Tag Archives: psychiatry

Wednesdays with Writers: Fiona Davis on several of my favorite topics–psychiatry, journalism, architecture & design; oh and The Dakota, NYC, and her stunning new historical novel, THE ADDRESS and how she was once a very horse-crazy girl

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Fiona Davis’s brilliant new book, THE ADDRESS, takes readers on a journey to historical NYC and into the famed Dakota Apartment building. 

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With 2016’s debut of THE DOLLHOUSE, Fiona Davis made one of the most stunning entrances as an author who knows her way around historical fiction. I was mesmerized and couldn’t wait to get my hands on THE ADDRESS. Rest assured, this is no sophomore slump; I adored it.

The Dakota. You may know it as the apartment building where ROSEMARY’S BABY was filmed, or perhaps where John Lennon died, or maybe you just think of it as a Bavarian monstrosity on the Upper West End where may playwrights, actors, writers, musicians live.

THE ADDRESS is constructed in dual-time periods, 1884 and 1985 respectively, which draws a natural suspense. The writing is evocative, historically rich, and mysterious.Beginning in London, we meet Sara Smythe, a housekeeper at the Langham and follow her on a journey across the Atlantic where she lands in the outskirts of a developing NYC. 250px-Dakota_Building

Sara is to be the new managerette of the soon-to-be opened The Dakota. She’s aghast at the primitive location–farmland and empty lots, unpaved streets. Still, she’s alone and unwilling to run home. I found Sara to be extremely likable, sympathetic, relatable, and quite strong. She’s not your typical kowtowing woman of the Victorian Era.

One hundred years later, in 1985 NYC, Bailey Camden is an interior designer charged with renovating The Dakota. But she’s not impressed with the design ideas which would trump the original design aesthetics of the historic building.

Oh but there’s more–and to say too much would be giving it all away–let’s just say there’s love and loss, success and ruin, mystery, poor decisions, passion and madness that drive the plotI absolutely loved the clear sense of place in THE ADDRESS, the vivid details and found it to be a very engaging piece of historical fiction.

Slide over on that silk settee and join me in conversation with Fiona Davis.

Leslie Lindsay: Fiona, it’s a pleasure to welcome you back to the blog couch. I was so taken with THE ADDRESS mainly because it combines several of my passions: architecture, interior design, and madness. I know THE ADDRESS was inspired, in part by your work on THE DOLLHOUSE, but what more can you tell us about the origins of this tale?

Fiona Davis: I am so glad you enjoyed it! I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for twenty-five years, and had walked by the Dakota hundreds of times, staring up at those enormous windows, wondering what it was like to live there. I realized that setting a book there would give me the perfect excuse to get inside (and was eventually able to do that, through roundabout connections to a couple of very generous tenants). As I dug deeper into its history, I knew it was the perfect choice for a dual-narrative historical fiction novel. The building had undergone many changes since it opened in 1884 on the edge of Central Park, back when the neighborhood was described by one newspaper as full of “rocks, swamps, goats, and shanties.” By the 1980s, a couple of tenants had torn down the period details from their apartments and replaced them with shag carpets and wall-to-ceiling mirrors. It was the perfect way to compare and contrast two “gilded ages,” as well as the way women’s roles and voices have changed over a century.

L.L.: So I have to know: which characters were ‘real’ and which were from your imagination? I am guessing Sara Smythe was a composite character…but what about Theodore Camden? Henry Hardenbergh? Oh, and Nellie Brown had to have been Nellie Bly?

Fiona Davis: Sara Smythe and Theodore Camden are fictional characters. I knew I wanted to have an architect in the 1880s time line, so that he and Sara Smythe could team up to get the building ready for opening day. Henry Hardenbergh was the actual architect for the Dakota (and the Plaza Hotel and a number of other fabulous buildings), so I didn’t mind having him make a cameo, but I didn’t want to try to fit his life into my story. That’s where Theo came in – he’s in charge of the interiors for the building and I could make him do my bidding without any constraints.

Nellie Bly, a journalist for the New York World during the 1880s, actually went by the name Nellie Brown when she went undercover to expose the injustices at Blackwell’s Island Asylum. She’s the real deal in the book.

