Mental Health Monday–Developing The Kabrini Message

Marie Carhart is an amazing person. She’s amazing because she took her brother’s manuscript–something he’d toiled over and nurtured–and brought it to life. And now it’s published! How cool is that?

Today, I’ve invited Marie (and she, in turn, invited another crucial player in this MS, Amy Bell) to discuss the development of The Kabrini Message–from hand typed to ebook.

Welcome, ladies!


Marie: Thank you for having us today Laura.  I’ve asked Amy Bell of WritePunch Inc. to join me since we will be discussing the process of bringing The Kabrini Message to life, and I could not have done it without Amy.

Amy: Aw, shucks. You are too kind, Marie.  I feel honored to have had an opportunity to work with you—and Joe, at least in spirit.

Marie: As you know, The Kabrini Message is a novel written by my late brother, Joe Egles, back in 1987.  I only recently discovered Joe’s manuscript (hand typed by our mother) in a box in my attic.  It was in a manila envelope labeled “Joe’s Book” in my mother’s handwriting.  You can read the full “story-behind-the-story” in the two-part blog post I wrote:

But I loved your suggestion, Laura, to take this opportunity to discuss what it was like to bring The Kabrini Message to life and get inside Joe’s head via his manuscript.

First of all, I have to say that I could never have done it alone.  I had a lot of help from a very talented writer, Amy Bell of WritePunch Inc.  I asked Amy to polish the manuscript, flesh out the characters, elaborate on the ending (with more details), describe locations in more detail, etc.  We also needed to update the technology and certain references to the present day.  There were also two areas, as I recall, that Joe had written as the characters discussing what happened after the fact, and Amy revised both of those situations so that the reader is taken through those actual stories.

Amy: As soon as Marie contacted me and described how she’d stumbled across her late brother’s manuscript, I knew I had to take on this project. It was such a compelling, poignant story, and I truly believe that Joe and Marie’s mother led her to his manuscript. Then I actually read The Kabrini Message. I was absolutely blown away. For a book that was written back in 1987, it was incredibly timely and insightful—a unique mixture of buddy comedy action adventure (a la Indiana Jones) and deep space sci-fi.

Uh-oh. Sci-fi. When I realized the book ventured deeply into the sci-fi genre, I was suddenly petrified. Before Marie reached out to me, I had ghostwritten and edited an array of books—everything from religious memoirs to southern fiction novels to business books. But I had never so much as dabbled in the realm of sci-fi. And then, it dawned on me. I happen to be married to a rabid sci-fi fan. My husband Rob has been reading sci-fi books since he could reach his dad’s book shelves, and I can’t tell you how many sci-fi movies he’s dragged me to the theater to see. So, with Marie’s permission, I lent The Kabrini Message to my husband, who devoured the manuscript in one night. He was hooked, and he promised to help me with the project. At that point, I realized there was no way I could turn it down.

Marie: As far as getting into Joe’s head while working on the manuscript, I guess Amy had to do that more than I did – which had to be challenging, since she never met Joe.  Somehow she was able to pull it off, though, because I could not tell who wrote what unless I got out the original manuscript and compared it to the edited chapters as she sent me each one.

Amy: Thanks, Marie. Now I’m blushing! Believe it or not, it was fairly easy for me to mimic Joe’s writing style. That’s because his style is actually quite similar to my own: simple, to-the-point and at times gritty and sharply sarcastic.

Although Joe had not written back stories or detailed physical descriptions for most of the characters, I could imagine who they were, what they looked like and where they’d been simply by reading their dialogue. (As a side note, my husband and I both agree that Joe’s direct, witty dialogue is some of the best either of us have ever read—especially in the sci-fi genre. He was a truly talented author.)

Marie: In fleshing out the main character of Jeffrey Driscoll, most of that is fictional. However, we gave him some of Joe’s background particularly regarding his love of astronomy, building telescopes, and hanging out at an observatory for fun during high school and college years.

Amy: Yes, and we enjoyed imagining Driscoll “as played by” Bradley Cooper. Not a bad vision to have in your mind all day.

Marie: No, definitely not!

Amy: For me, fleshing out the characters and modernizing the story was the easy and fun part. The most daunting task was elaborating on some of the stories and expanding the ending, which involved writing new content from scratch. This included a few chapters and stories that dealt heavily with futuristic technology, deep space realities and other sci-fi topics. That’s where my husband Rob saved the day. Not only is he a self-professed sci-fi nerd, but he’s also a veteran who spent a year in Afghanistan and currently works in federal law enforcement. There’s no way I could’ve pulled off this project without his vast knowledge of military, technology and national security topics. I can’t tell you how many times he researched bizarre tidbits for me, such as “what would happen to a dead body in outer space”? We’re probably on some government watch list after a few of those online searches! Google was definitely our best friend throughout this process.

