Please join me for a book signing!

Hi, everyone! If you are local to the Lehigh Valley, please join me for a book signing for Redemption!

The info:

Barnes & Nobles, Easton
4445 Southmont Way, Easton
Saturday, January 19, 12:00 – 2:00pm

As always, if you want to order the book, just click here for info on how to get all formats.

Hope to see you soon!

Six Questions with Leslie Stella, author of Permanent Record

I gotta say – one of the most fun things about this blog, at least to me, is learning how other authors approach depression, and the unique spins that they give on the issue. Last week’s interview, for example, dealt with cyber-bullying and self-harm. This one’s is with Leslie Stella, author of Permanent Record, who deals with racism, terrorism and a post 9/11 world.

From the description:

Being yourself can be such a bad idea. For sixteen-year-old Badi Hessamizadeh, life is a series of humiliations. After withdrawing from public school under mysterious circumstances, Badi enters Magnificat Academy. To make things “easier,” his dad has even given him a new name: Bud Hess. Grappling with his Iranian-American identity, clinical depression, bullying, and a barely bottled rage, Bud is an outcast who copes by resorting to small revenges and covert acts of defiance, but the pressures of his home life, plummeting grades, and the unrequited affection of his new friend, Nikki, prime him for a more dangerous revolution. Strange letters to the editor begin to appear in Magnificat’s newspaper, hinting that some tragedy will befall the school. Suspicion falls on Bud, and he and Nikki struggle to uncover the real culprit and clear Bud’s name. Permanent Record explodes with dark humor, emotional depth, and a powerful look at the ways the bullied fight back.


Your book not only deals with depression, but it also deals with some very heavy societal issues—racial identity and terrorism. What inspired you to address this subject?

I wanted to explore several themes: 1) bullying, and the fine line between standing up for yourself and taking revenge, 2) the relationship between mental health, outsider status, and bullying, and 3) how a teen targeted for his racial identity might retaliate. Funneling these three concerns into the experience of one protagonist made for a gripping story, one in which readers must wrestle with themselves about whether the protagonist is justified in his actions.

As noted in your book’s description, your main character, an Iranian American, is pressured by his family to hide his identity. This is a common issue faced by many teens. How do you think this impacts someone’s mental health?

Ignoring the interplay between mental health and outsider status is a sure way to court disaster, either for the outsider himself or society. Sublimating one’s identity (whether it’s racial, gender-based, or any other facet that contributes to the makeup of a person) always backfires; you cannot grow as a human being if you deny those very facets that make you whole.

How can authors approach subjects like this with authenticity, even if it isn’t their lived experience?

Speaking for myself, if I wrote about only my own experiences, I would subject my readership to a never-ending glut of books about office work. The purpose of literature is to transport the reader—and that usually means transporting the author as well. It’s called imagination and research. Use them! They are your friends.

In Permanent Record, the protagonist’s Persian background was based on a family that my family was close to when I was in high school. My sister dated one of the brothers, and I worked for the parents for several years at a store they owned. I learned so much about Persian culture from them, including the dynamics within the family and what is expected of the children—especially the difference between expectations of the daughters versus the sons.

The book was written in 2013, but, unfortunately, many of its themes seem more relevant than ever. If you had to write the book again now, with Donald Trump as president, what would be the same, and what would be different?

Like so many things, terrorism begins at home. The ritual of school violence in our country is a brand of home-grown terrorism that our society has decided it will tolerate. If I had written Permanent Record today, with Donald Trump as president, I would likely have the covert displays of racism present as overt. People aren’t any different today than they were previously; it’s that they feel free to parade their prejudices and hatred more openly.

In looking at this book, it seems to me that it can apply to two groups: Members of the “majority” community who are looking to get a better understanding of what life is like to those who are minorities, or members of the minority community, like Badi, who are looking for a character to identify with. Did you have one of these audiences in mind more than the other?

 Why must these two great tastes be mutually exclusive? In the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of fiction, the writer’s job is to hold a mirror up to the world so that we can see not only ourselves but everyone else as well.

In a social media friendly world, what’s the role of books—like yours—in terms of addressing mental health and the stigma which surrounds it?

