Five Fathoms Beneath follows Ambrose as he must deal with the emotional and untimely death of his father. What was the inspiration for the setup to this intriguing novel?
Without giving away too much personal information, I have experience with both cancer and bipolar disorder. That said, an author who chooses to write about mental illness is taking on a great responsibility–how we depict illnesses in fiction impact how people view those illnesses in reality. That led me to do research, and early in that process, I came across an article about the high incidence rate of suicide in the medical profession. There’s relatively little written on the topic, which isn’t surprising when you consider a mental illness diagnosis can adversely impact a doctor’s career. As someone outside the profession, however, I could write freely about the topic, without anyone assuming I was writing about myself or a colleague. And so I came up with the idea of writing a story about a family of medical doctors who deal across the generations with suicide and mental illness, especially depression.
This book deals with mental illness is a passionate and understanding way. Why was this an important topic for you to explore?
At the beginning of, “The Fault in Our Stars,” in his Author’s Note, John Green writes that it’s a fundamental assumption of our species that made-up stories matter. I think Green is absolutely correct because fiction informs how we view the world, and consequently, as writers, we not only have the power to entertain, but we also have the power to explore deeper themes and potentially change the world in a positive way.
We’re almost two decades into the supposedly “progressive” and “woke” twenty-first century, and mental illness is still being used as a pejorative or as a way to fear monger. And that’s even by people who frankly should know better. The stigma attached to mental illness dissuades people from seeking help. Not seeking help costs lives. And that’s something which impacts us all — whether it’s on the personal level when someone in our family is suffering, or on the societal level when we lose our best and brightest. We all should care about mental health because mental health is something which impacts us all.
My hope is Five Fathoms Beneath causes people to pause, rethink what mental illness looks like, and gets them talking about mental illness and suicide prevention.
Ambrose is a unique character that I liked watching change over time. What were some ideas you wanted to capture while creating his character?
I didn’t intend for Ambrose to speak for everyone with depression because depression exists on a spectrum and besides, everyone’s experience is unique and different. That said, with Ambrose’s character, the reader gets some insight into how a depressed person thinks. For example, when he snaps at his patients, it’s not because he’s an inherently bad person, it’s because he’s overwhelmed, exhausted, and struggling with his mental health. Ambrose also accurately depicts why it is difficult for members of certain professions to get help, and the serious impact and far-reaching effects an illness like depression can have on a person’s marriage, family, and life.
Beyond that, much of the novel deals with Ambrose trying to figure out where he fits in the universe and in the grand scheme of life. Ambrose wants to do good and be a hero, and he struggles with who he is and who he wants to be. In the end, he finds his way of being a hero in a way which plays to his own strengths and in a way which is his uniquely his own.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I’m currently in the process of brainstorming a sort of prequel to Five Fathoms Beneath, based around Ambrose’s father.
If Ambrose Serafeim’s life is not quite perfect, then it’s very good–he lives in picturesque Western Australia, he has a lovely fiancée, and he is well on his way to fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a physician. Brose owes no small part of his station in life to his famous father, Alec, a gentle and idealistic pediatric heart surgeon who lives by a simple moral code–do good and be good. Brose believes in his father and that code the way he believes in absolutes like oxygen or gravity. But when Alec shatters Brose’s perfect world by acting in a way Brose can neither forgive nor understand, Brose is left foundering amidst an existential crisis and clinical depression, unsure not only who he is, but who his father was.
That is until a catastrophic injury in a running race changes everything.
The road from that catastrophic injury leads Brose to the same heart-stopping precipice on which Alec once stood. Facing the possible end of his marriage and having seemingly lost his career, will Brose repeat his father’s terrible mistake, or will Brose blaze a new path forward, one where he finally realizes his potential to help others?
A twist on Loren Eiseley’s famous essay, “The Star Thrower,” Five Fathoms Beneath blends a realistic medical backdrop with a dash of magical realism to tell the heartbreaking yet ultimately life-affirming tale of a man’s quest to find his life’s meaning.
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From the time he was eight, Ambrose Serafeim planned to follow his father’s career path- that of a celebrated surgeon known for his innovations, abilities, and compassion. Years later, Brose is a doctor but resembles little else about his dad. His father’s cancer, then suicide, the latter spurred on by a secret bipolar disorder, left Brose shattered and bitter. He was also left questioning everything he thought he knew about the man he revered so deeply. After reaching rock bottom in his own mental state, Brose is faced with a different kind of intervention that may finally answer his questions and help him face his demons.