L.L.: In my former career, I was a child/adolescent psych R.N. To say I am fascinated in psychiatry—especially historical psychiatry—is a bit of an understatement. I couldn’t get over the harsh conditions you depicted on Blackwell Island in the book. In fact, I’ve been searching for Nellie Bly’s TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE for years! (I want it in hardback; it’s a challenging find).  Can you tell us a little about how that piece of the story came to be? What research did you do?

Fiona Davis: I had heard about Nellie Bly when I was studying for a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia, and I naturally gravitated to her first-hand account of life in an 1880’s women’s insane asylum during my initial research. After reading TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE, I took the tram over to what’s now called Roosevelt Island to visit the remaining structure, the Octagon, which today serves as the lobby to a condo. In my book, I hope the harrowing backdrop of the asylum makes an interesting counterpoint to luxuriousness of the Dakota.

L.L.: As with THE ADDRESS and THE DOLLHOUSE, where there any iconic sites you ‘visited’ in your research (or in the book) that will appear in a forthcoming book?

Fiona Davis: In addition to checking out the Octagon on Roosevelt Island, I modeled the library for the ball scene after the one at the Morgan Library & Museum, and used the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street as inspiration for Daisy’s family’s
apartment. Strawberry Fields, just across the street from the Dakota, is an important location in the book as well. The next book will be set at Grand Central Terminal – one of New York City’s most famous iconic buildings – and I’m having a blast working on it.

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
“A delicious tale of love, lies and madness.”
— People

L.L.: What do you find most rewarding about writing historical fiction? What are 2960-Central_Park-Strawberry_Fieldssome of the challenges?

Fiona Davis: I love the research phase, when anything is possible and the ideas are bubbling away. The challenge comes when you have to narrow down the plot and characters and come up with a story that accurately represents the time periods but also keeps the reader guessing. Another reward is hearing from readers. I’ve been doing a lot of author talks in bookstores and libraries and the response has been incredibly warm and enthusiastic.

L.L.: Childhood plays a prominent role in THE ADDRESS. What item(s) from your own childhood do you still, even occasionally, pine for? (an article of clothing, toy, book, something else?)

Fiona Davis: Back when I was around eight years old, I took a book out of my local library about a girl who’s horse crazy, and finally gets to ride a horse for an entire summer before realizing that taking care of it is a lot of hard work. It was my favorite book – I was horse crazy but deeply moved by the character’s insights and transformation – and I must’ve checked out the book dozens of times to re-read. But I can’t for the life of me remember the name. If anyone has read that book and remembers the title, please reach out to me! It was something like “Ride ‘Em, Sally.” But not that. I know, ridiculous, right?

L.L.: Fiona, it’s been a pleasure.  What might have I forgotten to ask about?

Fiona Davis: Not a thing – I loved these questions – thank you so much!

For more information, to connect with Fiona Davis via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE ADDRESS, please see:

FionaDavis_Credit KristenJensen.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fiona Davis was born in Canada and raised in New Jersey, Utah, and Texas. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off Broadway, and in regional theater. After ten years, she changed careers and began working as an editor and writer. Her historical fiction debut, The Dollhouse, was published in 2016. She’s a graduate of the College of William & Mary and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is based in New York City. You can find her at www.FionaDavis.net.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these on-line hangouts:

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[Author and cover image courtesy of Dutton and used with permission. Image of The Dakota retrieved from Wikipedia, historical images of Nellie Bly (a.k.a. Elizabeth Cochran Seaman) and Henry Hardenberg from Wikipedia, as is octagon images of Roosevelt/Blackwell’s Island and Strawberry Fields memorial. Fall book wreath from L. Lindsay’s archives.] 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Natasha Tracy talks about the delicate diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, the difference between book-ready and blog-ready, how writing is like slogging through swamps, and not sugar-coating mental illness.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Understanding what it’s really like to live with bipolar disorder (BD) is impossible to share with someone who doesn’t have experience with serious mental illness. Natasha Tracy, a writer living with bipolar takes you under her wing and walks you through the labyrinth of questions and quandaries as if she were your cool, more experienced older sister. She gets it; she’s lived it for the last 18 years.

And we all need to care.

At some point in our lives, we will know someone with a major mental illness. It might be invisible to the naked eye; you may never see the affects, but it might still be there, lurking under the surface and it may very well be your friend, your neighbor, your spouse, your coworker. And in my case: my mother.

