I am thrilled to announce that my next project will be an anthology, Tales from Bipolar Country: a collection of true stories by people affected by bipolar (patients, family caregivers, family members & friends) and health professionals. The goals are to bring bipolar out of the shadows, to reveal what living with the disorder truly involves, and to share hope for recovery.
Now that I have shared my own story in Mad Like Me, readers who have come face-to-face with the ugly bipolar beast themselves and who feel inspired after reading Mad Like Me have started sharing their stories with me. There are so many voices to be heard on this difficult topic, and my goal in creating this anthology will be to hold up a microphone to those voices; to magnify them in the hope that it will allow us to build a more empathetic and less stigmatizing world for us all.
I’ll be looking for true, personal short stories from:
- people with bipolar disorder
- partners and spouses
- other family members: children, parents, siblings, etc.
- friends and colleagues
- family caregivers
- health professionals, counsellors, therapists, etc., and
- anyone else who has been touched by bipolar disorder in any way
The submission deadline is 30 April 2020.
1. Vision for the Tales from Bipolar Country anthology
This will be a collection of true stories by people affected by bipolar disorder (patients, family caregivers, family members, and friends) and health professionals who work with bipolar patients. I envision creating both a paperback and e-book version of the anthology, with the potential for an audiobook in the future.
2. Editor’s background and mission
I am a nurse with a PhD in public health and adult education. I have previously published with Oxford University Press, Kogan Page, and New Society Publishers.
In 2008, at age 51, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After two years of chaos and psychiatric hospitalizations, I clawed my way back to mental health. In 2018, I published a best-selling memoir about my experiences, Mad Like Me: Travels in Bipolar Country.
My mission is now to challenge the stigma against bipolar and all mental illnesses, in all age groups. I want to humanize those of us with a mental illness, and promote the idea that we always deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I want to bring hope and educate people about recovery and how to take control of their own mental health. I also want to caution people who currently have their mental health to protect it: “Go to the mental health gym every day! Or you could end up like I did, on the wrong side of the very thin line that separates mental health from mental illness…” For more details about my background and mission, please check out my website and blog at merrylhammond.com.
3. Where did the idea for this anthology come from?
Soon after publishing Mad Like Me, people started commenting about their own experiences with bipolar disorder. I soon realized that there are many valuable stories to be shared, from many different perspectives. That’s how the idea for this anthology was born.
What people don’t understand, they often fear, or judge, or hate. I want Tales from Bipolar Country to shine like a bright light into the darkest corners of “Bipolar Country.” By raising our voices together, we can help to break the stigma still surrounding bipolar and other mental illnesses.
4. What kind of stories am I looking for?
Anything true, heart-felt and that somehow relates to bipolar disorder will be considered. For example, do you have an insight about bipolar that you think others should know about? Was there a particular incident that shook or inspired you? Is there something you know from your unique perspective (as a patient, family caregiver, or health professional) that you’d like others to reflect upon? Think along the lines of a Chicken Soup for the Bipolar Soul anthology!
Anecdotes, insights, humorous pieces, poems, longer reflections, personal essays – I will consider anything that expresses something interesting, thought-provoking, uplifting, important, or taboo about bipolar disorder. (Note: for this anthology, I am not looking for academic, theoretical, or statistical analyses.) In this collection, we will speak out about how bipolar has affected us, our loved ones, or our patients. We deserve to be heard. It will be about respect, dignity, and empathy. Down to earth. In your face. Heart-to-heart.
Submissions should be previously unpublished, except for on your own blog.
Obviously, absolutely no plagiarism, please!
The following points about content are suggestions only, intended to stimulate your thinking. Please add any other ideas that interest or apply to you.
- Bipolar patients: How did you feel when you were first diagnosed, and why? Did you struggle to get a diagnosis, and/or to find effective treatment? How did your family’s and friends’ reactions to your diagnosis affect you? How long did it take for you to be stabilized? What tips to stay stable can you share? What do you remember about a major bipolar episode? Were you ever hospitalized; if so, how did you feel about that?
- Family caregivers: What have you learned about yourself or the health system as a result of playing this caregiving role? Do you get sufficient support? How has your relationship with your bipolar loved one and/or your life been affected? What would you like to share with other caregivers?
- Family members: What have you learned about yourself as a result of having a family member with bipolar? How has your relationship with your family member and/or your life been affected? What insights would you like to share with other family members? Any incidents you would like to share from your perspective?
- Health professionals: What have you learned from working with people with bipolar disorder? What works well and what needs to be improved in the care of people with bipolar? If you yourself became ill with bipolar, what treatment would you choose for yourself and why? What stories of patients’ recovery have you been a part of?
