Marce – What would you like to drink Heath, of course I am having Earl Grey tea.
Heath - The psychologist in me realizes that this is the kind of question that makes people either instantly connect or disconnect with someone! Nonetheless I have to be honest and confess that despite it making me look like a twelve year old I am still a sucker for an ice cold glass of lemonade. You can see why I had trouble dating in high school.
Marce - When did you decide to become an author and where did the inspiration come from to incorporate your profession in the stories?
Heath - Probably like many authors I had numerous early teachers and later key professors in college who really pushed me to discover my passion for writing, for which I am grateful and indebted. But my father spent his life chasing the arts and died with the consequences of never finding success. For me, the psychology degree had to come first, and what I discovered is that psychology and fiction are joined siblings that need each other. To diagnose a character, and then develop a plot for that character to me is as satisfying and thrilling as to diagnose and help people discover themselves.
Marce - How does it feel to write characters with mental health illnesses?
Heath - It feels natural. In fact, so much of literary work distances me from characters because too often characters are not human enough. The protagonist is often too chivalrous, the antagonist too evil to be human. This seems foreign to me. I have discovered in clinical work that pedophiles and rapists—as creepy as it is--attract people for the reality that there is a side to them, when they choose to use it, that has frailty and appeal. So characters with mental illness are the ones I feel most comfortable creating, because they are us and our families, to different extremes.
Marce - I believe you write for a bigger purpose, do you agree and what is that Bigger Purpose?
Heath - Up to eighty percent of people who are suffering-- not just a little but really hurting--never see a therapist for various reasons. I thought maybe I could write a series that brings therapy to people attached to hopefully intense storylines. So in therapy I usually hit about seven different areas; for example usually I start out with meaning of life issues, then relationship/sex issues, then am I doomed to be who I was born to be issues, et cetera. Likewise The Manufactured Identity series is a group of loosely related stories that have undertones of who am I (the Grand Delusion), relationships and sex (The Manufactured Identity), and am I doomed to be who I was born to be (The Human Obsession).
Marce - What made you choose the style of Parts in the books and the titles of each part?
Heath - Well, in movies I like method actors and so in writing I attempt to write in as authentic a way as my editing team will allow. The language structure, fragmented sentences, and prose are all meant to read like individuals with mental illness think. There is a rhythm, I think, to depressed thoughts, that is different from anxiety. And schizophrenia in real life is odd so the narrative and thoughts of a schizophrenic should be odd.
Marce - My goal in all of the books is to make a reader experience the story like a therapist experiences a new patient. In therapy, you are presented with wild, overarching histories that involve too many characters that seem initially impossible to figure out, but by listening and sticking with the story the complexities become more overt and simple than could be imagined as it all comes crashing together. I like taking readers on that same journey to therapeutic insight. Marce - Heath, this is exactly why I love your books, I felt like I could be a counselor, my 'dream'. The characters were so real and complex, I loved that.
Heath - The sub titles and titles themselves--as well as the beginning quotes--are always long contemplated double entendras or descriptors that have meaning to the story for me. For instance, the subtitles in The Human Obsession are largely taken from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief. The Manufactured Identity subtitles are a way to describe the phases of coma-to-consciousness enlightenment.
I like to insert things that with a little subtlety may change the re-readers entire experience, focusing them on different aspects of the same story. I also like titles that try to tease the reader, from the title alone, to figure out the story—nothing is more annoying than mysteries without fair clues along the way! Marce - This is why I love the trilogy as a whole. I think together they were executed amazingly well. I didn't love The Grand Delusion but when finishing The Human Obsession I understood and had a better appreciation.
Marce - Did you choose gray and black covers on purpose? There is something with how colored covers can affect mental illness, correct?
Heath - That is true. The cover’s images are more depictive of the scenes of the books, while the colors are more, to me, reflective of the emotions or sobriety of the topics—plain, but then complicated; mood setting, yet also neutral….readers in my opinion should be guided, not marched down a storyline.
