In 2017, I released a Young Adult book that was preceded by a trigger warning, Secrets of Skin and Stone. It was terrifying to send this book out into the wild. Piper wasn’t my first character with OCD, but she was the most like me and definitely the first to practice self-harm and cutting. My first work that was published with an OCD character was a novella, On His List. The character’s OCD in that was more charming, though. Piper’s OCD definitely has more of a bite to it and with the addition of self-harm, it wasn’t just a sweet romance.
By sending Piper out into the world, I knew I was opening myself up to discussing the self-harm…especially when I made no bones about it being an “own voices” book. I felt like I’d dumped my deepest inner dialogue of the worst parts of my life in a book for people to read.
There’s a selection from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde that has always haunted me:
“Harry,” said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself. The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.”
In some ways, publishing the fictional account of Piper in Secrets of Skin and Stone was harder than all the posts I’ve published on here about OCD…which seems difficult to believe. But every inner dialogue of Piper’s felt like it was betraying teenage Wendy, even if I never thought those exact thoughts.
Putting out an “own voices” book is a very unique experience, though, because I was also presented with the opportunity to normalize OCD. My book was not a contemporary novel about mental illness. It was a paranormal gothic romance…with a gargoyle shifter. Sure, Piper had Pure-O OCD and was a cutter, but that was just a part of it. Just like Gris being a gargoyle was just a part of it. So, I almost felt humbled by the opportunity to do something that I would have loved to have as a teenager. I published the book that I would have wanted. That was the dream.
It was terrifying.
It was awesome.
I couldn’t sleep at all the night before it released…for so many reasons.
Then, add to that, I knew what it was like to be triggered into cutting so I insisted on putting a trigger warning into the book, but I was freaking out before the book was released that it wouldn’t be enough. I was just horrified at the thought that I was going to cause a whole bunch of cutters to have a very bad relapse. And it’d be all my fault. Oi, folks…oi.
Writing Secrets of Skin and Stone destroyed me.
Editing it…destroyed me again.
Publishing it…oh my freaking heck…
Which is to say, I have a very healthy respect for those who put out “own voices” books because a little of your soul goes into them and neither readers or writers always know just how much that is before, after, or during.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T.! Bless you, Wendy. Your “own voice” books help those of us who don’t suffer mental illness gain more than a little understanding and empathy for those who do. You are awesome. 👍