Jun 14, 2012 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Marietta author Karen Winters Schwartz was at Creekside Books and Coffee in Skaneateles Sunday to discuss her second published novel, “Reis’s Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia.” She took time to answer a few of our questions.
What was the inspiration for “Reis’s Pieces”?
“At the time I first began to write, I knew nothing about these illnesses. Although I’m currently working on my fifth manuscript (I have completed four manuscripts, two of which have been published so far), a lot of people don’t know that Reis’s Pieces is my very first novel — the first manuscript I ever put down on paper — and I wrote this novel perhaps as long as fifteen years ago. ‘Reis’s Pieces’ was inspired by a dream. Somewhere in the middle of my mid-life crisis, when my two daughters were just adorable little girls, I woke up from this really intense dream. In this dream there was this guy who was acting totally irrationally, but the female counterpart of this dream was inexplicably attracted to him. I woke up moved not so much by the story of the dream but by the passion that this dream elicited—that this woman could feel so strongly about someone who was clearly not quite right. And for some reason, I was moved to write that passion into a novel. So I started researching mental illness.
… And that first draft was okay. There was some really good writing here and there, and I’d fallen hopelessly, madly in love with Reis. Like Kelly in the book, I loved him in spite, and because, of his mental illness.
Then devastated by a handful of rejections from publishers and agents, I stopped writing. And went on with my life.
And you know, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain the mystery of being initially drawn to this topic that has now, fifteen years later, become such an important part of my life — why I dreamt that dream. But it was ten years later — ten years after the dream — ten year after I’d written that novel — that mental illness hit my family with what felt like a small bomb. Suddenly, in a very short period of time, it seemed like half my immediate and extended family members were struggling with mental illness.
And it was then, ten years later, after being so affected by the struggles that my family faced and how it was so much harder because of those early fears, biases, and misconceptions I held about these illnesses—that I wanted to try to get other people to understand. I wanted to help those who were going through what we had gone through. And I chose to do that through literature.
So I sat down and wrote the novel: ‘Where Are the Cocoa Puffs?’ my first published novel which, deals with bipolar disorder, and is, at its core, what we went through as a family. Because now I was able to write that story with heart, with a voice and an understanding that just is not possible unless you’ve lived through the effects of a loved one’s illness. It was after Where Are the Cocoa Puffs?’ was published and I became even more involved in advocacy and [the National Alliance on Mental Illness], that I went back, dusted off that manuscript that was literally collecting dust in the back of my closet and started a thorough rewrite, re-title, and new appreciation of my very first completed novel — ‘Reis’s Pieces.’”
Briefly summarize what happens in “Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia.”
“The novel weaves together two stories of our protagonist, Reis Welling: his life before schizophrenia and his life five years later as he struggles to recover and reenter society. There are two love interests — two separate love stories. One story examines how mental illness can tear a life and a love apart. The other examines how one can rebuild a life which has been devastated by mental illness and learn to love again.”
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
“I hope readers who know very little about mental illness will take away empathy and knowledge. I hope those people who understand what it’s like to live through the effects of mental illness, either as a family member or those dealing directly with these illnesses, will be comforted by the fact that they are not alone, that their feels of anger and despair are normal, and that there is hope; recovery is possible.
… I believe fiction has a role to play in this education. It brings humanity to those people who are dealing with these conditions. It deemphasizes the labels, humanizes, and puts a face on recovery. It’s also a tool to give to those people who just don’t get what it’s like to live through the far-reaching effects of these illnesses.”
You’ve been busy since the release of your first published novel, advocating for mental illness education and writing a second book. Where do you find time to sleep?
“And don’t forget that I own and run my own private optometry practice, and that I am a current board member of NAMI Syracuse, that I am currently at the tail end of writing my fifth novel, that I have traveled all over the country since ‘Where Are the Cocoa Puffs?’ was released in September of 2010 presenting at various NAMI conventions, dinners, college classes, bookstores and libraries. Not to mention my two dogs, three cats, one horse, numerous poison dart frogs, two big goldfish, and two tortoises that I must take care of! So the answer to your question is that I don’t sleep! No, seriously, I love what I’m doing. At times it’s a little overwhelming, but the rewards I receive — when I have people come up to me or write to me and tell me that my words or my books have made their life a little easier — well… it makes it all worthwhile and helps me sleep like a baby!”
Winters Schwartz will be a guest speaker for NAMI Madison County at 6 p.m. June 19 at the Oneida Public Library. Then she’ll travel to Seattle for a book signing at the NAMI National conference on June 28.