Rob and I also spent a few nights brainstorming together over cocktails, debating over how to connect the dots and fill in the missing pieces for The Kabrini Message. I could not have done it without him…which is another reason why I think Joe “chose” me, or should I say us, for this project.

After our wine and beer-fueled brainstorming sessions, I would sit down at the computer the next morning and breathe a silent prayer. I asked God to let Joe speak through me. I know it sounds strange, but I was absolutely terrified that I would somehow screw up Joe’s manuscript. I realized The Kabrini Message was unfinished when Marie handed it over to me, and I wanted to stay true to Joe’s original story. I kept thinking, “If I wrote a rough draft of a manuscript and then died, and some random ghostwriter took it over and completely screwed it up, I would be livid! I would come back and haunt them!” Obviously, I didn’t want that to happen to me. So, I literally prayed to get it right, and I also asked Joe for guidance. When I struggled with the new content, I would take pause and ask, “What were you trying to say here, Joe? What the hell did you mean by this? How would Driscoll have handled this situation? How did you plan to connect these dots?”

And miraculously, the words would flow again. I can’t explain how it happened, but it did. Every time I asked Joe for help, the words came to me.

Marie: Thanks to Amy, by the time the manuscript went to the publisher, it was so polished that the only changes the publisher made during final edits all had to do with punctuation.  They really did not change one word!  Wait…I take that back. They did change one word.  Everywhere it said “mankind,” they changed it to “humanity.” I guess “mankind” sounded sexist perhaps?  But that was it!

As far as bringing The Kabrini Message to life, we were diligent to change as little as possible.  We expanded the novel, but really took nothing out.

I couldn’t wait to read each chapter as Amy would complete the editing and send it to me!  I made notations of questions and comments in red and we would go back and forth working on them.  It was so much fun!

Amy: I would wait on pins and needles after sending Marie each chapter. “I’d always wonder, “Is she going to hate it? Is she going to say it sounds nothing like Joe and ask me to rewrite the entire thing?” But she was always ecstatic. Her excitement and enthusiasm was contagious, and I grew increasingly confident that I could actually pull off a sci-fi project.

Not only did I genuinely enjoy working with Marie, but at times we actually read each other’s minds. I would think something like, “We really need to change that one part about the Genie Drug,” and suddenly I’d get an email from Marie expressing the same opinion or idea.

Marie: Yes, the drug Athenium was originally called “The Genie Drug” and it was a serum discovered inside a crystal.  We thought that should be changed, as drugs are not really named “The ‘something’ drug.”  For example, Viagra is not called “The Impotence Drug.”

Amy: Actually, in the example I used, I’m pretty sure I called it “The Boner Drug.” Classy, I know.

Marie: Joe had also written that the drug was a ruby serum inside the crystal stone, but we figured the serum would have dried up after thousands of years. We decided to change it so that it wasn’t the actual serum in the stone, but the directions to make the serum inscribed on the stone. We chose the Tiger’s Eye as the stone itself because Joe described it as a large, football shaped crystal, which is also the shape of an eye.  Also, Tiger’s Eye is one birthstone (in addition to Topaz) for November, Joe’s birth month.

Amy: Yes, that was a pretty major change from Joe’s original story, but we were worried “The Genie Drug” concept might come off as a little hokey in this day and age. We wanted to appeal to a modern audience of readers. I still worry that Joe might be mad at us about that one! After all, I spent this entire project trying to get inside Joe’s head and fill in the blanks in the way he’d originally intended. However, at times, it was challenging to walk the line between staying true to his story and ensuring The Kabrini Message is a huge hit today—25 years after Joe conceived the original manuscript.

Marie: I guess if I was able to get inside Joe’s head at all, it was the fact that I can hear him in the dialogue between his characters.  It’s totally his sense of humor, and the conversations between the characters just sound like him to me and to other family members as well.  In fact, the entire book just sounds like him, and we can hear his voice as we’re reading it!  It was very important not to lose any of that in the editing and revisions, and we were completely successful – it is still 100% Joe’s personality and sense of humor.

Amy: Again, Joe wrote some of the funniest and most realistic dialogue I’ve ever read! As we worked on the book, Marie kept pointing out lines that “sounded just like Joe.” Even though I never met him, I feel like I know him, like we’re old pals. I’d love to sit down with Joe and share a few stories over drinks. Maybe I’ll have the chance one day.

Marie: Joe did weave a few personal things into the story.  For example, Chapter 16 takes place at a radio station called KUX radio.  Joe did work at radio stations and was also into ham radio, and his call letters were K2UX. Also, the character of the news reporter at the station is named Gwen Jones, the name of Joe’s real life wife!

There was a line in Chapter 31 that struck a chord with me, too.  Mark Ranier (the Chief Extrusion Technician), tries to console his girlfriend Marla about the fact that it appears they will be stranded in space for several more years. 

