1. As someone who writes fiction, poetry, screenplays, and nonfiction, how do you decide which genre is the best for expressing what you want to write about a particular idea or topic?
I usually write my newest idea as a screenplay first. I find it helps me discipline myself, forcing me to focus on dialogue and then the setting and then the interaction of the two. Screenplay formatting helps me to relate to each character more uniquely. Why would a person like this character be in such a place? Why do they use a particular dialect? What does the dialogue show about one's education, as well as the parts of the country they were raised in and/or parts of the world? All my writings include characters with mental health issues, so I use dialogue to reflect this. Screenplays take the place of an outline for me. However, I have consciously not used the screenplay format in two of my ten novels. For these two books I also stayed away from using an outline. I wanted the stories to develop organically--letting them come alive and follow their own leads and internal logic. I have found both ways useful at different times.
In all endeavors I strive to break down barriers to reach people who may not agree with me on some highly emotional issues such as homelessness and mental illness. I strongly believe that fiction can tell the emotional truth, which too often eludes non-fiction. Also, people are more willing to read fiction with a more open mind than non-fiction. I try not to become locked into only one approach for writing.
Poetry comes to me on its own. It's an emotional response to something that I read, something I have experienced. Poetry flows naturally. It can't be forced. I have gotten up in the middle of the night to scribe a rough version of a poem. My non-fiction articles usually come to me the same way.
2. In crafting your books, what do you see as the relationship between creative license and social responsibility?
Creative license is not a quick gimmick to evade reality. If one wishes to reach people and influence the times we live in, one must adhere to the truth. Creative license, if used properly, allows a writer to make real a situation in such a way that the reader can relate to it even if they have never experienced it. All writing is an attempt to connect with a reader who has given up the most precious item they possess--free time. In exchange, the writer who respects our social responsibility to something or someone beyond himself or herself needs to use creative imagination to bring a fictional world into the real world. To reflect an emotional truth by using our fictional world that we have created.
3. Would you tell us a little bit about Fractured Angel and what inspired you to write it?
Fractured Angel is the story of a professional woman who comes to Santa Barbara in a desperate search for her fifteen year old daughter, who having suffered her first psychotic break is chased to the streets of Santa Barbara by her wounded mind. In the process, the mother is forced to confront the alien world of the homeless in one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Her journey into this new world exposes the reader to the reality of homelessness in modern day America.
During my years as a social worker for the homeless, some of the most heart-rending experiences were parents who were directed to me to help and find a mentally ill runaway teen or young adult. Faded pictures, some cut in half to protect the identity of family members were all they had to give me to help me search for their loved ones. It didn't matter if they were poor or rich. They all had one thing in common: the parental heartbreak of losing a loved child first to mental illness and then to the streets.
At one time I was told of a homeless woman living in a storm drain. I found that hard to believe since this particular drain was only two and a half feet tall. Parking down the street from the storm drain, I waited and watched. Within minutes the woman in question crawled out. All I could think of was her sleeping in a foul and wretched crawl space amongst rats and flotsam in one of the wealthiest cities in the world. I have lost count of how many of my clients died from starvation and suicides. The incident with the two drug dealers happened. And a hooker did in fact come to my rescue!
Bad life experiences happen to some really good people and profoundly wounded people struggling for existence on the streets, which motivates me to try and help the country see and embrace the new lepers of our times. This tragedy has gone on for too long.
4. What do you find most challenging and what do you find most rewarding about your work with homeless people in Santa Barbara?
The homeless have their own community that is not very welcoming to outsiders. For them to have trusted me, invited me into hidden campsites, and helped me time after time was both humbling and honoring. The mental ill homeless have a grace all their own. Egos are refreshingly lacking with them and a profound spirituality embraces many.
5. When people say to you that they want to help the homeless, what do you reply in the way of concrete suggestions?
Ironically, the most concrete help is a non-material thing. A homeless woman who was a client of mine and would cycle in and out of schizophrenic breaks told me once that how I helped her the most was when she was in her delusional episodes and I would simply smile at her. She told me even though she would be highly delusional and unable to talk, it always brought her comfort and an inner smile. She told me how people would be frightened of her and pretend not to see her. This estrangement from other people was very difficult for her to endure.
A smile costs nothing. A friendly shake of the head, a kind greeting means more than most of us will ever imagine to someone battling mental illness and aloneness. It is tragic, but the absence of humanity towards the mentally ill homeless is the cruelest wound and seemingly the hardest thing for us to give.