Author Interview: Tanya J Peterson
Author Interview with Tanya J Peterson, Author of Leave of Absence.
Leave of Absence in First750.com
For the record, what is your name and what is the title of your latest book?
I’m glad to start off with easy questions! My name is Tanya J. Peterson, and my latest novel is called Leave of Absence.
Why did you write your latest book?
I’m really passionate about mental illness and mental health. I have both professional and personal interests in it. I’m a Nationally Certificated Counselor, and I’m also a patient who experiences Bipolar I disorder. In both of these roles, I see that there is so much misunderstanding, so many stereotypes that lead to a huge stigma associated with mental illness. The key to ending this stigma and making it safe for people to feel okay about who they are and what they experience is to create true understanding. So much of the current stereotypes come from the negative images created and perpetuated by the mainstream media. I wanted to create a story that accurately portrays mental illness (in the case of Leave of Absence, the specific mental illnesses faced by the characters include schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression). In writing Leave of Absence, I sought to create characters that correctly portray what these illnesses are truly like in order to help combat current stereotypes and reduce the awful stigma that surrounds mental illness.
How did you get started writing? What is it that makes you want to be a writer?
I’ve always loved to write. When I was very young (grade school), I loved to write short stories. A lack of self-confidence, though, kept me from sharing those stories with anyone. When I was in high school, college, and, later, graduate school, I became one of those strange students who loved writing essays, research papers, and any other type of paper. J When I was a high school teacher and in my late twenties, I became bothered by the fact that so many of my students were involved in unhealthy, and often downright abusive, relationships. To address the issue, I wrote a young adult novel; however, it sat on a shelf collecting dust until a couple years ago when I was beginning to feel a strong desire to turn my attention back to writing. I dusted it off and independently published it both to let the message of the story be heard and to use it as a tool to figure out the world of professional writing and publishing. It was a very useful tool, and I’ve learned a lot. Thanks to that experience, I had a better understanding of what to do and what not to do with my next novel, which, happily is now available and is called Leave of Absence.
So that’s how I became a writer. Why I want to be a writer is its own story. The simple reason is that I want to do it because I love it. When I write, I experience what is known as flow – the experience of being fully present in the activity at hand and losing yourself in the positive experience of it. Flow is one thing that researchers have proven to contribute to true happiness and well-being. Writing makes me happy. But there’s a reason beyond my own personal enjoyment. As I mentioned above, I’m passionate about raising awareness of mental illness and combating the stereotypes associated with it. Many wonderful people are doing many great things to help this happen. I’d like to do my part, and for me, I think I can do this through writing. Fiction can be a powerful vehicle for increasing understanding and compassion, and I truly hope that I can do just that.
If an unpublished author asked you to give them one piece of advice, what would it be?
At the risk of sounding cliché (I hate clichés), I would advise an unpublished author to follow his/her passion. This is deeper than it initially appears. Passion is useless unless it is lived fully. People need to fully know themselves and deeply understand their passions. What do they love? Why do they love it? What do they want to do with this love? Why do they want to do this instead of something else? An author (or anyone pursuing any dream) needs to “why” themselves and their passion into the ground, for doing so creates an intention and a focus. If you know what you believe in and why you believe in it, you have honed your drive and can pinpoint what you need to do to accomplish your goal. Know yourself, know your passion, and be intentional in all that you do!
If you could only publish in a single genre, what would it be? Why?
First, let me begin by acknowledging that there are many authors out there who quite successfully publish in multiple genres. It’s wonderful that they can do this, and I applaud them for it. For me personally, though, it makes perfect sense to only publish in a single genre. Yes, my first novel was YA, but that one doesn’t really count. I am now focusing on adult contemporary fiction (I’ve also seen this referred to as realistic fiction), and that’s where I plan to stay. The reason for this can be found in some of my earlier responses. It relates to knowing myself and my focus and being intentional in what I’m doing. I know that I’ll do better if I concentrate on one genre, develop it well, and connect with readers in that genre. (That’s just me though; again, others can successfully cross genres.) Further, it relates to my purpose in writing. I’m using fiction as a way to help people truly understand the human side of the various mental illnesses, so of course I’d like to write more in this area.
Why should readers read your book?
Because it would make me so happy, and I’d be genuinely grateful! J While it’s true that it would make me happy and grateful, that’s not really the reason they should read it. The real reason is that readers will gain something from reading Leave of Absence. They’ll come away with an increased understanding of what schizophrenia, PTSD, and depression look and feel like, a sense of empathy and compassion for those with mental illness, and a heightened awareness of the emotional difficulties of the loved ones in the lives of those with mental illness. Readers will also experience a character-driven story and feel a deep connection to Oliver, Penelope, and William.
Who is your favorite author of all time and who is your favorite author writing now?
This is an entirely unfair question! There have been and are currently so many tremendous writers. To pick only two is impossible. Among my favorites, both of all-time and now, are Saul Bellow and Toni Morrison. Both write character-driven stories about the human condition that make me want to be a better person. For very-current authors, I admire Julianne Garey and Pricille Sibley for similar reasons.
Do you think e-books should be protected by Digital Rights Management? Why?
I think that any intellectual property should be protected. Digital piracy is easy for those who know how to do it, and it’s really not a very nice thing to do. This applies to far more than just e-books, of course. People work hard to create what they do, in this case, books, and it shouldn’t be easy for others to steal their work. That said, I’d like to see a society where ideas and product flow freely and the need for money is transcended. It worked for the Smurfs, but Karl Marx couldn’t get it to work so well. Maybe someday!
If you could improve any single aspect of yourself (physical, mental, whatever), what would it be?
I’d get rid of Bipolar Disorder and the havoc it wreaks on my mind/moods/feelings! I’d like to see social anxiety go, too, so I could just relax and enjoy social gatherings.
What question do you wish I had asked that I did not?
I think you were very thorough with your questions, and I enjoyed answering them! Perhaps given the topic of my book, I’d like to answer a question that asks why I chose to write fiction rather than non-fiction. I’m not sure if you’d like me to answer this unasked question, so I’ll give an answer, but I’ll make it brief. There are so many wonderful non-fiction books out there that provide accurate information about the mental illnesses found in Leave of Absence. Those definitely help increase understanding. But there’s currently a disconnect between understanding the mental illness and understanding/accepting the person behind it. I wanted to create characters that readers could connect to, bond with. I wanted to personalize mental illness to deepen empathy and compassion.
Thank you, Lewis, for allowing me to appear on your wonderful blog The First 750. I am truly honored and deeply grateful that you are featuring both Leave of Absence and interviewing me. I appreciate you for helping me spread the word about my novel and letting readers get to know me. I’ve enjoyed this!