“It’s not forever,” Mark said, lacing his fingers in hers.  “It’s just a continuation of…well…a different part of our lives.  Or something.”  It didn’t come out right, and he knew it was probably of no consolation to Marla.  He hated how every time he tried to be sensitive, it just came across as awkward.

Something about that last line was, I believe, very telling.  Joe was never one to show emotion, even though I know he loved his family very much.  I think that line came straight from the heart.

Amy: I’ve always loved that line. It makes Mark, the ultimate tough guy, seem so vulnerable. When Marie told me it reminded her of Joe, it gave me chills.

Marie: All along, step by step, everything fell into place just as it should and just when I needed it to. There has been a very strong sense of guidance through the whole process—some subtle signs and some not so subtle!

There have been a lot of strange things happening around my house…lights flickering, computers going wacky, etc.  Especially right before publication – that week my computer was going crazy, my fax machine wasn’t working right, my TV upstairs was turning off by itself and my TV downstairs had a picture but no sound on three different occasions! The night before publication, I was reading through the final proof from the publisher, and I remember thinking, “Please don’t mess with my computer tonight, I have to get this done.” I didn’t have one problem. (I guess I should have just asked sooner.)  But as soon as I finished and thought to myself, “I’m done for tonight,” the lights flickered twice!

Amy: My computer also completely crashed a couple of days before publication. I was working on a few final edits to the back cover blurb, and my screen went completely black—something that’s never happened with this computer. I figured Joe didn’t like the direction I was taking with the synopsis. When I emailed Marie with that concern, she assured me that he was just excited.

Marie: Oh, then there’s the author’s photo.  Joe hated to have his picture taken so there are not many of them in existence.  I asked my brother Bob, who has most of the family photos at his house, to try to find a shot of Joe from around the time the book was written.  He managed to find one and tried to scan it and send it to me, but for some reason, it would not scan. Bob said that has never happened before, and he scans things all the time.  The picture looked fine, but when you scanned it looked like a negative.  So Bob physically brought the photo to me, I scanned it and it seemed to work.  Do you know that somehow that photo managed to not make it into the ebook?  The publisher apologized (I’m sure it was not their fault, I think someone intervened!) and promised to make sure it will be in the print version.  I guess we will see who has the last say on that!

What a great chat! I’m so impressed with all the work you’ve done, Marie and Amy. Impressive and such a wonderful tribute to Joe. *applauds*

I’m happy to share pictures of Marie, Amy, and her husband, Rob. 😉



Amy Bell headshot 2010


Amy & Rob

Amy and Rob

To learn more about ghostwriter and editor Amy Bell, visit

The Kabrini Message Blurb:

An alien race. A shocking message…

During an archaeological dig in Greece, Jeffrey Driscoll stumbles upon a miraculous find: ancient crystals with celestial coordinates that will connect humankind with the Kabrini, a highly advanced alien civilization. His discovery leads him on a quest from the jungles of Africa to the

Islands of Greece, from the streets of London to the tombs of Egypt, from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles, Jamaica, and Vienna, and finally to the deepest depths of space and Earth’s first global space effort, the Legacy mission.

When Driscoll Mining and the U.S. Army complete deep space construction of the Kabrini communications network, the Legacy mission is deemed a success. But a dangerous terrorist group hungers for revenge, and Driscoll will stop at nothing to save the project. As his obsession with the Legacy mission spirals out of control, he risks losing everything—his company, his grasp on reality, and the one thing he’s ever truly loved: his wife. And when humankind finally makes contact, they discover the Kabrini Message isn’t exactly what they expected to hear…



Buy Links & Follow Info. For The Kabrini Message.:

Barnes and Noble



YouTube Video Trailer



Mental Health Monday–Jessica Bell Talks About Mental Health and The Book

I’m thrilled to have Author Jessica Bell here today. She discusses her new book, The Book, and its links to mental health.

Take it away, Jessica!

jessica headshot

When I was a child, my mother, Erika Bach, and my father, Anthony Bell, wrote in an illustrated journal by Michael Green called A Hobbit’s Travels: being the hitherto unpublished Travel Sketches of Sam Gamgee. This journal is the inspiration for The Book.

Since reading this journal, and realizing how different my parents sounded in the entries compared to how I know them in real life, I often thought about writing a book which explored how differently parents and children perceive and respond to identical situations. Now, I know this concept isn’t ‘new’. But I certainly felt I had a unique bent to add to it. I hoped by using journal entries and therapy transcripts, in conjunction with a 1st person point of view of a five-year-old girl, it would make the story a little more intimate, make readers feel like they are peeking into the lives of real people. This way, it’s like you are reading memoir rather than fiction.

Set in the late 1970s, early 1980s, Bonnie, the five-year-old protagonist, was born prematurely. I hint, through the journal entries of her mother, Penny, and the transcripts of Bonnie and Dr. Wright, her therapist, that due to her premature birth, she has trouble learning and significant behavioral problems. However, I try to juxtapose this through Bonnie’s point of view. The reader is able to see how differently she perceives things in contrast to the adults in her life. 

