Anna Shinoda

Learning Not To Drown: Available Now

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Learning Not to Drown in stores now!

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Responsibly Reporting on Suicide

Since Chester died, there have been countless articles written about him and his death – some speculative, some factual. Some are pure click-bait. Some are well-meaning pieces on depression or suicide prevention, but the writer or editor are not informed on the responsible way to report. These articles continue and as we approach Chester’s birthday and the one year anniversary of his death, I encourage anyone who is reporting on suicide – even if it is just for your blog or personal website – to take a minute to review and learn how to do so responsibly.

There are over 50 research studies done worldwide that show irresponsible reporting on suicide increases the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. Suicide contagion – or the increase of suicide or suicidal behaviors after exposure to a suicide – can be minimized with factual and concise reporting, as well as providing resources for help.

Reporting On Suicide

From ReportingOnSuicide.org

AVOID:

  1. Avoid repetition: prolonged exposure can increase likelihood of suicide contagion.
  2. Do not use sensationalist headlines.
  3. Do not report oversimplified explanations or make assumptions about why.
  4. Do not give detailed descriptions of how the suicide occurred
    • do not publish 911 calls
    • do not publish photos or videos of the suicide or of the scene of the suicide
    • do not publish suicide notes
    • do not publish the autopsy report in full
  5. Do not glorify or imply that the death was effective in achieving a personal goal.
    • do not publish photos of grieving family members or friends
    • do not publish photos of funerals or memorials.

INCLUDE:

  1. Hotlines, emergency contacts, mental health resources should ALWAYS be included.
  2. Consider quoting a suicide prevention expert on causes and treatments.
  3. Inform readers about the causes of suicide, warning signs, treatment options and advances.
  4. Consider including a story about someone who overcame a suicidal crisis.

By taking these steps, you will be part of the solution in helping reduce suicide contagion.  You will also be making a tragic situation more bearable for the suicide loss survivors. Losing Chester was painful enough on its own. Being exposed to sensationalist headlines, paparazzi and speculation on why he had died made it even more painful for his family and friends. Covering suicide should never be for entertainment, click-bait, or profit.

For more resources on reporting responsibly, visit the US Department of Health and Human Services or ReportingOnSuicide.org

In case you or someone you know needs support, here are some resources:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
Crisis Text Line, the free, nationwide, 24/7 text message service for people in crisis, is here to support. For support in the United States, text HELLO to 741741 or message at facebook.com/CrisisTextLine.
For support outside the US, find resources at http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

http://chester.linkinpark.com

320 Changes Direction

2018 Writing Update

Lately, I’ve been getting more inquires via social media about when to expect my next novel.  The answer is a little longer than 280 characters, so I thought it best to do a quick blog about it.

First off, thank you so much for reading Learning Not to Drown. A lot of heart and my own emotional journey went into that book, and I am grateful for every reader. I am especially honored that for some of you the book had a significant impact, and I appreciate every single person that has reached out to tell me so.

Now, on to what is happening with my writing.

Read more…

Getting Better

I haven’t talked publicly that much about my own mental health. I think in interviews when Learning Not to Drown came out, I may have touched briefly on being in therapy, but I’ve never gone into detail. I am very open with friends about it, but was always afraid of being judged publicly for having my brain. I applauded Chester (especially in the past few months before his death) for being so open in interviews. I was proud of him for being brave. I knew that by describing the way his brain worked, Chester would help others get beyond the stigma of mental health and addiction.

I guess now it’s my turn to be open.

As someone who personally deals with depression and anxiety on a daily basis, I know how important it is to recognize the way my brain works and the things that help me. Personally, therapy has been the best thing for my brain – specifically EMDR and cognitive therapy. I have had the same psychologist for 14 years. There are times that I have needed her five days a week, and times that I see her once every few months.

For some people, medication will be what works best. For one year of my life, I was on medication to help lower my anxiety to a point that I could actually get through the therapy sessions and allow my brain to start making new, healthy connections. Some people may need medication for a short time, some may need it for life. It depends on the individual brain and how it works.

For some people, alternative therapies might work best.

For some people, books are helpful.

For some people, group settings and support is what works best (I highly recommend Al-Anon or AA/NA for people dealing with addiction – it is free, provides therapy in a group setting and a community of support).

