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.
Posted in Interviews
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It’s fascinating and scary thinking that the center of our bodies can contemplate its own demise. Our brains can study, research, and fear ailments like cancer and Alzheimer’s. And finding a healthy combination of these reactions might be our best chance at avoiding these terrible conditions. Dr. Shantha Kumar’s Functional Nutrients for Brain Health: A Vegetarian Perspective seeks to help readers find that balance.
Dr. Kumar undertakes a noble, yet challenging, task: helping the mind keep pace with a body that continues to live longer and longer. To do this, she applies her knowledge and experience to a full body type of medicine. In other words, the book’s advice goes beyond nutrition and includes commentary on exercise, sleep, and stress. In our current hashtag nutrition culture, where foods are elevated to savior status with little to no explanation, Dr. Kumar’s words become particularly refreshing. Take this passage for instance, “Olive oil is an Omega-9 monounsaturated fat which is a healthy option for the brain, although it is more cholesterol genetic (increasing blood cholesterol) than other unsaturated fats” (12). Rather than just uplift olive oil as a cure-all superfood, she takes the time to explain how some substances that increase brain health can simultaneously put other parts of the body under duress.
Additionally, the book provides a wealth of nutritional information that though aimed at vegetarians can apply to anyone. I particularly liked the section on fruits – which she lists hierarchically to indicate that not all fruits contribute to the same level of brain health. Just as useful was what food to avoid. I’ve heard a lot about why I shouldn’t eat artificial sweeteners or food coloring, but only now do I know it’s because they “increase free radical formation” and can “trigger generalized allergic reactions” (24).
Unfortunately, this fantastic information is buried in technical jargon. It’s not unusual to come across passages like, “the major apolipoprotein constituent of HDL-like particles in the CNS is ApoE which transports cholesterol and other lipids made by astrocytes and microglial cells to neurons” (14). Passages like the one above, as well as charts that occasionally stretch on for multiple pages, can discourage the average reader. In fact, one might think the book is intended for a professional audience were it not for the lack of sources backing up the information. Dr. Kumar is upfront about this approach. But this combination of medical terms and missing sources leaves the book in a weird middle ground: too complicated for average readers; too simple for medical experts.
Yet, discouraged readers should commit to reaching chapter four’s “Menu Planning Criteria and Strategies.” Here Dr. Kumar breaks away from the medical jargon and dives into specific dos and don’ts of brain health. This chapter transitions into recipes – which again prove more useful than the early sections of the book: even this meat loving reviewer admits that the bean salsa sounds delicious. People motivated to improve their brain health can trust they’ve found a worthwhile guide.
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Seventeen-year-old Maddie Hickman’s senior year begins with the good (the reemergence of The One That Got Away), the bad (a cancer diagnosis, not hers, but it might as well be) and the WTF (an anxiety attack that renders her writhing on the floor like an upside down crab).
Adding to her spiraling anxiety is Senior Project, in the form of I’ve Decided To Write A Book about The Other One That Got Away (And Crushed My Heart). Compounding it all is applying to college and keeping up with her friends. The ever-mounting stress eventually rips her tight grip on all that she holds dear.
Her break down leads to an unexpected road trip where she is forced to listen to her wildly beating heart. It is only in the back of a convertible with pop music blasting, that she discovers she must risk everything in order to really live.
Posted in book trailer
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All Roads Home by Lisa Diaz Meyer is a fictional short story collection. Covering several genres, the book is divided into six parts titled The Outposts, The Enduring, The Oddities, The Particulars, The Fragments and The Play Versions. With each section and story being utterly unique, this book really is a mixed bag of offerings. Nowhere is this more obvious than, besides the four sections of short stories all varying greatly in their genre, the collection also consists of a part of poetry and The Play Versions which really are that: five of the stories in the collection written in play format!
The first section of the collection deals with a world that is hard hitting. In the story titled The Safe Room, this links back to the previous short story in its representation of women, cancer, and childbearing. With such stark descriptive passages of the cloning and curing process detailed, this section hits upon the more awkward of subjects that aren’t always spoke about comfortably.
Dealing with religion verse science, this section may be quite an eye-opener, considering its placing at the very start of the collection, but its subject matter does indeed turn the tables making you question just who, if anybody, has such a right at this stage.