Bonnie is very smart. And she understands so much more than she chooses to let the adults see. So, at what point does one draw the line when it comes to defining poor mental health? Can anyone really see what is going on in a child’s mind? What right does one have to assume a prematurely born child is going to have difficulty learning or mental instabilities? What signs does one have to show to prove they are having difficulties at all? The Book raises these sorts of questions, hopefully offering readers a lot of food for thought.

It took me fourteen years before I could spell father properly. No matter how many times I was told, I still spelled father as farther and friend as freind and finally as finnaly. To this day I still have to look up the different conjugations of lie. For some reason they just don’t stick.

What’s that say about me? Could that mean I am dyslexic? Have a learning disability? Perhaps I’m just being selective with what I feel is important to store in my long-term memory. I’m sure there are lots of reasons one could come up with. But when it comes to mental health, I don’t believe there are any definitive answers. This is one of the themes I explore in The Book.

What ‘signs’ do you think define stable mental health? And is there really such a thing?

You bring up a lot of excellent points, here, Jessica. I really think you’ve captured how complicated human beings are and how people (children and adults alike) cope with challenges.

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the book

Here’s my review of The Book:

I’m a paranormal girl by heart, so I haven’t read a lot of contemporary or literary fiction. Despite this, I’ve followed Jessica Bell’s work with interest. She creates such vivid, REAL characters and stories that a reader gets pulled in, no matter what. AND her stories linger long after the last page.

It was the trailer for The Book that really made me head to Amazon to download an ecopy. And I didn’t regret it.

Watch this and see if you can resist it. Bet ya can’t. 😉

The Book is a compilation of journal entries, therapy sessions, and the POV of a young child. It’s gripping, strikingly emotional, brutally honest, and breathtakingly genuine. I read it in one sitting and am still thinking about it. Its multilayered construction begs for multiple readings, pondering, and mulling over.

I’ve only ever read a handful of books like that. Well done, Jessica! I look forward to reading more of your work.

The Book on Goodreads

The Book on

Jessica Bell–The Alliterative Allomorph


Just wanted to leave youse guys with a little Shifting Pride info. Reading To Penguins is reviewing Shifting Pride TOMORROW. 🙂

Mental Health Monday–Periodic Reassessment

Anachron Press is hosting a pre-order special to the first 50 folks who pre-order the URBAN OCCULT anthology. Pre-order now and get a copy of Day of Demons for FREE! My story, City of Lights and Stone is in the Day of Demons anthology. 😉

Here are the deets:

Urban Occult Limited Pre-Order

Limited to 50.

Behind urban life, weird and horrific things fester. 

The whispers and chills of things long gone… the promise of power from the darkness… the seduction of those that lie in the shadows… the occult is all around us: in town houses, in mansions, and in your very own street.

Editor Colin F. Barnes collected together fifteen stories by a cast of critically acclaimed authors from around the globe who look into the stygian gloom, explore the dark corners of our houses, and peer into the abyss of human temptation.

Featuring stories by: Gary McMahon, Ren Warom, Gary Fry, Mark West, K.T. Davies, Nerine Dorman, Alan Baxter, Adam Millard, Julie Travis, Jason Andrew, James Brogden, A.A Garrison, Jennifer Williams, Sarah Anne Langton, and Chris Barnham.

Special Pre-Order Edition Limited to 50.

This pre-order edition means you will get the book at least a week to two weeks ahead of general release and:

A FREE ebook version (for any eReader)

and A FREE ebook of Day of Demons. (eBooks will be emailed to you on the 4th of March).

Just £9.99 (+£2.99 shipping anywhere in the world).

Pre-Order here:


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Time is money and us spread-too-thin multi-taskers have to spend it wisely.

For me, I spend around 50 hours a week doing day job stuff, and sometimes work weekends (those 12 day stretches really exhaust me!).

That leaves nights and weekends for writerly stuff. Encompassed in that time is blogging, visiting blogs, social media-ing, marketing, reading, reviewing, critting, writing, and editing. I tend to reserve reading and critting for weeknight stuff and writing and blogging for weekends, when I’m fresher.

Note the placement of each item.

It’s quite scary that writing and editing are last.

I’m a writer who writes after everything else is done. Shouldn’t that be the other way around?

Gosh, admitting this makes me sad.

When I first started writing, that’s where most of my time went. Sure, I’d spend some time on forums (like QueryTracker), but for the most part, my brain was hyperfocused on writing and that’s what I did.

With time came critting.

Then I started this blog.

Then I joined Facebook and Twitter.

Marketing came after New Pride and Shifting Pride were published.

With each added item, writing got shoved further down the list.

I’ve been feeling the pain about this for a while, but now it’s time to admit I need to do something.

I need to reassess where I’m at.

