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National Poetry Month: Brian James Lewis on Why He Writes and How He Got There, Plus Read Three of His Poems #NationalPoetryMonth #poetry

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Today my National Poetry Month project continues as I welcome Brian James Lewis to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Brian is a disabled poet, reviewer, and writer with a friendly and helpful spirit and a talented pen. I found it so interesting reading his post about how he came to writing and why it means so much to him. He’s also shared three of his poems with us below!

Enjoy his pieces and be sure to say hi in the comments or on twitter. Brian enjoys talking writing with others. He’s been a very big supporter of my own work as well as that of my client’s and so I am very thankful for his kindness.

On Why Writing Poetry Gives Me Life

By Brian James Lewis

Happy National Poetry Month everyone! My name is Brian James Lewis and I am a disabled poet, writer, and book reviewer who thinks that writing is as important as breathing. Not in a silly way, but to have a decent quality of life and be a contributing member of society. While I’ve dabbled as a writer for most of my life, I got serious about it when my previously very physical life got put on ice by severe spinal injuries. All of a sudden getting around became a major issue and I was in constant pain. That led to depression, anxiety, and becoming a danger to myself and others. I feel really fortunate that I found a “second life” as a writer.

In 2013, I began sending out stories and poems for publication. Trajectory Journal published my first poem Puppeteer in 2014. Since that time, I’ve been published in Third Wednesday, The Iconoclast, Aphotic Realm, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and the Econoclash Review. Most recently, my poem about a blues club, Blues, is in this month’s issue of SLAB. And my poem Hey Can Lady is in the current issue of The Hickory Stump, a cool online literary zine! I also felt very honored to have my poem Home Sweet Hideaway included in the Unnerving anthology Haunted Are These Houses, released in October of 2018.

Garage Sense was my first “hit” of a poem. It originally appeared in Trajectory Journal issue #13 and in the Editor’s Picks section of their website. A lot of people were like, “Wow! I didn’t know poetry could be like that!” which was exactly what I needed to keep moving forward. For a good couple of years, I wrote a lot of poetry about how frustrated I was and how much pain I was in. Amazingly enough, most of those poems were not picked up by anybody (ha!). Later, I was able to make things a bit smoother and give people a real picture of what it feels like being disabled. Walking After Midnight is a really good example of that without shouting in everyone’s face. Currently, I am expanding more into horror and somewhat Lovecraftian poetry. This recent effort Spellbound Centurion is about a creature that must write itself into being every night or become dust

Many of you might be more familiar with me as a reviewer of speculative fiction and dark poetry, which I started doing in 2016 for the JournalStone sites Hellnotes and Horror Review. I also started my own site Damaged Skull Writer and have guested on Aphotic Realm and Gallows Hill Magazine, a venture I’m hoping will grow into a regular gig! I have met a ton of really great people through reviewing and enjoy being a part of the writing community. Currently I am a member of the SFPA and hope to join the HWA in the near future. I love independent horror and all the really cool people involved! Thanks to everyone who has said a kind word or guided me to a more efficient way of doing things. I appreciate the editors who’ve read my poems and stories and took the time to make a few suggestions. Ideally, I’m hoping to find a paid position working for a magazine, publicity agency, or publisher in the future.

Writing and doing reviews has helped me be a part of things without my disabled body being as much of an issue. Most importantly, it makes me happy and alive. I was a really good mechanic and proud of that. For a while I would introduce myself as the guy who couldn’t do mechanical work anymore. Not real fun for either end of the conversation. Now, I introduce myself as a writer and book reviewer, and that feels just right. Very big thanks to Erin for inviting me to do this. It is an honor!

________________________________________

Enjoy some of Brian’s poetry!

GARAGE SENSE
First appeared in Trajectory Journal, Issue #13

Nobody would be likely to steal my old Chevy truck, I guess.

Unless they were a fucking idiot. Which is quite possible around here.

Smashed, dented, broken, and leaking everywhere.

It is impossible to start, and even more difficult to keep running.

Unless you know the combination of moves required.

To make the ancient smoking motor roar and growl.

Sure as hell not something they teach you in school.

You learn it all the hard way, by doing it yourself.

People frown on that sort of thing today.

Claiming how unsafe old vehicles are…

“No daytime running lights? No anti-lock brakes?

No airbags? No low tire pressure light?

Call the police, the governor, the president!”