Marce - Which one of your books speaks most to you and why?
Heath - I had the most fun writing The Human Obsession. In fact the inspiration for the Thomas character came to me in the middle of the night when the book was already halfway through post production. I couldn’t sleep until I wrote him in! Overall--though I suspect it will be the readers least favorite--I like the philosophical complexities of The Grand Delusion, which also reminds me of my saddest sets of patients. As far as favorite characters I like Lory Latchely from TMI and Chief Murphy from TGD and THO.
As a side note, a large number of readers have emailed me with rants about how annoyed they are with Addy—I find that interesting as I really like her!
Marce - Who are your favorite authors? Recommend a book to my followers that you think is a must read.
Heath - Cliché or not I like Mary Higgins Clark. In fact her short chapters are an inspiration! My favorite mystery of all time however is Bob Randall’s The Fan. Also, hardboiled fiction enthusiasts might try the Leo Haggerty series by Benjamin Schutz. Marce - Mary Higgins Clark is who started my love for mysteries, I buy her new one every release date. I will have to look for The Fan.
Marce - What is on your bookshelf/ereader now?
Heath - I am almost ashamed to admit I have not yet read The Hunger Games Series….they look great! For nonfiction I am reading American Revolution Histories from multiple sources and studying sleep disorders. I am in the minority for not enjoying The Hunger Games, gasp.......
Marce - Bloggers sometimes find themselves in reading slumps, do you ever have writing slumps or writing block?
Heath - I am a mood writer. I try not to force it. Sometimes I write continuously for three weeks, and sometimes wait months in between chapters. I feel that like a woman with pregnancy cravings I should listen to my body when it says it is not time to write, as if it knows me better than I know myself. When do I know when it is time to write? I am a weirdo who first gets a song or picturesque scene in my mind and then after picking the song out on the piano and letting the scene develop in my head for a few days, then I try to transcribe what I felt and saw into a storyline. So I kind of wait for the story to find me first, then I try my best to describe it.
Marce - How do you deal with social networking, bloggers, interaction with fans etc?
I think anyone who develops fans goes through the human process of being unsure how to feel about that. The first time someone came to my work and asked for an autograph, I almost asked, “Are you really sure?” Doing book tours, meeting fans and critics, all of that is so fascinating. You find there are a lot of people who still feel so human toward the world, who really support and love the arts. It really is energizing, and almost starts to feel like the world is small with family throughout.
Marce - In 10 years time what would you want readers to know about you?
Heath - I am not sure I care what is known about me. I am a pretty boring guy, I think. The Manufactured Identity Series is as real, in my opinion, as stories come. The events may seem extraordinary but they are so much more common than people realize. I once had someone read TGD and say to me, “There are only like two guys like this crazy guy in the world.” I responded that in my little town alone there were statistically likely to be over a thousand. I hope in ten years people remember the stories I wrote and wonder two things: (1) what in the world does he think about all the controversial issues he brings up in his books, and (2) what in the world do I think about all the controversial issues he brings up in his books.
Marce - Any upcoming events that you would like to share with us?
Heath - For the last year I have taken a moratorium from writing and book signings, but am now getting irritable for not writing, so… I have recently put in another 60 pages of the fourth book in the Manufactured Identity series, tentatively entitled Psychopaths, and also am about halfway through an independent story about a mall shooting entitled Next to Die.
Marce - Thank you so much Heath. I am a forever fan and truly appreciate you taking the time to share with my followers.
Dr. Sommer’s fiction writing career formally began in June 2009 with the publication of his first suspense/mystery novel The Manufactured Identity. Surprising critics with its intense plot twists and thoroughly human characters, Sommer was contracted to produce two more books in The Manufactured Identity series. The first of these, The Grand Delusion, will be released in the summer of 2010 with the third novel, The Human Obsession, to be released a few months after. Dr. Sommer is currently working on an independent fiction storyline about a mall shooting, as well as some nonfiction work.