For most people, it will take trying different options and maybe even mixing several of them.

My initial healing took several YEARS – some of it was incredibly painful, but I am so glad that I stuck with it. The Anna that I am on a daily basis now feels true to me. I don’t miss the deep depressive dives, or the bursts of anger that could take over my whole day. I don’t miss being afraid of emotions. I don’t miss feeling out of control. I know now that the way my brain stays healthy involves exercise, vitamin D, creative outlets of writing and drawing, talking to trusted friends, sometimes acupuncture, seeing my therapist if I start to slip and checking in with her monthly so we can recognize early signs when I might need a little more help.

Here is what gets tricky: taking care of mental health can feel embarrassing (we need to change this – and this is something that everyone can contribute to), it can be expensive (another thing we need to change – this might take laws being passed) and it can take more than one try to find the right therapist/psychologist or psychiatrist or group for you. It takes work, and a sick brain may not want you to do the work. A sick brain might not want to deal with insurance or finding free resources. A sick brain may tell you that nothing will work for you.

If you need help, please absolutely seek it out, and try again and try often if the first attempt toward mental health doesn’t seem to work.

Chester worked hard. He worked hard to be sober. He worked hard for happiness. I am eternally grateful for the years that were given to us because of the work he put in. We will never know what was happening in his final moments, but we do know that the only thing to blame is disease: addiction and mental illness.

As a person who is in incredible pain at the loss of one of my best friends because of mental illness, I can assure you that you are important and needed in this world. And you deserve mental health.

Find a way that works for your brain.  Dedicate yourself to working towards mental health.  Most likely, it will not be a destination, but an on-going journey. This is okay. The important thing is that you are on the journey and putting in the work, one moment at a time. Slips can happen. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Admit it and get back on the path. Accept help. Be compassionate with yourself.

One thing we can all do to help stop the stigma around mental illness and suicide is to look at our words. Words matter. When we say “died by suicide” instead of “committed suicide” we focus on the illness rather than blaming the survivors or the deceased.

The answer to “why did someone die by suicide?” is always “mental illness.” That is the reason. And if we can start there, we can move forward, not only to prevent more suicides but to help more people find mental health.

 

In case you or someone you know needs support, here are some resources:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
Crisis Text Line, the free, nationwide, 24/7 text message service for people in crisis, is here to support. For support in the United States, text HELLO to 741741 or message at facebook.com/CrisisTextLine.
For support outside the US, find resources at http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

http://chester.linkinpark.com

Behind the Book: Learning Not to Drown

Behind the Book: Learning Not to Drown

Originally published on Pulseit.com March 31, 2014

Where I grew up, there was both a swamp and a lake. I remember the lake as being icy cold but everyone spent the summers swimming there anyway.

The swamp was across town: a low area that every spring would become a small pond of thick mud and sharp reeds that smelt like rot. When it was wet, I was afraid of going near it. I was sure I’d get sucked in, and I’d slowly die as I inhaled breath after breath of silty water.

But by the end of summer the swamp became the perfect place to explore.

One year, I was playing “war” with a group of boys I babysat and their neighbors. We were running through the dry swamp with our squirt guns. It was hot and humid, and the lowest areas of the ground were still thick with algae and mosquito-filled mud, but we raced through the growth and the muck and didn’t care that our clothes got dirty and our shoes turned brown and swishy. It was war, and we needed to shoot the enemy with as many rounds of water as possible.

I crawled out of the undergrowth looking for the boys, getting shot squarely in the face by the enemy as I did so. Before I could shoot him back, I heard the scream of one of my boys.

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From DearTeenMe.com

I wrote this in February of 2014 for DearTeenMe.com.  It appears that website is no longer in service, so I have transferred it here so it may live on.

Dear Teen Me,

You are standing in the door your grandmother’s kitchen watching a bat do circles around the room. It’s sticking close to the ceiling, so your mom has run to grab a broom. Your brother hears the commotion, walks into the room, and with one smooth movement grabs the iron skillet from the stovetop, and whacks the bat out of the air.