Not trusting what they don’t understand

Modern life is built on fear of everything

From bug bites to flat tires, old cars and grease fires

Then you have the ridiculous new cars and trucks…

With safety features galore, and cup holders

Up the wazoo, along with back-up cameras, DVD

Players, speed sensors, and cars that park themselves

Hell, there’s probably a sensor that knows when you fart

So it can roll down the windows and crank the AC

But, it’s all just a flashy, computerized trap

You can talk to your Aunt Mabel in Ohio

Just speak clearly into your dashboard, and

You can hear all about the boils on Uncle Carl’s ass

While you laugh, and then crash… fatally

Into a huge gravel truck that didn’t even feel you

Mashing yourself and the family into

bloody pulp on his bumper, or better yet,

shaving the roof off your robotic, hypnotic,

super-safety machine, along with your heads

While Aunt Mabel drones on about corn prices

Your car will call the police so that they can

Come scrape what’s left of you and your

Technologically advanced family

Off of route 49 because you got fooled

Meanwhile a drunk guy in an old truck

Backs into a telephone pole

Maybe even knocks it down

Then laughs and drives away without a scratch.

_______________________________________

WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT

I liked to walk after midnight
with my dog on city streets

We’d go so far – blocks and blocks
neither of us afraid

Because the dog protected me and
I did the same for him

Which might sound funny or puzzling
but it’s just the honest truth

Both of us saved each other many
more times than once

I kept him from being run down by cars
He saved me from muggers

But now, I’m disabled and it’s hard
just to walk down the hall

My dog is hobbled by arthritis and
we’re both in a medicated fog

Yet, at night during sleep we both dream
that we’re walking after midnight

We walk for miles, just he and I, going on
until we’re woken by the cruel sunrise

_________________________________________

SPELLBOUND CENTURION

When the dawn comes
my body shrinks away
from its effervescent light
that pokes at my tired eyes
like white hot laser beams
meant to destroy my vampiric body

I only live for the nights
spent mostly alone and cursing
this balky typewriter and what
you fools think of as a life
Pah! Tis but a mere hour
to this ancient centurion

The city I reside in is perfect for
what I do inside its crumbling walls
of wasted post-industrial buildings
Abandoned hulks housing squatters
engaged in depravity known only
by the lowest creatures

Who are my favorites by the way
because they make such easy pickings
yielding up the whisky, wine, and heroin
polluting their bloodstreams into mine
offering a lovely high and sustenance
that fulfills most of my desires

It always starts with the words
that escalate into spells
enrapturing me and waking
my ravenous hunger which
turns me back into my true form
a twisted nightmare creature

Burnt flesh sprouts wings
of skeletal flapping parchment
that fly into others’ dreams
causing hellish fever and pain
driving even the most rational
of people deep into madness

Hunched and shaking
they whimper and scream
Music to this old beast’s ears!
Minds melting as they see
something they refuse to believe
but there’s no denying the truth

So I am allowed to exist
Dismissed by “sensible” folk
and fervently worshipped by
those blessed with imagination
and the ability to see our world
of gauze wrapped shapes in the fog

Undead creatures hidden
in your world until the spells
that we must write ourselves
pull our false coverings away
and send us out into the night
to feed and collect life essence

The key is to never take too much
or overstep my boundaries
Unless I wish to die yet again
at the hands of Christian
torch-bearing folk who know
the secrets of my immortality

I am not the Devil
and most certainly not a god
my lineage is closer to that
of the gargoyles or gryphon
but without sacred blessings
So I am a monster

Savoring a smorgasbord
city during the hot nights
when the windows are open
Allowing me to just blow in
on the fitful breezes or
be sucked inside by a fan

But I never touch animals
those trusted spirit guides
into the next world
They are true innocents
and take too much abuse
from their “masters” as it is

Nothing in any world
can be totally evil or
every atom to the good
I have my purposes
but it is rare for anyone
who sees me to listen

A pity, but not my problem
that people are so set
on what reality should be
Meanwhile, I drink blood,
stay alive, and clear the streets
of dead men walking

Now my eyelids grow heavy
The spells only last so long
which means that it’s time
to draw the curtains and
transform so I may sleep
until the darkness calls again

_____________________________

Brian James Lewis, Info –

Flannel author pic

Brian James Lewis is an emerging disabled poet and writer, for whom writing is as important as breathing. After an accident left him with spinal injuries and mental health problems, Brian turned to writing as a way to feel better and channel energy positively. He writes in a wide variety of styles has appeared in Bards And Sages Quarterly, the EconoClash Review, Aphotic Realm, and the Haunted Are These Houses anthology of poetry and stories published by Unnerving. Brian is also a member of the Journalstone and Gallows Hill book review teams, SFPA, and the Academy of American Poets. When he has time, Brian repairs vintage typewriters and uses them for first drafts.

