Thursday, February 14, 2013

Evan: Origins/DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS

I'll admit it: my book's got some odd things going on. My main character, James, quotes Walt Whitman to cheer himself up. He hugs trees, literally. And not because he's environmentally minded. He also talks to an imaginary pigeon therapist.
Named Dr. Bird.
Yes, it's not just some cool name for a DJ or a birdwatching forum username. Dr. Bird is a pigeon, in James's head. A pigeon that James knows is just part of his own mind, but one that still provides wisdom and perspective. It's the one aspect of my book that gets the most bird-like reaction from people. (You can already see it, that little "Oh really?" head tilt.)
An imaginary pigeon therapist? Oh really?

You might think the story, the crisis, would be the best allure. But no, a character that talks to a pigeon to deal with anxiety and depression becomes immediately more fascinating.
Writing a novel about a kid suffering suffering from mental health issues was not something I expected to do. But then I struck up a profound friendship with author Matthew Quick (The Silver Linings Playbook, Sorta Like a Rock Star, Boy21, and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock). We lived in the same town and began having coffee once a week. Eventually, we started planning a novel with interwoven narratives. The goal: give readers a great, emotional story that shows how things can be better even when they are awful now. This was a big promise to make, especially since things can be awful for teenagers suffering from mental health issues or environmental issues like abuse; but Matt and I both believe that a book can put a hand out and pull a person through a bad day.
A variety of things prevented Matt and I from getting far beyond the initial first chapters, but I'd been struck by all the possibilities of a character named James who recites Whitman and talks to an imaginary pigeon to help cope.
I became absorbed. I had to write a book that made me laugh, and one that let other people laugh and feel a little bit better about the possibilities of the world. I didn't want to write about a character who was caught in muck on page one and only frees himself from the sludge late in the book. Mainly because I would not enjoy writing a book with such a grim density. I wanted to show the highs and lows of life, how one day we can be joyful and miserable. I wanted to spend time with a character that found things -- Whitman, Dr. Bird, poetry, photography -- that helped him get through a rough time of his life.
When I finished the novel after three months of intense writing, I feared showing it to anyone. I didn't think it was a project I was meant to publish. I didn't even show Matt the manuscript.
Yawp!
Worse, that autumn I fell into an extended depression that affected a my home life and my friendships. Due to poor communication and self-isolation, Matt and I didn't speak for just over a year.
I didn't hang out with my book, either. I let Dr. Bird sit for a year; then I re-read it and found James and Dr. Bird and Jorie were characters that I could share with others. They were sufferers and survivors. They were funny and real. They could reach out and pull someone through one bad day.
I worked hard to get the novel ready and when Sara found the perfect editor for it, I was elated. More importantly, a few months later, Matt and I reconnected and repaired our friendship. We acknowledged the things we'd done poorly and how our mutual acquaintance, depression, exacerbated issues. We acknowledged the importance of communication and of having friends that understand how it can be difficult to be a good friend sometimes.
During our time apart, we both wrote books that sprang from our initial joint project. Dr. Bird will be released in about two weeks. Matt's Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock releases in August. They are different books, but threads still unite them.
And my goal has become clear: tell great, funny, emotional, profound stories that hold out a hand (or wing).

15 comments:

  1. Dr. Bird's Advice For Sad Poets is a fantastic/important book and Evan is a good friend/human being. Read him. You'll be glad you did.

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  2. Having read an advanced copy, I can't recommend this book enough. It's beautifully written, insightful, and yes, it does make you laugh--and laughter, as Rabelais said, will cure not all ills, but is still one of the best remedies out there.

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  3. Oh, this is going straight on my wish list, for more reasons than one. Thank you for such a beautiful, honest post - I can't wait to read it!

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  4. I can't wait to read Dr. Bird!!! Your story on how the book came to be is really inspiring too.

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  5. I am so very excited to read Dr. Bird's Advice! The head-tilting pigeon was a big plus. : )

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    1. I have to give credit to my web designer -- she picked that image out and I've used it for stickers and my business card! too perfect!

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  6. The creative process is rough for so many writers, and the circumstances that birthed DR. BIRD were no exception. Many readers will be grateful you weathered the storm. And many writers will be thankful for your candor!

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  7. thank you everyone! I appreciate the support both as a writer and a human being. I hope DR BIRD finds lots of champions!

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  8. The very best of luck to you with this book. It sounds quite fascinating! You certainly have a unique character in Doctor Bird. I am so glad that you're back on track again. I look forward to hearing great things about where Doctor Bird goes!

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  9. I will own and share DR BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS. If all the reviews I read prove true, your book will improve lives. Thanks for writing it! - a former school counselor

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  10. The book sounds fabulous, and the story behind it was also interesting. Thank you for acknowledging that joy and misery can exist in the same day. It happens a lot.

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  11. Yeah Evan Roskos! Dr. Bird will have many champions-writing about depression is difficult. I'm deep in the trenches writing a YA about a 16 yr. old girl who fights depression as it 'runs in the family'. But the story is SO SAD. You offer hope with Dr. Bird-characters can be quirky, funny, offer layers that help one survive 'the crazies.' I can't wait to get my hands on your book-want to send me an ARC?;) Congrats to you & glad you found Matt again. Kate

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  12. Evan,
    I can't wait to read the book and appreciate your origin story. I've been studying it as I put together my own.
    --Katie (another client of Sara's)

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