I was just ten years old when she had her first major manic episode. It was about the time when The Bangles song, “Just Another Manic Monday” was playing on the radio. We had a cute house in the suburbs, a so-called ‘normal’ life until one day…it wasn’t. My mom was in the throes of her first manic break and as a child, it was scary. She struggled with bipolar disorder for many years until she finally took her life about eighteen months ago.

All along, I was fascinated with psychiatry and became a child/adolescent psych R.N. My interest hasn’t ended just because I decided to pursue another dream, but instead has continued to be a strong part of my life; it’s pretty hard to sever a connection that strong.

Natasha’s writing style is accessible, easy to follow; she’s honest and maybe not always politically correct, but that’s okay; she talks about that, too. But mostly, the book is expertly researched, laid out, and was…dare I say, a joy to read. While that sounds a little over-enthusiastic, I think you get what I’m saying; there’s no gobblety-gook.

Join me as we welcome Natasha Tracy to the blog couch. She calls herself, “a professional crazy person.” She doesn’t mean to be insensitive or glib, but authentic, engaging, honest. She tells you how it is to live with bipolar and depression, she answers your most pressing questions about these serious mental illnesses, things like: How do I know if I’m hypomanic or just feeling better? What is hypersexuality all about? What should someone say (0r not) to someone with a serious disorder? What’s it *really* like in a psych ward? It’s all there and so, so much more.final_fullcover_Tweaked4a.jpg

Leslie Lindsay: Natasha, thank you so very much for being here. I am just in awe with LOST MARBLES. You spell things out so clearly, so effortlessly. Though I am sure it wasn’t exactly easy. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for writing this book and a bit about the process?

Natasha Tracy:Hi Leslie, thank you for inviting me onto your couch.Thirteen years ago I started writing about my own mental illness and after a year, a writer friend of mine told me that my work was saving lives. Quite frankly, I didn’t believe him. But then I got a comment from someone saying just that – my work had saved her life. It was beyond incredible to me that someone would look at work that way. Eventually, I realized people really were helped by my work and I knew a book was in me.

When it came to actually writing it, it was a matter of picking the best of what I had already written, the most powerful things for readers, and filling in the gaps where they existed. And then it was about rewriting almost everything to get it “book-ready.” Book-ready is a much higher standard than “blog-ready.” images-4

L.L.:  But you’re not a doctor. Or therapist. You’re a writer living with bipolar disorder. Can you talk a bit about the research you did for LOST MARBLES? About how much time did it take you to write it?

Natasha Tracy: You could say that LOST MARBLES took me six years or it took me six months, it sort of depends on how you look at it. Certainly, the content came about over a six-year time span but putting it together took an extremely concerted six months.

As for the research, for the technical parts of the book it was intense. I needed to get it absolutely right. I needed to help people with mental illness decide on treatment in the right way. Luckily, one of my early readers was Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist who pointed me in the right direction and suggested some research tidbits that I didn’t know about.

Although the technical research felt like slogging through a swamp at the time, now that it’s done I’m happy to have answered the question, “What medication should I take?” for many people.

L.L.: You talk about mental illness with such candor; I find it very refreshing. I feel like you are helping break that stigma of mental illness. Can you talk to that, please?

Natasha Tracy: One of my strengths, I feel, is to write about mental illness in a way that is real, honest, gritty and not sugar-coated. I say the things that people with mental illness think but don’t have the words to express. This is why people identify with my work so strongly.

I don’t believe in the concept of “stigma” per se. What I believe in fighting is prejudice and the inevitable discrimination that follows it. I believe that by making people with mental illness three-dimensional people with real emotions and real struggles, we actually start to sound just like everyone else – just amplified. And prejudice is always fueled by fear, usually fear of the unknown, so my job is to make it known.

L.L.: What advice would you give a person who has just been diagnosed with BD? How can they make sense of the diagnosis, what coping skills might help?download (31).jpg

Natasha Tracy: When you’re diagnosed with a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder it feels like the end of the world. It feels like there is no tomorrow. It feels like everything you were is gone. This is normal and natural. There are ways to work through this, though.

First off, it’s important to know that world is not ending, there will be a tomorrow and there is an innate you that will not disappear. That said, the world, the tomorrows and even you, will change in response to the illness. Again, this is normal and natural. Most people never get back to a pre-bipolar state.

