An Interview with Elyse Discher

unnamedElyse Discher is one of my fellow reviewers at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, where she write about romance, romantic suspense, and knitting.  See that cowl in her photo?  she made that.  She made me one too, mine is purple.  Contain your jealousy.

I asked Elyse about her experiences with fandom, and here’s what she has to say about growing up isolated and then finding community:

Were you always a big reader?  Was there any reading that you felt you couldn’t share?

I was always a big reader. I grew up in a house with a lot of books, and my mom was a reader, so it was just something that I naturally fell into. Somewhere around 5th grade I transitioned out of junior books and into adult books. I read all of my mom’s Michael Crichton and Kinsey Milhone books over the summer. This was also around the time I discovered Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I started reading SF/F around the time my family life was in upheaval. I was looking for escape, and the farther away I could get, the better. I became very interested in Star Wars, and I read the Timothy Zahn and Kevin J. Anderson novels voraciously.

What were you into growing up, and how have your interests changed?

As a girl in 5th or 6th grade, I absolutely would not share that I was really interested in Sci-fi. I already felt like an outsider–I was very small, I was nerdy and I was shy. I loved Star Wars and I liked Star Trek and I read some epic fantasy, but I would not bring those books to school. The idea that my peers would see me reading them was mortifying.
This was way before nerd was chic. Girls my age, in my area, were supposed to be into boys and horses and makeup, and none of that interested me at all. I also didn’t get boobs till I was almost 20, I swear. I felt like a little kid hanging around with girls who were much more savvy and developed than me. I’d rather talk about Star Trek The Next Generation than what the boys in our class were doing.
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Were you able to share your interests when you were a kid, or did you feel like an outsider?  

It was a very isolated experience. I had friends, and we had common interests, but even they didn’t know about my interest in sci-fi. There was no one I could talk to about it. When I hit high school, Buffy the Vampire Slayer came out and some of my friends were really interested in that too. It was really the first time I could talk to my peers about this stuff. We’d call each other immediately after each new episode to discuss. It was the first time I had an opportunity to share an interest like that with my friends.
Buffy-The-Vampire-Slayer

How do you think fandom has changed with the advent of the internet?

With the internet you can reach out and find people who share the same interests you have–that was available to me as a kid. I’m sure there were message boards out there, but I was too young to really use the internet that way yet. I think the big shock for me as I got older was that there were tons of other women who were interested in these things. I had convinced myself that I was fairly unusual. I have a friend whose daughter is very into anime. I see her talking to her friends on Facebook and other social media about the anime fandoms she loves. I really wish that sense of community was available to me when I was younger because I think it would have done a lot to bolster my confidence.
That said, not being able to escape into the internet was probably beneficial too. I am sad that I felt compelled to hide my interests, but I think that if I had the forums that are available to me today, I might have used it as an excuse not to socialize int he way I needed to learn to. As an adult, I’m incredibly grateful for all the awesome people I’ve met online who I can discuss romance novels or knitting or anything with. I think for me the concept of a fandom, as an adult, is kind of like a knitting circle. We all come together to discuss a common interest and participate in it, but we wind up discussing our jobs, kids, vacations, etc. It becomes a broader social experience. It’s made me realize that I can talk to someone on the other side of the world, and they have the same basic experiences I do. It’s very affirming.
I still read sci fi and fantasy but I’ve turned to reading more romance novels and mysteries–especially historical mysteries. Smart Bitches introduced me to a community of AWESOME romance readers and writers. I also love to knit and sites like Ravelry are a God send. So is Twitter; people are awesome at offering advice.

If you want to read more by Elyse, I highly recommend her amazing, powerful essay for Smart Bitches about how reading romance helps her deal with chronic pain.

Reading Through Depression: An Interview with Amanda Diehl

 AmandaAmanda is a regular contributor to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  In early November, she wrote a fantastic post over at SBTB titled “Depression and Amy Poehler”.  I loved the post so much that I asked Amanda if she’d be comfortable talking more about depression and reading.  Here she is!
In your essay for Smart Bitches, you talk about Amy Poehler’s book Yes, Please inspiring you to get treatment for depression.  What was it about her book that inspired you?
 
