Thanks to Diane for inviting me to be a guest blogger on this first day of my first Blog Book Tour ever. She’s asked me to share something about how my background helped my writing. In my case, the background is actually foreground, since my life story plays a central role in both my books.
Both my mystery novels explore the lives of people who live at the margins of society. Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders explores the stigma and stereotyping that afflict people living with mental illness, while Eldercide delves into the lives of the homebound elderly and their caregivers. Both draw on my years of experience as a health care professional: a creative arts therapist with the mentally ill and later the CEO of a home health care agency.
I began my creative career as a painter. For many years I enjoyed the high life of loft living in SoHo. Then, feeling the need for a viable profession that actually paid the bills, I trained as an art therapist, receiving my M.A. from New York University. A job search led me upstate to Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie, where I served 12 years as an art therapist and senior recreation therapist. Burned out but vested in the retirement system, I quit the state and founded ElderSource, Inc., a Licensed Home Care Services Agency specializing in round-the-clock live-in care.
ElderSource was a successful business, but the nonstop stress quite literally drove me crazy. After several years of supervising up to 50 staff, carrying a beeper round the clock and filling in frequently for absent aides, I started on antidepressants, which in turn precipitated a full-blown manic episode and earned me an official diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I hung on for two more years, until my husband and I sold the agency and moved further upstate to Rensselaer County.
I spent a year in virtual hibernation, licking my wounds and gaining weight, then found a job in Troy as assistant director at a psychiatric social club run by a not-for-profit agency. I loved working with the consumers, but the staff I supervised lacked professional training, and their notion of therapeutic activities centered on van rides to Vermont to purchase discount cartons of cigarettes. Even so, things seemed okay until the day a client was talking with me about her experiences with bipolar illness, and I told her I too was bipolar. She shared the news with a subordinate who hated my guts, and the next morning, I was summoned to human resources and summarily fired. A fine message that sent to the club members: dare to be upfront about your illness, and you’ll lose your job. Best stay in the closet.
Since Eldercide came out last year, I’ve been at quite a few panels and signings with the Mavens of Mayhem, the upstate New York chapter of Sisters in Crime, and I’ve found many potential readers – the majority of whom tend to be women of AARP age and above – are turned off by the title and concept of the book. One elderly bookstore owner refuses to carry it, saying the whole concept is “ghastly.”
Then just recently I learned that I’ve been chosen for “2009 Author of the Year” by the Friends of the Albany Public Library, and they’re going to honor me at a luncheon on November 14th. One of the main reasons they chose Eldercide is because of its treatment of important social issues, especially in light of the current debate over health care and the talk of “death panels.” I’m delighted to be recognized because rather than in spite of my treatment of difficult topics. Not everyone prefers “Death Lite.”
In contrast, readers absolutely love the title Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders – they think it’s a laugh riot, and buy more copies than they do of Eldercide. Go figure.
Thanks to Diane for hosting me. Please visit my blog: Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso. Follow along on my Blog Book Tour: tomorrow I’ll be visiting Maryann Miller at It’s Not All Gravy. And by all means buy my books. You can bypass big business interests by shopping directly from my publisher, Virtual Bookworm. You can also order from Amazon or Barnes & Noble online, or best of all, encourage your local bookseller or library to order copies.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Barnard College, Julie received an MFA from Columbia University and an MA in Art Therapy from New York University. She lived in SoHo for many years, exhibiting at the Museum of Modern Art, The Brooklyn Museum, and many Manhattan galleries. She showed her paintings and won a prize at the Woodstock Festival of Music and Art in 1969, an experience she blogged about in a three-part series this past August.
Julie has published poetry as well as articles on home care, mental health, aging, and women’s issues. Recently, she was named 2009 Author of the Year by the Friends of the Albany Public Library. Visit her blog, Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso to learn more and read the first chapters of her novels.