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.

Mental Health Monday–Expect the Unexpected

I watched the opening minutes of X Factor last week and was blown away by the first audition.

From Greensboro, NC, the singer came out on stage embodying The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He wore high top sneakers, an oversized jean jacket, a plaid shirt tied around the waist, and had a hi-top hair cut with stripes razored along his hairline.

After he introduced himself, a country music tune blared–twang and all.

Screen shots of the judges going “WTF?” alternated with the kid waiting for his cue.

I watched, mesmerized, wondering whether or not I was about to witness a disaster.

As it turned out, dude could SING.

I bring this example up in order to discuss character development.

As writers, we want to paint a clear picture of who our characters are. We also want to make out characters interesting. And we need to do that by avoiding stereotypes and highlighting uniqueness.

What’s more unique than a “Fresh Prince Country Singer?”

How do youse guys develop interesting, unique characters?

Genre Favorites Blogfest

Alex J. Cavanaugh is hosting his SEVENTH blog fest today and it’s all about–you guessed it–genre favs!

Participating bloggers are asked to share their favorite genres for movies, books, and music.

Gotta say, my tastes are pretty simple.

My favorite movies are action blockbusters (usually with a sci fi, fantasy, paranormal, or magical twist)

THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy and the HARRY POTTER series are my ALL TIME favs!

My favorite book genres include paranormal and scifi–either YA or adult. I also enjoy urban fantasy.

My favorite music includes alternative rock (a la Bush, Five Finger Death Punch, Alice in Chains, Breaking Benjamin, Pearl Jam, etc), classical, and I LOVE movie soundtracks (LoTR, Harry Potter, Batman (a la Dark Knight), etc).

How about you? What are your fav genres?


Need a character “shrink-wrapped?” Ask me! I’ll feature your question on Mental Health Monday! 🙂

Mental Health Monday–Coping with Illness

Linda Gray asks the following question:

When a person has the possibility of inherited life-threatening disease hanging over her head, and the parent (mother) who may have passed it along to her has died from it, what type of person (character traits) can stand up to that situation with courage and the ability/determination to do whatever possible to live a full life, as opposed to living in dread of developing the disease and dying from it, too?

This is a FANTASTIC question!

Let me reference a particular illness that has physical and psychiatric complications and is heritable (passed down from generation to generation).

HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE is a neurodegenerative disorder with cognitive, psychiatric, and physical symptoms. It is autosomal dominant (which means 50% offspring inherit the disease). It’s particularly tragic because symptoms often develop AFTER childbearing years, so the disease can be unwittingly passed on to the next generation.

It can cause memory disturbance, dementia, psychosis, depression, irritability, and can/does affect muscular coordination. In fact, people develop what’s called “chorea,” which is an abnormal, involuntary, writhing movement of the limbs and torso. Progression can vary, but it often leads to such significant impairment that the person can’t care for themselves and need nursing home level of care.

Genetic testing is available if someone wants to find out if they have inherited the gene. Counseling and education is strongly advised (to help the person cope with the possibility of getting bad news).

This would be devastating news for anyone to hear and certainly a person’s personality makeup has a huge impact on how they handle it. Too many factors go into personality development to predict for certain, but upbringing (caring and nurturing vs cold and neglectful or abusive), experiences (witnessing a parent/loved one go through the disease process), genes (more information is learned daily about the heritability of mental illness and various temperments), and coping skills all play a roll.

Now, every human being on the planet has experienced adversity, suffering, etc. BUT, HOW WE COPE WITH IT CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE. Therefore, I’d posit that someone with strong coping skills (such as having good problem solving strategies) who is facing a potentially life-altering or life-threatening disease can have a “better” response to such news than someone with poor coping skills (such as having poor problem solving strategies).

Coping skills vary widely. Some people turn to obsessive thinking, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, yelling, breaking things, cutting, or suicide attempts/gestures. Others turn to talking with others, exercising, asking for help, building a support network, and relying on religion or another method of devloping inner peace (like meditation).

Now it’s your turn. What factors would help or hurt someone when dealing with devastating medical news?

Remember, these posts are for WRITING PURPOSES ONLY and are not intended for medical advice or treatment.

Please don’t hesitate to ask a #MentalHealthMonday question if you need a character “shrink-wrapped.” 😉

Happy Labor Day!