My goal is to incorporate more writing and editing into my routine. I will continue blogging, but may do only two posts a week. There will be the odd week with the same M-W-F routine, based on previously scheduled posts. 😉

I’m getting back to basics.

What about you guys? Do you engage in periodic reassessment? What have you learned by checking in with your routine every so often?

Mental Health Monday–I’m A Winner

I don’t care how many writing failures you think you’ve had, I challenge you to read this post and turn things upside down!

You’re not a failure.

You’re a WINNER.

Lemme ‘splain.

At a meeting last week, the speaker focused on switching negative self-talk to positive self-talk. The concept is from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and challenges the participant to listen to that running commentary–that dialogue we all have running through our heads–identify the negative thoughts, and swap them out with positive ones. The result is improved mood and confidence.

  • An example of negative self-talk: I suck at writing. I’ve written seven novels, sent hundreds of query letters, and been rejected EVERY SINGLE TIME. Yep. I suck.
  • An example of positive self-talk:  My crit partner had more smiley faces than frowny faces on my latest draft. She was totally blown away by the plot twist I added. An agent (or small press) asked for a full MS. It’s been a struggle, but I’ve grown so much as a writer. I’m getting pretty darn good at it.
  • Another example of negative self-talk: I’ll never get the attention of that press or that agent.
  • Another example of positive self-talk: Writing is subjective. This press LOVED my MS and wants to pub it. I’ll be a published author!

Each of us has our own quibbly demons telling us how awful we are. I challenge you to grab those demons by their throats and tell ’em where to go.


  • Remember the successes, no matter how small you think they are.
  • Remind yourself what got you writing in the first place. Hold onto it and let it propel you forward.
  • Consider how far you’ve come. Is anybody an expert the first time they do something? NO. It takes practice.
  • Accept that every time you fall down and get up to try again, that’s a WIN.
  • Ask yourself, if it was easy to do, would it be worth doing?
  • Think about how awesome you are by writing a short story, novella, or novel. YOU ARE ACCOMPLISHED. YOU ARE AMAZING.

In the comments, I want you to share a negative self-talk statement and how you can switch it to a positive self-talk statement. 


Mental Health Monday–Unintended Consequences

For those of you who missed yesterday’s Ephemera post as part of Kendall Grey’s JUST BREATHE WORLD TOUR, click HERE to check out my reviews of her short story series and who I’d cast for the main characters in the JUST BREATHE series. 😉

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Shifting Pride is up for Sizzling Read of the Month! Please vote!

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A few weeks back, I entered the cover art for NEW PRIDE and SHIFTING PRIDE in the Houston Bay Area Romance Writers Association’s Judge A Book By Its Cover Contest. JABBIC is a fun way to share cover art and have readers vote on what attracts them to buy a book.

I’d totally appreciate some votes, if you’re so inclined!

Click HERE to go to the JABBIC website. Click START JUDGING, then select YOUNG ADULT, and rate each book based on if you’d buy it based on the cover (5) or if you don’t have interest in the cover (1). (There’s choices between too. 😉 )

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Now, to get to unintended consequences. I think about this concept often, particularly when I see outcomes that are in direct opposition to what was planned.

The biggest example that comes to mind is the flurry of gun control laws spreading across the United States. New York prides itself in having the strictest of all of them.

I’m certain the intention of these laws is to limit the access of firearms (particularly assault-type rifles) to “The Bad Guys.”

A good idea, yes?

BUT, as a result, more guns than ever are being purchased and more ammo than ever is flying off the shelves. Many gun retailers are getting cleaned out–they’re literally selling ALL of their stock and going on back order for guns and bullets.

I’d call this an unintended consequence.

I’ve personally seen several people (who have NEVER before wanted a gun or even thought about having a gun) become OBSESSED with owning a gun.


Another unintended consequence, I’d say.


Lemme repeat that:


Taking this post in a different direction (because this forum is for writing purposes only)…

Unintended consequences can have HUGE impacts.

What if we applied this concept to our writing?

How thrilling would it be to have a character do something that they think will work out for the good of others and then twist it, focusing on the unintended consequences. Wouldn’t that cause some conflict and tension? Maybe even a disaster?

It would be totally mean.


In NEW PRIDE, Richard joins up with a rogue pride. On the one hand, he needs a group of shifters for safety. On the other, the danger of allying with them quickly becomes obvious and potentially impacts everyone Richard cares about.

Have you guys seen unintended consequences in books that you’ve read?

Mental Health Monday–Imaginary Friends AND A Giveaway!

shiftingpride_bylauradiamonddraft-coverBefore I get to the topic of today’s post, I’d like to share a giveaway. Author Brinda Berry is hosting a giveaway and if you enter, there’s a chance to win an ebook of SHIFTING PRIDE! Please enter and/or spread the word. 🙂

Here’s Brinda’s Amazon author page, so you can take a gander at her work. It’s FAB!

