This time around I've got Tanya J. Peterson, author of Leave of Absence, in the interview chair. Let's take a look at what she has to say.
1. Please tell us about yourself.
Hmmm… Where to start? This is perhaps the most difficult question of this interview! I don’t feel overly comfortable talking about myself, and in verbal conversations, while I don’t blatantly ignore people when they ask personal questions (that would be quite rude!) I usually catch myself steering the conversation away from myself. Given that you and your readers are actually interested in knowing something about the authors you’re interviewing, though, I probably shouldn’t avoid this question! (For the record, I am very happy to answer these questions. I’m excited to connect with readers, so thank you so much for doing this, Scott!)
It’s probably obvious by now that I’m a bit of an introvert. I’m an active one, though. I love the outdoors, especially hiking, camping (tent, of course), kayaking, biking (mountain and street), and snowshoeing. I love these for the peaceful feeling they bring. I enjoy them in solitude and with my family – my husband and two kids, age 16 and 11. I also love quiet family evenings at home, playing board games, reading, and watching movies.
Beyond that, I’ve been a high school teacher and a counselor. Most recently, I worked at a school for homeless and runaway adolescents. What a fantastic bunch of students! I was amazed by them every day: the challenges they faced and the steps they had to take to get an education to make a better life for themselves was very inspirational. I’ve also volunteered in various settings as a counselor to help people help themselves.
I have a passion for helping people find emotional well-being and for helping people thrive while struggling with mental illness. Perhaps I feel so strongly about it because I have a somewhat unique (but I seriously doubt that I’m the only person on the planet with this particular combination of experiences) background that I bring to my writing. I’ve experienced mental illness from both sides of the proverbial couch. After sustaining a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in 2004 plus two subsequent concussions, I was in and out of a behavioral health hospital across a period of five years. I dealt with multiple mental health diagnoses. While I’m better today (proof that things, no matter how bad they are at the time, do improve), I do still have lingering effects. No one is “cured” of mental illness, but people can get better.
So therein lies the focus of my writing. One of the most difficult things that I faced was the stigma associated with mental illness. I feel strongly that if people understand what various mental illnesses really are (and they’re all different), then people can empathize. Stereotypes need to be eradicated. Understanding and empathy breed compassion and connection. For me, the best way to do this is through novels. There are many wonderful non-fiction books on mental illness and mental health that do a fabulous job of explaining such things. I want to show the human side (as opposed to the clinical aspect) of mental health issues, though, so I write novels.
2. What's the name of your newest or latest book and what's it about?
My newest book is entitled Leave of Absence. It’s about an utterly bereft man, Oliver Graham, who absolutely cannot cope with the traumatic loss of his wife and young son. He is lonely for them, and he blames himself for their deaths. (He kind of has a reason to blame himself, but not entirely so. I wonder if readers will blame him!) After a failed suicide attempt, he ends up at Airhaven Behavioral Health Center where he meets Penelope Baker, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia and the devastating impact it’s had on her life. Penelope is engaged, but she doesn’t think it’s fair to her fiancé William to continue the engagement because certainly she’s no longer loveable. Both Oliver and Penelope struggle to discover a reason to live while William strives to convince her that they can make a life together despite her illness. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the “real world,” they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.
3. Is this book part of a series or standalone?
This book stands alone. I do intend to write may more novels that address mental health issues, but they’ll all be independent of each other.
4. How long have you been writing?
Officially, I’m just beginning my career as a novelist. Last year, I published a young adult novel (entitled Losing Elizabeth). I actually wrote it years ago, however. I published it because I wanted to bring awareness to the impacts of abusive relationships and because I needed a tool to figure out this wild world of professional writing and publishing. I’ve learned much, including the fact that I absolutely love writing novels and that I want to continue to do so for a long time.