People usually feel alone when they struggle with their mental health, and social media exacerbates this: “Gee, everyone else on Facebook seems so happy; their children pose readily with handmade signs, while I’m taking pictures of squirrels ransacking my birdfeeder.” At the same time, I’m not a fan of people using social media as a substitute for therapy. A book, however, can delve deep into these problems in a way that is personal and intimate and three-dimensional, which is something a tweet or post can never do. I don’t think I’m alone in saying I relate better to complex fictional characters better than I do with most real-live people with whom I have human contact. So in that sense, I hope Badi’s struggles with depression inform readers about the complexities of mental health and the many options for treatment out there.

 

 

 

A strange gender gap: Men, women and writing about depression

As part of my marketing efforts for Redemption, I’ve been reaching out to other author’s in similar book categories, which means other Young Adult books which deal with mental health, depression and anxiety. These efforts are how you’ve seen some of the other Six Question entries.

The other day, I noticed something strange:

Let me give some backup here to that tweet: I just went back through my notes on other authors. I identified 115 authors who also had books in this category. Of those 115, only 18 were men; 89 were female, and another 8 either had names that could have been either gender or used initials (which often than not, means they are a woman – see J.K. Rowling, who went with her initials because her publishers were trying to disguise the fact that she’s a woman).

Anyway, that difference is massive: 115 authors, and a mere 16% are men!

What the hell is going on here?

This is just a hunch, but I think what I’ve found is a microcosm of society as a whole: Women are much more willing to discuss mental illness and emotions than men. According to research, both men and women are more likely to be viewed more negatively when they suffer from “gender atypical” mental health disorders. Additionally, according to a 2015 study, men are more likely to have negative attitudes towards health seeking, which results in a less significant uptake in using mental health services.

This blows me away. I mean, it shouldn’t – none of this is surprising, and intuitively, I think most of us recognize that women are more comfortable seeking help and discussing emotional topics than men.

There are so, so many issues facing women today. I’m so glad that, as a member of the human race, we are doing a better job at discussing vitally important issues like women’s equality and safety. But I think one of the things we don’t do a good enough job of – and my above observation would seem to back up this assertion – is discussing how these gender stereotypes also hurt men.

Please, please do not misunderstand me here – I am not saying, “Boohoo, but what about the white man, life is so hard for us, we are so discriminated against!” That simply isn’t true, and it is abundantly clear that other minorities and women have much, much tougher obstacles to overcomes than any white man does. It is also apparent that we, as a society, must do a better job at creating a more level playing field and changing our culture as it pertains to women and minorities.

But, I think it’s important to note that men can also be the victims of gender stereotyping and expectations – and clearly, this is one such example. What I would hope this observation would make us realize is that we must do a better job of working towards true equality in society – and men have many, many ways to benefit from achieving that ideal as well.

Six Questions: Interview with Angel Lawson, author of A Piece of Heaven

Morning, everyone! It’s been a while, so here’s an interview with Angel Lawson. Angel is the author of A Piece of Heaven, a YA book which deals with a few issues I haven’t delved into a ton: Online bullying and self-harm.

First, here’s the book description:

No good deed goes unpunished.

I learned that lesson the hard way when I agreed to helping my friend Justin with a favor.

My platonic friend Justin.

A favor that helped him with his reputation but turned mine into the trending topic at my school. In a matter of days I go from quiet, nobody to school slut.

The problem with that? I’m still a virgin.

The whispers, the stares and the constant gossip could bring me down but I’m tired of hiding in the dark, covering up my anxiety and being alone. I decide to take on the bullies and find a few surprising allies along the way; the Allendale Four.

Oliver, Anderson, Jackson and Hayden make up this tight-knit circle of friends and they make it their mission to protect my reputation, my heart and my soul.

For the first time I’m not alone and I’m not afraid, but will the closed-minded town of Allendale accept our relationship?

Please note a Piece of Heaven is a contemporary young adult, Why Choose novel that deals first love, the hardships of high school; including the topics of bullying, social issues and self-harm.

This isn’t the type of book which you would normally associate with mental health – it deals with romance and part of the genre is apparently reverse harem (I have never heard of that one!). But, I’d also argue that it is non-traditional books which can best make the most impact in terms of mental health.

Anyways, here’s Six Questions with Angel Lawson.

It’s rare to find someone who hasn’t had some sort of personal experience with bullying. Was this you, and how did those experiences inform your writing?

