Thank you Chris.
This book is a fictionalized account of a very painful period in your life, (specifically, your brother, Kirk’s, addiction) describe for us what it was like for you to write it?
In the years when my brother was homeless and in jail, it was, indeed, a very painful and frustrating period for our whole family. We had no idea what was going on with him, where he was, nor how to help him (we staged an intervention for him and he refused treatment). Most of the content in the novella was not known to me until Kirk and I began having interviews—about a year and a half after he got off the streets. These discussions could never have been possible if he was not sober, properly medicated, or living with our mother. All of these improvements gave us the luxury to reflect back on what he went through for all those horrible years. I knew the fact that we were having these conversations at all was a rare opportunity. How many people who have experienced chronic homelessness, drug addiction and incarceration—not to mention undiagnosed schizophrenia-- wind up able to speak so eloquently about these experiences? It felt almost like I was listening to a voice from the grave. It was actually a pretty upbeat experience for both of us which I wholly attribute to our great relief that Kirk had finally changed his life. There are moments now when I think about him living under the freeway and the old, familiar pain resurfaces. It’s the same pain I feel when I pass by homeless people on the streets. This hurt has motivated us to write this book and speak out about the issues it addresses. With this book, we hope to prevent future addiction, mental illness and homelessness.
When, in the course of your brother’s addiction troubles, did you decide you wanted to write it, and why?
At the same time my brother got off the streets, I became aware of studies which showed an association between teen marijuana use and schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and increased risk for suicide ideation. I was stunned this was not common knowledge. Of course, not everyone who uses will become afflicted. But not everyone who smokes cigarettes will get cancer. It’s true. But we still have to warn our kids about the risks. Now, several years after we began this journey, legalization has increased the perception of safety and kids are vaping in alarming numbers. I am even more motivated to get the word out.
Were there any times it was simply too painful and you wanted to quit?
In the course of writing? Never. Our belief in the importance of this message is too strong. We can literally prevent future tragic outcomes by talking about this. Separately, the ongoing task of making people aware of the book is its own Sysaphusian challenge and that is something I take one step at a time.
What do you hope to achieve with the telling of his story?
Our goal is to get the book into schools so kids will be intrigued by the plot (which is fictional), finish the story which has a strong message, and then have in-class discussions about the latest scientific research. By doing so, we can make the association between teen marijuana use and adult mental illness common knowledge. With this knowledge, we believe at least some teenagers will refrain from substances. This can, as I mentioned earlier, prevent future addiction, mental illness, homelessness, and incarceration.
How do you think you are doing on your way to that goal?
It seems like the schools would do well to give a reading assignment which is this relevant to kids’ lives. Some of the required reading is classic yet not relatable to kids today. Admittedly, this is a lofty goal and we are not there yet.
Since recreational pot has now been legalized and - in some people’s minds, no longer vilified, have you received any push back about the book and how did it manifest itself?
There’s been no push-back on the novella itself. It is its own creative exploration of addiction and mental illness. When I’ve posted on social media about the research which inspired the writing of it, people have made comments which include words like “propaganda”. There are a few things people don’t understand: the THC in marijuana has been tampered with and made up to 33 times stronger than it was even fifteen years ago. This raises the risk for mental illness, especially when used by a brain which is still in development. Even the proponents of marijuana legalization agree it should not be used by people until they reach their 20’s. However, for the first time ever, it is not uncommon to see kids vaping during classroom instruction—this is possible because vaping can be odorless and smokeless. Although the marijuana industry claims it doesn’t market to kids, they are making vape flavors in bubble gum and strawberry, etc. And since we know teenagers get addicted to any substance faster and stronger than an adult, a teenager who uses could be setting themselves up for struggles with addiction which can last a lifetime. The list of consequences of teenage pot use is long and dire (https://www.acpeds.org/marijuana-use-detrimental-to-youth). However, my brother and I are keeping our message simple by focusing on the lesser known risk which is its association to mental illness. Additionally, humans don’t just grow out of mental illnesses. Drug use on a developing brain disrupts key processes and the effects can be permanent.
Besides the book, what else are you doing to get the message out about drugs and their link to paranoid/schizophrenia?
I am speaking to any group that will listen to me. I spoke at a drug prevention council, a teen summit about drugs, and a juvenile detention facility. This month I will speak at the Hermosa Beach Rotary Club. In the works, currently, is the possibility of having a staged reading of a script based on the book with a discussion afterward about the topics. Smart Approaches To Marijuana (https://learnaboutsam.org/) kindly republished an article in their weekly newsletter (it’s the 3rd article down at this address--https://mailchi.mp/nationalfamilies/californias-calaveras-county-dumps-former-board-of-supervisors-elects-new-board-and-bans-marijuana-cultivation-1930117?e=cbf21800de) This was an article I originally wrote for http://momsstrong.org/. I have been fortunate to be reviewed and interviewed by a site for authors who don’t have the publicity of traditional publishers called Underrated Reads (http://underratedreads.com/a-conversation-with-h-a-swan/ ) Additionally, our local paper, The Beach Reporter, helped by publishing this article: http://tbrnews.com/entertainment/hermosa-beach-novelist-explores-links-between-marijuana-and-schizophrenia/article_b4b82906-5d53-11e8-9096-4fc3ee85904e.html
And now, I’m grateful to say Chris Lynch, author extraordinaire, and hero to the indie author, has given us an additional forum to spread out message. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done to help get this book to the public, Chris. I could not have gone through the self-publishing process without your ongoing sage advice.