Why I Write
When I was a little girl in the 80s, I idolized my babysitter. She was the teenage daughter of a very close family friend and had been around my family since before I was born. She had the coolest jean jacket and the biggest gold hoop earrings I had ever seen. Her bangs were huge and puffy and her black hair was feathered like a movie star.
She was unfailingly patient and very kind-hearted. She never seemed to mind the fact that I would attach myself to her side and follow her around like a small dog, constantly yapping for her attention. As I got older, I would try to mimic the way she talked on the phone and beg my parents to pierce my ears, so I could wear earrings just like hers. I saw her just about every week.
And then, quite suddenly, she was gone. We still saw her family, but she wasn’t there anymore. When I asked my parents, they told me that she wasn’t feeling very well and she had to go to a hospital. For months, that was the only answer I received. As months turned into a year, I forgot to ask about her. One day, my mother told me that she had come home for a visit, and we were all going to see her.
I was very excited. I wore my new jean jacket, even though it was a sweltering summer morning, and bounced in my seat the first half of the drive. On the way to the restaurant, my mother told me that there were some things I had to understand, and then she tried to explain schizophrenia in the easiest and most simple terms she could think of. She told me my friend had gone to a special hospital where people went when their minds didn’t work right. She said that she had to take pills and they made her not feel sick anymore, but that I still shouldn’t upset her by asking a lot of questions.
This sobered me up quickly. I had never heard of mental illness before, and I think I imagined a cartoon brain sneezing and trying to grip a thermometer in its folds.
When we got to the restaurant, my friend barely glanced in my direction before turning her attention back to a cup of black coffee that sat in front of her. She didn’t smile and reach out her arms for me the way she used to, and it stung a little.
While our parents cheerfully greeted each other and made small talk about the heat, I slid into the booth and got as close to this strange new person as I dared. She glanced at me again, and gave me a half-smile. I figured that I didn’t have a lot of time before the adults started paying attention, so I quickly whispered:
“What’s schizophrenia mean?”
She laughed a bit harshly, and then shrugged.
“It’s like…you see things and hear things that aren’t real, but they seem real to you.”
“I don’t understand,” I admitted.
“Well…sometimes my stuffed animals talked to me,” she frowned.
At that exact moment, when I was about to ask her what they said, my mother glared in my direction, and I scooted away and pretended to be very interested in rearranging the sugar packets. They didn’t give us anymore chance for a private conversation that morning, and when we left, she didn’t even look up or say good-bye.
That night, I crawled out of my bed, lined up my stuffed animals, and tried as hard as I could to make them talk to me. They never said a word. In my childish mind, I thought if I could prove that stuffed animals really could talk, then she wouldn’t have to be in a hospital anymore. I had this horrible feeling that maybe she was right, and just because they wouldn’t talk to me, didn’t mean they couldn’t. The thought that she could hear them, and that no one believed her was absolutely terrifying to me. I couldn’t think of anything more awful.
In the second book of the Birch Harbor Series, Abraham’s Men, Chloe Adams is a shy college-age girl who can hear the voices of the dead. The problem is, for most of her life, no one believed her. Her family thought she was crazy and convinced her of it as well. She has a hard time distinguishing between what’s real and what isn’t. Chloe Adams is a fictional character. She shares no personality or physical traits with the young woman I knew two decades ago. Yet there’s still something oddly satisfying in writing a best friend character that will stand by her no matter what, and a boyfriend who always believes her.
That’s really what writing is to me, the chance to make a story end the way I want it to. Sometimes I read about other writers who half-jokingly admit to spending time day-dreaming about legions of fans, international recognition, movie deals, and choosing which famous celebrities will play which characters. We’re all guilty of that from time to time, but I don’t write because I think that’s ever going to happen. I write because I need to tack my fears to a page and hold them up for other people to see. I write because I can share strange bits of history I’ve learned through the years, and never have an excuse to work into every day conversations. I write because I can decide what happens to people in my own world. I can hand out justice and compassion that isn’t given in real life, or I can chose to withhold it and display the consequences. Finally, I write because I have more words in my head than my mouth could ever speak. I have to write.
Thanks so much to Michelle at Mom With a Kindle for having me guest blog. I appreciate the opportunity to spill some words!
Kristen Selleck is avidly evil. Until recently, she worked as a mad scientist. After several diabolical attempts at world domination proved unsuccessful (most notably, building an army of robots from used pipettes, empty reagent boxes, and other things left lying around the lab), she decided to pick up the pen. She used the pen to poke an annoying lady at the gas station in the eyeball. Then she decided to write.
She has been known to speak with a strong Russian accent. This is inexplicable due to the fact that she was born in Detroit. It has also been documented that she likes vodka, roller coasters, things which are purple, and blowing things up with dry ice. She abhors kittens, wood paneling popularized in the 1970's, and her arch-nemesis Jimmy (the Evil Overlord of Specimen Processing). She was last known to reside in Grand Rapids, and may be in the company of two evil apprentices, and her devoted henchman, Shad. If seen, please contact the FBI immediately (she owes someone in Accounting a sandwich).
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