Contact or find more infomation on Brian James Lewis at his site Damaged Skull Writer or follow and talk to him on twitter: @skullsnflames76.

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Filed under Feature Articles, poetry

Interview with Leave of Absence Author Tanya J. Peterson on her Life, Her Book, and Mental Health Awareness

Today I have a fabulous interview with Tanya J. Peterson, author of a contemporary fiction called Leave of Absence.  She had previously written a great guest post about finding time to write with a busy schedule and why she chose to write a book with mental health awareness themes. You can read that HERE if you missed it.

Enjoy the interview and she’ll be happy to answer any comments you leave as well!

Hi Tanya, welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! We’ve featured your guest post, and I’ve done a review of your book, so I hope everyone is now as anxious (in a good way) as I am to hear your answers to some questions surrounding you and your work. How have you been?

Tanya: Hi Erin!  I’ve been busy, as I’m sure you and everyone reading this can relate.  Running after kids (sometimes literally as my son has decided to become a distance runner – I’m not a natural runner!), helping Leave of Absence along, speaking and writing on mental illness, and the endless daily tasks all keep me hopping.  Overall, though, things are going very well. What about you? 

Erin: As a mother and more, busy too, but it’s all good! And you won’t catch me literally running though. Good luck!!  Now, I’d love to be the one laying on the couch while you pick my brain, but today it will need to be the other way around. So put your feet up and let’s get started…

Tanya:  Let me settle in and let’s chat. Can it be a dentist’s chair instead of the traditional couch? I love those. I always wanted my therapists to have dentist chairs. Okay, getting serious now…

9781592998838 cov.inddQ: What purpose do you see in writing a book such as Leave of Absence? What experiences assisted you in formulating the idea?

A:  I wrote Leave of Absence for a very specific purpose.  I wanted to show the reality of mental illness, the human side.  The basis for the story is entirely fictional, of course, but I have indeed had life experiences that were quite helpful in “filling out” the story.  When I was just two years old… Just kidding!  No one here wants my life history.  I drew from many different things (including the “whys” and “what ifs” I constantly ask myself about situations and people), but the most impactful one for the creating of many of the scenes in Leave of Absence was the time I spent in a behavioral health center/hospital.  Much of Leave of Absence takes place in such a hospital, and while this place in the novel is entirely fictional, I drew on my own experiences to add depth and detail to the setting.  I did have a motivation for setting the story here:  there is quite a bit of mystery shrouding these places.  Because of incorrect portrayals in books and movies, often what comes to mind is an image of an “insane asylum,” with barred windows and screaming patients.  Sadly, people are often shunned by society after having been to a behavioral health hospital.  I wanted to provide people with an accurate portrayal of these places. 

Erin Comments: You can read my review of Leave of Absence HERE.

Q:  What is your background and how did that help you to write your book?

A: From my answer above, it’s probably evident that I have a personal background to draw on.  As mentioned, I’ve spent time in a behavioral health center.  I have bipolar I disorder and difficulties with anxiety, so I understand much of what Oliver and Penelope deal with.  In addition to this, though, I also have a professional background.  I have a Master’s Degree in counseling and am a Nationally Certified Counselor.  Both my personal and professional backgrounds helped me create a novel that, while fiction, is accurate and very realistic. 

Erin Comments: I think it is amazing that you can balance your illness enough to be able to continue on in your professional life. Quite a challenge and so amazing! Of course, that is great that you can help others through your experiences.

Q:  What do you hope that readers will “take away” or what feelings do you hope are invoked from Leave of Absence?

A:  I really hope that readers form an emotional connection to Oliver, Penelope, and William.  In fact, this emotional connection is the very reason I have chosen to illuminate aspects of mental illness through fiction rather than non-fiction.  Non-fiction can be very helpful, of course, and there are many great non-fiction works out there to educate and inform.  It’s hard, though, to make a true human connection through non-fiction.  It’s my hope that in reading Leave of Absence, readers will come to understand what it is that each character experiences.