But this natural. No one’s life moves backwards. Things change but this is not a negative, this is just a challenge. Every person on the planet changes every day, it just happens that bipolar disorder is a wallop of a change all at once.

There are many things a newly-diagnosed person can do. Firstly, it’s important to get the best bipolar specialist psychiatrist and therapist one can find and create a treatment plan that makes sense for the individual. Then the treatment plan must be followed. It’s also important to lean on loved ones during this time as they will connect a person to who he or she really is.

L.L.: ….And medication. Oh, I feel as I’m opening a can of worms, but how can one reconcile the high cost of medication(s); are there options/resources for lowering the cost?

Natasha Tracy: It’s an unfortunate truth that for many in the United States the cost of medication is very high. That said, the drugs, while laden with issues like side effects, save lives every day. Many people would have taken their lives without these medications. Yes, there is no doubt that they are expensive and have other associated issues, but when it comes down to life or death, a functional life or a life spent in psychosis, there is no doubt that they are still worth it.download (32).jpg

(I will say, however, that this is not such an issue in Canada where prices for drugs are regulated. This is what people in the United States should push for as well.)

L.L.: What’s the best thing a loved one/friend can do to help someone newly diagnosed?

Natasha Tracy: Learn, learn, learn. [LOST MARBLES] will tell people a lot of what it is like to live with a mental illness but it certainly should not be the entirety of the education one seeks. Books and websites, especially those written by healthcare professionals or subject matter experts who have bipolar disorder can also be invaluable. In addition to my site, 513rbp298vl-_sx334_bo1204203200_which holds many more of my writings, I also recommend psycheducation.org, which is written by Jim Phelps MD and Medscape.com for medical facts, also written by doctors for doctors. In terms of books, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder by Julie Fast (who has bipolar disorder) and John D. Preston PsyD is great.

I always tell people you can’t fight an enemy that you don’t understand and this is as true for loved ones as it is for people with the illness.

L.L.: What’s captured your interest lately? It doesn’t have to be bipolar or literary, but if so, by all means…

Natasha Tracy: I love to cook and bake. Now that my book is published I have time for it again. I love meals you can make on a weeknight – short and to the point – like those by Judith Jones but I also love long and impossible recipes such as those by the great French chef Thomas Keller. I also love the challenge of doing things like making my own croissants (which can take days, seriously).download-30

L.L.: What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Natasha Tracy: Perhaps, what it’s like to manage bipolar while writing, editing and publishing a book?

In my case this was a huge challenge and I will honestly admit that it got the better of my bipolar. The whole process, perhaps because it was so short and intense, sent me into the worst mixed mood episode of my life. In short, the cost of this book was very, very high for me but I still consider it something worth doing (and something I’m planning on doing again). That said, net time I will take better care of my health and this is what I encourage everyone to do. We all face stressors, of our own making or otherwise, but without our health, we can’t face anything.

I am pleased to say, though, that with the help of my psychiatrist and medication changes, I was able to pull out of that episode and now look at it from the other side.

L.L.: Natasha, it’s been such a honor to connect. And insightful, too. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.

Natasha Tracy: I truly appreciate your interest in the book. Thank you so much for having me.

headshot_bigAuthor Bio:Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. She is considered a subject matter expert in the area of bipolar disorder and has written hundreds of articles on it as well as hundreds of articles on other mental health issues. Natasha has spoken to groups from 30 to 300, from ages 12 and up across North America. She believes that education and honest, unvarnished storytelling are keys in fighting the prejudice that people with mental illness face.

Natasha’s first book, Lost Marbles, Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar, was released in October 2016 and has been ranked as a #1 Hot New Release on Amazon in the category of bipolar disorder.

Natasha currently writes the award-winning blogs Bipolar Burble on her own site and Breaking Bipolar on HealthyPlace. Her writing has also been featured on The Huffington Post, Daily Mail, PsychCentral, Sharecare and others. She has spoken at events and conferences including at the National Council’s annual conference as well as Mental Health America’s annual conference.

You can find Natasha:

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these social media sites:

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[Cover and author images courtesy of N.Tracy. LOVING SOMEONE WITH BIPOLAR D/O retrieved from Amazon. Croissant image retrieved from, sad/diagnosis image from, medication image from psychcentral.com, all retrieved 11.27.16]