Carey, you are an advocate for mental health awareness, which is evidenced in your work as both a writer and editor. What are your thoughts on how the literary community deals with mental health?
CC: It’s both here and there. I’ve been rejected by numerous places that say while my prose is great and my story is validated, that my work is “too heavy” for the publication (various wording per different publications, but the same gist). These are from publications that say they’re looking for the type of stuff I write, say they want to cry, say they want to see inside the brain. For a solid six months, I felt betrayed as a nonfiction writer mainly about mental health—that’s where the idea of semicolon literary journal came from. Since we came to be, I’ve only found two publications that focus solely on mental health. It’s two more than I knew of at the beginning of 2018, but it’s definitely not enough.
You are open about your own struggles with mental health in you work, how has writing helped you personally?
CC: Writing is the way I process things; it’s been that way all my life even though I wrote YA until 2017. Being able to write out situations, whether fiction or nonfiction, help me realize how I truly feel about what’s going on and what I’m feeling.
What is your creative process?
CC: Make coffee, open Word document, sometimes play a Spotify playlist of movie scores.
As for the actual inspiration, I just think about something that is going on currently in my life or something I still can’t push away even though it happened a decade ago. Sometimes I go in the mindset with a certain topic (i.e., drinking, my brother, mental health, my motivation) and that works. But I don’t plan an essay, novel, short story. Most of the time I don’t have a length in mind. I just type whatever my fingers tell me to type.
Who has been the greatest influence on your work and why?
CC: Non-literary: My brother Andrew, who died November 2016. He’s my biggest motivator and was my entire life. He was ten years older than me, and all I ever wanted to do was make him proud. And I think not only am I making him proud, but I’m making him laugh. I think he loves that I’m outing my family and how dysfunctional and toxic they are, since they are the environmental cause for our hardships, both mental and physical.
Literary: Laurie Halse Anderson, YA author of Speak and Wintergirls (among many other novels). She was one of the first female authors to write about “tough stuff” like this. She makes me not afraid to be the writer I am.
Semicolon, which you co-founded, publishes writing about mental health. What is the aim behind the journal?
CC: The aim is to be a safe place for those who struggle with mental illnesses. As I said earlier, there are not many safe places for writers like myself. We are not a place that says your nonfiction is “too much” for us; your short stories “aren’t realistic enough to be taken seriously” for us; your poetry isn’t “too depressing.” We hear those that suffer; we support those who suffer; and we are honoured to be a home for written work about these topics and more than likely by authors who struggle with them.e
What advice would you give to writers who struggle with mental health issues?
CC: It’s okay to struggle, and you are heard! You are validated! It’s okay to feel how you feel. As long as you take care of yourself, that’s all that matters. Don’t worry about meeting your personal (or professional) deadline. Don’t beat yourself up if you get rejected and rejected and rejected—it’s part of the process, even if it sucks and sometimes are for the wrong reasons (in my case). If you don’t already, try writing out what’s on your mind and how you’re doing—fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, anything may help.
So, what’s next for Carey Cecelia Shook?
CC: Obviously some good things coming from semicolon in the near future!
As for my writing, I’m not too sure. I wrote two first drafts of essays about a month ago, but the past few weeks have been extremely hard on me with Hurricane Florence uprooting my life and affecting my work as a copy editor at a publishing company. I’m not too terribly worried on my writing right now as within the past month I had three essays come out! While I’d love to focus on those essays again, I’m not going to rush them.
Carey Cecelia Shook holds a BFA in creative writing and a certificate in publishing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work is published or forthcoming in Capulet Mag, X-R-A-Y, The Write Launch, and Awkward Mermaid. She she is a founding editor of semicolon literary journal, where she combines her passions for editing and mental health awareness. She resides in Wilmington, NC, where she is a copy editor at a publishing company.
Lauren Walsburg is an Australian writer, editor, and artist. She has been published or has forthcoming work in Skive Magazine, Positive Words, Cauldron Anthology, The Mystic Blue Review and Riggwelter. Her debut poetry collection Ink Stained Heart was released in April 2017. You can find her at laurenwalsburg.com and @LaurenWalsburg.