Ideally, for example, people will understand schizophrenia through Penelope and PTSD and depression through Oliver.  However, I’d like readers to experience the issues more deeply than just understanding the “what” of them.  I’d like them to connect with the “who” behind the illnesses.  As a society, when we understand what mental illness really is (rather than the stereotyped version) and when we come to see the person behind the illness, we will develop greater empathy and compassion.  And maybe, just maybe, the stigma associated with mental illness will disappear. 

Erin Comments: The “who” is so important…..and empathy.

Q:  Where do you think the deep seeded desire to help others comes from (from yourself and then also in others)?

A:  To paraphrase Lady Gaga, I seem to have been born that way.  I remember being sensitive to others’ suffering even in grade school.  I was always baffled and angered by bullying and did what little I could to assist those who needed it.  Jump to adulthood.  I initially became a teacher, but it took all of about a week to realize that I’d much rather be a counselor, and, years later, when I was becoming a counselor, I realized that I wanted to use my education and experience on a larger scale to advocate for those who don’t always have a voice.  The desire to advocate came, in part, from a personal predisposition to stand up publicly for what I believe in. 

It also came from one of my favorite graduate school professors.  In class, she often spoke of the power and importance of advocacy, and she and I had numerous private discussions about it.  It was these conversations that planted the seed of my combining my love of writing with my desire to help people by increasing awareness and understanding. 

 Q:  What kind of thoughts went into developing your characters, especially Oliver and Penelope?

A:  Thoughts of affection!  I thought of them first, before I ever formulated a story line.  I developed stories about them – who they were, why they were suffering, how they were suffering, how they would come together, etc.  That merged into creating the storyline.  Then as I wrote the story, I always began my writing session by connecting with them and how they were feeling.  More often than not, when I was writing it was as if I were each of them rather than myself.  When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about them.  I bonded with them!  After all, if I wasn’t connected to them, how on Earth would readers ever connect with them? 

Q:  Do you feel your book is mainly serious fiction, due to the subject matter, or did you mean for a glint of humor to be allowed to shine through?

A:  My overall intent was for Leave of Absence to be serious.  However, mental illness and life struggles don’t mean constant and permanent despair.  Everyone can experience happiness, and people do heal.  I tried to instill a realistic sense of hope in the story without being a canned, Pollyanna-type of hope.  Therefore, I thought that a touch of humor would be appropriate.  This will seem strange, I know, but you know how in the previous question I stated that it was often as if the characters themselves were writing their stories?  That’s how the tiny bits of humor happened.  Yes, I knew that some humor was necessary, but I didn’t actually plan it out.  Putting a direction in my notes reading, “Comic relieve on page 107” just doesn’t work.  It happened through the characters themselves. 

Erin Comments: There was some humor to it, whether is should be or not. For some reason Eleanor yelling at Penelope to eat the crayons and her doing it was both sad and humorous to me at the same time. Not necessarily laughter at Penelope, but laughter at how our minds work sometimes (or don’t work).

Q:  Do you think their portrayal will help the general public understand the many facets of mental illness and the people who struggle with various forms of it?

A:  That’s my very hope.  Mental illnesses are very complex and individualized.  So the way Penelope and Oliver experience it won’t look exactly the same in others with the same disorders.  That said, there are general defining characteristics of the various mental illnesses that are common to those that experience them.  I did a great deal of research to ensure that Penelope’s and Oliver’s experiences were accurate.  I really hope that readers see what is happening to these characters and what their inner experiences are like – what’s going through their minds.    What Penelope and Oliver think and feel can be transferred to people in the real world. 

Q:  What else do you feel can be done, or needs to be done, in order to create more awareness for those with mental illness?

A:  Stereotypes in mainstream media need to be corrected!  When the news stations constantly jump to the conclusion that criminals are mentally ill (other than antisocial personality disorder, violence is not associated with mental illness) or when movies and television shows inaccurately portray people with mental illness, great harm is done.  Society assumes these things are accurate and thus forms negative stereotypes about people experiencing mental illness.   These prejudices create stigma.  All of this is hurtful.  It leads to discrimination, shame, isolation, and loneliness. 

Of course, there are other things as well, such as equal access to affordable mental health care.  Thankfully there are so many passionate people with different strengths to bring to the table to help create awareness and equality.  I’m not good at accomplishing things like access to health care, but I can work to correct stereotypes and increase empathy and understanding (at least I hope so, anyway, and will give it a try.)

Erin Comments: Keep up the great work, it’s worth it!

Q:  What other types of fiction do you like? Favorite books?

