Today we have the author of We Still Live, a book so relevant to today’s society. We asked Sara Dobie Bauer to tell us a little about Writing Realistic Characters with Mental Illness, and she has a very personal take on the situation. Take a peek, and then read the excerpt. You will want to grab this book!
To escape the past, accept it.
Running from a scandal that ruined his life, Isaac Twain accepts a teaching position at Hambden University where, three months prior, Professor John Conlon stopped a campus nightmare by stepping in front of an active shooter.
When John and Isaac become faculty advisors for the school’s literary magazine, their professional relationship evolves. Despite the strict code of conduct forbidding faculty fraternization, they delve into a secret affair—until Simon arrives.
Isaac’s violent ex threatens not only their careers, but also John’s life. His PTSD triggered, John must come to terms with that bloody day on College Green while Isaac must accept the heartbreak his secrets have wrought.
***WE STILL LIVE is a standalone M/M friends-to-lovers romance featuring detailed adult content, graphic violence, hurt/comfort, and mental illness.***
Book Title: We Still Live
Author: Sara Dobie Bauer
Publisher: NineStar Press
Cover Artist: Natasha Snow
Release Date: December 9, 2019
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Tropes: Friends to lovers, hurt/comfort
Themes: Coming out, depression, anxiety, PTSD/post-traumatic stress, mental illness
Heat Rating: 4 flames
Length: 62 000 words
It is a standalone book.
Writing Realistic Characters with Mental Illness By Sara Dobie Bauer
My new novel We Still Live deals with some heavy stuff. Not only are the characters haunted by a college shooting, but they also must now survive the ramifications of that shooting—most notably, their destroyed mental health.
At the forefront of the story is romantic interest John Conlon, the hero professor who stepped in front of an active shooter. John is passionate and kind and gorgeous (of course), loved by his students and friends alike. However, since the shooting, John is different. He now suffers from depression, extreme anxiety, PTSD, and night terrors.
Who could blame him? He saw students and friends murdered. He felt their blood on his hands, and he survived—but has yet to heal. Newly hired professor Isaac Twain falls for John, considering it’s difficult to not be charmed by this charismatic, beautiful man who seems so strong when he’s absolutely shattered inside.
So where did John come from? How did I develop this complicated character whose mental illness is as much a part of him as his fabulous hair?
I admit, I did some research. I read up on college shootings (which is not fun, let me tell you). I live in a small Ohio town that was shaken by a high school shooting a few years before I moved there. I’ve watched the news and seen the horrors of Paris, Atlanta, insert yet another tragedy here. But the honest to God truth?
John’s mental illness is realistic because I live it every day.
I’m thirty-seven now, but I’ve been suffering from depression and nightmares since puberty. The anxiety and PTSD showed up due to a high pressure hell job that threw my life off-balance. I’m now medicated to deal with all these issues. I revisit therapy when things get really bad. I stopped watching the news, and a lot of that had to do with the myriad shootings that seem to occur daily.
I wrote We Still Live for selfish reasons. It is an exorcism. I took all my fear, pain, and rage and channeled it into John and the other survivors of the fictional Hambden University shooting. Writer, heal thyself, within the safe cocoon of your imagination.
You’ve heard the adage, “Write what you know.” I don’t agree with that in most cases, but I agree with that statement here. Writing fiction has always been a comfort to me. It’s an escape from reality when reality becomes too hard. It’s a hell of a lot healthier than drinking and drugs.
Maybe you suffer from mental illness, too. Maybe there’s an issue that scares you or gets your heart pumping. Maybe you start writing. Iadmit, penning We Still Live wasn’t easy. Putting John and Isaac through the wringer wasn’t fun, and I had days when I would type through my tears. But I kept going, because their story is important to me and hopefully will be to other people, too.
How did I write a realistic character with mental illness? I looked inside myself. What ghouls are in your closet begging to be set free? You never know who you might help by being open about your issues. You might help some troubled reader out there realize they aren’t alone. Like John, you might even save a life.
