Friday, November 13, 2009

Author Julie Lomoe

Today, we welcome Julie Lomoe, author of two mystery novels, Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders (2006) and Eldercide (2008). Lomoe has been named 2009 Author of the Year by the Friends of the Albany Public Library. The library chose her especially for her novel Eldercide, because of its relevance to current issues surrounding health care reform and our nation’s treatment of the elderly and of end-of-life issues. The award has been given for decades, but this is the first time the committee has chosen a self-published rather than a traditionally published book.

Julie Lomoe knows home health care from the ground up. As President of ElderSource, Inc., a Licensed Home Care Services Agency in upstate New York, she became certified as a Personal Care Aide.

Welcome, Julie.

When you’re feeling creative, how crazy is too crazy?

Since early adolescence, I’ve been fascinated by the fine line between creativity and madness, and the life stories of artists and writers who suffered from mental illness. At 13, when I took up painting and jazz piano, I was intrigued to learn the great bebop pianist Bud Powell was schizophrenic. I barely knew what the word meant, but it sounded romantic, and I thought his illness contributed to the brilliance of his intense, driven style in compositions like “Un Poco Loco.”

When it comes to artistic creativity, is being “a little crazy” an asset or a liability? The question has been the subject of endless speculation. Would Van Gogh have been as great if he’d been totally sane? What about Robert Schumann or Virginia Wolfe? I’m not sure, but in my own case, being a bit over the top has probably helped. At any rate, my experiences with bipolar disorder inspired my first novel, Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders.

I came by the diagnosis atypically late, in my early 50’s. I was running ElderSource, Inc., a Licensed Home Care Services Agency, and the work was unbelievably stressful. A shrink prescribed Zoloft, and the effect was amazing. Within a couple of weeks, I felt better than I had in years, ready to take on the world. A few more weeks, and I totally flipped.

It began harmlessly enough. I spent more and more time in my office behind closed doors, writing on my computer. My mind was flooded with inspirations I simply had to get down on paper before they escaped. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing, if you’re a writer – but I was supposed to be running an agency. My memos got longer and longer, then turned into voluminous essays, including one about my father’s brilliance as Managing Editor of the Milwaukee Journal during the McCarthy era. Staff in the office were worried, but I blew them off – I’d never felt better, and I knew what I was writing was of supreme importance.

In early December, I devised a plan to revitalize the economy of the Hudson Valley through a multimedia art show which I would carry out with the assistance of the President of Bard College, Robert Rauschenberg (my favorite artist), and various other luminaries. Soon I was on the phone to Bard, trying to schedule an appointment. I locked myself into my office long past midnight, called the New York Times, and tried to convince some lone reporter on the night shift that they should run a front-page story about my plans, my father and his achievements. A sympathetic listener, he diplomatically suggested that my story might be better suited to the Milwaukee Journal. When I called the police rather than let my husband into the office, things were way over the top.

I narrowly escaped hospitalization. Somehow my husband got me to the shrink, who prescribed heavy medications to tamp down what I came to understand was an acute manic episode. I spent a week at home, prone on the sofa catching up on sleep and watching endless videos, waiting for the lithium to kick in. (I remember especially loving a documentary on Sting, U-2’s “Rattle and Hum” concert, and Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin.) Within two weeks, I was back running ElderSource, but on a new medication regimen and with a newly heightened awareness of just how fragile mental health can be.

Was I manic depressive all along? I don’t know, but I’ve now got an official diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder I, and I’ll probably be on medications for the rest of my life, although the dosage is minimal now. Fortunately, being bipolar seems to be trendy. When I talk about Mood Swing at panels and signings, people from the audience invariably approach me to confide that they or close friends or family members are bipolar. But too often they tell me they’ve kept the information secret for fear of repercussions from the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.

So is being “un poco loco” good for creativity? Maybe, when it’s under control. These days, that control is possible through advances in psychopharmacology. Hypomania – the state of mind that falls just short of full-blown mania – can be a wonderfully productive state for writers. But if you find yourself locking out your husband and calling the police, it might be time to call a shrink instead, and see about getting onto some new meds.


Thank you, Julie, for posing such an interesting question and for sharing a piece of your life with is.

Both of Julie’s books, Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders and Eldercide are available online from Virtual Bookworm, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can also visit her blog, Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso to learn more about her and to read the first chapters.

Julie will receive the 2009 Author of the Year by the Friends of the Albany Public Library tomorrow at a luncheon. I’m so glad she stopped by Straight From Hel today so I could say, Congratulations!

I hope you’ll leave either a comment or question for Julie. Also, feel free to tweet this, so we can get the word out about Julie's books.
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  1. Julie's honesty continues to amaze me.

  2. Julie,
    Thanks for sharing. Helping to remove the stigma from mental illness may encourage others to seek help.

    That husband of your may deserve a medal...or a book of his own.


  3. I've always been interested in the workings of the creative mind and how some of the most productive and celebrated writers and visual artists struggled with mental illness.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  4. Julie has such a fascinating story to tell and an amazing insight into the creative mind.

