Saturday, April 30, 2016

My April Reads, The Weight of Zero, and Waiting for Mania

In April, I finished 9 books:

Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King
New Millenium Writings 2011 by Don Williams ed.
The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati
Structuring Your Novel Workbook by K.M. Weiland
The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen
Someone Not Really Her Mother by Harriet Scott Chessman
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

I posted a review of The Weight of Zero on Goodreads (If you already saw that review, keep reading. I have added more thoughts below):

Honesty time: I was very reluctant to read this book.

Let me explain why, and why I ended up loving it.

I went to see Sara Megibow give a talk to members of SCBWI. (The talk was great, but that’s not the point.) At the end of her talk, Sara gave away a pile of books. I ended up with an advanced reader’s copy of THE WEIGHT OF ZERO. The back cover copy describes a story of a girl who is dealing (poorly) with bipolar disorder. Possibly interesting, I thought. The book went into my massive “to be read” pile.

A few weeks later I stumbled across a Writer’s Digest post looking at successful queries. This one was Sara Megibow talking about the query letter she received from Karen Fortunati. Something in the way Sara described the book made me pause. This was starting to sound like a book that had an agenda. My experience with books that have an agenda is that the story is usually lacking. Maybe I wasn’t interested in reading this book, after all.

THE WEIGHT OF ZERO made its way to the top of my pile. I opened the book to find a letter from the editor at Delacorte Press. She talked about the importance of this book, both to her personally, and the world as a whole. She laid out the message of the book in black and white. Oh boy. Definitely a book with an agenda.

I started reading. And I kept reading. I read about half of the book in one sitting. Yes, this is a book with an agenda. More importantly, it is a great, well-told STORY.

Catherine knows that she has bipolar disorder. She has experienced both the crippling depression (she has named it Zero) and the euphoria and boundless energy of mania. She has tried to commit suicide while in the grasp of Zero before, and has a clear plan to succeed the next time Zero grabs her and crushes her under its weight. But she has one thing she wants to do before she dies. One thing. It’s a thing that would be on the bucket list of many teenagers if they made one.

Catherine goes after this one thing, the only thing she thinks she wants to do before she dies. Along the way she begins to accumulate other things. Things that are given to her that she didn’t know she wanted, things she didn’t know she needed.

Yes, there is a message to this story, an agenda. Hope is sneaky. Even when you refuse to acknowledge it, it can find a way in. Also this- you are not your disease. And this- you can live.

And I loved it. This is just a great story of a girl on mission. It just so happens that she is dragging THE WEIGHT OF ZERO on that mission with her.

Here’s the part I didn’t share on Goodreads. This is the personal stuff.

I’m familiar with Zero. I have felt his weight. He has sprawled on me in the middle of the night, on the brightest of sunny days. He has convinced me to make a plan. Not once, but twice. Once I followed through on my plan. Luckily, I was too young to know what I needed to know to succeed.

My visits from Zero were largely prompted by medical issues. As a teenager, I was told I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was twenty. Dead by the time I turned thirty. Couple that prognosis with extraordinary pain and it’s easy to see how Zero found me that time. His second visit occurred just after I had my second child. Swirling in post-partem hormones. Diagnosed with cancer. Circumstances opened the door and welcomed him in.

I made it through both of my battles with Zero. But I was waiting. Waiting for the rest.

My dad had bipolar disorder. So did his mother. It was possible that I carried that same genetic code. Most people with bipolar disorder are diagnosed before they turn thirty-four. I watched that birthday creep up on me. I waited for mania. With two major bouts of depression in my past, a single go-round with mania would probably be enough to give me the diagnosis I hoped to avoid.

Thirty-four happened several years ago. (Don’t ask how many. That’s not polite. :) ) Statistics tells me I should be in the clear. But I don’t trust statistics. Someone has to be in the 1%.

Now I don’t watch just me. I watch my kids. I watch the ADHD and impulsive behaviors. Studies have suggested a genetic link between ADHD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It’s possible that I may have passed the genetic code onto my kids without expressing those genes myself.

So I watch. And I wait. I’m ready. For Zero and whatever friends he brings to play.

Friday, April 15, 2016

This Side of My Skin

It’s the 15th. That means I should be posting a new short story or bit of fiction.


I don’t really have one.

Here’s the thing. I finished revisions of my novel in the first week of April. It took all of my focus, all of my energy. It is done.

For now.

Now it’s April. April is Camp NaNoWriMo.

I can’t resist. I have to play. But I am nowhere near ready to jump in and start writing another book. So I am plotting.

The nugget of an idea that I started with has ballooned into four interlocking stories. Each of them is demanding that it needs its own book. So I am now plotting FOUR novels. At the same time.

Oh dear.

Bottom line: I haven’t written any new shorts in several weeks. I have nothing to share. I am starting to get itchy. I can feel the untold stories crawling under my skin. They want out.

But never fear. May is just around the corner. I will be participating in the craziness that is Story A Day May. Every day I will be given a prompt. The challenge: write a short story. Every day.

There are 31 days in May. My goal is to post new shorts on at least 25 of those days.

If you want to part of the chaos, you can find info about Story A Day here:

To atone for not having a shiny new fiction present for you, I offer this tiny snippet of a thing. This character will grow up to be one of the characters in the four stories. I think.


Jonas stands in front of me, flipping a coin into the air with his right hand and catching it in the palm of his left hand. The coin shifts to the right hand and back into the air. I watch the coin travel its orbit once. Then I look at Jonas. He never looks to see if the coin lands on heads or tails. Just keeps the coin moving, his eyes not even bothering to track its path.

His gaze seems to float in the air in front of him. His eyes stare, but not at anything. Maybe they are looking at images in his mind.

I wonder for a moment how long he can keep it moving before a hand trembles, fumbles, drops the coin. I imagine it rolling away, spinning free from him. Maybe then he will look at me. See me the way I see him.

I watch his eyes pull into focus and I quickly look away. I don’t want him to catch me staring. Not that I think he even knows I’m here. We are only ten feet apart, but it might as well be a million miles.

I am invisible to him.

I didn’t used to be.

We used to be friends.  We ran through the neighborhood in the summer, building forts and houses out of cardboard boxes and discarded bricks. We gathered empty yogurt containers to use as dishes in our pretend kitchen. He pretended his puppies were our children. I fed them worms and caterpillar larvae. I was a good mom.

I look down at my hands. The ring he bought out of a quarter toy machine looks up at me. It is tarnished. Again. I need to give it a fresh coat of silver paint, make it look new. Make it shine. 

I twist the ring around my index finger, feel the metal pull the skin as it turns. It burns. It could almost pull the skin free, rip me open. It is not tight enough.

I pick at the tender skin around my fingernail, peel away a strip of flesh. Underneath I am red, raw. Exposed. I want Jonas to look over, see this side of my skin. See that I am the same inside as I used to be.