Brinda’s website

Brinda’s blog






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I feel as if my poor Mental Health Monday tradition has been ignored. Starting in November, my regular blog schedule got commandeered by release blitzs, blog tours, and holiday fun. Now that things are settling, I’d like to get back to it.

If you have a character that needs shrink-wrapping, please don’t hesitate to ask me and I’ll feature your question on Mental Health Monday.

Today, I’d like to share an oldie, but goodie post from a couple years back. It still gets hits and comments, even after all this time!

I often hear writers liken their characters to imaginary friends. Heck I do it too.

What’s interesting to me is that imaginary friends during childhood are quite normal. It’s a phase of development where the child is learning creativity and how to integrate their personality.

But what about imaginary friends in adults?

I’m not talking about our characters. I’m talking about adults who actually have imaginary friends. There’s not a lot of research on this (can you imagine getting a sample of people who’d be willing to share such information?), but the studies that are out there seem to link imaginary friends with dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder). This disorder occurs when a child faces severe neglect and abuse (sexual or physical) and the only defense they have is to “fragment” their personality. Doing this compartmentalizes the trauma away as a means to protect the self.

As adults, people with DID note missing periods of time, the feeling that other people are inside them and these other people can take control, and they can hear voices (generally inside their head).

Another theory of imaginary friends in adults comes from attachment theory. Some kids (maybe single children or neglected children, for example) don’t get enough emotional nourishment and develop imaginary friends as a support system.

It’s important to remember that as long as there’s no distress or disruption of functioning (work, play, relationships, emotions, etc), then it’s NOT considered a disorder.

Interesting, huh?

Remember: These posts are for writing purposes ONLY and are NOT to be construed as medical advice or treatment.

Mental Health Monday–Hosting Cally Jackson, Author of The Big Smoke

I’m so excited to have Cally Jackson with us today. She wrote THE BIG SMOKE, a New Adult Contemporary Romance.

It follows two protagonists as they move from their country homes to the city of Brisbane, Australia. Cally expertly captures Ceara and Seb’s voices and shows the world through their eyes in stunning fashion. Nailing voice and POV is not an easy task, particularly when the thrust of the work is based on emotion.

Which leads me to my next point (and why Cally’s here with us on a Mental Health Monday).

Not once did I get the feeling that the characters’ emotions were false. Not once. That means THE BIG SMOKE is authentic, true, and an incredibly worthy read!

Before I get off on too big of a tangent, let’s let Cally take the reins!

Hi Cally! Welcome to Mental Health Monday. Tell me, how did you develop such honest, flawed, and true characters? Any tips for writers?

Firstly, thank you! I’m thrilled to hear you connected with my characters. I really wanted to develop characters that were three-dimensional and that people could relate to. My first draft didn’t achieve this, as I learnt when I had the manuscript professionally appraised. When I received that feedback, it was a blow, but it was feedback I needed to hear to push deeper and really bring my main characters, Ceara and Seb, to life.

The key for me was getting to know Ceara and Seb (and the supporting characters) on a deep level – what were their biggest fears? Their biggest dreams? What memories tortured them? How did they see themselves and how did that compare to how others saw them? Once I knew this detail, I had to work out how to show it through their narration and the story line, so that it unfolded organically rather than feeling staged.

In terms of tips for writers, I’d encourage them to consider how they can show the varying dimensions of their characters. We all have many layers and the best characters are as complicated and multi-faceted as we are.

I recently read your The Year I Turned 18 Blogfest post, and could see glimpses of The Big Smoke in your own experience—as far as what it was like for you to leave home and go to Uni. What inspired you to write The Big Smoke?

You’re right – there’s a lot of me in my writing. I wrote a post on Steph Bowe’s blog recently about how I blended fact and fiction in The Big Smoke.

The inspiration for The Big Smoke was a lesson I was trying to teach myself. For some reason, I decided the best way to teach myself that lesson was to write a book about characters having to learn the same lesson (makes perfect sense, right?).

What was the lesson? That your happiness and life journey are your own responsibility, nobody else’s.

Well said. What’s your technique for drawing out authentic emotions in your characters?

I don’t know if my technique is anything ground breaking – it mainly involves taking my hands off the keyboard, closing my eyes and imagining what it would be like to be in the situation my character is experiencing. What would it feel like? What thoughts would be running through your head? What would you notice about your surroundings?

The next step is working out how to convey that information through the character’s voice in a fresh way. That’s the tricky part!

Sure is! What draws you to the contemporary genre?

I enjoy tackling real life issues and conveying situations people can relate to. Some of the most uplifting stories I’ve read are those that introduce you to real, flawed characters and take you on their journey as they confront and overcome challenging circumstances – that’s what I hoped to achieve with The Big Smoke.

You most certainly did achieve that! Now, what’s been most challenging about writing?