The Enduring section starts off with a story which is most certainly that – enduring for its characters. What begins as a heartfelt story of a mother’s struggles quickly turns itself on its head when the story ends. However, nothing physical has changed, her situation remains dire, but she has found peace in her heart and mind and can now approach her situation from a more positive perspective. This story emphasizes Lisa’s ability to change tact and emotion in just a few short pages and sums up the book in its entirety.
All of Lisa’s characters, though only with the reader briefly, are very easy at catching our attention and therefore it’s easy to recognize their plight and see the story from their point of view. That Lisa can create such emotions in her readers through characters that appear fleetingly is a wonderful achievement.
For me, The Enduring was a favorite section. Packed full of emotions, there is one story where the action begins, plays out and ends in a matter of just two short pages! If you’re not too sure whether this selection of stories is for you, I urge you to read The Christmas Break first. Immediately this highlights Lisa’s fluidity in prose as well as her ability to create a fascinating collection of characters, and all within a few short sentences.
With superb powers of observation, a beautiful and haunting writing style on many of the pages, alongside an ability to push topic boundaries (Hitler and Jesus at a dinner party, need I say more!) this is truly a collection you must read for yourself.
If Lisa is this good at creating such an enthralling collection of short stories, I can only imagine what she would be like with a full-length fictional novel!
Pages: 280 | ASIN: B00WVWFL86
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Cross of a Different Kind, written by Anthony Maranise, dives into the relationship between cancer and Christianity. A “field guide” for those affected by cancer, Cross of a Different Kind was created for those who have cancer, those who know someone affected by cancer and for the survivors of cancer. Each person will find solace in this novel, regardless of what part of the journey you are on and feel a connection of both faith and hope through the inspiring words and reflections. It’s a reminder of the light in the darkness and how God can bring spiritual comfort and acceptance in a time of loss, sadness and grief.
Cross of a Different Kind is a novel based on the ideologies of Christianity, written especially for those experiencing cancer themselves. The book is split into different sections with each part addressing the different stages of cancer that someone may be in.
The author, Anthony Maranise, tells of his battle with childhood cancer and the feelings surrounding his family, relationship with God and what it meant to find hope in some of his darkest hours. Maranise words are raw, honest and inspiring, allowing the reader to develop a sense of trust and gratitude for the words he writes. At times I felt as though I was sitting in a room, listening to him tell his story as it opened up the pathway to reflect on our personal experiences with cancer.
With statistics such as 69% of cancer patients praying for their health regularly, it is clear that Cross of a Different Kind is a novel that will connect with many people who have been touched by cancer. There are many Christianity references, but they are used to inspire hope, clarity and acceptance in a time of great trauma and stress. Cross of a Different Kind talks about how the journey of faith has helped the author and many others against the tough battles brought on by cancer.
So many of us know someone or have even experienced cancer ourselves and will find the feelings and reflections in the novel provide a sense of solace and comfort in the times of great stress and alarm. One of my favourite sentiments was that it is important to grieve and mourn the loss of our loved ones (even if we believe we will meet them again). Another idea the author presents is that those experiencing cancer are soldiers in their own way, battling the sadness, anger and trauma brought on by sickness that steals happiness and joy. This idea instills a sense of comradery and connection with the book, allowing the reader to feel acknowledged and understood in regards to their own personal battles with cancer.
Cross of a Different Kind will bring the reader a sense of spiritual comfort, understanding and information for those who are experiencing the journey that comes with cancer. I would recommend this for all Christians who are suffering from the burdens of cancer- whether it is themselves or their loved ones.
Pages: 188 | ISBN: 0692974148
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Birth to the Stilldead tells the story of a young doctor, Tel, and a necromancer, Aarne, who fight off increasingly disturbing supernatural occurrences while working in a cancer ward at a hospital. Why did you choose a hospital for the setting of the story?
I spend lots of time wandering around a particular hospital as a Literacy Program volunteer, so this cavernous and labyrinthine layout is something I’m familiar with. Also, there’s lots of strange rooms and hallways that I’m not allowed access to, which sets my mind wandering with story possibilities.
Aarne is both a mysterious and perplexing character. He listens to the dead and knows what they want. What was your inspiration for building his character?
The idea of being a modern day wizard is very appealing. Having access to forces that aren’t recognized by science and using them to run gung-ho over the world. However, it would be tough to remain a good person with that kind of power. Aarne makes no moral calculations whatsoever and pursues the work for the sake of knowledge and power. In reality, people like that cause tremendous damage, but in fiction they’re endlessly fascinating.
