Monday, November 09, 2009

Welcome, Author Julie Lomoe!

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.

A few weeks later, I began work on the novel that became Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders. The social club for mentally ill consumers proved the perfect setting for a mystery, but to protect the innocent, I renamed the club WellSpring and transported it to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the novel, when club members begin dying unexpectedly, police write off the deaths as routine – suicides and drug overdoses are par for the course for the mentally ill. Erika Norgren, the club’s director, suspects otherwise. Like the victims, she’s diagnosed bipolar, but when she makes a similar disclosure to mine, she does it on the 11 o’clock news. Not only does she keep her job; the TV story draws the attentions of a charismatic community activist, also bipolar, who becomes the novel’s chief romantic interest. Sometimes writing is the best revenge.

After completing Mood Swing, I began work on Eldercide, which draws directly on my experiences as CEO of ElderSource. The agency became Compassionate Care, and I moved it from Ulster County to the fictional town of Kooperskill in Rensselaer County, but the staff dynamics, the infighting between nurses, the marvelously caring Jamaican aides, are rooted in real experience. The elderly clients nearing the ends of their lives, the families who agonize over the enormous cost of round-the-clock care and sometimes think about hastening things along, are also all too realistic. Fortunately, no one got murdered on my watch, either as a therapist or as a home care administrator – at least no one that I know of.

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.

About the author:
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.


The Old Silly said...

Great kickoff post for the tour! Nice job, Julie and Diane. Julie is an most interesting woman - a survivor and achiever, I really enjoyed getting some bakcground info on her. Also looking forward to her stop on my blog on the 20th.

Have a wonderful tour, and thanks for this fine opener. :)

Marvin D Wilson

Creative Chronicler said...

Great post Julie! You are a fascinating individual and I look forward to reading your books.

Unknown said...

I'm so impressed, Julie, with the fact that you have used not only your experiences in the work you've done, but your own mental challenges as well - in taking discouraging and negative situations and turning them around by writing on these topics.

While I'm sure it's proven to be therapeutic for you, although written as fiction, what a great way to enlighten readers about these issues!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Brave topic and super cool Julie! The world needs more strong women!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Enjoyed finding out more about you. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the Bipolar Murders - your life experiences definitely added to the feel of authenticity. Eldercide is on my to-read list.

Mayra Calvani said...

Dear Julie,

Congrats on your first book tour. That's always very exciting.

I was fascinated as I read your post. From artist living in Soho to health care professional to writer? And I thought I was an interesting person! LOL

Your books sound fascinating. I also couldn't help noticing your golden retriever. I bet Amigo would love to interview him at

Anyway, good luck with the tour!

Helen said...

Congratulations on your 2009 Author of the Year award. That is fabulous. And what a great and interesting topic for your books.

Straight From Hel

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments. Marvin, Karen, Jane and Helen, I look forward to visiting on all your blogs over the next 10 days - Karen this Wednesday, Helen on Friday the 13th, Jane on Monday, and Marvin for the grand finale on Friday the 20th!

It's also great to get comments from four folks I'm not familiar with - Creative Chronicles, Crystal Clear Proofing, Terry Lynn Johnson and Mayra Calvani. I appreciate all your encouraging words - sometimes it's hard to know how much to share, even after all this time "out of the closet" as a mental health consumer. And I'm glad you read to the end of the blog - when I reread it this morning, I thought it might be a bit much. Thanks to Diane for running all of it!

Mayra, about my golden retriever, unfortunately he died of lymphoma a few months after this photo was taken. But I'm going to be blogging about him - and other dogs I've known and who have figured in my fiction - on Karen's blog this Wednesday. Hope to see you there - I have the link on my blog.

Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso

Anonymous said...

Very impressive first blog stop. I'll be reading them. I like to give my support as this must be a lot of work for you. And congrats! on your award.

Stephen Tremp

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen, thanks for stopping by. Yes, this is so much work that I don't even have time to realize how much work it is!

Anonymous said...

By the way, Diane, the tabby cat in the "invisible roller coaster" photo right below my post looks a lot like my cat Lunesta when she was a kitten - except that she has orange patches in among the stripes.

Mayra Calvani said...

Oh Julie, I'm so sorry to hear about your dog! I look forward to read that post.

Anonymous said...

You've led such an interesting and varied life. Have you considered writing a memoir?

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Julie, thanks for sharing here. And you'll have to take a photo of YOUR roller coaster kitty!