BA in English from Bryn Mawr College, her JD from Lewis & Clark Law School, and her love of weaving stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with video game characters. You can find her at home in Philadelphia, or on Twitter @far_ah_way.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

A Guest Post from “The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me” Olivia Hinebaugh

I’m so excited to welcome the first of two posts by people I admire named “Olivia” with a fantastic guest post about panic attacks, anxiety, OCD and ADHD from Olivia Hinebaugh. Olivia is the debut author of a fantastic sex-positive contemporary romance, The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. You can order it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and Indiebound. Olivia is a fantastic writer and I’m so thrilled to welcome her words here for Shattering Stigmas. You can visit her on her website and Twitter.

A few years ago, I got up on stage and told a theater full of people of how I was obsessed with going to the bathroom. I was reliving the worst time in my life, when I was suffering from full-fledged panic disorder with agoraphobia. And sharing the good, bad, and embarrassing from that time was really empowering. I was reading an essay I wrote as part of the show This Is My Brave, whose slogan is “storytelling saves lives.” I completely agree with that sentiment. One of the worst parts of having a mental illness take over your life, is feeling completely, and utterly alone. The more I’ve shared my story and struggles, the most support and camaraderie I’ve received.

I didn’t know exactly what a panic attack was when I first had one. I knew something really bad had happened to me. I knew I had been traumatized because I had been on a trolley and felt truly unsafe. And that was just the first of many. Because my panic attacks manifested as lightheadedness, nausea, and general digestive discomfort and urgency, I thought that maybe I had some sort of passing out disorder. Or I thought I was always coming down with something. It took months before I made the connection that maybe the problem was in my brain. 

When I share my story, my biggest hope is that someone who is suffering and doesn’t know why sees a way through it. Or that they’ll feel less alone. Or they’ll see that help is out there and it’s possible to live with it. Maybe not perfectly recovered, but managing and accepting and thriving.

I have also viewed my anxiety in a positive light, especially when it comes to writing. Not to be dramatic, but having panic disorder, agoraphobia, and OCD was pretty much the worst thing that ever happened to me. I think it was really my first time experiencing suffering. I had an illness that was invisible to others. My compassion deepened immensely. And I do think that compassion is a necessary trait in writer.

When I was 17, I was diagnosed with ADHD. And while I understand pretty well, at this point, how that makes certain aspects of my life more difficult, I have a lot of practice folding neurodiversity into my identity and embracing the positives. With ADHD, I treated it with medication at the end of high school and was able to get straight A’s for the first time in my life. But I also wasn’t daydreaming. I wasn’t writing. So when I got to college, and life became less stressful (my high school was really demanding), I stopped taking medication and realized that my creative life had suffered. I’m a classic inattentive. I often forget what I should be doing. I have a tough time transitioning activities. I find it really difficult to organize my space and stay on task. I’m messy and forgetful. But I am always thinking. I can tune things out when I’m focused on work. On medication, I heard every word everyone said to me, I was so tuned in. And for me to write, I needed to tune out.

So I was determined to view my anxiety in a similar light. It’s increased my compassion. It keeps me safe. It gives me challenges to overcome and there’s some joy and pride in conquering phobias. I am less judgmental. Because until someone tells you they are suffering with an invisible illness, you just don’t know. I almost always disclose my anxiety when it crops up. For me, I’d rather people know I’m having an anxious day than think I’m blowing them off or that I don’t care. 

Disclosing offers more than just being understood. It opens the door for other people to share what’s going on with them. I’ve learned so much from other people. I’ve learned there are billions of ways to be a human and that everyone is dealing with something. I’ve also learned that I am very much not alone.

When Olivia Hinebaugh isn’t writing fiction, she can be found writing freelance, making art, discovering new songs on Spotify, texting her writing buddies, or folding laundry. She lives near Washington, D.C. with her spouse, three kids, a dog that looks like a coyote, and a one-eyed cat. The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me is her debut novel.

Posted in Blog Series

A Guest Post from Olivia Hinebaugh, Author of “The Birds, The Bees, and You & Me”

Here today to talk about identity, privilege and more is Olivia Hinebaugh, debut author of The Birds, The Bees, and You & Me, which you can buy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. I love this book a lot and Olivia is incredibly sweet. You can find her on Twitter and at her website.

I was watching Orange Is The New Black with my spouse. It was the episode where we get to see Laverne Cox’s character’s backstory. Her wife was so supportive of her transition and it made me feel sappy, so I turned to my spouse and said, “I would support you and love you the same if you were a woman.” He turned and looked at me in disbelief. When he said the reverse wasn’t true, I was offended.

Because I love and am attracted people regardless of their gender or sex. Like, that literally does not matter at all to me. Generally, I thought most people were like me. Hearing that my spouse cared about my gender or sex so much was weird to me. It started the wheels turning. I never thought I’d be 30ish and questioning my sexuality. Nothing about me felt different, though. I had always had crushes on guys, girls, and especially people who weren’t, like, super masculine or feminine. But, I only ever really dated guys. (OK. Honest talk here: I married my first boyfriend…so…kisses on the other hand, men were in the minority) 

A great thing happens when you get a little older. First of all, so many of the people I knew in younger years as straight and cis, are openly LGBTQIA. All of these wonderful shades of nuance came into focus as more and more of my peers lived their truths. And suddenly, the fact that I had kissed more girls than guys, and the fact that a huge majority of what I considered crushes were almost solely platonic started to make me wonder.