Not giving up. I have a very clear memory of a time a few years ago when I was very early on in my rewrite of The Big Smoke. It seemed like I would never reach the end and I was seriously questioning whether it was all worth it. My inner critic had found a microphone and it was practically impossible to drown her out. I wrote a blog post about this experience – the weight of great expectation – which I read aloud at my book launch (to prove it’s possible to recover from those awful moments and achieve your goals).

Sometimes it’s hard to keep going, especially when the inner critic gets going. Good for you for sticking it out and finishing the rewrite! Switching gears a little, what’s been most challenging about publishing?

Balancing the time demands of publishing with my full-time job. If money weren’t an issue, I would happily spend all day on my indie-publishing responsibilities, but unfortunately that’s not possible! 🙂

I knew that indie publishing would take a lot of time, but I didn’t realise quite how much. My workload in my day job peaked around the same time as I launched my book and I’m also in my third trimester of pregnancy, so managing my time and my energy levels has been quite a challenge.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced on my indie publishing journey happened only a few weeks ago, when I had to confront the possibility of having a book launch with no books. Createspace’s website says that you can ship books to Australia within three working days, but when I tried to place my order on Tuesday 16 October for my book launch on Saturday 27 October, the estimated arrival date was Wednesday 31 October. Um, excuse me?! I knew that the three working days didn’t include printing, but I didn’t think that printing could account for the extra seven working days Createspace was saying it would take for my order to reach me.

I sent an email to Createspace explaining the situation, and they essentially said there was nothing they could do because they don’t guarantee timeframes for wholesale orders. What the?! Where exactly does it say THAT on your website?! Panic stations!

And of course, because Australia and America’s time zones are so different, I received this email at 2am in the morning. Naturally, I woke my husband up so we could try to figure out what to do. We discussed postponing the launch, trying to find a local printer who could print the books within the timeframe, going ahead with the launch without the books (my husband’s crazy idea), but eventually we discovered that if we placed several orders of smaller quantities, it would bring the delivery date forward to Friday 26 October – the day before the launch. Cutting it very fine, but that was our best option.

So, at about 3am on Wednesday morning, we placed four orders and went to sleep. One of those shipments arrived on Friday 19 October and the rest arrived on Monday 22 October. Crisis averted! Thank goodness! The lesson I took from this experience? Don’t rely on advertised shipping times, order as soon as you possibly can!

Yikes, that was a close call! Glad it worked out. Now that that hurdle is jumped, what’s next for you?

Considering I’m 31 weeks pregnant, what’s immediately next for me is becoming a mum. The dream is that The Big Smoke will become so unbelievably popular, I’ll be able to resign from my day job and be a stay-at-home mum and author.

In the slim chance that doesn’t happen, I’ll still write fiction in my spare time – writing’s in my blood. The idea I’ve currently fallen in love with is a young adult story with romantic, historical and science fiction elements. Quite different to The Big Smoke! One day, I may re-visit Ceara and Seb and write them a sequel. Time will tell… 🙂

Best of luck with everything, Cally. You’re sure to be busy with a new baby! Thanks for stopping by and congrats on releasing The Big Smoke.

More about The Big Smoke

Ceara’s desperate for love; Seb’s desperate to get laid. Ceara adores reading novels; Seb hasn’t finished a book in years. Two strangers, both moving from small country towns to Brisbane – the big smoke. As they prepare to attend the same university, their paths seem set to collide, but they keep missing each other. Maybe fate is keeping them apart, or maybe it’s just chance.

When the semester starts, things get complicated. Ceara’s best friend withdraws from her, Seb’s closest mate turns into a sleazebag, and the relentless demands of university make their stress levels soar. Before their first semester is over, both Seb and Ceara will be forced to question who they are and what they want from their lives. Will they have the courage to find the answers, or will they crumble under the pressure? And when they finally meet, will it be love at first sight or a collision of headstrong personalities?

You can purchase a copy of The Big Smoke:

  • in paperback format from Cally’s buy page (Australia and New Zealand) or Amazon (rest of the world)
  • in e-book format from Smashwords (preferred digital supplier), Amazon, iBooks, KoboDiesel and other e-stores.

Mental Health Monday–God Knows Where I Am

The New Yorker published an article in 2011 depicting what it would be like for someone with a serious mental illness to reject their diagnosis.

The case described went beyond a mere declaration of, “I don’t have mental illness.” Linda, who had been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder (where the sufferer experiences a combination of psychosis and mood instability), did not believe she had mental illness. She lacked the insight into her symptoms. For her, it was reality, and as such, it created significant tension between her and her family and between her and her treatment providers. She would be hospitalized when she was decompensated to the point of being unable to care for herself, meet basic needs (hygiene, nutrition, etc), and when she presented as being a danger to herself.

At one point, she holed herself away in an abadoned house, ate apples she picked from nearby trees and drank water she collected from rain and icicles). She kept a diary and it quite poignantly documented her deterioration into starvation, and ultimately, her death.