Unofficially, I’ve been writing for most of my life. My parents have a picture of me at age three putting magnetic letters on a metal writing board. I remember writing a story in second grade about animals in nature. I worked on it every spare minute I had. No one ever knew about it, though, because I was too afraid of ridicule to share it with anyone. I tried writing a play for a contest in eighth grade, and my language arts teacher actually selected it for submission. However, I’m not a playwright at all and don’t ever intend to be (kudos to those who can do it!). I doubt it even made it past the first round of whatever contest it was. For a long time, I was content to write papers for school, both creative works and formal research-type papers. In high school, college, and, later, graduate school, I was one of those weird people who loved papers and essay tests. Now, I’d much rather write novels!
5. From where or whom do you draw inspiration?
I draw inspiration from life and my various experiences. Leave of Absence is completely fiction, as is Losing Elizabeth. However, in both my professional and personal life, I’ve seen pain and triumph. I feel connected to people and the experiences they have, and I want to write in a way that (hopefully) causes others to feel that, too.
6. What advice would you give new or aspiring writers?
Definitely, write what you’re passionate about. Find what inspires you, and use your spark to ignite a fire. Don’t try to be the “next” anybody. Be the first you. No matter your genre of choice, your enthusiasm for your area will add depth to your stories.
Also, believe in yourself. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but from age seven (or whatever age I was in second grade) through adulthood, I was too afraid of failure to really follow my dreams. Who knows where I’d be today if I’d taken the risk long ago? That said, I have no regrets, for my life experience has brought a richness to my writing that otherwise wouldn’t be there. I’m only in my forties. It’s never too late to begin anything!
7. Who do you see as your ideal reader?
I’m hoping that people struggling with mental illness will find out about my book and read it. I’d like them to feel that they’re not alone. I also hope that caregivers, friends, and family members of those suffering from mental illness will enjoy Leave of Absence. I think they’ll be able to relate to William.
This may be a lofty goal, but I can see this being read and discussed in psychology classes and counselor-education programs. In such classes, my teachers/professors often had us read things other than textbooks to increase our understanding. I wrote Leave of Absence to help eradicate stereotypes and to really show what schizophrenia, complicated mourning, depression, and loss are like – not the clinical definitions, but what they feel like. This could help psychology students understand mental illness on a personal level and allow counseling students to discuss treatment approaches.
Of course, Leave of Absence is general contemporary fiction. I’m hoping that anyone looking for an emotional, character-driven story will give it a try!
8. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a planner or outliner?
For me, novel writing is most definitely a process! I need to have a general feel for the story: first and foremost, who is it about and what are his/her struggles? Next, I think, “Okay. So what?” I need to be able to answer that question so my story has a purpose rather than just stumbling on from one scene to the next. Before I begin writing, I need to know, generally, where the story is going to end up. That’s not to say that I have the exact ending and every single scene planned before I begin. No way! Writing is too complex for that. The story evolves continually as I write it, so I don’t know exactly how it will end up, but I do know the general direction in which it is going.
I have a confession: I absolutely love binders. I use them for everything, including writing novels. Those colorful divider tabs are really fun, and I have sections for all sorts of notes and thoughts: the general outline, specific chapter outlines, characterization, research notes, general ideas – things like that. I’m constantly adding to it and referring to it as I write. And throughout the writing process, I’m always assessing where I’ve been and where I want to go. Good novels are “tight,” intentional. There should be a logical connection between events, and every conversation, every detail should have a greater purpose. For me, there’s no way to achieve that other than through planning with lots of room for creative flow and adjustment. (Maybe that’s partially my love of writing papers and essays in school coming out!)
9. Are you a "write every day of the week" sort of writer or do you take days off?
I love to write, and ideally while writing a novel write every single day. Sometimes that’s not realistic given all the other demands of life, but I write almost every day. I do my best work in the morning. When I was writing Leave of Absence, I’d get up at least by 5:00 and get a few uninterrupted hours of writing in before the hectic activities of the day began. I get into a flow when I write; it’s good for my well-being, so I try to do it daily.
10. What are your thoughts on writers paying for reviews as John Locke is reported to have done?
It depends. There are some professional review services that do charge a fee. The fee is for a guaranteed honest review, though, not for a guaranteed glowing review. Money spent on these does not mean that a writer is buying a good review. Sometimes writers end up paying for a review that ends up being horrible.
