novelist uses her experience of mental illness to create psychological thriller for UNO Press | Books

Writer Amy Crider never had a connection to New Orleans until lightning struck twice in six months.

The first-time novelist submitted her manuscript last year for the University of New Orleans’ $ 10,000 International Laboratory Prize. Students graduating from a UN publishing class combed through over 900 entries and selected Crider’s novel “Disorder” as the winner. Then, in the spring, she won the Tennessee Williams One-Act Play Contest 2021 for a work called “Fourteen”.

Crider is a native of New York and a playwright in Chicago, where she has lived for 20 years. His novel had dragged itself for a decade and a half among literary agencies across the country, rejected more than 100 times. For Crider, diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features when she was just 28 and successfully treated for decades now, it seemed like her idea for a psychological thriller in which the main character suffers from a mental illness was simply not linked to literary agents.

“A few years after my diagnosis, when I was living more and more paranoid mania, I thought in one of my lucid moments that it was a good thing that I was not involved in an investigation of a murder because my grip on reality was tenuous, “Crider said.” But then I knew this whole concept was something I wanted to write about, so my murder mystery started to take shape. “

Early in the novel, the lead character Wendy Zemansky, a graduate student at an upstate New York university, warns the reader that she is not really an “unreliable” narrator (but does not say no. more than she is reliable) because after all she notes, how reliable is someone, since we all see things through our own narrow windows?

The lens through which Wendy sees the world can be marred by manic episodes, delusions and crippling paranoia. So, for the next 300 pages, the reader is caught in a mad rush, constantly wondering if the details of a missing roommate, a dead girl found buried on a snowy highway, or the motivations of everyone, the cops and the kids. friends to university professors. , are actual accounts of events – or simply the imaginations of a person with a diagnosed mental illness.

Students graduating from the UN publishing class found the premise appealing, said Abram Himelstein, professor and editor-in-chief of UNO Press. The job of the graduate students was to comb through over 900 manuscript submissions, with some novels never making it past page 10. It’s a process many screenwriters today refer to as the “Netflix effect.” Writers need to grab viewers’ attention very quickly, otherwise the viewers will switch channels. These sentiments have taught writers today that grabbing the reader by the throat immediately is essential.

Unknown perpetrators in particular need to attract people from the start, Himelstein said. And in Crider’s novel, it happened.

“In the case of ‘Trouble’ you are immediately drawn into an environment that most of us have no knowledge of,” said the professor. “It was a gift to be drawn into this world of bipolar disorder. Touching something so sublime was truly a thrill.”

The search process for the UNO Lab Prize-winning novel is laborious. Each submission should be reviewed by at least two people initially, although they are not required to complete the book if it has not given them sufficient motivation. Books that pass the test are forwarded to the next group of readers for further review.

Jillian Borukhovich, who is working on her MA in Creative Writing with a Focus on Fiction, was awarded “Disorder” in the second round.

“I had to read 30 pages at this point,” Borukhovich said. “But I ended up going through the whole book in a few sessions. Outside of the great writing, I totally connected with the focus on mental health and thought there was a really good portrayal of bipolar disorder, which is an important story to tell. It should be a note to all authors that if your work is rejected, maybe it hasn’t found the right home yet.

The competition is now presented with an embarrassment of richness in terms of quality manuscripts. Himelstein noted that one of the recent unsuccessful UN submissions, “Swimming in the Dark” by Tomasz Jedrowski, was recently praised by The New Yorker.

UNO Press has just published “Disorder”, and Crider will begin a press tour after the first of the year. In the meantime, she has been working on a second novel which she says is short, at 53,000 words. (She noted that “The Great Gatsby” was only 47,000 words long.) The UN prize money will be used to finance the production of one of her plays.

Mental illness isn’t glamorous, but it can provide insight into situations that most of us miss. In an op-ed written by Crider for the Chicago Tribune, published on Thanksgiving weekend, she thought “A Christmas Carol” was an example. Crider believes Scrooge was never afraid of dying, but was rather mortified that he could never redeem himself for everything he had done wrong if he had died too soon. But as Crider knows, there’s redemption and joy in knowing that you can always start over.

Send an email to Leslie Cardé at [email protected]

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