Mental Health Monday–Suzanne van Rooyen Talks Mental Health and SciFi

I’m SO excited to have author Suzanne van Rooyen here today. She’s talking about the inspiration behind her YA sci-fi, OBSCURA BURNING. I fell in love with this book on page one and I have to say it’s one of my favorite books EVAH!

There’s sci-fi elements, mental heath elements, and a tangle of relationships that pulled for all sorts of emotions. What more could a reader ask for?

Anyway, I’m gonna let Suzanne take over before I get to rambly.

Welcome, Suzanne! Tell us, how did you get into writing?

I’ve always told stories. Even before I knew my ABC’s, I would dictate stories to my mom and she’d write them down for me. Once I started reading and writing, I never stopped. The two were always major hobbies of mine. It was only during my Masters degree in Music that turned to writing as a possible source of income and began writing journalism articles for my university paper. After some success with that, I tried my hand at fiction once more. I had my first short story published in September 2011. After that, I knew I wanted to be an author and started pursuing that goal seriously.

That’s so awesome! I love that your mom wrote your stories down for you, lol! What draws you to YA?

The confusion, the flux, the potential. Teenagehood is a time of immense change – physical, mental and emotional – and this seeming state of chaos, of trying to figure out who you are, where you belong in the world and what you want out of life makes for some amazing character development and incredible stories whether the teens are leading a contemporary life or battling corruption in some distant dystopian future. I also love the innocence and resilience of the YA protagonist, their ability to find the good in the world and to keep trying even when the odds are stacked against them.

You hit the nail on the head with that one–that’s exactly what draws me to YA too. Where did the idea for Obscura Burning come from?

Honestly? The ether! I was listening to music by Explosions in the Sky and this image of a boy walking through an arid landscape just popped into my head. That was my first glimpse of Kyle and so his story grew out of the dust. I think what prompted the idea of the split realities was my inability to decide whether Kyle should have a male or female love interest – so I gave him both.

Ha! Love it! Isn’t it great when characters just “show up?” What draws you to write LGBT characters?

I’ve always been around LGBT people from my gay uncle and lesbian sister to bisexual, gay, lesbian and even trans. and polyamorous friends. It seems unnatural to me not to include LGBT characters in my stories. Personally, I think one’s sexual preference is about as relevant and consequential as the colour of one’s hair – just another aspect of who that person is. Sadly, many places in the world don’t quite see it the same way, making life unfair and difficult for many LGBT people. Perhaps this is what attracts me to LGBT characters, that they can overcome prejudice and intolerance with the power of rainbows.

Agreed. There’s a decidedly “mental health spin”–and it’s extremely well-crafted!–to Obscura Burning, from substance use, to grief, even depression, and more. What inspired you to include these themes in your story?

Thank you! I didn’t make a conscious decision to include these themes at all. It was simply how Kyle developed. He’s an amalgamation of several boys I knew growing up and so his mental state started to emerge without me having to try too hard. I didn’t even know he was a problem fire starter until I had almost completed the first draft. His affinity for fire just happened. The fact that he self-harmed just seemed a natural consequence of his circumstances and emotional response to the world around him. I never intended my book to take such a dark turn, but the characters took my down that path and I went where they led.

And therein lies the inherent nature of the psyche. It’s everywhere! Any tips for writers who are looking to add psychology to their characters?

Don’t ‘add’ anything to a character. A character should be a very close approximation of a real person. A real person doesn’t just spontaneously sprout psychological issues. Those develop due to circumstances and life events. That’s the way it should be for a character. Their mental and emotional state needs to stem from their life experiences. Adding psychological issues to the character mix isn’t like adding salt to a stew. If you want to write a character with psychological issues then do research, read case studies, understand why a real person develops certain psychological hangups and then create a character with a believable backstory. Don’t be afraid of digging deep. An author friend of mine once said that if you want to write an issue-driven story that touches others, you have to open a vein and bleed a little.

YES! EXCELLENT advice. Well said, indeed. What’s next for you?

I’ve currently got two books with my agent, one’s on submission, one’s waiting on revisions, and another book nearing first draft completion on my computer. They’re all YA, but in different genres, and feature an array of troubled characters from angsty androids to disenfranchised demons. Not sure what’ll come next. I’m waiting on my Muse for inspiration.

So awesome! Best of luck with all your projects–angsty androids and disenfranchised demons? Sign me up! 😉 Thanks for stopping by and sharing all this great info! 

Here’s some information about OBSCURA BURNING and Suzanne:


Book Blurb:

The world’s going to end in fire…and it’s all Kyle’s fault.

Kyle Wolfe’s world is about to crash and burn. Just weeks away from graduation, a fire kills Kyle’s two best friends and leaves him permanently scarred. A fire that Kyle accidentally set the night he cheated on his boyfriend Danny with their female friend, Shira. That same day, a strange new planet, Obscura, appears in the sky. And suddenly Kyle’s friends aren’t all that dead anymore.

Each time Kyle goes to sleep, he awakens to two different realities. In one, his boyfriend Danny is still alive, but Shira is dead. In the other, it’s Shira who’s alive…and now they’re friends with benefits. Shifting between realities is slowly killing him, and he’s not the only one dying. The world is dying with him. He’s pretty sure Obscura has something to do with it, but with his parents’ marriage imploding and realities shifting each time he closes his eyes, Kyle has problems enough without being the one in charge of saving the world…



Suzanne van Rooyen

Author bio:

Suzanne is a freelance writer and author from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Suzanne is the author of the cyberpunk novel Dragon’s Teeth (Divertir), the YA science fiction novel Obscura Burning (Etopia) and has had several short stories published by Golden Visions Magazine, Space and Time and Niteblade. Her non-fiction articles on travel, music and other topics can be found scattered throughout the Internet. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When not writing you can find her teaching dance to ninth graders or playing in the snow with her shiba inu.

Suzanne is represented by Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency.

Suzanne is also a publicist for Entranced Publishing.




6 comments on “Mental Health Monday–Suzanne van Rooyen Talks Mental Health and SciFi

  1. Linda Gray says:

    What an interesting book this sounds like. Agree totally about digging deep to expose authentic psychological pain/motivation. It’s not easy for most people to open that vein and bleed a little, but really important. And I love that Suzanne dictated books to her mom when she was little. I’ve read that in more than one author interview which gives me hope that my son my choose to be a writer someday–we did that a LOT when he was little. Fun.

  2. Karen Lange says:

    It’s nice to meet Suzanne! Good too, to hear about her book and the related processes. I’m always inspired by author’s stories.

  3. Oh I absolutely love Suzanne. I’m so going to check out her book. I love that she’s LGBT friendly (we need more people like you!).

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