Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Spotlight PRESENTS: Tanya J. Peterson!

Introducing Tanya J. Peterson

I'm intrigued by the human experience, which is probably the reason I decided to earn degrees in education and in counseling. I enjoy working with people and helping them empower themselves to make their lives great, and I sincerely appreciate those who have helped me through my own challenges in this human experience (I've experienced counseling from both sides of the proverbial couch). I've worked as a teacher and counselor at a school for homeless and runaway adolescents and in traditional schools as well. I've also volunteered my services as a counselor. I love to write, and I enjoy creating stories about the human experience. 

I write novels about people who live with various types of mental illness and about the people who love them. I write to both entertain and to inform, to build understanding and empathy. To that end, I've written Leave of Absence and, most recently, My Life in a Nutshell. 

The first novel I ever wrote was Losing Elizabeth, a novel for young adults about a girl who becomes trapped in an abusive relationships. In my years of teaching and counseling, I have encountered many people, both male and female, who become involved in unhealthy relationships. My concern for this prompted me to write Losing Elizabeth. I do believe in the story, but I'll admit that it was definitely a first novel, written when I was younger. If I wrote it today, it would be much more well-developed. This is the thing about life: we grow as we go! 

I was born and raised in the Midwest, but my husband, two children, and I now live in the Pacific Northwest. We love it!

Connect with Tanya

The Dauntless Indies Sit Down With Tanya

DI - What inspired you to write your first novel?

TJP - I write novels about people living with mental illness and the people in their lives. There’s such a stigma associated with mental illness, so much so that people are shamed for having mental health challenges. So often, people see “mental illness” rather than seeing a real person. I want to humanize mental illness, to deepen empathy and compassion, so I write novels about characters (people!) dealing with various issues. 

DI - What books/authors have inspired your life most?

TJP - To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) has influenced me since the first time I read it at age fourteen. I like stories about social justice, humanity, and what it means to be a good person. To that end, I like books like Ellison’s The Invisible Man, Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie Marc, Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Garey’s Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See, Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, and others of this nature.

DI - Whom would you consider a writing mentor(s)?

TJP - This will probably be the strangest answer ever, or at least one of them. The world is my mentor! J That sounds like something out of a bad Disney knock-off, but I’m serious. As I read, I pick up what is effective (and not so effective) writing. As I observe people in the real world, I pick up things that I infuse into my stories to make my characters real. As I listen and read reviews and comments in various places online or in real life as I discuss things with people, I learn what, in general, people like and what they don’t like. By being attuned to the real world, I hope to be able to enrich my writing in authentic ways.

DI - What book(s) are you reading now?

TJP - I’m currently reading The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. It’s about a man with autism living between his world, a world of “autistics,” and the “normal” world as he wrestles with engaging in an experimental treatment that might “make him normal.” My editor recommended it to me, thinking I would like it. She was right.

DI - Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

Last year I read Pricille Sibley’s debut novel (at least I think it was her debut novel; I haven’t found others by her) entitled The Promise of Stardust. That novel was amazing! Also, even though I mentioned this book earlier, it’s worthy of another mention. Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See was Juliann Garey’s first novel (although she has written non-fiction work about bipolar disorder). I would love to read more from each of these talented authors.

DI - What are your current writing projects?

TJP - I am a regular columnist for the Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog on, so every week I have an article to write addressing different aspects of anxiety. And of course I’m continuing to write novels! The main character of the novel I’m currently writing lives with dissociative identity disorder, and the novel explores this and the havoc it can wreak on life, family, friendships, and the sense of self.

DI - What would we find you doing when you're not at the keyboard?

TJP - When I’m not hard at work, I’m doing things with my family. My kids and I love to camp, hike, do art projects at various art studios in our town, etc. My husband joins us at home for things like movies and board games. I also like to try to sneak in some alone time on early morning walks or out on a lake in my kayak. Wherever I go, though, I can’t keep my mind off of my characters and their stories!

DI - What are your favorite setting(s) to read/write about?

TJP - I love the outdoors, so I enjoy outdoor settings. In My Life in a Nutshell, Brian is very outdoorsy (because it provides an escape away from people). It was fun to write the outdoor scenes. When reading, too, I enjoy outdoor settings. I think much more about settings when I write, though, than when I read. I use setting intentionally in my writing, but when I’m reading, it fades into the background. I think that the authors of the books I read use setting intentionally when they write, too, but it’s often so well done that it enhances the story without being loud about it.