Right now, where I sit, as a 34 year old woman: I am a white cis woman who is married to a white cis man and has children, but I’m also pansexual and demisexual. Another way I look at it is, I’m queer enough that I identify, but I’m also super privileged so I need to cede my voice and listen when my more marginalized pals talk. 

Learning the term “demisexual,” by the way, was the closest thing I’ve had to a true lightbulb moment in my entire life. I’ve just never walked around thinking about sex. Or having urges to jump anyone. My urges were more like “I want to have coffee with them” or “I’d like to make them smile.” Only when I was really and truly fully enamored with someone on a fairly deep platonic level, did I *ever* want to kiss them. I need to be super comfortable with someone. And the other lightbulb moment came when I realized that my friends who had flings and one-night stands were maybe allosexual. I had always struggled to understand how you, like, meet someone, think they’re hot, and then jump in the sack with them. I wouldn’t say I judged them. Because that’s, like, against the rules of feminism. I just didn’t understand them, even though I’m very sex positive. I want all people to have the sex life they want (with consensual parties). I don’t need to understand someone’s sexual experiences to accept them. And that has been a really powerful lesson.

We can all, all the time, work on being more understanding and accepting. I have always been an ally and a feminist, but I still learn ways to be better at both of those things. 

As a writer for teens, part of me is excited to include things that I didn’t know about at that age. In The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me there are characters who are bi and on the ace spectrum (*cough* very similar to me). I grace those characters with more self-knowledge than I had, because I can’t imagine how awesome it would have felt if a friend turned to me and said “yeah, I choose random celebrities to be ‘obsessed with’ because other people are doing that,” and I’d be, like, “right?” Or someone to be like “well, gee, I actually think androgynous people are hot. And that’s valid.” Or if anyone ever used the term “nonbinary.” Holy smokes, the doors it might have opened.

This is by no means a “kids these days have it so good,” kind of post. It’s just that I do want to do my part to help kids these days. If I’ve done that–even in a small way–as an author, then a dream has come true. 

Folks, there are just billions of ways to be a person. You can label these facets, or you could decide you hate labels. You can love in so many different ways. When I think about that, it’s impossible not to smile.

Posted in Blog Series

Great Books with Bisexual Representation by Sam @ Some Books & Ramblings

I’m so excited to welcome a teen blogger to the blog today to share some book recommendations with you all for 30 Days of Pride!

When Ben announced that they were doing a pride month blog post session, I knew I wanted to participate. I wanted to share my story and share some of my favorite books with bisexual rep!

1. They Both Die at The End by Adam Silvera

Not only is Adam Silvera a queer author, but one of the main characters of TBDATE is bi! This story is exhilarating, heartbreaking, mysterious and fun. I would highly encourage people to read this if they are looking for Queer POC rep!

2. The Raven Cycle Series by Maggie Stiefvater

This series has a bi/gay relationship around halfway through, so I won’t spoil who it is because it isn’t known at the beginning, but I love the character. I can’t wait for Maggie’s follow-up series!

3. Shades of Magic Series by V.E. Schwab

Like all the books before, this series has a bi/gay relationship and I personally am a big fan.  V.E. Schwab is a magical storyteller and as a Queer author herself, I think she deserves to be mentioned on this pride list!

4. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

I talk about this book all the time on my blog, and I would be remiss not to include my fave disaster bi who is pining for his best friend on a hijinks-filled trip across Europe. (Fun fact: the sequel that stars The MC’s sister, The Ladies’ Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, has Ace rep!)

5. The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments spin-off)

This stars a self-titled freewheeling bisexual warlock and a gay Shadowhunter! Magnus and Alec were one of the first queer relationships I ever read, and Magnus personally means a lot to me ❤

6. Godsgrave (Nevernight, #2) by Jay Kristoff

Let’s start this one off by mentioning that THIS IS NOT A YA BOOK. It is adult. However, that doesn’t make it any less amazing (if you get past the footnotes). This is actually the first Bisexual woman on this list, and she is a total badass. Jay shows the male and female relationships in throughout the first and second books (jury’s still out on the third as it comes out in #Stabtember) If you are okay with violence in abundance, strong swearing and on page sex, then definitely give this one a try.

7. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

This book is full of representation. Bi, gay, POC, disabled, fat, survivor of abuse, and probably more that I’m forgetting. You don’t have to have read Leigh’s Grisha Trilogy beforehand, but this duology is mind-blowingly good.

8. The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

The MC is introduced as Bi, and at the end, there are clues to another character being bi/gay. I can definitely see more happening between a few of these characters and if you want more POC, disabled, queer rep that takes place in a magical town with a murderous forest, magical powers, and 4 troubled teens, then you will definitely want to pick this book up. I’m dying for the next one!

