November 2016 Book Club Pick

Thrive's first pick for our book club is Mishell Baker's Borderline - join the discussion in the comments below, or tweet your thoughts using #ThriveBooks! If you want to know more about how this works, visit the club hub.

About Thrive

Borderline (The Arcadia Project) by Mishell Baker

Borderline book coverMillie, a film director who lost her legs after falling three stories, lives in a mental health facility and receives help for her Bordeline Personality Disorder. After a visit from a mysterious woman with a tempting proposition, Millie is thrust into the Arcadia Project - a secret society of fairies and other mystical creatures on the brink of war. Borderline is a superb start to the Arcadia series, with a very strong portrayal of disability - and that's why we're reading it this month!

Pick up a copy for Kindle, Nook, audiobook, or paperback.

Live Twitter Chat

Join us on November 29th at 3pm CT / 4pm EST for a live Twitter chat with Mishell! Anyone can join in - just log onto Twitter at the designated time, make sure you're following the Thrive account, and read along! We'll pose questions to Mishell and our audience throughout the hour, and everyone is welcome to jump right in. Make sure to use #ThriveBooks in your tweet, and you're all set!

Chat with Author Mishell Baker

Photo courtesy of Vanie Poyey

Erin Hawley (Thrive manager): What inspired you to write Borderline?

Mishell (author): I wish I had a more glamorous answer for this one, but although this book ended up being like sending a small piece of my soul out into the universe, it began as a very calculated thing.

Mishell wearing a dress, walking down a street on a sunny day, smiling

It was one of those cases where a lot of things just came together at the same time.  I'd always seen myself as an epic fantasy author, but I was in a position where I desperately needed to write, and I didn't have the "spoons" to do the kind of historical research and world-building necessary. 

So I thought, for now I'll just set something in Los Angeles and focus on character and plot.  I stole a vague idea my husband had pitched me for a TV show a year or so previous... including the title!  I made the main character a slightly more battered version of one I'd already created for an unsold mainstream type novel, and just sort of got to work constructing the thing mechanically. 

But something weird happened at some point in the second draft.  It grew its own identity and diverged from the blueprint, became a vessel through which I channeled a great deal of my heart.  But I think having that very solid, rational structure to start with kept it together.

Erin: I found this book to ring so true about disability, both physical and mental illness. How did you approach that aspect of the protagonist? How and why did you ensure her voice was authentic?

Mishell: Her experience with BPD is straight from my own brain--I was diagnosed about fifteen years ago--but life as a double lower limb amputee was something I had to research.  I was at the time very isolated, so I had to make the best of resources I could access from home.

For the mechanical aspects of how prostheses work, there was a lot of information online, and YouTube videos gave me an idea of the "feel" of moving around and learning a new way to walk.  Also helpful was just "eavesdropping" on chatty people with disabilities via social media; many people are very open about their frustrations and everyday experiences if you're willing to listen, and it can help you get an idea of the range of perspectives on disability.

Some of Millie's comments on the way she is looked at when using her wheelchair, etc., come from my experiences working as an assistant to a UCLA professor who was paralyzed in a car accident in her 20s and had, at this point, now spent the majority of her life as a wheelchair user.  She was incredibly insightful and always noticed quirky things about the way others interacted with her.  Being a writer, I took mental notes, not even knowing for sure that I would ever need them for a story!  This kind of generalized curiosity is a very helpful trait in a writer.

Erin: Do you think urban fantasy genre lends itself to exploring the disability experience? Why or why not?

Mishell: I can't speak as confidently to the physical disability aspect, or even to all mental health conditions, but for Borderline Personality Disorder it's really almost a setting-as-metaphor situation.  Urban fantasy is all about living in a world that looks, on the surface, like everyone else's world, but hides some very bizarre and at times disturbing secrets.  Things you can't always share with people who aren't "in the know."

