JJ is delighted to be taking part in Brook Cottage Books promo blitz today with an interview.
Tanya 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. Peterson is an active volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and she is a regular columnist for the Anxiety-Schmanxiety blog on HealthyPlace.com.
She draws on her education, experience, and personal background with bipolar 1 disorder and anxiety to write stories about the psychological aspect of the human condition, specifically mental illness and the impact it has on human beings. Her goal is to change the way the world thinks about mental illness and the people who live with it.
Peterson believes that fiction is a powerful vehicle for teaching fact. Further, she knows that people empathize with characters in novels, and commonly they transfer their empathy to real-life human beings. To that end, she has published Leave of Absence, My Life in a Nutshell, and the YA novel Losing Elizabeth. Additionally, she has published 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.
Peterson has also been interviewed on numerous radio shows, given presentations on mental illness and book readings nationwide, spoken on mental illness at the 2013 national conference of the Mothers of Incarcerated Sons Society, Inc., and has been quoted in various articles about mental health and mental illness.
Hi Tanya, welcome to JJ
Please summarise My Life in a Nutshell : A Novel in 20 words or less.
Summarizing things isn’t my strong suit! I’ll give it a shot, though: a novel about a man and a girl coping with anxiety and instability. Ta-da! Thirteen words that don’t do it justice.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
Tens of millions of people worldwide live with anxiety disorders, and I wanted to show the world what that’s like. (I’ll elaborate on this below.)
Did you do any research for your book? What resources did you use?
Research? Definitely! I must admit that I’m a bit of a nerd. When I was in high school, college, and even graduate school, I loved receiving the course syllabi because I couldn’t wait to see what papers I’d get to write, then I would begin research as quickly as I could. (Okay everyone, please don’t stop reading this now. I promise that my novels aren’t dry research papers!)
In all seriousness, I did indeed do research. I do for all of my novels. I want to portray mental illness accurately, so I do things to make sure I do. I’m a nationally certified counselor (US) so I do have a background in things like anxiety. I myself have experienced significant anxiety, so that helped. I write an anxiety column for HealthyPlace.com, and I drew on the research I do for that. Also, I talked to people who experience anxiety. This way, I was able to draw on scientific/factual research, personal experience, and the experience of other real people in order to create Brian, a fictitious character who is indeed realistic. Also, with my background as a teacher and a school counselor plus being a mother, I know kids and their developmental stages, how they’re affected by life’s problems, etc. So Abigail, the little girl in the story, was also born out of research and reality.
What inspired you to write?
Many things came together to motivate me to write what I do. I write because I want to increase understanding about what mental illness is like and, especially, to increase empathy for those who live with it. I want to humanize mental illness. (The term mental illness is very broad. My novels are more specific. My previous novel, Leave of Absence, is about a woman with schizophrenia and a man who has PTSD and depression. This new novel, My Life in a Nutshell, is about debilitating anxiety disorders).
I write what I do so I can (hopefully) help reduce the stigma and the stereotypes associated with mental illness. Stigma is definitely a social barrier; it’s a prejudice that really works against people. I know this because as a certified counselor, I saw people who were misunderstood and were suffering because of it. I also know this because I’ve faced these prejudices myself. I live with mental illness. I have bipolar 1 disorder and experience various anxieties.
I write novels instead of non-fiction because they’re fun, I always fall deeply in love with my characters, and characters are people so real-world people can connect with them. I definitely want to increase empathy and understanding, but I want to do through storytelling rather than merely informing or preaching. People deserve that!
How do your characters come into existence? Do they have a bio?
It’s strange. My characters always feel as though they’ve been with me, an integral part of me, forever. It’s as though they’re all there, even future ones, waiting for a chance to be heard. (My novels aren’t autobiographical, so it’s not like they’re my memories. They’re definitely characters in their own right.) I first think of the story I want to tell, the message I’m relaying, then I envision how to tell it and who is going to experience it. Then they’re instantly there, and we’re intimately connected. Throughout the entire process, I “feel” them rather than “think” them. I “think” the facts and the research and some aspects of the plot, but I “feel” the characters and much of their experiences.
What is your WIP?
I’m currently working on a novel about dissociative identity disorder and how it impacts people’s lives – and how it messes with them in often painful ways, but it does not make them unable to love or to be loved.
Do you have a book trailer? What do you think book trailers achieve?
I think that book trailers are neat. They offer readers a way to take a quick peek into a book in a unique way. Sure, there are written descriptions and reviews, which are always going to be the most powerful ways for readers to see if they want to read a novel, but trailers could be an initial way of drawing attention. I once had someone, who was considering a trailer, ask if I thought that trailers paid for themselves through increased sales. I don’t think they should be thought of that way. I think they’re one piece of this huge puzzle. On their own, each little piece doesn’t do much, but together, they create a unified “picture” of who an author is and what his/her books are like that help readers decide what they want to read.
Who is your targetted audience? Have you written for other genres or plan to in the future?
My work is geared for adults. Teens could read my novels because they’re pretty clean, but neither of my novels is in the YA genre. I write primarily for those interested in psychology, mental health/illness, and the like. Writers do need to have a specific target audience, and I do. However, I write stories that are entertaining rather than heavy-handed and preachy and are human interest stories and will thus appeal to readers who just want to read about people and their general struggles and triumphs.
I really love my genre and feel passionate about my characters and what they go through, so I don’t foresee myself switching genres any time soon. It’s said that people should never say never, so I won’t! But I have no active plans to mix it up.
What has been the best part of your writing journey so far?
I have two best parts (yes, I’m one of “those” people who couldn’t handle true/false tests in school because I saw little nuances in the choices and could never pick just one). The first best part is the writing itself. I absolutely love writing novels (even more than I love writing my various articles and the HealthyPlace column). It’s the one activity where I can lose myself and experience flow. My thoughts stop racing, or rather, they continue to race, but they’re focused on one thing: the story. It’s a wonderful feeling.
My second best thing is the reaction from, and interaction with, readers. I’ve had people contact me or write in reviews that they have friends or relatives who live with mental illness and that my novels help them understand them better (for real!). I’ve had people say that my characters (in Leave of Absence because My Life in a Nutshell is just barely out) stayed with them for a very long time or are even still with them. Leave of Absence, because it addresses an important social issue, has been nominated to be the 2016 “common read” for all incoming freshmen at a university here in the US. I won’t know for quite a while if I’ve been chosen, but the very idea that I’ve been nominated for this is an amazing feeling. To me, this is special not because it fuels my ego but because it means that my novels are starting to do what I wanted them to do: open eyes and hearts to people living with mental health issues as well as to family and friends of such people.
Thank you for being in my hot seat today Tanya.
Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel is the story of one man’s struggles with debilitating anxiety. Brian Cunningham has isolated himself to such a degree that his human contact is barely more than an hour a day. While lonely, he feels powerless to change his life. Unexpectedly, his safe little world is invaded by one Abigail Harris, a seven-year-old girl who, for the last five years, has bounced from foster home to foster home. She has come to live with an aunt and uncle she has never known. Unsure if she can trust her new environment, she turns to Brian. Neither one quite knows how to live in the world. Can they possibly help each other?