For the US, today is a holiday for all us laborers. 😉

See y’all on Wednesday when I discuss platform when writing in different genres.

Remember, Mondays are reserved for Mental Health Monday posts, so if you have a character that needs to be shrink-wrapped, don’t hesitate to ask and I’ll host your question here!

I’m still posting my #MentalHealthMondayWritingTips on Twitter. I’m @DiamondLB if you want to follow (link is on the side bar).

Mental Health Monday–Of Alters and Core Personalities

Lydia Kang CC’ed me on an email from a writer who is devloping a character with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Super cool! As a result, I’ve decided to repost an oldie, but goodie post on Dissociative Disorders (in green). I have further comments below, specific to HOW TO WRITE A CHARACTER WITH DISSOCIATIVE SYMPTOMS.

The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV) categories various forms of dissociation (a disruption in memory, awareness, identity, and/or perception).

  • Depersonalization disorder: period of feeling detached from one’s self; this is often seen in anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder…or if you stare at yourself in the mirror for too long. Go ahead, try it. Go on.
  • Dissociative Amnesia: a person experiences significant impairment in recall of personal information, often resulting from a serious trauma; duration varies; often spontaneously remits
  • Dissociative fugue: a person “forgets” who they are and may travel to a different city & pick up an entirely different life; this may last hours to days or longer, depending on how severe. It can spontaneously remit and is usually the result of a significant traumatic event.
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder): a very rare disorder where a person’s psyche is fractured into several (2-100) different personalities. These personalities are known as “alters,” and each has his or her own way of behaving. Depending on the severity of the situation, the person may or may not be aware of their alters. If the individual is not aware, the times when alters “take over” are experienced as black outs or “lost time.”

It is purported that DID develops as a means of self-protection. Often, those with DID have experienced significant abuse as a child and the personality fragments into several different “people.” This allows the “main personality” to compartmentalize trauma and function in the face of it.

People with dissociative disorders do not choose to become another personality. The idea is that it is out of their control. With therapy, a person becomes more aware of their alters and learns to communicate with them until they are reintegrated.

Dissociative disorders are challenging to treat because people are often reluctant to come into treatment and co-morbid conditions such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, and substance use disorders can occur.

That’s all well and good, but how does one go about WRITING a character with DID???

The key to distinguishing each alter personality is to make sure each alter HAS THEIR OWN VOICE. It’s imperative that there’s some clue binding each alter together, especially with the core (the personality seen most) personality. For example, alters are generally aware of the core and can comment about them while they are being dominant. Furthermore, an alter may try to hurt the core (via cutting, burning) or may engage in activities the core wouldn’t ordinarily do, like going to a club, bar, having a one night stand, etc. Whoever the core encounters would be surprised by their “odd” behavior. It would be excellent fodder for a tension-filled dialogue and scene.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this post is for WRITING PURPOSES ONLY and is NOT to be construed as medical advice or treatment.

Check out Lydia’s post on Medical Mondays and Sarah Fine’s blog, The Strangest Situation.

Twitter Tips I Learned Over the Weekend

Hi gang!

If you read Monday’s post about my tweeting #MentalHealthMondayWritingTips, you might guess I had to learn some things about Twitter. (Or maybe you didn’t, LOL!)


First, I had to find out if what I wanted to do was even possible!

(Yes, it is, by the way. Or we wouldn’t be here, reading this post, right?)


My first question: Can you schedule tweets?

Answer: YES

My second question: How can you schedule tweets?

Answer: There are at least two options. I went with It’s FREE and you can schedule tweets (with re-occurrences or not). Another option is If, that is, you want to spend $10 a month. (You could get a free account and let hootsuite post “commercials” on your Twitter or Facebook or whatever…at least, that ‘s what happened to me. If someone knows how to get around that, PLEASE tell us!!!)

I offer COMMERCIAL-FREE tweeting and I like FREE, so that’s why I went with 🙂

My third question: Can you register a hashtag?

Answer: YES

My fourth question: How can you register a hashtag?

I’m sure there is more than one way to do this, but I found #twubs and it was very easy to do, so, YAY!!!

I now have a registered hashtag for Mental Health Monday!




My fifth question: What resources have you guys found to schedule tweets and register hashtags?