As a kid I was honestly more part of the “mean girl” group than outside of it, but that didn’t mean we were in the clear. Basically, we were mean because you had to keep the attention off of yourself, because anyone could be a target. Once I moved on to high school I was able to make new friends and leave that group behind. The interesting result as an adult (with two teenage daughters) is that I can smell a bully a mile a way. They don’t always see it, but I do. The manipulation and jockeying for power (which is all bully is.) My oldest came home from school last week having not done well on a test. Her “friend” who is very smart and does very well academically, pulled out her phone and took a picture of her grade. Just because. It’s a power move–something to make my daughter feel unsettled and to doubt herself, all to hide the other persons’s own self-doubts.

Your book also addresses a topic that is much more taboo than it should be: Self-harm. How did you approach this topic, and how were you able to do so in a “safe” way that avoided triggering those who may be tempted to self-harm?

We went through a family crisis last year with my youngest. The combination of some issues at school, her general anxiety and bad side effects of medication triggered an awful reaction. We spent months on high alert and getting back in step. Before that I wrote more action-oriented, paranormal or fantasy themed novels. That personal event pushed me into exploring this topic more. It was helpful for me to have somewhere to just lay it all out there, while still telling a fictional story. I tried very hard to be authentic and not sensational.

Mental heath seems to be a theme of yours – in this book and others. How are you able to write about this subject with authenticity?

I have a degree in social work and experience with Juvenile Delinquents (who all have some kind of mental health component) Then first hand experience with therapists, group treatment etc…

What sort of research do you do?

Not much other than what I have been involved in personally.

Your book deals specifically with cyber bullying. Can you talk a little about the impacts which you have seen cyberbullying have on mental health?

I have two teenaged girls. They were not allowed on social media until the 8th grade. I felt like the majority of bad decisions come from being too young to understand long term consequences. So while my older daughter’s friends were all being called into the office for bullying accusations she wasn’t involved. My younger is still not allowed to have Snapchat although i did encourage Instagram to keep in touch with family and friends because she changed schools. The fake accounts are rampant for middle schoolers in particular. The photos and questions and videos basically begging (or literally begging) for attention are out of control. These kids post too much and then don’t get the feedback they want and it’s painful. Frankly, they’re almost ASKING to be bullied which is even worse. They can’t see how it affects their self-esteem and their future and how people view them. It’s complicated. Tricky. The best bet is to stay clear–ALTHOUGH removing yourself entirely can be social suicide as well.

From a mental health perspective, what do you hope your readers get out of the book?

That just because you go through something like this doesn’t mean your life is over. Help is out there and you can have bad moments in a life that don’t have to define you. It’s also a romance and I want people to know that even with flaws you can find love. I really hate the movie 13 Reason’s Why. It offers no hope. It’s sensationalized. The adults are idiots. The kids are relentless. The best moment was when I bumped that book out of the #1 spot for over a month.

Here’s the first chapter of Redemption!

Alright, alright, alright!

I had a few folks ask for it without the Email gate, so, here you go. Click here to download the first Chapter of Redemption. If you want to buy the book, here’s the Amazon link, and here’s the page on my website for other formats and how to buy a signed copy from me.

Enjoy!

Get the first chapter of Redemption for free!

Hiya!

If you’ve read the blog before, you’ve heard me talk about Redemption. For those of you who are curious, good news! You can now download the first chapter of the book for free. To do so, you can sign-up for my newsletter, and the welcome Email will have a link to download the book.

Do you already get the newsletter? Well, just check the link in there to access the first chapter.

Enjoy!

Science Fiction and Mental Health:The Lost Opportunity

In the course of writing my book, I made an assumption – one which I would ultimately find to be incorrect: That mental illness and science fiction would be very popular subgenres. They are not. I’ve been surprised by this. In fact, thus far, I’ve only been able to find one other book which intermixes mental health, science fiction and young adult – Portals by Kristy Acevedo. That’s a REALLY great book, by the way – if you liked Redemption, you’ll like Portals – Kristy Acevedo was kind enough to do a blog interview with me. That’s here.

I thought the two genres would go much better together. The reason? The sheer freedom of it. I’ve written two books now – Tweets and Consequences (which was a non-fiction look at social media, politicians and epic failures) and Redemption. Obviously non-fiction is a little bit more limiting. But, even fiction can be very constraining. If you write a regular YA book, for example, you are limited by the realities of the genre. For example, It’s not a good or consistent book if your YA character suddenly grows wings and flies away.

