8th June 2019
The Saturday Interview: Laurie Finkelstein
Hello and thanks very much for your time. Would you mind introducing yourself?
Thank you for having me on. I’m a native Californian born on Sunset Boulevard, albeit in a hospital. While most of my life has been dedicated to the visual arts, I have always secretly wanted to be an author thinking I would write children’s books. To my surprise, now in my later years, I find writing to be a perfect creative outlet to fulfil my life long dreams. Except for the children’s books part. I’m partial to romantic comedies.
I’ve lived with anxiety, depression and OCD my entire life. My mental illness doesn’t define me, but it gives me a unique perspective of the world in both irrational and rational ways which fuels my creativity.
That’s an interesting idea! What different perspective do you feel that mental illness provides?
With my anxiety and OCD, I observe, interact, or respond in exaggerated ways. With anxiety, my mind jumps to the worst case scenario for every encounter or possible encounter. I imagine all the terrible ways things can go wrong. My OCD makes me pursue those thoughts and ruminate on them until exhaustion sets in. In all of its madness, my mind is imagining and creating, which is a silver lining. I’m learning to reframe my thoughts to respond rationally to situations, but the irrational thoughts hide in the recesses. From a young age, my anxiety and depression made me highly sensitive and empathetic. So much so, I’m considered an empath. I physically and emotionally feel what others experience or I superimpose what I ‘think’ they feel. While exhausting and painful at times, I’m viewing the world from different perspectives.
Is writing about mental illness and the stigma attached to it important to you?
It is at the core of my purpose in life. One in four Americans have one or more mental illnesses. We are a huge population which is under-represented and undertreated. I care deeply about those suffering in silence, those imprisoned instead of housed in mental health facilities to treat the illness, and the multitudes of homeless due to their illness and not cared for. Living successfully with mental illness looks differently to those who suffer. My goal is to help the mentally ill live a life they are comfortable with and more importantly help individuals strive for maximum potential.
Could you briefly describe your book ‘Next Therapist Please’?
Janie Weiss is blessed with anxiety, depression, and OCD. She goes through therapists like leased cars. Every few years she trades in for a new one. Some have helped, and most have not. NTP follows Janie as she works her way to her view of ‘successful’ living. Meet each therapist, six in all, who have impacted her starting in high school. Janie is a master at mixing a good cocktail but not so much a master of her emotions. Will she find her happily ever after?
My own manifestations of my mental illness and my six therapists are the model and inspiration for Janie and her journey. The fabulous news is Next Therapist Please is a romantic comedy. While mental illness is not funny, I have used humor to tell Janie’s story. The light approach allows others to experience her world with a positive view and hope for all.
‘Next Therapist Please’ is your debut novel. What lessons do you feel you have learned through writing it?
I am stronger than I ever thought. Writing is a difficult process with a gigantic learning curve. And writing is the easiest part. Once the book is published, then the real work begins to market and promote it. I’m lucky to be working with publicist Desireé Duffy at Black Chateau in Southern California.
Mechanics can be taught to a certain degree, but creativity comes from the soul.
After writing NTP, I understood why my diagnosis took so long to be made properly and move forward with some success. Most of my therapists were not the right ones for me, and therefore did little to help me. From that experience, I now encourage people who are not making progress to keep searching for a therapist they can work with. I gave up in between each therapist. I highly discourage that. I am now on my 7th and best therapist!
Are you of the opinion then that there is an intrinsic quality to writers that is not easily replicated?
I believe that to be true for all creative outlets. The desire to create is innate in everyone. Most people lose touch with their creative side early in school sadly. But for the lucky ones, creativity is as necessary as breathing. A writer needs to write. A painter needs to paint, and so on for musicians, dancers, etc. Each has their own voice and bring their unique views and skill sets to offer endless possibilities. Mechanics can be taught in any discipline, but without the passion and need, the outcome will be lifeless and not connect to others. All creatives have experienced what I call the zone. In the zone, the work, whether it be writing, painting, choreography, etc., separates from the individual. An outside entity “takes over” to do the creating and that cannot be replicated. Cue creepy organ music. I’ll let the philosophers and religious scholars debate that one.
Are you a believer in writer’s block? Opinion in this interview series has been very divided.
I love this question because there are so many approaches to writing. What works for one person does not work for another. I’ve also learned, “never say never!” When I’m working on an active manuscript, I write almost every day, even while on vacation, which for me means a cruise and ideal for writing. I have a word count goal for the week, so if a miss a day of writing because I’m having tea with the Queen, I can make it up on another day. The interesting aspect of this question is that when I am in writing mode, the characters direct the action for the most part and the writing flows. I don’t get writer’s block per se but I might not be able to decide on the perfect next scene, so I may jump ahead, brainstorm some ideas and make notes so I can come back with a fresh perspective. If I exhaust myself from too many hours of writing, I like to read a different genre to shake up my brain. I will switch to social media or other activity to give my brain a rest when needed, but I have never (yet) not been able to figure out the beats of a story.
‘Next Therapist Please’ has won a number of awards in a range of categories. To what do you attribute this success?