The way that Millie has to jump between dealing with very mundane situations (figuring out how to get all her stuff into a cab) and bizarre ones (a rainforest on the second floor of a house in the Hollywood Hills) reminds me a lot of the "paradigm shifts" that occur with BPD, where one minute you feel just like everyone else around you and the next moment you're in some parallel universe where nothing makes sense at all and you're not even the same species as anyone else.  In urban fantasy, as with many mental illnesses, you as the "protagonist" have to learn to smooth out those jarring transitions, keep yourself grounded in a cohesive reality.

Thrive: Easterseals Thrive is an online community for young women with disabilities - a space of empowerment through support. How is community helpful to you, and what can we all learn from each other?

Mishell: Community has been extremely important to me in my career and in my personal life. As a young woman I had not yet received proper treatment for BPD, and one of the classic hallmarks of the disorder is the havoc it wreaks on interpersonal relationships. I rarely kept friends for more than a year, and instead jumped from one person to the next, counting on that one person to be everything for me. This never ended well for either of us.

It is only in the past few years that I have been able to develop a sense of belonging to a community, found a network of friends within the SF writing world, many of whom also struggle with their own mental health challenges and the same sort of career stresses. I can't possibly overstate the beneficial effect it has had on my life to change my social patterns, to think of having a net underneath me woven of dozens of small but important relationships, rather than just one intense lifeline that has to bear all the weight when I feel discouraged or stressed.

Also, don't discount "online friends" even if older people in your lives dismiss them. Some of the most important people in my life are those I met online! The Internet makes it easier to find kindred spirits, people who share our quirks and our ideals. But balance that with local people and neighbors, so you can have someone to make you soup when you have the flu. Not everyone has to see eye to eye on everything in order to be a valuable part of your life! Sometimes our lives can be enriched immeasurably by long term relationships with people who are very different from us and remind us that there are other perspectives on the same issues.

I advise people at every place on the disability spectrum to expand their ideas of "friendship" to encompass as many people as possible, to listen, to care, to reach out and give even when we can't see an immediate benefit. Because the more people we have around us, the richer our lives will be, and the better able we are to shore ourselves up in those areas where our disabilities can make life challenging.

Erin: What advice would you give to young adults who want to get into writing and publishing?

Mishell: Be okay with the process taking until you are no longer a "young" adult!  The one thing I see in common in almost all young writers (myself as a young writer included) is a feeling that if it doesn't happen before you're twenty-five, before you're thirty, before you're forty, you must be a failure.  And you couldn't be more wrong.

Now of course it may happen very fast for you.  Sometimes it does.  But usually not; it's just a normal part of the process.  Everything in publishing is slow.  I started writing seriously, with hope of publication, when I was six.  I sold my first short story at thirty-five, my first novel at thirty-eight.  Didn't hold that novel in my hands until I was forty.

But that's my story, and yours will be different.  Maybe shorter, maybe longer.  There is no career "path" you can follow, truly.  George R. R. Martin failed as a novelist, went into TV because he couldn't sell any more books.  Did TV for a while, then wrote an entirely different sort of novel called A Game of Thrones.  Is he a "failed novelist"?  Mary Higgins Clark, after wanting nothing more than to be a writer her entire life, finally sold her first novel in her thirties... and it flopped miserably.  She kept writing anyway, because it was all she wanted to do.

That's pretty much the only reason to write fiction: because you love it.  If your happiness in writing depends on a certain amount of success in a certain time frame, you should probably focus more of your energy on something else.  But if the very process of writing excites you, if you'd do it even if you never got paid, then you will probably, ironically, eventually get paid.  But probably not before you're twenty-five, just statistically speaking.

That seems like a terrible note to end on, so I'll say this: no matter how long it takes, if writing is your true love, it is absolutely worth it.  Whenever it happens for you, all the struggles and doubts that came before it mean nothing.  If anything, the longer it takes and the harder it is, the better it feels to finally get there!  This is true in great stories, and true in life.

Want more author interviews? Check out Thrive's talk with He Mele a Hilo's Ryka Aoki!

Further Reading

Time to Change (mental health stigma) - blogs and personal stories by people with BPD

Mishell Baker's website and Twitter

Goodreads - more urban fantasy books

Stamp Out Stigma - resources and advocacy on mental illness


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