Science fiction and fantasy, of course, are different. All bets are off. You set up your world, it’s limits, and then you go from there. In Redemption, I created a Lord of the Flies-like world – on a space ship – and we were off to the races. The extremes of the world in Redemption allow me to explore the mental illness of the main character, Ash. Clearly, it’s science fiction, but the constraints of the world are still pretty similar to this one. As such, I get the opportunity to explore mental illness in a whole new light, but one that is simultaneously interesting/entertaining (at least, I hope!) and relevant to the reader.

Portals does a similar exploration – it creates a fantasy world with aliens from the future who are trying to save the world. The main character has debilitating anxiety issues, and the extreme stress of the world has major impacts on her mental health, her limits, and what she learns about herself and those around her.

But again, I’ve been surprised. I haven’t seen a ton of interaction between these subjects, and that, in my estimation, is a lost opportunity. Science fiction allows you to break traditional boundaries. I’ve actually always thought that the best science fiction just takes advantage of the weird elements it creates. Star Wars isn’t about space, it’s about good vs. evil. Star Trek (which one reviewer on the Amazon page was kind enough to compare Redemption to!) isn’t about the damn United Federation of Plants, it is about social justice and an exploration of the galaxy and the human psyche. It seems like mental illness and it’s related topics would be a perfect fit for this universe, but alas, unless I have been mistaken, this is not a topic which has seen much interaction.

Am I wrong? I’d love to be wrong. If I am wrong, please correct me – leave your best book recommendations in the comments below!

Redemption – my book – is now available

Today’s the day. A really, really big day, for me. Today, my book, Redemptionis available for order.

First, the logistics: If you pre-ordered it on your Kindle, it should be there! If you want to order it for Kindle or order a print copy on Amazon, go right to the website. To order it in other formats, or to order a printed copy directly from me (which I will sign and ship!), visit my website. Also, if you use Goodreads, you can check out the book’s page here.

Again, here’s what the book is about:

Twenty young people wake aboard the spaceship Redemption with no memory how they got there.

Asher Maddox went to sleep a college dropout with clinical depression and anxiety. He wakes one hundred sixty years in the future to assume the role as captain aboard a spaceship he knows nothing about, with a crew as in the dark as he is.

Yanked from their everyday lives, the crew learns that Earth has been ravaged by the Spades virus – a deadly disease planted by aliens. They are tasked with obtaining the vaccine that will save humanity, while forced to hide from an unidentified, but highly advanced enemy.

Half a galaxy away from Earth, the crew sets out to complete the quest against impossible odds. As the enemy draws closer, they learn to run the ship despite their own flaws and rivalries. But they have another enemy . . . time. And it’s running out.

Okay. Now for the personal stuff.

This book was written during one of the ugliest, most depressed periods of my adult life. I was in a bad funk, my wife was having a hard time at work, and we were both just struggling. I had started seeing my therapist again, I had increased my medication, but I was still in a really bad way. And I made a decision that I needed to do more, and remembered how writing had saved me when I was a teenager. I’d already written a non-fiction book – Tweets and Consequences – and while I’d enjoyed that process, I wanted to do more. I wanted to write something that was truly meaningful to me on a personal level.

Twenty years ago – probably more – I had this idea as a young teenage writer about kids winding up on a spaceship with no idea why. While I was thinking about writing, I remembered this kernel of a plot. I wanted to write about mental illness as well, since that cause has become such a part of my life.

And thus, Redemption.

As for why this is so important to me. Please understand that this isn’t just a book. It’s difficult to explain how meaningful writing this was on a personal level. The best way I can put it is this: When you write, if it is about an issue that you really care about, you’re not just creating words. You’re putting a piece of your heart out for the world to see. This book is a huge piece of who I am and my personal mission of helping people who suffer from mental illness find hope and recovery. I hope this book can do for others what it did for me – help pull me from the darkness. I hope it can help people realize that they can live good lives, even with depression, anxiety and mental illness. And I hope it’s a good read.

Anyway, world, meet Redemption. I hope you enjoy it!