A:  I love character-driven stories!  I have a hard time getting into books that are all about plot and storyline, but I know that’s just me.  Others feel the opposite way.  If I can connect with a character, I don’t care what the plot or genre is.  Some of my favorite fiction books that I’ve read recently are The Promise of Stardust by Pricille Sibley, Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey, and all of the books in the Will Trent series by Karin Slaughter (I love Will Trent!).    

Q: Do you have hopes to write other various types of fiction? If so, what other types do you want to try?

A:  I am definitely going to write more novels.  My plan for now is to stick with contemporary fiction and the theme of mental health.  When I was a history major in college, I did dream of writing historical fiction.  I’m honestly not sure if I can see myself writing anything other than contemporary fiction, but I suppose if I did venture into other things, I would try my hand at historical fiction. 

Q:  What has been your biggest challenge along your road to publishing? What has been your greatest success?

A:  One of my biggest challenges is the fact that I’m still unknown with a small budget.  Spreading the word about Leave of Absence often feels like an uphill battle.  I have a fantastic publicist who helps me with this, but still, given that I’m starting from nothing, it’s difficult.  Erin, what you’re doing for me is very helpful, by the way!  By inviting me onto your blog, you’re introducing me to all of your wonderful readers, and I appreciate that so much.  This is how an unknown author introduces her book to the world.

I think I’ve absolutely experienced success with Leave of Absence.  It’s too early to know if I’m selling copies.  But I don’t define success by sales, anyway.  I’ll be honest:  I need to sell books because I have living expenses that include two children, the oldest of whom is nearing college.  However, my motivation in writing is not to become wealthy.  I like to live simply.  My motivation is, as you know, to increase awareness and compassion in order to reduce stigma and help things be better for those who experience mental illness.  Happily, it seems so far that is happening! 

I’ve had great feedback from professional reviewers and “real” readers like you.  J  And I’ve had discussions on radio shows and have been invited to give presentations about mental illness and to give readings from Leave of Absence.  All this is really exciting.  I’ve only made a very small ripple, though, so I hope that this ripple will do what a ripple is supposed to do:  expand and grow.  Not knowing what’s going to happen is stressful and anxiety-provoking, but I’m going to keep working hard to help it happen. 

For all of your readers who have paid attention to my guest post, your review and this interview, I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to check out Leave of Absence and learn about me.  Thank you. 

Q:  Can you explain your publishing process? Do have thoughts regarding traditional publishing versus self-publishing?

A:  This sure is a hot topic right now!  When I was deciding how to publish Leave of Absence, I read a ton of information about publishing.  I attended workshops.  I talked to a traditionally published author I know, and I went to a conference just so I could talk to agents about the publishing process.  I compiled all of the information I gathered into a pros and cons chart, and I realized that for me right now, independent publishing was absolutely the way to go. 

Leave of Absence is published by Inkwater Press, which is actually more of a hybrid publisher, a cross between traditional and independent publishing.  I had to submit my manuscript for consideration as they don’t accept everyone.  Their standards are high, and I was honored to be accepted.  Inkwater Press provides a full range of services, but as an author who maintains the rights to her work, I have much more input into things than I would have had with a traditional publisher.  From what I have learned from the authors I know and the agents with whom I spoke, traditionally published authors have almost no control over what the publisher does, including the way the story is modified.  I’m very happy with my decision to independently publish with Inkwater Press. 

Q:  What advice do you have for busy moms who are aspiring authors or current authors? How do you fit it all in?

A:  It’s a balancing act, and I often trip.  Last summer, I did much of my writing very early in the morning.  That no longer works, so I’ve adjusted.  I work very hard when the kids are at school and my husband is at work so I can be with them in the evenings.  I do indeed work here and there on evenings and weekends, but I make sure to take time to focus on my family.  For me, the key is to prioritize.  I create a to-do list of sorts of the major things I need to accomplish in a week, and then I filter those tasks into days and times.  I constantly remind myself of my main priorities of the day, and I make sure that my family is on that list.  We’ll always be busy and have way too much to do.  Focusing on the big picture helps me when I get overwhelmed by the little details. 

Erin Comments: That’s true, we’ll never not be busy so we might as well adjust to it and prioritize. People need to stop feeling so guilty, you know?

Q:  Who are some of your favorite authors?

A:  Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Saul Bellow.  While I definitely haven’t read all works by these authors, I have enough exposure to them to put them on a list of my favorite authors.  I admire the depth and poignancy of their characters and themes. 

