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Where are the Cocoa Puffs?

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."

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