Dec 14, 2010 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Is it fiction? And what’s up with the title?
These are the questions people ask Marietta resident Karen Winters Schwartz most often when they learn she’s written a book. Winters Schwartz did her best to answer both at a book reading and signing Dec. 2 at Creekside Books in Skaneateles – her first bookstore event as a published author.
And yes, it’s fiction.
“I wrote ‘Where Are the Cocoa Puffs?’ as a novel – fiction – not only to protect myself from family wrath, because it is at the core of my story, but primarily so I could tell this story from everybody’s point of view,” Winters Schwartz told the standing-room-only crowd gathered at Creekside.
In “Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? A Family Journey Through Bipolar Disorder,” two parents learn that their 18-year-old daughter Amanda is more than just a moody teenager when the father, a psychiatrist, diagnoses her with bipolar disorder.
Winters Schwartz, an optometrist by profession, tried her hand at writing about mental illness 10 years ago using research alone, and without much success. She claims she knew nothing about mental illness at the time.
“But when mental illness assaulted my world in a very personal way, I was moved to write again,” Winters Schwartz said. “But this time I wrote with a voice and an honesty that you really can’t get without going through the effects of having a loved one with mental illness.”
When their own daughter’s behavior turned beyond normal teenage angst, Winters Schwartz and her husband, Paul, struggled. They needed community and family support, but Winters Schwartz realized it just wasn’t there.
“What got to me the most was the very real, or perceived, lack of support from my friends and my family,” she said. “There was no one.”
She was often met with either anger toward her child, or well meaning wordings of “you and Paul are so nice, you’re such good people – you don’t deserve this.”
She realized that those sentiments were at the core of the stigma surrounding mental illness, which according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness affects one in five people in the U.S. “It insinuates that there are people that aren’t nice, that aren’t good, that deserve such a thing,” she said.
Winters Schwartz stresses that empathy, not sympathy, is the key to breaking through the stigma, which “slows the vital process of moving out of despair and into acceptance.” This is why her novel is told from the point of view of all the major characters.
So what about the title? Winters Schwartz concluded her talk by reaching into a box of Cocoa Puffs and spelling out the metaphor once and for all.
“Think of these little chocolaty nuggets as little balls of empathy, and compassion, and comfort,” she said. “The answer to the question of ‘Where Are the Cocoa Puffs?’ lies within us, and all of you, with organizations such as NAMI, with getting the word out there, with opening up the closet, with talking and advocating and breaking down the 100 years of false evidence, and not being afraid to do so.”
“Where Are the Cocoa Puffs?” has received positive reviews from the professional community, including Alan Gettis, Ph.D., author of the award-winning “The Happiness Solution: Finding Joy & Meaning in an Upside Down World.”
“Welcome to the world of mental illness,” Gettis wrote. “This emotionally raw novel pulls you into the belly of the beast – in this case, into the chaos of the Benson family, where survival and sanity hang by a thread. There is no escape; it feels like you are part of the family. Ultimately, this is a love story. It’s about the love that binds a family together in the midst of dealing with everything that threatens to pull them apart. Very highly recommended!”
Schwartz is an active board member of the Syracuse affiliate of NAMI, and encourages others looking for support to become involved. For more information on NAMI, go to namisyracuse.org.
Support can also be found in the pages of “Where Are the Cocoa Puffs?,” which is on sale now at Creekside Books, Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble. Winters Schwartz will be at Downtown Books & Coffee in Auburn from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday Dec. 18 to sign copies of her book.
Visit the author online at karenwintersschwartz.com.