Q:  Color can tell a lot about a person, I think. What is your favorite color(s)?

A:  Green and purple!  And sometimes blue.  (What does it say about me that I can’t pick just one?)

Q: What are your biggest ways to relieve stress and balance your mind? What advice do you have for others?

A:  I experience quite a bit of anxiety, and stress definitely makes it worse.  When I experience stress and anxiety, I get agitated and full of an excess of energy.  I need an outlet for it to avoid becoming overwhelmed and irritable.  Physical activity works well for me for that.  I try to get up early in the morning and use the treadmill or the elliptical.  I like to hike, bike, or kayak on the weekends too.  I also need quiet meditation, too, but if I’m too agitated it doesn’t work. 

Regarding advice, I’d say that it’s important to honor yourself as an expert of your own existence.  Reading information about wellness, illness, etc. is very important and helpful, as is working with a counselor or therapist if or when you need to.  Ultimately, though, you know yourself. 

Experiment to find stress-relieving techniques that work best for you, and use those techniques when you can to help deal with stress.  As long as what you’re doing doesn’t harm yourself or others, there’s no “wrong” way to de-stress.  If meditation doesn’t work for you (sometimes it works for me and other times it doesn’t), don’t force yourself to do it just because everyone you know is raving about the new meditation center in town!  Honor yourself. 

Erin Comments: So eating chocolate would be appropriate, since chocolate never hurt anyone….*wink*

Q:  What is next for you?

A:  I have a new novel in the works!  I’ve done a bit of brainstorming and begun some preliminary research.  Of course I’m focusing primarily on the characters!  (My biggest challenge in this right now is letting go of Oliver, Penelope, and William.  I’m struggling with that at the moment.)

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A:  I love to connect with readers, so I hope people do!  My website is http://www.tanyajpeterson.com (I have a contact form there).  For those who like social media, my Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/tanyajpeterson and my Twitter handle is @tanyajpeterson1.  Oh, and I’m on Goodreads, too.  A search of Tanya J Peterson will lead people to me. 

Erin:  Thank you so much, Tanya, for coming by today for this interview, we’ve learned a lot and I’m so glad to be able to hear your thoughts on so many important subjects. I wish you much continued success into the future!

Tanya: Erin, this has been wonderful!  Thank you for asking me all of these great questions.  I love being able to chat about Leave of Absence so people know why I wrote it, and it’s fun to discuss lighter things as well.  I’ve enjoyed being a guest on your blog.  It was so kind of you interview me and to allow me to write a guest post.  And of course your review is amazing and gets right to the heart of Leave of Absence (and, by default, to my heart).  I sincerely appreciate you and all you have done.  I read in one of your recent posts that you coach a Little League team.  My son is in Little League.  I don’t coach, but I do of course go to all of the games.  Have fun on the field!! 

Erin Comments: You’re quite welcome, Tanya. Yes, we do coach several teams, both soccer and ball, and try to spend lots of time with the kiddos. Thank YOU so much for everything!

Leave of Absence Synopsis~

9781592998838 cov.indd“Oliver knew deep in his heart that he would never, ever be better.” In this insightful and evocative novel, Tanya J. Peterson delves deeply into the world of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia.

When Oliver Graham’s suicide attempt fails, he is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. Unable to cope with the traumatic loss of his beloved wife and son, he finds a single thread of attachment to life in Penelope, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia and its devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiancé William strives to convince her that she is worth loving. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the “real world,” they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.

Written with extraordinary perception into the thought processes of those grappling with mental illness, Leave of Absence is perfect for readers seeking an empathic depiction of grief, loss, and schizophrenia, as well as anyone who has ever experienced human suffering and healing.

Author Tanya J. Peterson, Biography~

Tanya PetersonTanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor.  She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities.  She draws on her life experience as well as her education to write stories about the emotional aspect of the human condition. 

She has published Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship, Challenge!, a short story about a person who finds the confidence to overcome criticism and achieve a goal, and a book review of Linley and Joseph’s Positive Therapy: A Meta-Theory for Positive Psychological Practice that appeared in Counseling Today, the national publication of the American Counseling Association. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children.

Her website is http://www.tanyajpeterson.com.