There is a moment of complete relief. The bat, which followed you up from the basement when you grabbed a jar of grandma’s canned peaches, has essentially been taken care of. There is also a moment of sorrow: you didn’t want the bat dead; you only wanted it to leave.

Your brother puts on a glove and gently picks the limp rodent up. Tomorrow will be trash day, so you follow him outside to the curb. He starts to open the can, but instead decides to place it on top of the lid. In case it wakes up. In case it was only in shock.

To your mom and grandma, he’s the hero of the night.

He will keep going outside to look at the trash.

There will be more bats, later that month, but he won’t use the frying pan again. He’ll use the broom, eventually pushing them out the kitchen door.

You’ll spend a lot of time thinking about that summer. Later, your brother will commit another crime, go to prison yet again, and be released for a short while. At this point, you’ll be in your 20s, with a degree in Communications that has gotten you nowhere even close to figuring out what you want to do with you life. On the weekends and holidays, you will try your hardest to bring your brother closer to the family, thinking that maybe you can be the one to change him. You’ll pick him up from his shack, even though you are a little terrified every time you go there because the single room he shares with his friend is in the middle of the woods, and you don’t like the way his roommate’s eyes follow you. But you’ll keep going there to pick him up because you want to do anything you can to keep him out of prison, and you think maybe including him in family functions will somehow fix that.

But it won’t. It can’t.

Read more…

Stories for All: Girl Books for Boys?

Twitter tells me this is “Stories for All” week, so I thought it appropriate to share something that I’ve been thinking about since last December.

For the holidays, I always buy the kids in my life books.  I go to my local independent book store (usually Children’s Book World or Book Soup – both have a fantastic staff and great selection) and pick my favorites selections.  I have a running list so I don’t buy anyone the same book twice, and I have read every single book I gift.  It is one of my favorite parts of the season.

Last December, I was standing in the YA section wondering what to get an eighteen year old boy.  I was stumped.  In the past year I had read lots of books that girls would enjoy, but not many that I knew a heterosexual eighteen year old male might find interesting.  There was one novel he’d probably love. Historical fiction involving spies and pilots during World War II, full of narrative tension and action.  But, I sighed, both main characters were females, so he probably wouldn’t like Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

I was standing in the book store about to make a mistake.  I was going to walk away from an excellent selection based on the gender of the main characters.  I thought about my own book, Learning Not to Drown.  I wondered Read more…

Die Mitte Von Allem Awarded the Deutsche Akademie für Kinder- und Jugendliteratur e. V. Book of the Month

The  Deutsche Akademie für Kinder- und Jugendliteratur e. V. Book of the Month seal

The Deutsche Akademie für Kinder- und Jugendliteratur e. V. Book of the Month seal

Die Mitte Von Allem has been awarded the Deutsche Akademie für Kinder- und Jugendliteratur e. V. (German Academy of Literature for Children and Young Readers) Book of the Month for June. 

Die Mitte Von Allem

Die Mitte Von Allem cover

On January 20th, Die Mitte Von Allemthe German translation of Learning Not to Drown was released.   Me being classic me has been trying to think of what to write for my blog post about it for a little over two weeks.  (Now you know why it took me ten years to write a novel.)

Every time I tried writing this post, one consistent thought came to mind:  It’s weird having a book translated into a language I can’t read.  It’s completely and totally bizarre.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad weird.  I’m thrilled.  But it’s still strange.

So how did this translation come about?  Last May my editor at Atheneum emailed me the news that they had made my first foreign sale to Magellan in Germany.  This fall, while on a visit to Berlin, I met with my publisher and my publicist.  I found out that the title would be Die Mitte Von Allem (The Middle of Everything) and was shown this beautiful cover – which, by the way, I love.  It could not be more different from the original, but it feels right.  It feels like Clare’s story is behind that cover.  As strange as it is to have it translated into words I can’t understand, it blows my mind that Clare and Luke and Peter… and Skeleton… are now living in another language.  Thanks Magellan, translator Petra Koob Pawis, and all the German readers choosing to spend some time with the Tovin family.

Forever Stuck Between Love and Fear: The Inspiration Behind Learning Not to Drown

“What inspired you to write Learning Not to Drown?” is the first question I’m asked in interviews.