Paying for a professional service without guaranteed results is okay. However, paying readers to give good reviews is, in my opinion, a really bad thing to do. It’s dishonest, for one thing. When someone reads reviews to decide if he/she wants to purchase a book, it’s unethical if those reviews are skewed. And, equally poor is the fact that I think it discredits the writer. When people read my reviews, I want them to know that all of the reviews are authentic. If someone happens to give Leave of Absence a good review, it’s because they genuinely liked the book, not because I paid them to give praise. Additionally, bad reviews, while I don’t love them of course, are helpful. They provide feedback that I can use to improve my next novels.
Bottom line: I would no more buy a good review than I would have bought an “A” on a paper in school.
11. Any pets? If so, tell us what role they play in your writing, if any.
My daughter has a chinchilla, and my son has a Russian tortoise. I love these little creatures, but they don’t have a role in my writing.
There is a stray cat that hangs out occasionally under our porch. My son named him Johixilan (I don’t know why). He has a cameo appearance in Leave of Absence!
12. Assuming you have an active blog, point readers to a post of which you're especially proud or think will be of particular interest to them.
I do have an active blog; however, it is just getting off the ground and only has a few posts. I’d love visitors and comments. It’s on my website: www.tanyajpeterson.com/blog. It’s a mental-health-related blog that incorporates discussions of Leave of Absence as well as other thoughts and musings. It’s a work in progress, and I only hope that it evolves into a place that people enjoy.
13. I made some predictions for the ePublishing industry for 2013 (http://www.scottmarlowe.com/post/ePub...). Do you think any of them will come true?
I think you have good insight into publishing trends. I can see amazon continuing to attempt to crush all competition and to hurt many authors in the process. I also believe that the Big 6 of the traditional publishing industry is scrambling to keep up with the changing times. They are rather reactionary, and I can see them lowering their prices to stay relevant. Interesting that here they’re watching the indie “industry” and following its trends. Regarding the end to the indie boom that you predict, I agree that this will begin to occur for the very reasons you articulate: after trying it, many writers may realize that it’s not for them because ROI (return on investment) is minimal if it even exists at all. While the “boom” may come to an end, though, I don’t think that indie publishing in general is at an end. On the contrary, I think it’s going to increase and that the quality is only going to increase with it. For people who truly want to continue to write professionally, the independent path can be a great way to go. I agonized for quite some time about whether I wanted to pursue the traditional publishing route or the independent route. There are pros and cons to each, but after talking to many different people (traditionally published authors, indie authors, and even agents) and doing a lot of reading about both paths, I purposely chose to go the indie route. I think others have done the same and will continue to do so. So perhaps while the days of anyone throwing any type of book, no matter the quality, will come to an end, the rise of the serious, established indie author is beginning to take place.
14. Which retailers or others sites can readers find your work at?
Thanks for asking! Right now Leave of Absence is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com., and powells.com. It’s also available in small bookstores in Oregon. Of course it’s available in electronic form, too, and is available for the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iReader. Readers with these devices can buy it the way they buy other books for their e-readers.
15. Where can readers find out more about you?
I have a website and a blog: www.tanyajpeterson.com. I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tanyajpeterson and Twitter at www.twitter.com/tanyajpeterson1 (or @tanyajpeterson1). Technically, I do have a Pinterest account (www.pinterest.com/tanyajpeterson), but shamefully, that one’s pretty empty right now because I’m still figuring out what to do on it. I have little talent when it comes to anything visual, so a site that is entirely visual scares me a bit.
I love it when people visit any of my sites, and I especially love it when people leave comments or questions. I like it when conversations happen, so I’m really hoping that my sites will grow into communities where people visit and talk about things.
Tanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor. She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities. She draws on her life experience as well as her education to write stories about the emotional aspect of the human condition. She has published Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship, Challenge!, a short story about a person who finds the confidence to overcome criticism and achieve a goal, and a book review of Linley and Joseph’s Positive Therapy: A Meta-Theory for Positive Psychological Practice that appeared in Counseling Today, the national publication of the American Counseling Association.