The book I’m working on now is different from anything I’ve written before. I’m taking a break from my Nan Vining series and writing a semi-autobiographical standalone novel about life with my mentally ill mom. In 1967, when I was on the cusp of my teens, my mother suffered what was then called a nervous breakdown. She was diagnosed as paranoid/schizophrenic and committed to a mental hospital for a long stay. Under today’s more sophisticated knowledge of mental illness, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or perhaps schizoaffective disorder would be more accurate.
In the years following my mother’s breakdown, Mom managed to pull herself together, embark upon a business career, and make a satisfying life for herself. Yet life for Mom and with Mom was never easy. Not many of my friends or even Mom’s sisters and brothers knew what had gone on in our home during the late 1960s. I kept Mom’s secrets, remaining silent while Mom presented her beautiful, stylish, and charming side to the world. I was protecting myself too because Mom’s dark side also projected onto me. The photo above shows Mom and me at a party for her birthday in 1984.
While I’ve never devoted an entire book to my life with Mom, readers of my works might have noticed that most of my books include a female character, often my protagonist’s mom but not always, who’s attractive, charming, and off-kilter. The closest I came to gathering the courage to write about my mom’s breakdown and its aftermath was in Fast Friends, the third of my Iris Thorne mysteries, originally published in 1997. The mentally ill woman in that book was the mother of Iris’ childhood friend. That mom, whom I named Dolores, which means “sorrowful,” wreaked havoc on her daughter’s life from childhood through adulthood.
Over the past several years, a series of events coalesced to send me on my new literary journey. When my mother passed away in 2013, my curiosity about my life with her increased. After considering writing a memoir, I decided fiction was the best way to tell the story with all its truths and lies about my life with Mom.
I wrote about my path to that decision in an article for Career Authors.
I knew that writing this book would be emotional but I’m surprised about how challenging I’m finding it. Right now, I’m revising a long and messy first draft. Jokingly, I’ve given the manuscript the title: Dianne’s Too Long Book. I may post more along the way about this journey. If you follow this blog, you know that I’m terrible at updating it. Please stay tuned. More to come.
Thank you for your support of my writing.