I sometimes say that the United States incarcerates more of their population than any other country in the world.  Or that we spend a million dollars each year to incarcerate the residents of a single city block.  I might note the war on drugs has done very little to keep people from doing drugs and has contributed to the over-crowding of our prisons.  I could talk about the 3.2% of the US population-  almost 2 million citizens of my country– that are either incarcerated or on probation.

But the real reason I wrote a about a girl who has a brother in prison is because my brother is in prison.

A long time before the book came out, I was already thinking about how I might answer the “what inspired you” question.  Even writing this blog post has taken me months and several drafts to figure out what I want to say.  And although I was (and still am) nervous about admitting the truth, I decided that it is better that it come from me than someone finding it and feeling like they’ve found buried treasure.

So when I’m, asked, I am honest… and then most of the interviewers get all sidetracked.  They want to know how much of the story is me and how much is fiction. I tell them that if I wanted to, I would have written a memoir, but I decided to write a work of fiction out of respect for my family. I talk about how writing is like making a smoothie. How my husband and I go out to the garden and pick some kale and grind it up, then we add bananas, yogurt, strawberries, peaches and blueberries. How it all becomes part of the mix and it is impossible to separate the kale – the me – from the other stuff – the research and imagination. But unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. The moment I say I have a brother in prison, like my protagonist Clare, the most interviewers have already concluded that Clare’s story and mine are one in the same, intertwined, names have been changed to protect the innocent.

And they are wrong.

Yes, having a brother in prison made me the first resource for researching this book.  But when I started looking outside my own story, I wasn’t just researching to write a book. I found myself searching to understand who “we” are – the families out there like mine, who struggle to fake perceived “normal” while hiding our actual “normal.

In high school I never talked about having a brother in prison.  He was quite a bit older than I was, and being the youngest of seven kids, it was easy for my oldest siblings to blend into each other in my friend’s eyes.  It was easier for me, most days, to forget where he was, the only reminder that I had that seventh brother was the last picture taken before he was locked up that hung in my dad’s photography studio, right in line next to the rest of our family.  That, and the letters, or the collect phone calls.  No matter how much I tried to pretend or forget, the truth was always waiting for me.

While researching, I found no shortages of documentaries and journalists covering problems with our current prison system.  And I was amazed how people on message boards or chat rooms spilled their feelings behind the comfort of their keyboards, the protection of anonymity.  The thing that surprised me the most?  The openness my own family and friends showed when I told them about Learning Not To Drown, and the stories they told about themselves, about their incarcerated loved one.

There were stumbling blocks along the way.  In my research, I dug up new information on my own brother  – something that I didn’t know before… facts that threw me into a depression so deep and so wide I didn’t know if I could find my way to the surface.  But with the help of a good therapist and by helping Clare come to terms with her own situation, I eventually did.  Just weeks before the release of the book, I found out more information.  Which brought me to another realization: most families don’t know the whole truth.  We will never know the whole truth.

There are approximately two million people in the US correctional system today.  My book is about their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunt, uncles, cousins, wives, husbands, sons, daughters, and friends.  It is for the ones who live in the greyest area of all – where crime and punishment isn’t as cut and dry as good guys and bad guys.

Learning Not to Drown isn’t about me, it is about the families, the friends, the lovers, the children. The ones left at home. The ones forever stuck. Stuck between believing the people we love and believing the victims. Stuck between hope and reality. Stuck between love and fear. All the while, hoping to find a way to refuse to let the sunlight be stolen from our lives.

Guess Who Turned Six Months Old Today???

Oh Learning Not to Drown, it feels like just yesterday that I was anxiously awaiting your arrival, pacing my office with on the phone with my editor, agent and  publicist, obsessively checking Goodreads for any reviews, preparing for a my very first book signings and parties with.. itchy skin and an upset stomach… as well as brand new sharpies.  And look how grown up you are now!

I’m 6 Months Old!!

Maybe it was because of the sheer amount of people who came to welcome you into this world or maybe it was from the lack of sleep when you arrived, but  I kind of forgot to post pictures here of your first week in this world.  It’s a good thing, actually, I was so wrapped up with being in the moment of having my debut novel come out that I forgot to chronicle your arrival.

So to celebrate your 6th month birthday I am finally posting pictures of your release week.

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