Many of the children that Tel is treating have cancer. I thought you did a great job capturing the emotional turmoil and pain that families go through in these situations. What kind of research did you do for this novel to ensure you captured the essence of what it meant to be diagnosed with cancer?
Thanks. The atmosphere of an Inpatient Pediatrics unit is one I’ve spent some time in. However, not being privy to personal conversations between doctors and patients/parents, I sought out personal stories and training information.
Are you a fan of the supernatural horror genre? What books do you think most influenced your work?
Supernatural horror is my favorite genre. I love the worldview it espouses. Not only is the universe amoral and indifferent at best, but also, laws of physics are merely accidental conveniences and in reality, anything can happen. Thomas Ligotti is a huge influence along these ideological lines, although I don’t try to write like him. His stories are more philosophical fables on the nature of horror rather than plot-driven. Clive Barker’s supernatural horror is one of my earliest and all encompassing influences. He marrys a cinematic scene-style of writing along with deep ideas and poetic descriptions which is exactly how novels are supposed to work.
What is the next book you are working on?
It’s called BirdTorn Tapestry and is about a man adjusting to his new office job, which starts to resemble a mystical initiation into a group he cannot escape from. Another novella, a bit surreal but still a horror story. My goal is to publish a new work every six weeks or so, and I’ve got quite a few lined up, so keep your eyes peeled.
Struggling young doctor Tel Hunniset becomes the interest of rogue necromancer Aarne Soars, who is able to blend seemlessly in with hospital personnel. Together, they save the lives of many children dying of an epidemic, with Tel getting all the credit. As supernatural events increasingly intrude upon Tel’s life, he is forced to confront the terrible cost of his actions upon the dead.
Posted in Interviews
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Eric Johnsen offers a striking, mind-bending novella in Birth to the Stilldead. If the title and cover aren’t clear enough, this is a horror novel with disturbing imagery, and may not be suitable for all readers. It certainly delivers on the promise of supernatural horrors lurking just beyond the veil of life and death.
Doctor Tel Hunniset is tired. He works in the pediatric unit of a hospital, treating children with cancer. It’s grueling, emotional work. His boss, Doctor Klemens, knows from experience that Tel is both exhausted and uninspired by his job, and questions his motivations for becoming a doctor in the first place. After the children in his ward become infected with a pathogen that causes convulsions and death, Tel races to save lives, but narrowly misses disaster. When a hospital volunteer offers his assistance—a decidedly non-medical cure—the children begin to stabilize just as the “volunteer” is discovered to be an imposter and escapes.
The mysterious man introduces himself as Aarne Soars, and with his help, Dr. Hunniset can save the lives of the remaining patients. In the aftermath of the outbreak, Tel is called a hero but the stress he’s under is also affecting his wife, Millary. Someone has vandalized her graveyard-like memorial garden, her mother has cancer, and her husband is either asleep or at work. They both experience events that could only be described as supernatural, accompanied by eerie visions of a bloody-wraith-like woman, lead him back to Aarne. What he learns from the mysterious man forces him to rethink everything, even the nature of reality.
Birth to the Stilldead had me hooked early. Working with children suffering from cancer and other serious medical issues can be heartbreaking. It’s a high-stress place, not only for the kids and their families but also the staff who care for them. Johnsen showed this through the eyes of Tel Hunniset as he watches his colleagues work in the chaos around him while he internalizes his fears. The pediatric ward is beset by worried parents and lawyers. Dr. Klemens seems to be intent on criticizing Dr. Hunniset at every opportunity. It’s easy to keep turning pages because even the moments of normalcy are tinged with building tension.
Aarne is both mysterious and perplexing. He listens to the dead, knows what they want and need; knows their secrets. For the living, there’s a price to pay for taking a life, but what happens in the world of spirits when you save one? Aarne is one of the rare few who can bridge the gap between the living and the dead. His pockets are full of tricks, but without them, Tel wouldn’t have been able to save the lives of so many.
The last few chapters of the book kept me riveted. It’s a fast-paced read, and since it’s a novella, there’s no point in putting it down. I recommend this for fans of supernatural horror. The secrets that Aarne reveals are thought-provoking. They may follow you around for a while, tugging at your subconscious, asking you to listen.
Pages: 58 | ASIN: B01HFS9YJ2
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