DI - If you could be any character in your book(s), which would you be and why?

TJP - Intriguing question! Me being me, I can’t give a straight answer. (In school, I hated T/F and even multiple choice questions because they were so very limiting, too black-and-white. I need to ramble and explain!) In My Life in a Nutshell, I actually am a bit like Brian. His anxiety is severe and extreme, and mine isn’t that debilitating, yet we share similar thought processes. (Note: Brian isn’t at all autobiographical, and his own story is unique.) However, also in My Life in a Nutshell, there’s a character named Sammi. I connect with her because I share a similar outlook on life, but I don’t have her relaxed, comfortably confident way of being. I’d love to be like her!

Top five favorite titles (these do not have to be favorite books)

A hodgepodge of my favorite titles, in no particular order…
·         To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
·         Schindler’s List
·         Forrest Gump
·         Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
·         Go by Boys like Girls

Top ten snacks while writing

Perhaps it’s a telling sign of my personality that I gravitated to snacks! J I’ve tried many different things, and some have proven to be disastrous. Popcorn leaves oil on my keyboard, plus I don’t get anything done because I’m using 50% of my hands to shovel it into my mouth. Other things leave crumbs all over the place. In no particular order, things that I’ve found to work, of both the food and beverage variety:
1.    Fruit smoothies
2.    Coffee with creamer, sometimes flavored, 
sometimes plain half and half depending on my mood
3.    Hot tea, especially pumpkin spice in the fall
4.    Cheese – the cheddar cheese rectangular snacking things
5.    Chocolate covered raisins
6.    Dove dark chocolate pieces
7.    Excedrin and/or Pepto Bismol
8.    Trail mix
9.    Hostess cupcakes (who cares about the crumbs?)
10.  Blended iced coffee from a local place called Dutch Bros.

Now I’m hungry. But only for item nine.

DI - How many books have you written? This can include both published and unpublished works. 

TJP- I’ve written three novels. The first, while it explores a topic that’s important to me, isn’t in my actual genre. I write adult contemporary fiction, and this first one, 

Losing Elizabeth, is YA. It’s about a high school junior who becomes caught in a toxic relationship that quickly becomes emotionally abusive. (I don’t quite consider this one as a true work of mine, as I wrote it when I was much younger and it’s not nearly as developed as it could be.)

 High school junior Elizabeth Carter is self-confident and outgoing with a bright future. Life is good for Elizabeth, then she meets Brad Evans. To those on the outside, and even to Elizabeth at first, her life gets even better with Brad. Slowly and insidiously, though, Brad takes control of Elizabeth. Is she really as lucky as she thinks she is? What price is she willing to pay to be this popular, charming, attractive senior boy's girlfriend? Is she envied...or pitied? Most importantly, does she have to lose herself in order to be Brad's significant other?

Last year, I published Leave of Absence. This is what I consider to be my first serious work. Oliver Graham is utterly bereft and laden with guilt in the aftermath of the deaths of his wife and son, and Penelope Baker wrestles with schizophrenia and the devastating impact it’s had on her once happy and successful life. Readers join them on their tumultuous journey through pain, struggle, and triumphs.

Hollywood has stereotyped the schizophrenic. Prepare for your perceptions to be shattered. Penelope Baker grapples with schizophrenia. She has suffered losses, and her grief has deep and numerous shadows. Oliver Graham, utterly bereft, wrestles with guilt. He has suffered losses, and his grief has deep and numerous shadows. Leave of Absence unveils the complexity—and the humanity—underlying psychological struggles. 

When Oliver Graham’s suicide attempt fails, he is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. Unable to cope with the traumatic loss of his beloved wife and son, he finds a single thread of attachment to life in Penelope, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia’s devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiance William strives to convince her that she is worth loving. 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. 

Written with extraordinary perception into the thought processes of those dealing with mental illness, Leave of Absence is perfect for readers seeking an empathic depiction of grief, loss, and schizophrenia. It has a place in the classrooms of counselor-educators, among support groups for those with mental illness and for their caregivers, and in the home of anyone who has ever experienced human suffering and healing.

