In January, I spoke on a panel at ALA Midwinter ’15 with a wonderful and diverse group of debut authors, talking about a wonderful and diverse group of debut books. Attendees had filled the seats and lined the edges of our small area, packing even the entryway.
I was sweating. First, because I’m terrible in large groups of strangers; second, because I was at the end of a long panel of authors who are confident, knowledgable, and wonderful people; and third, because I was there representing the mental illness piece of the diversity spectrum.
My debut book, Made You Up, is about Alex, a girl with paranoid schizophrenia.
I was sweating. I was sweating a lot.
Normally, I write science fiction and fantasy. I like sea monsters and nightmare hunters, underwater prisons and skysurfers. I like things that are just silly enough to make sense. If something is cool, then it’s ninety percent of the way to getting into one of my stories.
Paranoid schizophrenia is not cool. Paranoid schizophrenia is a serious and debilitating mental illness.
I didn’t write about paranoid schizophrenia because I thought it would make for interesting themes and symbols. I did it because I never saw it in books, and when I did see it in movies and television, the person with the illness was always relegated to two positions: either the dangerous criminal or the invalid who teaches life lessons to harried and well-meaning family members.
Alex is a teenage girl. A teenage girl with paranoid schizophrenia, yes, but still a teenage girl. She likes history, playing chess, and slacking off at work. She butts heads with her mom. She messes with her little sister. She wants to fit in but isn’t quite sure how to do it. She never forgets she has schizophrenia, and she never stops fighting it (though of course, at times, her resolve wavers). Above all else, it was important to me that Alex didn’t end up either dangerous or a decoration.
At ALA Midwinter, I felt a little out of my depth. But Made You Up is a story I worked very hard on for a very long time, and it’s a story I believe in. After that panel was over, a lot of people came up to me and told me they were excited to read the book, and while that, too, made me sweat, it also made me happy.
I’m happy I wrote something that people want to read.
I’m happy I wrote something people are recommending to their friends. I’m happy it’s about Alex and her schizophrenia, so the more it gets around, the more people will think about it. I’m happy, despite the sweating.
I hope it lives up to expectations.
Francesca Zappia lives in Indiana and majors in Computer Science at the University of Indianapolis. She spends most of her time writing, reading, drawing, and playing way too much Pokémon.
Made You Up is available for purchase here.