Since the first book of the Station series was released, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, even though one of the main themes in the story is about suicide. How did that happen? Well, a year ago I wouldn’t have been able to answer that question, but after writing two more books in the story, plus three novelettes about a handful of other characters, I think it’s possible to answer that question now.
Writing is about fleshing out a story that readers will relate to. And writers don’t always have a choice about what story comes to them. With Dying to Forget, that’s exactly what happened to me. See, the year before starting the book, one of my beloved aunts committed suicide. Some might think that with her troubled past (and several failed attempts to kill herself) that it wouldn’t have been a shock to our family. But it so was. I will never forget the day that one of my other aunt’s called and told me. I stood in my hallway wailing. To be honest, I never thought it would actually happen. Teresa had a laugh that would fill an entire room. She just had a…presence that commanded attention, and our family will forever miss her. I began dreaming about her, and thinking about her often. ‘What would her advice be?’ ‘What would she say about that…?’ And it really did feel like she was the voice inside my head for a while there. It was my way of holding onto her, I suppose.
When Piper Willow was born, it was a combination of my real life experiences, combined with insane things my imagination does while I sleep, that created her story. See, I understand what it’s like to lose someone to suicide. I know what it’s like to be there when they’ve attempted it and failed, and they are locked up in a mental hospital on watch. I know the depression. The pain. The sorrow. I also know what it’s like to be left wondering ‘why’. And the guilt that quickly follows that question.
Writing about suicide isn’t easy, regardless of your writing abilities, style, or experience. But it absolutely must be done. How come, you might ask? Because it happens. Every day. Our youths are at risk, but even in the face of such a constant multi-media way of living, there are still hundreds, thousands of children and young adults (and yes, older adults, too) that are depressed, lost, hurting. So many souls that feel hopeless. I’ve talked to so many beautifully damaged people since writing Dying to Forget, and each has a common denominator – a common thread that bounds them all together: they keep all that pain and depression inside. They hide it. In our culture, it’s taboo to talk about mental illness, depression and yes, suicide. It shouldn’t be, especially because I know for a fact, that many of us have been there. Perhaps this is why some readers relate to Piper Willow; she’s been there and hit bottom, and wants nothing more than to help others from the same fate.
It’s time for us to step-up and pay attention to our kids. Let them know that it’s okay to feel like shit, but that tomorrow might be better. And if not tomorrow, the day after that. The struggle is real, but it’s worth it. Life is worth fighting for. None of us are perfect; Piper Willow isn’t either. She’s meant to be a flawed, damaged, imperfect and confused teen. Because that’s human. In a story full of death and pain, there has to be second chances and hope. That’s what I’d like readers to take away from the Station books. Hope. It’s there for all of us, even those who feel totally alone. In the real world, there’s a Piper Willow, a Ryan Burke, a Mallory, a Kerry-Anne, a Sloan Nash, and a Niles Abbott out there trying to survive. And they all need you. They need me. They need us all.
So, is there a right way to write about suicide? No, I don’t think so. Because suicide isn’t pretty. It’s raw, it’s painful, it’s real, and above all, it’s final. With tact, emotion and compassion, a writer can pull it off. I think it should be talked about more, written about more, so that it’s not so taboo. We can’t pretend this doesn’t happen. Society is not perfect, and our kids aren’t either. But you know what, that’s okay. Perfect is over-rated.
For all those who feel broken, lost and hurting – you aren’t alone, you really aren’t. The sun rose for you this morning. Your second chance is here…now. Take it, and get the support and help you need. Life is waiting for you.