 Of course this year I released My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel. It’s the story of two people who don’t quite know how to live in the world—the man, Brian, because of debilitating anxiety, the girl, Abigail because of instability and abuse—and their journey to learn from each other.

My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel is the story of one man's struggles with debilitating anxiety. Brian Cunningham has isolated himself to such a degree that his human contact is barely more than an hour a day. While lonely, he feels powerless to change his life. Unexpectedly, his safe little world is invaded by one Abigail Harris, a seven-year-old girl who, for the last five years, has bounced from foster home to foster home. She has come to live with an aunt and uncle she has never known. Unsure if she can trust her new environment, she turns to Brian. Neither one quite knows how to live in the world. Can they possibly help each other?

Shawn's Review of My Life in a Nutshell

5 Stars!!!
Tanya J. Peterson has once again written a novel that successfully portrays a multifaceted character living life with a psychological disorder.  Brian Cunningham is written so powerfully, there were times I felt his anxiety and had physical reactions right along with him.  Peterson’s writing is poignant and sensitive and serves to lessen the stigma so often attached to mental health disorders.  I applaud Peterson for combining her expertise in the field of mental health with her extraordinary talent for storytelling.  The result is a believable character and a novel that is visceral, raw and real that serves to educate as well as to entertain.

 DI - What does writing preparation look like for you? Do you do full outlines and character profiles, or do you just start with a general idea and write?

TJP - A bit of both, actually. I start with a concept, a theme I want to portray. On the heels of that, I decide how that theme will be told and, more specifically, who is going to be the one to do it. I spend time with him or her and really bond with him/her. Next I consider who else will be involved in this person’s story. As I’m doing this, the story itself begins to take shape. I develop a rough outline so I have direction, but I do adjust as I go. Ditto the chapters. Each chapter has a rough outline, but it morphs throughout the process. When the story changes a bit as I progress, I go back and make changes so the whole things is tight and connected.

DI - Editing is a challenge for many writers. Give us some of your tips for editing efficiently and well.

TJP - I view editing as an integral part of the process. For me, there are different types: content/literary editing and proof editing. The former I do throughout the process. I’m constantly going back to earlier parts of my story to ensure that things fit as the story develops. If something isn’t part of a greater picture, I take it out; additionally, I add things in as needed to flow with later parts of the story.  Also, when I’ve completed my entire first draft, I go back through with a critical eye and make the descriptions, word choices, phrasings, etc. stronger. (When I first write a manuscript, my main focus is on content and characterization rather than on descriptions and wording.) Regarding proof editing (looking at the mechanics), I comb through the manuscript looking for errors. It’s been said that people can’t edit their own work because our brains know how it’s supposed to read and do their own internal autocorrecting. Most of us know how annoying the autocorrect feature on cell phones is! I always hire an editor to further check and critique my manuscript. It’s essential.

DI - Research is another challenge writers face, but is an important part of the writing process. What are some of your research tips?

TJP - Here I will expose my inner nerd. I love research! I always have. In both college and in graduate school, I received various course syllabi with giddy anticipation as I scanned through it to see what papers I would get to write that semester. True story. So for me, the research is a fun part of the process. I think a great way to make it less of a time-wasting chore is to be very intentional about it. Know the story you want to tell, its general direction (with plenty of room for adjustments), and what information you need for the characters, setting, plot, etc. This way, you’ll have more of a focus and direction, and you’ll know what to search for as well as what will be helpful and what won’t. This focus will help prevent wasted hours reading irrelevant information. And if you really want to get zany about your research, you and your significant other or a friend could make a Friday night date night out of it at your library! J

DI - If you have been published (self or traditionally), what type of marketing did you find worked the best for you? What was the least helpful?

TJP - To me, the best marketing is that which is broad enough to provide a lot of exposure in different areas (because typically people need to be exposed to something multiple times before deciding to purchase and because this is part of your brand recognition) yet focused enough so you’re zoning in on your target audience. To try to market to “everyone” is overwhelming and ineffective. Once you identify your specific audience, you can find them and start to interact with them. Build sincere relationships and establish a regular presence, and you’ll gain followers over time. It’s not a quick process, but slow and steady wins the race!