Talk about heartbreaking.

The debate comes in when we are charged with determining what is “best for someone” versus “what they want.” We often hope those two things coincide. In some cases, like Linda, what she “needed” was medication, housing, therapy, and other supports to help her manage her symptoms, and what she “wanted” was entirely different. She viewed psychiatry as a means of control and she just wanted to be “free.” From her point of view, she didn’t have mental illness, so why would she take meds? It made no sense to her.

From her providers’ point of view, she lacked the insight to make that decision.

In New York state, if a provider feels a patient lacks the insight and judgment to make health care decisions, that provider can submit legal paperwork and bring the case to court. At that point, the provider is charged with proving the benefits of medication over objection or staying in the hospital outweighs any risks and that there are no other less restrictive treatments available.

The patient will have a chance, with legal representation if they choose, to argue the provider’s viewpoint.

It becomes the judge’s decision whether or not to support continued hospitalization or giving the patient medication even if they don’t want it.

There’s lots more to the story, but we’ve already covered a significant amount of information. What I’m curious about–and the reason I bring up this story–is your opinion.

What are your thoughts on this case? How do we skirt the line between “forcing” treatment and maintaining someone’s “freedom?” Is there a way to balance it?

I may be opening a can of worms here, ’cause there’s multiple sides of the equation…

Don’t forget to check out Lydia Kang’s Medical Mondays and Sarah Fine’s The Strangest Situation for more psychological related goodness.

Remember, these posts are for WRITING PURPOSES ONLY and are NOT to be construed as medical advice or treatment. 😉

Mental Health Monday–A Joke Is An Epitaph To An Emotion (Nietzsche)

This is a post from 2010, when I first started blogging! I came across it the other day, and it resonated with me, so I decided to share it again with you. 🙂

On Friday, I had the honor of meeting a trusted colleague and friend for tea. I must say, he’s one of my most reliable coaches on my writing journey. Whenever I’m discouraged, I know I can go to him. He offers me unconditional support, sound advice, and tactful critiques. And he pays for dinner!

Halfway through my cup of Earl Grey, I realized not only does my friend have a knack for producing fascinating topics to explore, he also has an encyclopedia’s amount of information cataloged in his brain. One of his most remarkable talents includes an incredible penchant for remembering quotes and lines from songs and poems.

Anyway, during the course of our discussion, we touched upon emotions and how people cover them with jokes in order to suppress the pain of their impact. (In “psychiatry speak,” humor is considered a mature defense mechanism. It’s something relatively healthy people employ in the face of hardship and stress.)

My friend aptly pointed out this quote from Nietzsche:

“A joke is an epitaph to an emotion.”

What an important idea to remember. Not only is this pertinent to my work in psychiatry, it is also useful to keep in mind when I’m writing. For the most part, anger and sadness come relatively easy to me as I construct a scene. It’s simple enough to describe yelling, slamming fists, and storming out of rooms. I’ve used several terms for tears and grieving too. What I get stuck on is humor. I can do the subtle stuff, sure–the puzzled expression, the dry joke, even the comical slip and slide on an icy sidewalk. But true laugh out loud humor eludes me.

As a good friend should, my literary cheerleader triggered a cascade of thoughts leading me to action from that simple quote. So often in my writing, I am in the moment explaining the direct, raw emotion. I’m left to wonder, where is the space to incorporate a humorous reflection, a comic relief character, or a joke to lighten an overly negative mood?

My new task, then, is to scour my writing and look for spots where humor can be incorporated. I am certain including little punches of laughter and happiness will make my characters more well rounded, more dynamic, and more human.

Epitaphs don’t only have to be on tombstones.

Mental Health Monday–Featuring Transcend by Christine Fonseca

Accurately capturing and portraying psychosis is extremely difficult. In cinema, you can use special effects, sound effects, even CGI graphics to crate hallucinations and altered perceptions.

But how does one do it via writing?

I think a fantastic example of a character’s descent into madness is TRANSCEND by Christine Fonseca. Described as Phantom of the Opera meets Black Swan, this dark, YA, (and I’d add historical) novel takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotion, intrigue, betrayal, paranoia, delusion, love, horror, tragedy, and rage.

It’s an intense, quick read, just by its nature–Christine doesn’t let you take a breath! 😉

A unique twist is the alternating point of view–FOR ONE CHARACTER! It’s a bit jarring, but I suspect that’s the author’s intention to keep the reader guessing.

What’s most captivating about it to me is that even after I finished reading it, I still had more questions.

Check out Christine Fonseca’s blog HERE.

What books have you read that capture mental illness particularly well?

If you have a character that needs “shrink-wrapping,” don’t hesitate to ask me a question, here in the comments, on Twitter (see sidebar), Facebook (see sidebar), or email me @

Remember, these posts are for writing purposes only and are NOT intended for medical advice or treatment.