I’ve been up front in my struggles with my mental health. It wasn’t always that way. For a long time, I thought myself weak. When I was younger, I wrestled with depression and crippling anxiety. I thought it was something to be ashamed of. I didn’t know why I felt the way I did, and therefore, didn’t know how to ask for help. I had the naïve hope that it would go away on its own, and that I might grow out of it. Some do.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me. Oh, it didn’t worsen as I got older, but then it was already pretty bad to begin with. I tried therapy in my 20s, and was burnt by it when the therapist I went to turned out to be extremely unqualified. It wasn’t until I started this crazy writing journey that I found a way to channel these dark thoughts into something more productive.
(To be clear, this isn’t me stating I was cured by any stretch of the imagination; it doesn’t work like that. I’ve since learned from medical professionals how to better manage my depression and anxiety. The beginning of my writing career was merely a stop-gap for it as it gave me focus.
I’ve written about characters with mental health issues before. Probably the best example is Tyson Thompson (formerly Tyson McKenna). In Bear, Otter and the Kid and Who We Are, I wrote about his growth, about him trying to find his way. But it wasn’t until his own book, The Art of Breathing, that I realized just how destructive his behavior could be. It wasn’t his fault. Of course it wasn’t. Yes, he could be manipulative, and yes, he sunk lower before pulling himself back up, but the circumstances of his life and his own mind and body working against him led him to make some of the choices he did, both good and bad.
You know Josy, the narrator of How to Be a Movie Star. You’ve met him before in Normal Person, and I’ve talked about him in the last couple of blogs.
Today, I’d like you to meet Quincy AKA Q-Bert, the author of monster porn, and the man who’s getting ready to make his first film.
I think at almost every point in an author’s career, we write a character who’s also an author. I’ve tried to avoid it thus far because I didn’t want to come off as self-serving or self-congratulating. Ask an author about their craft, and we’ll never shut the fuck up about writing. It’s a gift. It’s a curse.
I don’t write monster porn.
I haven’t directed a movie.
I’m not Quincy. If anything, I’m more like Gus than any of the other characters I’ve written.
But Quincy is…well. There are shades of me in him. He’s jittery and nervous, and does have mental health issues. And, like me, for a long time he was ashamed of it. But in a move I wished I’d done when I was younger, instead of being cowed by it, he decided to weaponize it, to drag it kicking and screaming into the spotlight, to show it in all its ugliness. He has a large social media following, and in the narrative of Movie Star, it’s shown how public he is about his struggles. He has good days. He has bad days. He has very bad days. It was important for me to have him do this given the stigma behind mental illness. The more people talk about their own issues, the more it’ll give others with the same problems a chance to have a voice, to open a dialogue. What works for him (and in turn, me) won’t work for everyone. Maybe not even most people. But I wouldn’t allow myself to gloss over it, given how important I think it is.
That being said, I wrote this novel as a comedy. Life is funny and strange and, at times, downright awful. While I would never make light of mental health, I knew I needed to walk the careful line between actually having something to say about versus sounding like I was making light of what Quincy went through when he was younger.
It helps to have someone like Josy. I think we all need a Josy in our lives. Their romance is slow and sweet and absurd and everything I could ever hope for in these two. They don’t heal each other. That would be extraordinarily disingenuous, and it would lessen what Quincy did with his life before he met Josy. But they do help each other. They, and their friends around them, prop each other up and remind themselves that it’s okay to have good days. It’s okay to have bad days. It’s okay to have really bad days so long as we remember we’re all in this together. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that.
And speaking of togetherness, one last thing:
I know straight readers (both women and men) make up a large portion of my audience. I’m thankful for that. For the most part, I think my hetero-readers would never think of fetishizing queer people. They are supportive and kind and while they might not understand completely the struggles of being queer, they can appreciate our voices.
That being said, I wrote How to Be a Movie Star (and Why We Fight, coming in May) with my queer audience in mind. Which is why How to Be a Movie Star has this dedication at the beginning:
This book is dedicated to all my queer readers.
You deserve every happiness.
Never stop fighting for what you believe in.
Next week, I’ll be discussing the absolute horror of trying to make friends as adults, and why I wanted to write another asexual character, and how sex (or the lack thereof) plays a part in asexual stories. See you then!
Pre-Order How to Be a Movie Star today! It releases February 12th!
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