Saturday, 21 June 2014

My Life in a Nutshell by Tanya J. Peterson

Today I am delighted to talk to Tanya J. Peterson about her latest novel. 

My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel is the story of one man's struggles with debilitating anxiety. Brian Cunningham has isolated himself to such a degree that his human contact is barely more than an hour a day. While lonely, he feels powerless to change his life. Unexpectedly, his safe little world is invaded by one Abigail Harris, a seven-year-old girl who, for the last five years, has bounced from foster home to foster home. She has come to live with an aunt and uncle she has never known. Unsure if she can trust her new environment, she turns to Brian. Neither one quite knows how to live in the world. Can they possibly help each other?

Hello Tanya and thank you so much for coming on the blog today to talk about yourself and your writing.First of all, can you tell us a little about you?
Hmmm. I’m thinking about this, and I keep coming back to one word: strange! I have a blue beta fish that no one in my house would name, so I named him RedFish. I love the show Phineas and Ferb because I’m pretty sure that Dr. Doofenschmirtz is my soul mate. I tend to get myself into trouble by going against the grain and speaking up for the underdog. I love to camp and hike and kayak. Family time is amazing. I mask social anxiety by talking too much, and then I worry about it for days afterward. I’ve been a teacher, a counselor, a support group facilitator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (US). I have bipolar 1 disorder. I’m a proud mom of two wonderful adolescents and a happy wife of my husband.

Well, you may call yourself strange, but I think you sound fascinating and it's no wonder that you became a writer. What did you want to be when you were a child? Did you always know you wanted to write? 
I’ve always loved writing! But after one person scoffed at a story I was writing about forest animals when I was in second grade, my creative writing days were over (yeah, I was a bit too sensitive, I think). I’ve also always wanted to help people and to make a difference in the world. For the longest time, I wanted to be a doctor. For different reasons, I became a teacher. But I really wanted to be a counselor, so I became one. Then I ended up spending some time in a behavioural health hospital (after a traumatic brain injury in a car accident) and receiving a (very accurate) diagnosis of bipolar 1 disorder. So many passions and experiences of mine have come together into novel writing, and I feel like I’m finally doing what I’ve wanted to do my whole life: write and do something to help people.

You definitely sound very brave and determined, and very passionate about your work and your writing. Where do you get your ideas for your stories, and for My Life in a Nutshell more specifically?
My novels always address certain themes or concepts around mental illness/mental health. I want to use characters that people bond with to show what certain aspects of mental illness are truly like (as opposed to what is stereotyped on the news, in films, etc.). With each book, I pick something specific, create a character (and then the other characters) to reach out to readers, and then I build the story. With My Life in a Nutshell, I wanted to show what certain anxiety disorders are like because anxiety is so common and so misunderstood. I wanted to put people inside the mind of someone who lives with debilitating anxiety.

Do you have a writing routine?
Sort of. I write or do some writing-related tasks every day. I think I’m the most creative in the mornings, so I try to do actual writing then. However, that’s a bit hard when my youngest child doesn’t go to school until 9:00. Additionally, I’m also a columnist for a mental health website (, so I have to work on my articles in addition to my novels. It doesn’t work for me to have a rigid schedule. As long as I start my day with coffee, drink tea, water, and Sobe LifeWater throughout the day, I’m good.

What is the one thing you absolutely need to write?
Quiet! (And no distractions)

So do I! Unfortunately I don't get enough of it. Can you describe your writing space?
I actually don’t have a single space. I move about the house to various places that feel inspiring (and that varies from day to day). Part of that is indeed for inspiration. Part of that, though, is because my actual space (my desk in my office) can be described thus: Captain ADHD meets the Tasmanian Devil.

I wish I had a special writing space with a lovely and inspiring view, or even a 'writing shed' in my tiny garden...

In three words - What kind of man is Brain Cunningham , your hero?
Caring, sensitive, anxious

And finally, what are you working on at the moment?
 I’m nearly 200 pages into my latest novel, which of course is mental-health-themed! It’s about a man and his family who are struggling to adjust to his new diagnosis of…

Thank you so much Marie! I’ve enjoyed your interview, and I’m happy that you and your readers have taken the time to get to know me and my writing!

It was a pleasure talking to you Tanya. Thank you for coming on the blog.
Tanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor. She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities. Peterson is an active volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and she is a regular columnist for the Anxiety-Schmanxiety blog on
She draws on her education, experience, and personal background with bipolar 1 disorder and anxiety to write stories about the psychological aspect of the human condition, specifically mental illness and the impact it has on human beings. Her goal is to change the way the world thinks about mental illness and the people who live with it. 
Peterson believes that fiction is a powerful vehicle for teaching fact. Further, she knows that people empathize with characters in novels, and commonly they transfer their empathy to real-life human beings. To that end, she has published Leave of Absence, My Life in a Nutshell, and the YA novel Losing Elizabeth.  Additionally, she has published Challenge!, a short story about a person who finds the confidence to overcome criticism and achieve a goal, and a book review of Linley and Joseph’s Positive Therapy: A Meta-Theory for Positive Psychological Practice that appeared in Counseling Today, the national publication of the American Counseling Association.
Peterson has also been interviewed on numerous radio shows, given presentations on mental illness and book readings nationwide, spoken on mental illness at the 2013 national conference of the Mothers of Incarcerated Sons Society, Inc., and has been quoted in various articles about mental health and mental illness.
Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Mental Health Novelist, Writer, & Speaker
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