Least helpful? I’ll build on the first part of my answer. Just searching for anyone to read my book, especially people who don’t like my genre, doesn’t work at all. Someone who loves romance or paranormal or crime or whatever will not be interested in my writing. So if I join communities of people who love romances, I won’t find many people who want to read my books and pass them on to others. Many author promotional communities aren’t very effective, either, because everyone is there not to read each other’s stuff but to promote themselves. And all of the promotional links are seen primarily by the authors of the group. Of course as authors we can find great connections in author groups or in book groups outside of our genre, but these are valuable for reasons other than marketing.

DI - What genre do you write in? What are some of the challenges to writing this particular genre well?

TJP - I write adult contemporary fiction. For me, it’s not necessarily challenging to write in this genre, but it’s challenging to market because it’s so broad. It’s also very vague. A reader knows what to expect if a book is categorized as a thriller or erotica, but “contemporary fiction” provides no clue. So many books fall into this general category that sometimes they get lost in the shuffle. Despite this, I don’t anticipate changing genres because I love my genre. This is where I can write about very real social issues, specifically around psychology, mental illness, and how a given mental illness impacts people.

DI - What advice would you give to a writer who is starting out?

TJP - Have passion, and have balance! If you can really feel your characters and their stories, you’re well on your way to great writing. Your story isn’t about a character, it is a character. Your’e allowing people a glimpse into a real life, and if you care about that life, your readers will, too.

The balance part of this applies to everything. You need to have passion about what you write, to write about something you love, but you also want to make sure that there are others out there who will love it, too (others that will buy your book). And, as much as possible in our hectic world, have balance in your life (admittedly, this one is a huge challenge for me). Write, yes, but make time for the other aspects of your life. When you’re in balance, your writing will be better because your enjoyment of life will be better.

DI - What are your writing, editing, marketing, and research goals for 2014-2015?

TJP - I’m well into my next novel, but it’s come to a screeching halt recently. Having kids home on summer vacation, launching My Life in a Nutshell, writing weekly articles for, volunteer work in the community, house projects, and more, I haven’t been able to work on it lately. The time will come again soon, though. I’d like to have that published next spring/early summer, but that might be pushing it. Research is an integral part of novel-writing, so I consider that the same task. For marketing, I’ve just begun to step up my efforts. I want to continue gaining exposure for both Leave of Absence and My Life in a Nutshell. My Life in a Nutshell has been recommended by the US Review of Books, and it received a coveted Kirkus star, an honor they reserve for what they call “books of remarkable merit.” I want to figure out how to capitalize on these distinctions. In general, all my goals involve wanting to move forward.

DI - Pretend I am from a publishing house and you are looking for me to take on one of your books. Pitch it to me in 1-2 paragraphs.

TJP - Tens of millions of people worldwide, over 40 million in the US alone, live with various forms of anxiety disorders. Together, the different anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses. Anxiety impacts both the sufferers and those in their lives. In My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, Brian Cunningham is one such sufferer.

Brian’s anxiety is so severe that it has crippled him. He lives an isolated life, but as lonely as he is, he’s terrified to change it. He is forced to face his anxieties head-on when, one day at work as a night custodian in an elementary school, a young child named Abigail Harris invades his space. She, too, is lost and alone, a seven-year-old girl who, until very recently, had never known a home of her own. Together, Brian and Abigail face a very scary world. Can they possibly help each other?  Critics have explored that very question. Among them are Kirkus Reviews who awarded My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel its esteemed Kirkus Star and the US Review of Books who gave the novel its coveted Recommended rating.

DI - Finally, is there anything else you would like your readers to know?

TJP - To my wonderful readers: I want you to know how deeply grateful I am for you. I’m very passionate about issues surrounding mental illness and mental health. I’m a nationally certified counselor, and I’m also a patient. From many perspectives I’ve seen how lack of understanding and empathy hurt people. My stories, while fiction, are realistic. They represent very real human beings living with mental health challenges. Don’t we all experience such challenges, even if they’re not diagnosable as a mental illness? I’ve had so many readers contact me to say how much they’ve been impacted by these stories, how they’ve come to better understand people in their lives. For that, I am so grateful. And even if you simply read my novels because you love character-driven stories, I’m still so very grateful. Thank you for helping me do something I love. 

No comments:

Post a Comment