I have the wonderful Taylor Brooke on my blog today with a wonderful blog post about own voices and mental health. She is a beautiful writer and this post shows it. Her new book is out in September and it sounds amazing!
Taylor Brooke is a traveling story teller, believer in magic and a science fiction junkie. After fleshing out a multitude of fantastical creatures as a special effects makeup professional, Taylor turned her imagination back to her true love—books. When she’s not nestled in a blanket typing away on her laptop, she can be found haunting the local bookstore with a cup of tea, planning her next adventure, and fawning over baby animals. She is the author of Fortitude Smashed (Interlude Press) and The Isolation Series.
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Is This Seat Taken?
Own Voices and Mental Health – The What If’s
But is it your own voice?
How own voices is it, exactly?
So, you actually… you know, experienced that?
You identified a lot of #OwnVoices tags for your latest book. Are you sure they’re all really your own voice? Or is it just a few of them?
I’ve been asked these questions in varying tones since I started writing from an Own Voices perspective. It’s become an unfortunate trend to question the integrity of Own Voices creators, to police their unique take on gender, sexuality, mental illness, chronic illness and so on. I know from firsthand experience that writing authentically is not only daunting, but it’s scrutinized.
So, how Own Voices did I have to be to sit at the table?
Well, to be honest, I didn’t realize I was writing an Own Voices book until it was finished. Fortitude Smashed came out of left field. It was sprung on me in the dead of my first Central Oregon winter after I’d relocated from Southern California. I didn’t know I was writing a story about mental illness until Aiden Maar stepped out of my head and onto the page. His balancing act with his mental health mirrored my own.
After stints of sleeplessness, too many cups of tea and a few hundred pages written, I re-read my manuscript from start to finish.
I didn’t know I’d been sitting at the table until I looked up from the first draft of Fortitude Smashed and recognized where I was. I remember it clearly, the first thought I had after I read the last sentence: Oh no.
Not oh no, I messed up, but oh no, what if I didn’t do dissociative dysthymia any justice? What if people think I’m doing this for attention? What if I didn’t get it right? And low and behold, the question I ask myself regularly, what if they don’t believe me?
At that point in time I hadn’t even considered placing the Own Voices stamp on it. It was a baby book, you know? I’d just written it. I needed to re-write it, polish it, query it, and then I would circle back to the cluster of questions above. All those horrible what if’s. I re-wrote, I polished, I queried and I ultimately signed with Interlude Press (heart-eyes for decades).
Then it happened, the circling back part I’d been putting off. My editor (my amazing, passionate, kind, wonderful editor) asked me how much research I’d done on dissociative dysthymia. I counted the seconds on the phone as I considered how to say it, because I had to say it.
I remember it like I remember how it felt after those few hundred pages and all that tea and too many sleepless nights. I said: Yeah, I have it, so.
And then I laughed, because laughter fixes everything. (Right?)
We talked for a while about the characterization, about what my editing schedule would look like and what I should expect. Not once did my editor back track. After I told her Fortitude Smashed was Own Voices she said okay, great and that was that. No second guessing, no are you sure’s, no show me your research. I’d told someone – the very first someone – that I struggle with my mental health, and the world kept turning.
So, to be honest, I’d been sitting at the Own Voices table the whole time. I just didn’t know it.
Which leads me to this:
You don’t have to be the hardest version of your mental illness to write about it and call it yours.
There’s no qualifier. You don’t have to explain yourself. You’re not carrying the weight of everyone else’s experience. But you do get to put your handprint on your story, and no one can take that from you.
Most of us YA authors (I write YA and NA) are just now branching out and finding our footing in the Own Voices world. I’ve been a part of countless discussions between seasoned authors who still question the authenticity of their writing. I’ve also discussed the peculiarity of putting a stamp on something we’ve been doing for years.
So, you’re at the Own Voices table, right? You’ve got this awesome book idea and you’re ready to hit the keyboard. And then it happens. Not only do you get discouraged, but you don’t know if you’ve endured enough to connect with others. What if I’m not sick enough to write this?
Stop. Full stop. Halt. You shall not pass.
Those what if’s aren’t important. They’re the tiny voices in the back of our mind that we wish we had a volume control for. But as much as everyone says to ignore them, I know I couldn’t. So, here’s what I did instead.
My what if moment came after Fortitude Smashed was in pre-production, but it happens to everyone on their writing journey, I think. At least once. I’ve had thoughts come at me from everywhere: What if I’m not bi enough? What if I don’t disassociate enough? What if, what if, what if?
I started asking myself questions to combat it. The same question with a different ending.
What if my book helps someone? What if someone sees themselves on these pages? What if this story touches someone? What if I make a difference to someone out there who is like me?
What if Fortitude Smashed gives someone a reason to keep going when they want to quit?
It’s okay to reaffirm your identity. It’s okay to say I can do this.
Say it. Say I can do this as often as you need to, because when it comes to mental illness, sometimes I can do this is a challenge all on its own.
But you can. There are plenty of seats at the table, and there are stories that need to be told – stories that only you are equipped to tell. Your unique experience. Your struggle. Your happy ending. You get to have that, if you want it.
So, how Own Voices do you have to be?
Be you. Write from your experience and write from your heart. That’s your VIP entrance, the red rope being pulled aside, your welcome hurrah. It’s okay to write for someone, whether it’s for yourself or for others, or for both.
Despite the what if’s and the policing and the road blocks: You’re allowed.
And despite that tiny voice saying you’re not enough of something, I promise you: You’re enough.
You’re worthy. You’re needed.
You have a story to tell, go tell it.
After scientists stumbled across an anomalous human hormone present during moments of emotional intimacy, further research created the ability to harness the direction of living energy and pinpoint when two lines will merge. Personalized chips are now implanted beneath the thumbnails of every infant, where glowing numbers count down to the moment they will meet their soul mate. Fate is now a calculation.
But loving someone isn’t.
When Shannon Wurther, the youngest detective in Southern California, finds himself face-to-face with Aiden Maar, the reckless art thief Shannon’s precinct has been chasing for months, they are both stunned. Their Camellia Clocks have timed out, and the men are left with a choice—love one another or defy fate.