Why “Redemption”

As I said in an entry the other day, I have a book coming out on June 5. It’s called Redemptionand it’s about depression, anxiety and saving the world. From the blurb:

Twenty young people wake aboard the spaceship Redemption with no memory how they got there.

Asher Maddox went to sleep a college dropout with clinical depression and anxiety. He wakes one hundred sixty years in the future to assume the role as captain aboard a spaceship he knows nothing about, with a crew as in the dark as he is.

Yanked from their everyday lives, the crew learns that Earth has been ravaged by the Spades virus – a deadly disease planted by aliens. They are tasked with obtaining the vaccine that will save humanity, while forced to hide from an unidentified, but highly advanced enemy.

Half a galaxy away from Earth, the crew sets out to complete the quest against impossible odds. As the enemy draws closer, they learn to run the ship despite their own flaws and rivalries. But they have another enemy . . . time. And it’s running out.

Now, here’s the question I keep getting: Why is it called Redemption?

First is the obvious: It’s the name of the ship. But it’s the name of the ship in the book for a reason.

Okay. So I wrote this thing not just to tell a science fiction story, but to tell a story of mental illness and give those who suffer hope. That’s sort of been my driving force, as an elected official and advocate for the mentally ill. And to be perfectly honest, that permeates just about every facet of the book. Including the name of the ship.

I named it Redemption because I think the idea of guilt – and seeking Redemption – was and is a big part of my depression. Guilt is a common symptom of depression. It’s something I certainly got to know in a very personal way. And I spent most of my life searching for redemption. I desperately wanted to be redeemed from some unknown sin. And I think that’s something that’s relatively common among those who have suffered.

The entire plot is, at it’s core, a redemption story, but not from a sin: From mental illness, from depression and from anxiety. It’s a redemption that I think we all strive for. In my experience, it’s almost not complete obtainable. Personally, I know I will never be completely free from mental illness. It will always be there, running in the background like an iPhone app. Recovery isn’t an end state, it’s a journey. And that’s a lesson I that I have tried to learn all my life, and a journey I try to highlight in Redemption.

As always, I’d love to have your thoughts. Is this an experience you understand? No? Either way, let us know in the comments!

Redemption, by Mike Schlossberg, is almost available!

I just had a really nice moment that I wanted to write about – and for once, nothing that has to do (directly!) with mental health.

Late yesterday, I got the Email from my publisher, giving me the final version of my book, Redemption. I opened it up about an hour ago, and to my pleasant surprise, discovered that it wasn’t final edits – there was just some grammatical stuff – it was ready.  I sent it back, giddy. My book is almost ready!

Redemption was my therapy. I started it a little more than three years ago when my life became more overwhelming than I ever thought it could have. The idea picked up on something that I had dreamed up twenty years ago, when I first thought that I may want to write. More information about the book is here and you can read a summary below.

Redemption, unquestionably, helped save me.  It gave one of the roughest periods of my life meaning and gave me an opportunity to share a story with the rest of the world. It is a young adult, sci-fi dystopia, but I tried to make it different by weaving in the very real themes of depression, anxiety and loss, themes that have punctuated my life and likely yours, too.

I have no idea how it is going to sell – well, I hope – but I do know that this book, like the blog, gave me an opportunity to discuss an issue that I care deeply about, and hopefully inspire others to know they aren’t alone and a better life can be there’s.

As time goes on, I’ll have more to say about Redemption, and I really want to share the writing journey I went through, because I think that can be helpful to others. Art can save.

More info on Redemption below.  It should be available in the next couple of months!

Asher Maddox fell asleep a twenty year-old, depressed college drop-out.  He woke up sixty years in the future, Captain of a spaceship charged with saving humanity.

It’s 2083.  Ash and nineteen other teenagers find themselves onboard the Redemption.  Attacked by an unseen force from the moment they arrive, the crew must instantly bond, learn how to fly and escape whatever is trying to kill them.

Their arrival onboard the Redemption is no accident.  Ash and his crew must stop an alien attack which resulted in the Spades virus wiping out most of humanity.

Each answered question only creates more puzzles.  Why them?  Who are the aliens that keep attacking them?  How did Spades get created in the first place? Can the ship get the various pieces of the vaccine before the aliens attack Earth?  And, most importantly: How can Ash save the planet, when his depression and anxiety won’t even let him save himself?

Coming first half of 2018.