Vampires, Zombies, and Mental Illness

20130303-115048.jpgAbout ten years ago (gosh, really? Has it been that long?) I wrote a novel called Learning to Stay. It was never published. After about 7 agents rejected it, I, uh, locked myself in the bathroom and cried for four days sort of gave up on it. So I have a fragile ego, sue me. (This was before self-publishing became in vogue or this little tale might have had a different, but equally unsatisfying, ending.)

Actually it was more than the rejections. I knew in my heart the book wasn’t ready and I didn’t want the first thing I ever published to be something I’d look back on with embarrassment, like my first real kiss or that time I was having breakfast with Stan’s family and simultaneously exposing myself where three buttons of my flannel nightgown had come undone.

So, where was I? Oh, right. The novel needed major revisions–somewhere along the line I lost control of it and what was supposed to be a secondary storyline hijacked my original plot. (Words can be so hard to corral, they are like wild beasts, well at least mine are, always going off on their own, traipsing off path, chasing down rabbit holes. See, there they go again.)

My original plot, in a nutshell:

When her husband develops OCD, Kali learns in puppy kindergarten everything she needs to know in order to save her marriage.

I really loved my storyline. I still do. If you’ve never been to puppy kindergarten, you should go. Like right now. Whether you have a dog or not. You learn all kinds of life skills in puppy kindergarten (a.k.a. obedience school) that not only work on your four-legged friends, but also your two-legged ones. My novel had everything: humor, gut-wrenching OCD drama, a spunky heroine, romance, and puppies. (And a secondary plot sucking the life out of the primary one, but then I digress.) So I hired a writing coach to help fix it.

Here’s what my writing coach said. “No one wants to read a book about mental illness.” And I’m not paraphrasing. Those were her exact words. And I paid her to tell me this. She also said “Nobody in this day and age cares whether a couple gets divorced” but it was the first thing she said that bugged me the most.

Fast forward to today. What are the romantic themes making the big bucks at the theaters? Vampires, zombies, and mental illness. I’m not kidding. Twilight, Warm Bodies, and Silver Linings Playbook. So pbttttttttttt to my writing coach. You couldn’t have been more wrong.

If you haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook, I highly recommend it. Realistic to the point of making you uncomfortable–I kept squirming in my seat and glancing over at Stan to see how he was digesting it–there are explosive scenes in public places. Yep, been there and done that. There is bonding over medication history. There is refusal to take medications and delusional thinking. There’s the genetic link. There’s the awkward friend interactions and family who are out of their depth. There is the horrible out-of-character things one does when not in one’s right mind that the whole community remembers and keeps throwing in one’s face. I know I’m not really selling it here but I so appreciate the honesty of the movie. And you feel for these characters. It puts a human face on mental illness. These aren’t crazies. These are real people struggling with the cards they’ve been dealt, making a mess of it, and still finding, yes, a silver lining.

So I might just have to dust off my old novel and wrestle that secondary storyline to its knees. Maybe I was just ahead of my time.

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10 Comments on “Vampires, Zombies, and Mental Illness”

  1. waywardweed says:

    I wrote a novel three decades ago. Sent it to agents. Like you, got rejects. I started dusting it off last year and finished the first draft. Maybe nothing will come of it, but it still has been worth it. Try, try again.

  2. Linda says:

    Terri,
    I hope you will rework the novel or get a playwright to write a play to put into production. Maybe you need to remove the secondary plot. Does it have a happy ending; for example, the husband finally finds the right medicine or treatment. If so, and you include the successful treatment in the book, it would also serve an educational purpose.

    I am curious as to why your book cover does not show the dog’s head. (At first I thought it was a rabbit.) Also, I think a font with a serif for the book title is more attractive.

    Anyway, keep us informed. i look forward to reading your book one day!

    LWS

    • Let’s just say, as currently written, the book has a mixed ending. But who knows what might happen in a rewrite? The husband, however, does agree to medication and that helps a lot. Regarding the cover photo – I was trying to make a point that the dog refuses to stay, even on the front cover of the book. Thanks for suggestions on font. Will look into it. Also, this is not necessarily the final book cover – I just needed a visual as a motivation tool. Thought the novel would feel more real to me if I had a concept for the cover.

  3. There is something brutally honest about those of us who struggle with different alphabetic disorders. I have PTSD which brings a lot of other letters into the mix. And who the hell does that writing coach think she is anyway. What about ONE FLEW OVER THE however you spell it NEST. Or GIRL INTERRUPTED

    • I know, right? A Beautiful Mind. As Good as It Gets. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. But sadly, I let that writing coach get in my head. For a time. I know better now.

      Sorry to hear about the PTSD – not only about the illness but also the trauma you’ve endured. Brutally honest is one of my favorite qualities in a person πŸ™‚

  4. Your writing is wonderful Terri, and you just proved it again!


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