I’d like the book about that song – you know the one – that always seems to come on right when you need it. You’re feeling down or happy or angry and the radio gods smile upon you and give you just what you need to feel better, or even just something that perfectly mirrors what you’re feeling. Sometimes, depression is hard to express, especially to people who don’t have any experience with the disease. It’s more than just feeling sad all the time or listless. It’s a really complex thing to experience and to communicate. I picked up the book after her event and I didn’t open it and start reading until I got home. I then read it on the train, during breaks at class, whenever I could. There are little nuggets of wisdom, phrases and sentences and experiences, that seem to perfectly capture what I was feeling. It’s one of those “Yes! That’s it! That’s exactly it!” moments. 
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I wouldn’t say I was reluctant to talk about how I was feeling with my family and friends. Partly, I was embarrassed. Not that I had depression, but that I couldn’t keep it at bay. I had hoped I’d be lucky enough to go through it once, but mental illness runs heavily on the female side of my family. The odds were against me anyway. The book, Yes Please, gave me a talking point. It was a conduit that enabled me to broach that topic of conversation with others.

As a romance novel fan, do you find that you read more or less romance during periods of depression?  
Truthfully, I have a hard time reading anything during depression. For me, it makes me not want to do anything at all. I think the only reason why I was able to finish Yes Please was because it aligned so acutely with what I was experiencing. When I’m depressed or feeling lower than usual, I tend to just get tired and I’ll spend hours upon hours in bed, sleeping or trying to sleep. One bad thing about the disease – and there are many bad things – is that something that would normally relax you or make you happy suddenly…doesn’t. And then that makes you even more depressed that you can’t even enjoy something as simple and fulfilling as reading.

 What fictional books do a good job of describing what depression is like?

Hm, this is a tough one. I haven’t read many adult books that deal with depression, though I’d love to find a romance where the heroine has it and/or is coping with it. A lot of young adult titles address depression though and there are a few good ones that I’d recommend. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, and Looking for Alaska by John Green. I know quite a number of teens struggle with a number of things and not all of those teenage fears go away once you hit adulthood.

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What do you want people who experience depression to know, and what do you wish people who don’t experience depression understood?

For people who have it: It’s nothing to be ashamed of. After my post on Smart Bitches, there was such a lovely outpouring of comments and some of my favorites were the ones reminding me that the disease isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s part of a chemical imbalance in the brain. And there are so many people who have it – famous people, rich people, students, mothers, CEOs. Luckily, I came from a family where treating a mental illness wasn’t taboo, and whether you come from a place where admitting you have depression is frowned upon, the biggest thing I can suggest is not letting that aspect keep you from getting help.
For those who don’t have it: Exercise some patience. I know it’s tough dealing with someone who has depression. Before I was diagnosed, my mother had it severely. It may seem simple on the outside, that all they need is some cheering up, but it’s a disease. You cannot treat them, but you can help them by being understanding and being available should they need you.

Fandom and Fiction as Activism

fictionfansI wrote a piece for Smart Bitches, Trashy entitled “Community, Hope, and Liberation:  Fandom and Fiction as Activism”.  This essay talks about my experience at Baycon, my love for fiction and fandom, and the #yesallwomen movement.  I hope you will hop over to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and take a look!  Here is a link:

Community, Hope, and Liberation:  Fandom and Fiction as Activism

From the essay:

I’m home now, but I’m still spending a lot of time on social media reading the stories of women, and realizing that these stories represent only a small fraction of what women experience around the world.  Sometimes I wonder if it would be better for me to spend less time talking about fiction and more time doing activism.

But what I realized this weekend is that even the least consciously politically charged fiction is a form of activism.  It shows us ourselves as we are and it lets us dream of what we might become.  Sometimes those dreams are cautionary nightmares and sometimes they represent our deepest hopes.

It took me me a while to see how BayCon, Smart Bitches, and other places, real and virtual, where we share our passions and our stories, intersect with #yesallwomen.  They are, in essence, the same thing – flawed, messy spaces in which people struggle to find community, hope, and liberation.  They are places in which we gather for support.  They are places in which we gather to have our stories heard, and they are places where we struggle to understand our history and create a vision of the future.

I hope you’ll enjoy the full essay!