Close as they were to the foyer, Isaac was the first to notice the front door opening. A student walked inside. The kid dragged a heavy-looking suitcase behind him. Dressed as he was in a slim-fitting button-down, Isaac immediately assumed preppy, although that assumption altered and changed when taking into account the tight black jeans, Converse sneakers, and shaggy hair the color of caramel and chocolate—a mass of waves and curls that fell down the back of his neck but not quite to his shoulders.
The kid pushed his hair out of the way and looked up, eyes finding Isaac and flashing a moment of panicked nonrecognition before seeing Tommy.
“Um.” Isaac pointed toward the new arrival.
Tommy turned and shouted, “John! My man!”
Not a student, then.
Tommy wrapped John in a hug that actually lifted his feet off the ground. Isaac imagined it wouldn’t be difficult. The new guy might have been average height, but he was gangly, skin and bones.
Tommy ruffled his hair. “Have you lost weight?”
John grumbled and scratched his face with his middle finger. “What are you freeloaders doing in my house?” His voice was surprisingly resonant for someone Isaac considered “pretty.” At John’s pronouncement, crows of approval rang from every direction.
“Come meet Isaac,” Tommy said.
John wiped his palms on his jeans before reaching out to shake, and Isaac’s large hand dwarfed his.
“Isaac Twain is the newest addition to our special corner of Hambden hell. Isaac, this is John Conlon.”
John brushed more hair out of his face. “Nice to—”
John and Tommy froze.
Isaac jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “The books on the shelf. Those are yours?”
John’s face, immobile in what looked like dread a moment before, melted into relief, tinged with a bit of blush. “Oh, yeah. You’ve read?”
“No, but I should. You’ve published a lot of books. You must be good.”
John’s nose wrinkled, and he looked away.
Tommy shook him by the shoulders. “John is an amazing writer. He had a story published in The New Yorker when he was, like, five. Are you working on anything right now?”
John glanced at the bookshelf. “Not lately.”
“You need a drink,” Tommy said.
John’s eyes widened on a big breath. “God, yes, I do.”
“Nice to meet you,” Isaac said, but John just nodded quickly, smile thin, before allowing himself to be herded farther into the house toward the sound of quiet laughter and clinking bottles.
Isaac felt it then—an outsider’s emptiness. He became a nervous-looking coat rack in the corner, a terrified tree waiting for the ax. As the party doubled in auditory volume, he bemoaned his spilled wine. Was it okay for him to leave? It wasn’t like he was supposed to make a speech. He was only there because he figured it was the easiest way to meet everyone before the first official faculty meeting, but he’d been standing around too long. He wanted to run.
Out of curiosity, he reopened John’s book from earlier and read the front flap. It was a coming-of-age story about a gay kid in the Midwest. He flipped to the back, and a picture of John stared back at him. He’d assumed the guy was tired when they first met, but no; apparently, John had perpetual bedroom eyes, and his hair was always an artful mess. He skimmed…creative writing professor at Hambden University…gay rights activist…Converse-wearer and “old-people music” enthusiast.
All arrows pointed to John’s probable sexual preference for men. A spark of interest flickered but quickly went out. True, John Conlon was what most people would consider beautiful, but he wasn’t Isaac’s type. John was the kind of man butch guys fought over in gay clubs, but he was too small for Isaac, too fragile-looking, girly. After all he’d been through, the last thing Isaac wanted was someone feminine.
A thin figure ducked into the library and literally hid against the doorframe. He took a long drink of something brown and leaned his head back. “It’s not good when you want to hide in your own house.”
“Library is the best place for it,” Isaac said.
John kicked away from the wall. “Tommy mentioned you just moved here? I’ve been in Lothos forever, so if you need anything…” He examined Isaac from his brown boat shoes to the top of his blond head. John’s large eyes, dark green, seemed bottomless—drowning pools of intellect and soul—only slightly overshadowed by his thick eyebrows.
Sara Dobie Bauer is a bestselling author, model, and mental health / LGBTQ advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. She lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is author of the paranormal rom-com Bite Somebody series and Escape Trilogy.
Photo credit: Bill Thornhill