Just under ten years ago now, a thirteen year old me woke up one day and decided she never wanted it to happen again. She walked out of her house with the intention of never setting foot inside it again. She got on the bus to go to school and tried to memorize the sound of the bus announcing which stop was next, and way the wind through the open window felt against her skin, and the way it sounded to hear children laughing, and friends talking. She got off the bus and walked around in a grocery store, wanting to waste some time. She walked outside of the grocery store and sat on the bench out front, breathing in the smell of the air, knowing in her heart that would be the last time she’d experience any of it again.
Ten days in a mental hospital, years of on and off therapy, three moves, and four books later, that girl decided she needed her story to be told.
Deep down, that girl is still inside me. She is scared, and lonely, and heartbroken, and absolutely hopeless. So when she asked me to tell her story, I knew I couldn’t say no. I knew I would have to break myself to get to know her again, I knew I would have to remember how it felt to be her to do the story justice, and I knew I couldn’t go on in this life without telling the most significant story of my past life.
Thirteen year old Jasmine came to life in the form of Aislinn Sophia Hunter, a thirteen year old girl who is awkward, and nerdy, and fat, and scared, with curly hair that hardly ever cooperates, a mother whose love she craves but is never able to earn, and a little sister who doesn’t understand her. She started high school with nothing but fear in her heart, and no expectation of having “the best years of her life”. Thirteen year old Jasmine manifested herself in seventeen year old Aislinn, who lacked confidence, who was terrified to let anyone get too close, who was obsessed with pleasing everyone around her, who wanted so desperately to fit in, who had friends who knew her but didn’t really know her, who felt that the world was too much, and who woke up one day and decided she never wanted it to happen again.
I stitched the loved ones in my life into the characters who walked through Aislinn’s journey with her. In her best friend, Shai, I sprinkled a little bit of my best friend Elizabeth. In her sister, Kimmy, I sprinkled a little bit of my older sister, Lanita. In her nephew, Liam, I added a dash of my nephew, Anthony. In her therapist, Geena, I poured in a whole bowl of my therapist, Jonathan.
And the list goes on and on.
With every word, my life flew onto the page and I rebuilt the world I never thought I’d have to visit again: the Hell that was high school. Sure, this isn’t the first time I’ve used high school as a setting for one of my books, and it’s not going to be the last. But it’s the first time I truly felt I went back there, which was the hardest thing to come to terms with.
Aislinn will always be the heroine I’m proudest of, which is mostly because we had to claw our way back to normalcy, back to “okay”, together. But also, because she is the entire reason I decided to start the Reflection series.
Aislinn’s story is the first in the series, and Shai’s will be the second. Each novel will be able to be read as a standalone, with some characters from previous books making guest appearances. Each will focus on a different issue that high schoolers face.
I worked tirelessly on my soon-to-be released novel, Take It All. I started work on it in 2014. I put it away and worked on other things in 2015. I doubted myself with every word I wrote in 2016. And finally, in 2017, I typed the words, “The End.”
When those two words bled from my fingertips to the Scrivener screen I was working in, I broke down in tears, and I sobbed for at least an hour straight.
To this day, Aislinn’s story will be the most difficult one I’ve ever had to write. For all intents and purposes, I am her. There are minor differences, of course, which will be described in my author’s note, but for the most part, we are one and the same.
Nickayla from Losing Me was about five percent me.
Michele from Never Let Me Go was about two percent me.
Sabrina from Unbroken was maybe seven percent me.
Gabby from Loving Gabby was ten percent me.
She’s at least eighty percent me.
I put the most of myself in her. I ate, slept, and breathed Aislinn, even on days I wasn’t always with her, because she was always with me. When I wasn’t working on her, I was thinking about her, and wondering where our journey would take us both next. I bled onto the paper with every single word I wrote. When she hurt, I hurt with her. When she broke, I broke right alongside her. When she was happy, I was happy, but we both knew that happiness would be short-lived. She is everything I wish I could be, while at the same time she is everything I wish I never was.
Writing about the things that have hurt me, like I did in Losing Me, and in Take It All, and like I’ll likely do many times hereafter, will always be difficult. It will always be my greatest pleasure and my greatest displeasure. The hardest part about writing about my pain is having to rip myself apart in order to create art. The easiest part about writing about my pain is letting the art stitch me back together.
And I’m going to keep doing it until there is no more breath in my body, because then, and only then, will I feel that I no longer have a story that needs to be told.
There are authors out there who write purely to entertain.
And for the most part, the same can be said about me.
I don’t write to educate, or to inform.
I write what I’m passionate about. I write what I feel needs to be written about. I write the books that, were I not an author, I would want to read.
Oftentimes, yes, that’s going to include mental health. Or an issue that I find relevant enough to immortalize through my words. Oftentimes, yes, it’s going to be ugly, and painful, and uncomfortable.
Because guess what?
I want everyone to be uncomfortable. I want people to read the way that Aislinn feels about herself and know in their heart that absolutely no one deserves to feel that way. I want people to read about her struggles with mental illness and know in their heart that if it were an easier subject to talk about, maybe less people would suffer in silence.
For this book, I have decided to do something a little different. I know that I am not the only one who has suffered the way Aislinn has. And I know that mental illness is going to be something that is either taboo or plain uncomfortable to talk about until we start talking about it more.
I would like to open up a discussion, leading up to the release of this book, for people to have a safe place to tell their stories, much like I did.
If you have ever struggled with mental illness, if you have ever battled low self esteem, if you have ever had trouble putting on a smile and facing the day ahead, if you have more bad days than good ones, if you struggle with falling in love with your reflection, please consider sharing your story with me.
I love to be open and honest with my own mental health struggles, because it’s important to talk about them. And I want everyone to feel comfortable talking about them. Take a look at the form attached to this link, and if this submission is for you, please fill it out. If it’s not, please consider sharing, at the very least. Let’s start talking. Let’s end the stigma.
Although I have mentioned in this post that Aislinn’s story deals with mental health, I’m not going to give a warning about the content of my book. I’m not going to tell anyone what to expect, because what everyone takes from Take It All is up to the reader themselves. And even if only one person reads it, I hope the words resonate with that person, long after the book is finished. And even if no one reads it, I know that my heart was in this story from the first page to the last page, and that will always be the most important thing to me.
I have been out of the Indie world for nearly two years now, and the idea of diving headfirst into an industry that feels foreign to me now is frightening beyond belief. What’s worse is the thought that this book won’t be received the way I need it to. But all I can do at this point is the scariest part of it all.
I have to kick this book out of the nest, and see if it can fly.
Take It All is now available for pre-order on Amazon, which you can order here. If you pre-order Take It All, please send a screenshot of your order to AuthorJCarolina@gmail.com to enter for a chance to win a SIGNED paperback during release week.