Anxious Voices

by Suzanne Selfors

I had the fortune and misfortune of being born into a family that overflows with mental illness.

I say fortune because my family has provided me with some of the most colorful characters I’ve ever met. They’ve raised me, shaped me, influenced and inspired me.

I say misfortune because I don’t know anyone who would choose mental illness. I don’t know anyone who would say, “Hey, I’d sure like to be depressed and anxious, throw in some paranoia and addiction, and I’m good to go.”

I was an anxious child. But I didn’t know that word. Depression and anxiety weren’t common terms in the 1960s. And they certainly weren’t words that were taught to children. Armed now with hindsight and life experience, I can see how anxiety was always there. My mom said I was “tightly wound,” and I remember that whenever I stayed up too late or did too many things, I would break down by vomiting. While I didn’t have panic attacks, there were a few episodes when everyone’s voices would suddenly speed up and the world seemed to be going too fast. My heart would race. I’d find a quiet corner and sit until it passed.

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Finding Your Way Out of the Margins

By Caleb Roehrig

From the outside, it probably seems a self-evident choice when an author from a marginalized group chooses to write a protagonist that shares their lived experience. If “write what you know” is sound advice, then choosing to speak from a personal and underrepresented point of view would seem obvious. But for me and many other “own voices” writers, the decision was not obvious at all.

When I was a teenager, just discovering my love of writing, there was no such thing as It Gets Better, and no gay characters in fiction for young adults; if a gay person appeared on a television show, it was advertised as a stunt, aired at a special time, and came with a content warning; and if gay characters appeared in the movies, they were cruelly drawn caricatures, tragic victims or offensive comic relief. Back then, it never even occurred to me that a gay person could anchor a piece of mainstream art or entertainment.

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My very first attempt at a full-length manuscript was a YA horror novel about a teenage girl and her smart-mouthed pals. One of her friends was implicitly gay (not out, not on the page, but the subtext was there,) which was about as close as I dared come to representing myself in my own work. My second manuscript featured a straight male protagonist who, in a running gag, was frequently assumed to be gay by others—resulting in funny protests of the “not that there’s anything wrong with that” variety. My third attempt: straight girl MC with a gay friend. My fourth: straight girl MC with a gay friend.

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