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Tori Starling talks about her debut, CRAZY FREE, traversing three generations of women, postpartum depression, anxiety; plus a defunct mental health institution, how we need more resources, the healing power of energy medicine, more

By Leslie Lindsay

What if the story you had always been led to believe about your family was shaken with a new, devastating truth?


Spotlight: Motherhood & Mental Health

What if the story you had always been led to believe about your family was shaken with a new, devastating truth?

That’s the overarching question in CRAZY FREE (Juniper Ray Publishing, April 20th), a debut by Tori Starling. I was immediately entranced with this stunning cover, but what’s more: CRAZY FREE focuses on issues that are near and dear to my heart: motherhood and mental illness.

Emily Sharp has always known there were holes in her family history. Her mother, Pam, a high-strung attorney, rarely speaks of her father she despises and her mother died when she was a baby. Emily is a journalist with an assignment from Southern Speaks, a local magazine, to investigate a defunct mental institution known as Hamilton Meadow. While there, Emily discovers more about the institution and Pam reluctantly opens up about her sordid family history, revealing that her mother, Kora (Emily’s grandmother) was a committed patient there so many years ago (1960) when she suffered from the very common (and treatable) postpartum depression.

But there’s more, too. A dark, harrowing truth surfaces as Emily digs deeper into the tarnished surface of Hamilton Meadow.

CRAZY FREE is written from the POVs of three women, each with their own compelling story, each tapping into some realm of mental health. There are lovely, warm touches of Southern life, told in an accessible and engaging prose. Here, we discover Emily, Pam, and Kora’s passions, dreams, and losses, and also: a bit of romance, too.

I was struck by the way society has shunned women who struggle with mental health–there were several gasp-aloud moments and yet the end comes to a satisfying close.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Tori Starling to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Tori! Hello and welcome. I know CRAZY FREE has been a labor of love for you—a topic that has haunted you for many years. Can you talk a little about your inspirations, please?

Tori Starling:

Thanks so much, Leslie. Yes, this book has been a labor of love that has been brewing in me since I was a little girl. As I child, I loved to read and write, and I always dreamed of writing a book. When I was about twelve, I found an All About Me book my grandmother had filled out. I remember reading it and being mesmerized at how resilient she was, despite the trials she had been through. She passed when I was in high school and her story never left me. I graduated with a degree in journalism and still kept the dream of writing a book in the back of my mind.

I am now in my mid-forties and it took me ten years to complete this book. I wrote the first draft when my youngest son was a baby, but I wasn’t fully satisfied with it. I put it away and three years later, I wrote another partial draft and submitted it to a writing coach. She advised me to pick one event from the past perspective and create a story around that. My grandmother had anxiety and possible depression issues, so I decided to dig a little more into this topic. Once I started researching, I knew I had found my story! With all of that said, the plot took on a life of its own and has almost no correlations to my grandmother’s life. I was, however, able to sprinkle in a few minor real-life details.

Photo credit: T. Starling and used with permission.

Leslie Lindsay:

I am so intrigued with your research. For example, Hamilton Meadow, the psychiatric institution you fictionalized, is a real place. I love the photos you’ve taken—in fact, it reminds me much of the Traverse City State Mental Hospital, now defunct. What can you tell us about your discoveries?

Tori Starling:

Although most of my research was garnered from Central State Hospital in Georgia, by 1955, over 550,000 people resided in state-run institutions. I was always particularly interested in this mental hospital because my great aunt was committed there as a young woman. Each institution had its own challenges, but for the most part, the gist of the stories was the same: stunning architecture, lack of money, overcrowding, investigative reports on poor conditions, and bodies placed in nameless graves. While researching, I read everything I could find on this topic, interviewed a nurse who worked there, and visited the abandoned campus. Pictures and a few eerie stories from my trip can be found on my website.

Photo credit: T. Starling and used with permission

Leslie Lindsay:

It saddens me, too, about the horrific treatment of women who experienced postpartum depression in the past. CRAZY FREE is set several time periods–1960 and ‘present day.’ We’ve come a long way, but more awareness really needs to come to the surface. Postpartum depression is very common—and very treatable. What more can you tell us about it?

Tori Starling:

In the fifties and sixties, there was a lot of pressure on a woman to be the perfect wife, mother, and homemaker. There are many stories about women who suffered not only from postpartum, but also from depression and anxiety. In the past, if you had some type of emotional imbalance that wasn’t improving, it was acceptable for your family to commit you to a public or private institution. Typically, it became a taboo topic that wasn’t discussed and these people were often an embarrassment to their family. We now know that postpartum depression is a fairly common mood disorder that sometimes occurs in women following childbirth. Main symptoms include sadness, worry, and exhaustion. Fortunately, there are now many treatment options available in the conventional and natural healthcare realms.