I have been fortunate in striking a chord with individuals who can relate to Janie, the main character in Next Therapist Please. She is blessed with anxiety, depression, and OCD. Many readers connect with the specific ways Janie’s mental illnesses manifest themselves as well as recognizing what they witness in a loved one with mental illness. I do it with levity to replace the pain with humor. Applicable to all people, no matter what we have going on in our complicated lives, we manage best when we look for the humor, humanity, and silver linings.
I mainstreamed a character with mental illness in a comedy without making fun of her illness or her humanity. She is simply a funny character with difficulty managing her biological brain disorders, who wants the HEA known for in romances.
I also attribute it to some really smart judges (wink).
What do you think is at the core of writing a good romantic comedy?
Timing. A combination of wit and physical comedy, balanced with a simmering, conflict-ridden road to the happily ever after. Ultimately it has to feel good. Always internal growth of a character (s) is important along the journey.
Do you have a favourite romantic comedy novel?
There are so many wonderful romcoms I adore. My all-time favorite is Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic. I love all her books. Her latest, My (not so) Perfect Life is waiting patiently in my TBR downloads.
What inspires you to write?
My need to tell and share my stories. Next Therapist Please started as journaling as therapy to cope with the trauma of events throughout my life prior to proper diagnosis and medication. Once I dealt with them on paper I saw a thread of humor and universal experiences. I was compelled to share those personal experiences but through a fictional character in a fictional plot. Because of the humor I saw in my life’s journey and my love for romantic comedies, I put my mental illness experiences in Janie.
I have a need to make Next Therapist Please more than just a romantic comedy, but a voice to many who experience similar disorders, so I donate 10% of the sales to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s a national organization with regional offices across the United States offering free services to those with mental illness and the families who care for them. I am a member and have used their services. This is my way of giving back.
That’s actually very inspiring! Do you feel that therapy and counselling are important to accept and live with a mental illness?
Frankly, I think all people could benefit from therapy. We take care of our bodies, why not our minds? But for those with mental illness, I think it is critical. With the right therapist, thrashing through life becomes more like walking. Still hard perhaps but doable. Of course, there are so many factors to determine what type and extent of therapy is needed based on the specific illness and severity. But speaking for functioning people dealing with treatable illnesses, therapy should be at the cornerstone. Not only do you benefit from learning cognitive or behavioral techniques, but talk therapy in itself is also useful. Verbalizing events, conversations, conflicts, and feelings to a non-judgemental person is important to sort through the jumble of life. The sounding board encourages positive actions and reactions.
Do you think that it’s important for a writer to engage online?
We live in a social media world, so yes! Connecting to readers, other writers, and related professionals benefits everyone. I’m learning it’s the hub of marketing. People want to connect, ask questions, share similar stories and do business. It’s all happening online and you’re either attending the party, or looking in from the outside with the blinds drawn. The number of people that can be reached is staggering and exciting. Pick and choose your favorite platforms and get busy finding your audience. Let them get to know you. Keep it professional and positive. My favorite places to share are Facebook and Twitter. I recently started posting on Instagram and I love the format. And I always let people I meet on or offline email me with questions.
Do you have any other projects that you are working on that we should keep our eyes open for?
I’m ‘Christmas morning’ excited about two books I’ve written. They are each respectively sitting on different agents desks awaiting the magical nod! The first is a non-fiction humor book called ‘AHOOT! A Higher Order of Thinking: A senior’s experience with medical marijuana and what every marijuana virgin should know before lighting up.’ I’ve experimented for five years so others don’t have to! California has supported medical marijuana since 1996, and last year the voters approved legalizing recreational marijuana. I advocate sensible, responsible use to people of all ages, but I focus on seniors because the medical benefits are particularly great for those of us with age-related ailments!
With my third book I returned to my love of romantic comedies, but added supernatural elements and a possible murder to solve. If you love cozy mysteries, this one is fun! It’s called ‘Dying to Play Mahjong’. Superstitious Amy, her grandmother, and cohorts play mahjong in between matchmaking. Amy refuses to be matched. Meanwhile, the mahjong ladies are dying like cell phones in an emergency. Hank, grandson of one of the mahjong players, knows Amy is the one, and will pull out all his tricks to win Amy over. She believes she has been secretly set up with Hank and with rumors flying around town of a cursed mahjong set, Hank is off limits as far as Amy is concerned. Is the game cursed? Or is there a serial killer in Callista?
I’m hoping for 2020 - 2021 releases. Follow me on your favorite social media sites for the latest news and to chat!
Thank you for this wonderful exchange.
Website, LaurieBethArt.com, https://lauriebethart.com
Twitter, @LaurieBethArt, https://twitter.com
Instagram, #Laurie_Beth_Finkelstein, https://www.instagram.com/laurie_beth_finkelstein/
Instagram, #CannabisConsumerGuide, https://www.instagram.com
Facebook, Laurie Beth Art Facebook Page, https://bit.ly/2JBOElK
Thanks very much for your time. Laurie Finkelstein's award-winning novel is available for purchase from Amazon and other outlets.