Five Fathoms Beneath, J.R. Alcyone tells a heartbreaking story about the Serafeim family, their history of mental illness, and just how devastating that illness can be when left to its own devices. From the start, Alcyone describes the symptoms, stigma, and progression of bipolar disorder and depression with startling realism and even though the bulk of the story is set in the decades between the 1950’s and 1980’s, many of the issues are still relevant today. Because of this, it’s a book that can be hard to read. However, the subject is always treated with a sensitivity that never demeans or trivializes the issue at hand. The book moves smoothly as it depicts the passing of the years, even as the characters’ lives grow more tumultuous. Brose’s father, Alec, kept his diagnosis a secret because of the societal stigma attached to it, while Brose hides his largely out of denial. Although their reasons differ, both suffer greatly. As is the case in life, Alec’s suicide affected everyone in his life in some way and created ripples that only escalated over the years. After all those years, Brose eventually becomes a typical tragic figure, projecting all the outward appearances of success- high profile career, money, big house, etc.- while everything in his life is actually falling apart. True to life yet again, those around him suffer just as much or more. Even though the ending is formulaic, providing a sense of redemption even, the journey there is anything but as Brose’s path to healing begins in an undefinable place. All in all, it’s an intensely well written book that was hard to put down at any point.
By the author’s own admission, this is a book about mental illness. Although that theme is the brain that allows it to exist and function, family is at the heart of the story. As long as the reader knows him, Brose’s decisions, and his battle with his own depression, are framed within the context of his relationships. He is constantly checking himself against his father’s perceived shortcomings while trying to keep the appearance of normalcy for the sake of his family. Those relationships also provide an anchor.
This book was engaging, well paced, had extremely well written characters, and never patronized or hid from its difficult subject matter.
Pages: 389 | ASIN: B07JPGB8RY
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The Ancient Sacred Tree: Birth of a Hero follows a 12-year-old boy who finds himself thrust into a magical land full of danger. What was your inspiration for this thrilling novel?
My inspiration for my story hit me after several episodes of depressive and manic scenarios with my son Joshua back in 2006. I felt helpless, as I watched my youngest child suffering from the throngs of what I learned to be bipolar disorder. He often would daydream and seem lost in his own world and although I researched to find answers, support and help, I couldn’t imagine this world he lived in, full of darkness. It was dreadful. Anyone with this disorder knows that it can cripple a family. I couldn’t fathom this life and so I created a world in which I wanted him to be the hero, one where he could over come any obstacle, to tell his story.
Joshua struggles with being bipolar and his parents divorce. I felt that you handled both with care and realism. Why did you want to cover such sensitive topics in your novel?
As a mother it was heart-wrenching and I learned so much, but still the world seemed to stigmatize the mental disorder my son suffered with and I wanted to change that for my son and others like him. As a teacher, I felt this story, in the hands of kids, could help them relate to a character like Joshua and they could empathize. Kids like Joshua would also enjoy reading that a character like them could overcome obstacles and become a hero, faltering along the way, but always striving to overcome. These are both important in our world with kids in schools, to help end the stigma and normalize these kids in not only their eyes, but others in school as well.
The world Joshua entered is full of magic and wonder that is described superbly. What were some themes you wanted to capture when creating your world?
I actually wanted to describe a fantastic world, full of intrigue and one in which I felt my son would enjoy, he seemed to love imaginary play outside with his action figures. So in the beginning that’s what I wrote, but as I progressed and the characters formed in my mind, and real life also took us on a journey through darkness, it was dreadful. Secondary to the imaginary world, it was essential Joshua Creed faces grave darkness, soul crippling darkness, although not as prevalent in this book, the series will encompass thematic elements of the darkness in anger and the peace at the end of the tunnel.
Will this book be part of a series? Where will book two pick up and when will it be available?
Yes! The book will be a series of three, possibly more books. I’m currently in the editing stage with book 2 and will come out this year, with book three later this year or early 2019.
The book will pick up two years later, where Joshua continues struggling in school and learns a great deal more about the prophecy of his destiny. If you pick up a copy of the first book, there’s a preview of the first chapter at the end. Enjoy!
Joshua Creed receives disturbing news about his parents, but before he is able to process it, he is flung into a world of intrigue and danger where he must fight for his life and the lives of the inhabitants. He discovers he has secret powers, and the mystery of his eye is revealed, but it isn’t easy being bipolar and only nine years of age. His newly found friends and family help him through his adventure but not before he’s forced to change schools.
The action-packed, fun, and exciting adventures of Joshua begin in this first adventure of his destiny.
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