  5. Wow - you've really overcome some hurdles and sharing your experiences so truthfully will help others who may be struggling with the same issues.

  6. This is fascinating and quite true really , most well-known artistes have some form of eccentricity.


  7. That was an open honest post, very interesting. Writing is my outlet(funny enough I mention a little about it on my blog (video link)Am I crazy?.
    As always, something good to read here, thanks Helen.

  8. What an amazing story! I remember when Stephen Fry opened up about his bi-polarity and how this helped so many people.

    Julie's can be added to the list of honest tales that bring understanding and insight.

    Thank you Julie.

    And thanks, Helen, for this great post.

  9. Thanks to all of you for your positive comments.

    Diane, thanks for letting me guest this past Monday. I disclosed quite a bit there, and the favorable feedback convinced me to tell even more.

    Jane, I'll be visiting you on Monday and talking more about personality traits.

    Elizabeth, maybe you can host me when and if I do another of these tours.

    "Anonymous," Being Me, Glynis and Marisa, thanks for your comments, and I hope you'll visit my blog.

    This is the first time I've told this tale in writing! Unfortunately, it still takes a lot of courage to go public with details of mental illness, even when one is ostensibly out of the closet.

    Helen, you did a beautiful job with this post - photos, links and all. I know it takes time, and I appreciate it.

  10. Hi Helen and Julie,
    Oh my, do we have a budding memoirist in our fiction-writing group folks? Julie, this is so helpful and wonderful. Thanks for being so honest about your life and experiences. We can all learn and grow from them.

  11. Thanks Julie and Helen for this post. I always enjoy background stories of fellow writers, seeing where they've come from, part of their journey. Your honesty is commendable, Julie, and I'm sure will move many people. Best wishes on your Blog Tour!

  12. Hey Julie -- Nice post. And so great about the award! Congrats!

  13. Julie, I admire you for being so courageous in sharing. I do think that creativity and mental illness are connected. One of the people I worked with for a number of years was a creative genius in my estimation, and he also was bi-polar. Working with him was sometimes a wild ride, but he came up with some of the most amazing stories.

  14. When we're writing, we live in another world, talk to (and listen to) imaginary characters, and imagine things like killing someone. Perhaps the thread to reality is tenuous.

  15. Well said. Do you ever worry now that this is ALL people will see of you?


  16. Hi again. Helen, it's amazing how many comments you get here. I've admired your blog for months, but I've never played an active role in it before. How do you get anything else done?

    Karen - funny you should ask whether I'm a budding memoirist. Actually, my next book project will be nonfiction, so you're getting a partial preview.

    Joanne - glad you like reading background stories. Sometimes I wonder how much is too much.

    Alexis - good to hear from you! Are you still in town? And do you have time to meet again at Panera to help me with the bells and whistles on my blog? (Alexis was in my BBT class in May - June, and it was amazing that out of about 22 people all over the world, three of us live in New York State's Capital District. Alexis helped me tremendously with the administrative stuff on my blog. Kate Laity is the other actual neighbor.)

    Maryann - yes, there are lots of amazing bipolar people. Ted Turner is one of the best known.

    Michele - fortunately my husband and I now live adequately on our combined retirement incomes, so I no longer need to worry what people think of me! It's tremendously liberating.

    Speaking of my husband, I told him of the comment that he deserves a medal, and he says all husbands do! Not true - he's special, and he just made our lunch.

  17. Julie, one of the wonderful things about blogging is meeting people near and far.

  18. The titles of you novels are really catchy--I would pick them up at the bookstore just based on that! Good going, Julie.

  19. Amazing, honest, gritty and a little scary. Thanks for sharing it.

  20. Julie is a very candid and deep individual, with a wealth of life experience to draw on. Appreciated this post, both of you, Julie and Helen, always enjoy learning more about a sincere colleague in this business. Also looking forward to hosting Julie on my blog on the 20th.

    Marvin D Wilson

  21. Hi Helen, Heidi, Liza and Marvin. Thanks for your kind and encouraging comments! Marvin, I'll look forward to guesting on your blog - especially because it will mark the end of this maiden voyage book tour!

    I just finished writing my post for Jane Sutton's Jane's Ride, where I'll be visiting Monday. I included links to sites where you can do your own Myers-Briggs-type personality inventory. I'm an INFP - do you know what you are?
    Jane, I'll send it tomorrow morning after I proof it in the cold light of day.

  22. Thanks for posting here on Straight From Hel, Julie.

  23. Thanks for inviting me, Helen. It's after 10pm here in upstate New York, so I think I'll sign off for the night. I need a good night's sleep if I'm going to be sufficiently scintillating at my Author of the Year luncheon tomorrow, but I'll check back in after I get home again.

  24. Great post! It never ceases to amaze me how creativity and a little insanity seem to mix so well together :)

  25. Julie, I can't wait to hear how the luncheon goes today. I'm so excited for you.

    Tabitha, I totally agree that a little insanity adds to the creativity.


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