Leslie Lindsay:

I love how Rose, the nurse in CRAZY FREE gives Kora a notebook to write as a form of therapy. Not only that, but Kora works for the asylum’s newspaper, where she is able to put her skill set to use—benefitting others. This warms my heart in so many ways. First, can you talk about the healing power of writing, but also—it’s interesting that Emily becomes a journalist. It’s not just mental illness that is ‘passed down,’ but perhaps the ‘writing gene’ as well.

Tori Starling:

I am studying to be a holistic health practitioner and I believe negative emotions can impact not only the mind, but also the physical body. There are many ways to purge negative emotions and writing is one of them. The secret, however, is to write with the intention of feeling the emotion, releasing it onto the paper, and leaving it there. Many of the past mental institutions had patient-run newspapers, which began as a form of occupational therapy. They learned that people who busied their hands and minds recovered quicker. It was initially called print therapy and was first introduced to veterans during World War I.

Yes, I definitely think the writing gene can be passed down from our ancestors. I don’t believe DNA is limited to just inherited, physical traits like height, eye color, and disease. In many ways we are a product of our past generations, even though most people aren’t aware of it. These things can impact us both positively and negatively. There are energy medicine modalities that allow people to purge generational trauma. It’s fascinating to consider as a possibility.

Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Tori, this has all been so great. I fear there’s probably something more I should ask, but may have forgotten. Or perhaps a question you’d like to ask me?

Tori Starling:

These have been great questions! I think your favorite parts of the book were also mine. We know mental illness is a spectrum and affects people both mildly and severely. A treatment plan that works for one, often doesn’t work for another. I think we must start thinking outside the box and consider all options while of course, leading with love and compassion. I’d like to share a few energy medicine protocols that are my favorites and things I personally have experience with: Emotion Code, Eden Energy, Emotional freedom technique (also known as tapping), acupuncture, reiki, positive affirmations, diet adjustments, essential oils, prayer, Bach flowers, homeopathic remedies, breathwork, journaling, and meditation.

My question for you is, what is the status of your memoir? I loved Speaking of Apraxia and can’t wait to read your memoir. It must be so therapeutic, freeing, and perhaps a little frightening to put your life down on paper and share it with the world.

Leslie Lindsay:

Exactly! It’s all of those things, but one misnomer is the ‘therapeutic’ description. It might actually be more traumatic to dig into those buried feelings and events. No one wants to go there. Plus, stories-at least those intended for public consumption–shouldn’t be an emotional dump; they should feel universal and show growth (of the character). In this case: the character is also the author; it’s tricky, to say the least. There’s plenty of writing and revising. You want to get things down while they’re still ‘fresh and raw,’ but have the introspection–and emotional distance–to go back in and polish. At this point, I am less frightened about putting something like this into the world. It was a horrific event that happened, yes. It’s raw and vulnerable at times, but it’s my way of helping others who may also be walking a similar path. It’s my hope that it will bring understanding, sympathy, and begin decreasing stigma.

As far as ‘status’ goes, it is currently on-submission with Catalyst Literary Management. We are seeking a publisher.

Photo credit: L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay.com

For more information, to connect with the Tori Starling, or to purchase a copy of CRAZY FREE, please visit:



As I read, I was reminded, in part, of several other books, specifically, WHERE MADNESS LIES (Syliva True) meets WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND (Ellen Marie Wiseman) with a touch of the PBS show, FINDING YOUR ROOTS and also, the work of Simone St. James in terms of researching old places (particularly THE BROKEN GIRLS). You may also want to check out this piece, which provides suggestions for reading more about mental health/illness and motherhood.


Always a lover of books, Tori Starling holds a bachelor of arts in journalism, and writing a novel of her own was a lifelong dream. She enjoys reading and writing about strong women who have lost their way due to challenges that we all face. Her debut novel CRAZY FREE is a women’s fiction family saga with a touch of hope and southern grace. In addition to writing fiction, she is also the creator of the blog Jake’s Journey with Apraxia, which ran with the help of contributing writers from 2012 to 2016. Tori is married with three sons and two gorgeous fur babies. In her spare time, she likes to read, journal, walk for pleasure, run for stress, chat with girlfriends, watch her boys play sports, and spend time outside with her husband. She is currently studying to be a holistic health practitioner.


Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.


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