5. Word count
In general, I’d like to keep the word count to between 1,500–3,000 words. However, both shorter and longer pieces will be considered as exceptions.
If you don’t feel comfortable writing and would prefer to tell your story verbally, we can arrange to interview you and we will write a summary on your behalf. Anything to include and preserve your unique “voice” as part of this project.
6. Pen name?
Sure, if you prefer to remain anonymous. However, I’d encourage you to think seriously about “coming out” and using your real name if at all possible. Remember, we’re trying to break the stigma here, and when more and more people with experience of mental illnesses “go public” with their stories, it makes a very powerful statement.
7. Brief bio
Together with your submission, please submit a brief biography (~100 words) that includes key points a potential reader of this anthology would want to know about you. If your work is accepted, I’ll ask you for a more detailed bio later.
8. No guarantee of acceptance
Every submission will be given very serious consideration, but of course I can offer no guarantee that your work will be accepted for inclusion in the anthology.
9. I reserve the right to edit your work
I reserve the right to edit for style, grammar, spelling, punctuation, consistency, and “fit” in the relevant section of the anthology. I will of course work to preserve your “voice” and story-telling style. Your edited work will be returned to you for approval, at which time you will be free to give comments on the suggested edits, or even withdraw if you are not satisfied with the suggested edits.
This will be a self-published anthology, with all administrative costs for project management, communication with contributors, story selection, compiling, editing, proofreading, publication, promotion, advertizing, etc. being self-funded. So unfortunately I cannot offer payment for accepted contributions or royalty-sharing. Rather, the author of each piece that is accepted for publication will receive two (2) free copies of the book upon publication.
All accepted contributors will hold the copyright to their work, and will be free to re-publish it elsewhere six months after publication of the anthology. I will hold copyright to the anthology as a whole.
12. My guarantees to you
I guarantee that every submission will be given careful consideration. As well, for those whose work is accepted, I guarantee that you will keep the copyright to your own work, and I guarantee professional editing, proofreading, typesetting and cover design. Every effort will be made to promote and market the anthology through my existing networks, and I hope that all selected contributors will also help to promote the book as well.
13. Guidelines for writing: What to do
- Think about your target audience as you prepare to write.
- Ask: What is the most important message I want to communicate?
- Tell your own authentic story in a personal, first-person, emotional way. This anthology is intended to move people; it’s not a textbook or clinical account! Write from your heart.
- Write informally, the same way you would speak to a friend.
- Use vivid language that draws the readers in. Include sights, smells, sounds, touch, colours, textures, weather, lighting, feelings, etc. in your setting so readers can visualize the scene.
- Include some dialogue, if possible: that’s more compelling than mere description.
- Include extracts from journal entries, emails, or texts if this will add to the emotion and help move your story forward.
- Help the reader to picture your story as if it were a movie scene (you are the director of your story). Ask where you would include facial expressions, muscle twitches, etc. in emotional “close-up” scenes, and where you would want “wide-angle” scenery descriptions, brief historical context, etc.
- Use the recommended writing techniques of a strong, clear plot line, characters that are sufficiently well-developed for readers to empathize with them, a realistically described setting, and an engaging writing style. Try to captivate!
- Set the context in a compelling sentence or two. For example: “My husband of 25 years had always been ill-tempered and way too friendly with the whiskey bottle. Imagine my surprise when our family doctor finally diagnosed bipolar.” Then move quickly to the main point of your story.
- Isolate key moments: the opening (establish the setting and introduce the characters); a complication, surprise, or twist; a climax or high moment – the “big reveal”. You could end there, or add a reaction to or result following the climax.
- Even though the subject matter is potentially very “heavy”, humour can often be a key part of an effective and memorable story.
- Cut, cut, cut your story down. Narrow your focus. Choose one or two bite-sized scenarios to share, knowing that these will merely give readers a taste of your experience.
14. What not to do
- Don’t try to cram your whole life story into the available word count. One or two small examples or scenarios, told graphically and with emotion, will be far more powerful than a bland overview of your entire experience. Later, you can expand on this piece and write an entire memoir – but for this anthology, just a taste will do!
- Don’t fabricate or exaggerate. Just tell your story as honestly as you can.
- Don’t seek revenge. Just tell your side of the story fairly, as you understand it.
15. Deadline and timeline
Deadline for submissions is 30 April 2020. It’s impossible to specify a precise publication date in advance, but if all goes well, I estimate Summer/Fall 2021.
16. Contributor’s Agreement
If your work is accepted, we will send you a formal Contributor’s Agreement to sign. This will specify all my responsibilities and undertakings, and your rights and responsibilities as a contributor.
17. Good luck!
Here’s to your successful submission: I very much look forward to hearing your unique story!