I have some pretty big news to tell y’all. In fact, it’s big enough news that I’m going to make you suffer through a long blog post about my feelings before I actually tell it.
Those of you who already know this whole story, just skip to the end.
So. About a year and a half ago, I had this character come into my head: a young woman named Liria, who was homeless and addicted to heroin.
I didn’t really want to write about Liria. In my youth, I was also a heroin addict. I worked pretty damn hard to escape that world, and I didn’t really want to plunge myself back into it. But the character wouldn’t leave me alone, so I relented and started writing a book about her.
While I was drafting it, I met this guy in the park. Young guy. Handsome, weird, with a compelling and lyrical way of talking. I ignored the flashing red lights and sirens in my head telling me to get the hell away from this schizophrenic guy, because he was so cool.
We only spoke for half an hour or so, and I didn’t talk to him again. I didn’t even know his name. But I couldn’t forget about him. I wondered about him enough that he ended up as a fully-fledged character in the book I was writing about the heroin addict. I named him Justin.
Critique groups and beta readers loved Justin, and so did I. So much so that, when I was done with Liria’s book, I started writing Justin’s story.
Writing that book was an intense process, both artistically and emotionally. Bringing people into Justin’s world and making them relate to him wasn’t easy, and I began to truly realize that writing is not just talent and dedication, it’s skill. But that wasn’t the hardest thing. Writing the book put me in an uncomfortable place, even more than Liria’s book had. I spent a lot of my youth worried that I had schizophrenia. I had reason to worry, because I suffered periodic bouts of psychosis—a thing I tried to hide even from people really close to me, and downplay to myself. I tried to tell myself that the psychosis was mostly situational, and that “everyone is crazy”. I tried to forget the wary and uncomfortable looks I’d gotten the few times I tried to talk to people about my experiences.
I was scared to get into Justin’s head. I couldn’t think of much that would be worse than being schizophrenic. Psychosis was horrifying, but I was blessed in the fact that I always had managed to find my way back to the place people call sanity. I didn’t want to think about what it would be like never being sure what was real, and being constantly terrified you’d be pulled into a delusion that would cause you to hurt yourself, or others. I knew just how convincing psychosis could be, how it seemed completely real, and could make you react to things that others couldn’t see or understand.
However, writing Justin’s book, seeing how he interacted with the other characters, made me realize that everyone suffers delusions. There’s a definite difference between what happens when you have a psychotic break and what a neurotypical (i.e., mentally “normal”) person experiences, but it’s true: we’re all crazy. A lot of what any given culture takes for granted as reality and truth isn’t based on tangible fact: it’s a construct. The true difference between these sorts of delusions and what is termed a psychosis is whether or not the belief is shared.
Anyway, enough philosophizing. Back to the story.
Justin’s book has a sequel, and I was almost done drafting it when I realized I wasn’t getting it right. I was lacking insight, and I needed to talk to the schizophrenic kid—the real Justin—again.
I had noticed him around town since I’d spoken to him that day. I’d watched him playing basketball in the park by himself, or jogging in his street clothes. In my head, I called him Justin, and I worried and wondered about him.
So I went down to the park looking for him. He showed up right when I did, and the weird thing is…it seemed like he’d been looking for me, too. Like we were meant to find each other.
The difference between psychosis and belief is whether or not the delusion is shared.
The real Justin’s name is Phoenix, and you can read excerpts from the full story of how he and I became bestest friends, starting here. It’s an incredible tale…harrowing, probably, to those who care about me and mine.
But something good came out of Phoenix’s and my relationship, something beautiful and meaningful: I learned that even people with psychosis are worthwhile. We’re complete human beings—we just have a different way of thinking.
I’m really glad that I ignored the voice in my head that told me to stay away from the scary schizophrenic kid. He’s not scary, and that little voice wasn’t self-preservation: it was prejudice, and shame.
There is another good thing that came out of my relationship with Phoenix, and that’s the books about Justin and Liria. And, I’m really happy to announce that, after a whole bunch of rejection—lots of “you did a great job with the characters, but the plot isn’t what I expected”; and “great writing, but I can’t connect with these characters”; and “I love this, but we already have a book about a schizophrenic” (believe me, publishers: ONE IS NOT ENOUGH. WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS)…
…after all that, I have signed a contract with Limitless Publishing for this series.
(You’ll have to imagine a hand-waving-and-confetti-throwing celebration gif here, because I freaking hate gifs).
It’s a series of three. The first book is Liria’s story, the second is Justin’s story, and the third is the story of the two of them together. Thank you, Limitless, for taking a risk on this series, because they ARE a risk. Liria’s book is a new adult/adult book, with graphic sex and drug use (those of you who like Love or Money will feel right at home with it, though there’s less emphasis on the romance and erotica). Justin’s book, however, is a young adult book, and the third one…you’ll just have to see. The only thing they have in common is that they’re all contemporary magical realism books. It’s a marketing nightmare, I know, but I told the story the way it needed to be told, and I think Limitless is right that they need to be marketed as a series, and not separately, like I had planned. I think the complete story will appeal to a broad audience, even though it might not be an easily pigeonholed demographic.
I’m really excited to share these books with the world. Excited, and terrified. I know all authors put a lot into their writing, but…I put A LOT into these books. Writing them has turned my world upside down. It caused me to get kicked out of my house and have to live in my car for a while (lots of you who know the whole story will say that I’m simplifying the situation by saying this, but from my point of view, I’m really not).
So, that’s my news. Thank you, all of you, for your support and love. I hope you will enjoy these books. I hope you’ll see the beauty and the truth I tried to put in them, and that you’ll maybe look with different eyes on people like Liria and Justin after you read them.