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Filed under Q and A with Authors

Tanya J. Peterson Gives Us a Compassionate Look at Mental Health in Her Debut Fiction, Leave of Absence

9781592998838 cov.inddMay is Mental Health Awareness Month, but mental health awareness is still such a societal struggle–there is still a battle being waged to break down barriers–so when a book comes along such as Leave of Absence by Tanya J. Peterson, I become hopeful that it can carry a message about mental illness beyond any certain month, but throughout the year, for many years to come!

After reading Leave of Absence, I believe that this book is so complete in its portrayal, so accurate and endearing, that it could possibly be a catalyst of modern literature that brings the true mental dilemma of human nature to light.  Peterson understands the mental illness in her characters. Instead of giving a dramatic portrayal of characters, such as what you sometimes see in the movies, Peterson shows the struggles and emotions her characters, especially co-protagonists Oliver and Penelope, go through in their minds. She paints a vivid and clear picture of their thoughts and desires. She showcases the internal angst that people like Penelope, who are diagnosed with schizophrenia, deal with just to keep facing the day, every day. She makes us aware of the fact that not only do they have to battle their unwanted internal struggles, but they also have to face the guilt they feel for what they think they do to their family and friends.

Leave of Absence was a book more centered on character development than plot, as we began to feel connected to Oliver, Penelope, and even William, Penelope’s fiance, which is what really needed to happen for us to be focused on the message Peterson was writing. I felt Peterson’s portrayal of William, with his steadfast, understanding, patient, and unconditional love for Penelope even when she felt she did not deserve it, was so compassionate and touching. I know many people with mental issues who have felt that they were, or are, a burden to their loved ones and I was happy to see Peterson take this angle.

Even though some parts of Penelope’s schizophrenia were humorous, such as Peterson’s portrayal of the voice in Penelope’s head as a dictating Eleanor Roosevelt (Mrs. Peterson–Eleanor was such a strong supporter of women’s rights and by the way, I’m related!! LOL), I felt that overall as a reader I grew to love her. Penelope’s creative and caring mind was so touching. Which I hope, overall, might be the message.

I suppose you can probably tell by now that I grew most connected to Penelope, even though it is Oliver we first encounter jumping off a building and going into the behavioral health unit. Oliver becomes a die-hard friend and support system to Penelope and I loved as their relationship unfolded. If it wasn’t for William, I would have loved to see Oliver and Penelope become a couple and for that to help Oliver overcome the loss of his wife. But instead it did show a wonderful platonic friendship, which are also so valuable in the healing process for so many with depression and mental illness.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes contemporary reads that shine light on the nuances of human nature, but I also recommend this book for caregivers, family and friends of those struggling with mental illness in hopes that it would help them to find more compassion and understanding. The book is also a wonderful piece for those studying sociology, social work, or psychology.

See the Video Trailer Here:

 Leave of Absence, Synopsis~

9781592998838 cov.indd“Oliver knew deep in his heart that he would never, ever be better.” In this insightful and evocative novel, Tanya J. Peterson delves deeply into the world of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia.

When Oliver Graham’s suicide attempt fails, he is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. Unable to cope with the traumatic loss of his beloved wife and son, he finds a single thread of attachment to life in Penelope, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia and its devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiancé William strives to convince her that she is worth loving. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the “real world,” they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.

Written with extraordinary perception into the thought processes of those grappling with mental illness, Leave of Absence is perfect for readers seeking an empathic depiction of grief, loss, and schizophrenia, as well as anyone who has ever experienced human suffering and healing.

ISBN-13: 978-1-59299-883-8 | ISBN 10: 1-59299-883-6
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Inkwater Press
Retail Price: $17.95 (paperback); $2.99 (e-Book)
Available at: Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Powells.com, iTunes Bookstore, Kobo.com, and Inkwater Books.

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You can read the guest post that Tanya J. Peterson did with me about why she wrote the novel and why women need to take time for their dreams, by clicking HERE! Stay tuned next week for our exclusive interview!

See more stops on her tour at:  http://tanyajpeterson.com/virtual-book-tour/

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Author Tanya J. Peterson, Biography~

Tanya PetersonTanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor.  She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities.  She draws on her life experience as well as her education to write stories about the emotional aspect of the human condition.  She has published Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship, Challenge!, a short story about a person who finds the confidence to overcome criticism and achieve a goal, and a book review of Linley and Joseph’s Positive Therapy: A Meta-Theory for Positive Psychological Practice that appeared in Counseling Today, the national publication of the American Counseling Association. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children.

See Tanya’s great website at:  http://tanyajpeterson.com/

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