9. The Fever King by Victoria Lee

This book, man. This book has been described by Victoria Lee herself as every character being queer. In the first book, we have a bi/gay relationship and I can’t wait to see where this series is going. It has Queer, POC, and Survivor rep, not to mention it’s a cool dystopian take on a future North Carolina (Durham, to be exact) and it ended on such a cliffhanger!

Make sure you check out my post for The Fever King blog tour that included my interview with Victoria Lee, playlists for each character and an exclusive short story about 2 of the characters!

10. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This is the 3rd BI woman on this list, and this book is a doozy. I like to describe it as a very gay flashback about the Marilyn Monroe of this fictional world. This book is impressive, gorgeous, heartbreaking and tragic. I will recommend this to everyone, ever.

I hope anyone who sees this discovers a book they didn’t know had Queer rep and you find a new character you can relate to! These books make me feel not so alone, and they’re written wonderfully.

I want to thank Ben for allowing me to share my list of Bisexual book rep list and my coming out story, even if it isn’t as vital as some other stories are. I know I didn’t have to go through any of the bad like most queer people, and I am aware of what others go through. Sometimes it’s cathartic to share your story, and I wanted to share my mom’s business with those who may need it.

You can always talk to me if needed, and you can find me at Somebooksandramblings.home.blog, Twitter at @ramblingbooks, Instagram at @somebooksandramblings, or you can email me at somebooksandramblings@gmail.com. 


Bio:

Hi, my name is Sam and I am an LGBT+ teen book blogger located in Georgia! I specialize in blog tours, reviews, book tags and more! My favorite genres are fantasy, sci-fi and contemporary fantasy. You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, WordPress and Email!

I hope you have a good day!

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Rooted by Cassandra Chaput

I love welcoming writers to talk about their work during Shattering Stigmas. Today, I am welcoming Cassandra Chaput, the author of the poetry collection Rooted to talk about mental health and share a lovely poem with us. Follow Cassandra on her blog, on Instagram @Folded_corners and on Twitter. You can buy Rooted here.

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Hi everyone! My name is Cassandra Chaput. I am a Canadian writer and blogger, here to talk about mental illness.

The stigma around mental illness continues to be a big problem in society today. It shouldn’t be something we feel the need to hide.

Everyone needs a safe space to talk about their struggles…We need more access to resources for mental health help.

Don’t be ashamed if you have anxiety, depression, any mental illness. It does not define you. You are so much more than your illness.

My debut poetry collection, Rooted, has lots of focus on mental health, as well as other topics such as love and heartbreak, self-improvement, and self-love.

The poem below is the first one in my book, inspiring the title of my collection.

Don’t let the winds tear you down.
You’ll make it through this storm.
Rooted
I am rooted.
A tree standing tall, resilient in the harsh, blowing winds.
Strong I stand.
I feel the storm arrive.
The clouds surround the sun, suffocating its light, allowing for dark days.
There are days when the ghosts whisper in my ears, making me question all that I know.
There are days when the clouds cry, making the ground muddy from their tears.
I walk, and feel stuck.
Unable to move
My feet are slowly sinking into the earth
I feel like crying with the clouds.
But I’m too strong for that.
The winds are powerful, and I feel like anything could knock me over.
I’m not the best with balance, but I’m getting there.
My feet are still learning how to support the body they were blessed to be a part of
although they don’t always see it as a blessing.
I want to hide
To block out everything around me and just, be
But rather than hide away, I need to force myself to grow and bloom.
I need to stand strong and face the ghosts, the demons, that try to attack me.
The storm blows strong, but I am stronger.
I am rooted.
A tree standing tall, resilient in the harsh, blowing winds.
Strong I stand.
Rooted

Thank you so much, Cassandra!

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 #SBPT

Kicking off the Summer Blogger Promo Tour!

I love to blog, but blogging by yourself and having the motivation to make content is hard. That’s why I was thrilled when I found out that The Book Bratz (Jessica, Emily and Amber) were hosting the Summer Blogger Promo Tour. How it works is we all got a partner and we’ll be working with them this summer to bring you fun, exciting bookish content every Sunday now through August! Get ready for a bunch of fun interviews, reviews, bookish memes and more! Also be sure to check out all the posts and buzz about it on Twitter by searching for #SBPT.

My partner is Brooke @ Brooke-Reports! You can also find her on Twitter here! She is so sweet and I’m so excited to have the chance to introduce her to all of you this week. Brooke, take it away!

g4JfMVsm_400x400Hey there, y’all! Like Tay said, I’m Brooke from over at Brooke-Reports! I’ve been blogging about YA novels since 2011, crazy right!? Time flies when you’re swooning over fictional boys. Ha! I absolutely adore a YA romance; friends-to-lovers, enemies-to-lovers, lab partners, neighbors… YOU NAME IT I AM SO THERE FOR IT. I will go down with that ship. Some books that I’ve recently fell in love with include Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton, and Lies You Never Told Me by Jennifer Donaldson.

Besides obsessing over fictional characters, I’m an avid crafter, a cupcake connoisseur, and mermaid junkie. You can either find me at Target or on my phone tweeting way too much.

Be sure to check out our blogs every Sunday for collaborative bookish content! We have so many great posts coming your way all summer.

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.

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.