What’s in a book title?

The title of my memoir is Leaving the Hall Light On (Dream of Things). A lot of people ask me what the title means. Here's an explanation. At first I believed—my magical thinking—that if I left the hall light on, if we didn’t move away from our house, if we didn’t change our telephone number, Paul, our son who took his life at age 27, would know how to make his way back. Paul would know we were still here waiting for him. For a long time I waited for that familiar sound of his Volvo coming into the garage, the sound of the door from the garage slamming as he entered the house and went down the hall to his room, the sound of him walking around the house at night, the sound of the door opening and closing as he went in and out of the house. In fact, for a while I thought I heard those sounds. And for a long time I left most of the things in his room alone for fear of removing his presence there. For a long time I refused to give away his things in case he would need t … [Read more...]

My stress meter

I have a built-in stress meter. I can tell how stressed I am by how loud my tinnitus sounds. When I feel relatively balanced, I hear very low wave-like sounds that seem to come from one ear. When I’m stressed the tinnitus sounds like crashing swells blowing through my head from both sides. So I was interested to read a recent New York Times article titled “How Exercise May Protect Against Depression,” given that “even mild, repeated stress can contribute to the development of depression and other mood disorders in animals and people.” Mood disorders, mania, and depression run in my family, so I need to actively make sure I lower my stress level. I’ve been exercising almost all my life, and I do it every day – first thing in the morning. Exercise was especially useful after my son Paul’s death fifteen years ago. That outlet kept me sane then, and it still does. That is, at least for a while. For example, I exercised this morning – sixty minutes of cardio foll … [Read more...]

Sales are down

Maybe reading a heartfelt and sensitive review will help get you over to Amazon to buy a copy of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. "A beautiful yet heartbreaking story..a must read! As parents, we do everything we can to help our children become strong, healthy, well adjusted and morally upright adults. Yet there are obstacles that we cannot foresee and cannot even begin to understand until we see all of our efforts unravel right before our eyes. This is what Madeline and her family experienced with Paul. He developed a severe mental disorder that caused him to become someone that his family could barely recognize. As hard as they tried to understand, encourage, and help Paul, his illness took over time and again. The ebbs and flows, the highs and lows, the abstract hope and then disillusionment became their norm. In the end, no amount of intervention helped Paul to overcome his dise … [Read more...]

Saying thank you to a reviewer pays off

After three years since its launch, my book, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, is still getting some wonderful reviews on Amazon. I can't help sharing this latest one: Incredible Book! This memoir is simultaneously heart-wrenching and incredibly hopeful. Madeline's story is a true triumph of the human spirit's ability to endure even the most nightmarish of scenarios. I recommend this book to anyone and everyone - whether you live with mental illness, have a loved one who does, have lost someone to suicide, or just looking for a beautiful story illuminating the human condition, you should read this book. Exquisite. This review touched me so much that I was moved to thank the reviewer. In doing so I found out more about her and her family: Oh wow, it's an honor to have you read my review and reply back to me! Your book has had such an impact on my life, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder m … [Read more...]

How technical writing helped me write memoir and fiction

I fell in love with writing in grade school and took journalism and was on the newspaper staff in high school. I attended the University of Wisconsin as a journalism major, then transferred to UCLA my senior year to complete a degree in English. Because jobs for women journalists were few in the 1960s in Los Angeles, I began a long career as a technical writer and editor, proposal manager, web designer and content developer in the aerospace industry. And I must say that was a great choice because my job paid very well, and I’m still able to work from time to time as a consultant years after I officially retired (I’m just about to embark on a four-month job to help a group of engineers write a proposal to the U.S. Air Force). Plus, I’ve been able to transfer what I learned as a technical writer over to my memoir and fiction writing. Here are six things I learned: Plan before you write. I had an outline before I started my memoir and a list of scenes that guided my f … [Read more...]

Saturday, November 22, is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day

Throughout the  fifteen years since our son took his life, I've met many folks in person and through  groups on Facebook who like me are survivors of suicide loss. So, I thought I'd remind all of us that tomorrow, Saturday, November 22, is International Suicide Survivors Day, an event always falling on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I did a little research about how this day started and found out that Senator Harry Reid introduced a resolution to the United States Senate which led to the creation of National Survivors of Suicide Day in 1999. Senator Reid is a survivor of his father's suicide. Every year since the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sponsors the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. The AFSP website says: International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is the one day a year when people affected by suicide loss gather around the world at events in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and ho … [Read more...]

Inspiring Spaces Blog Hop: share what ignites your creativity

  My friend Cate Russell-Cole has started the Inspiring Spaces Blog Hop, and I had to participate. I created the room in our house where I write six years after the suicide death of my son Paul. It was the last room he lived in. I've written  about this room and how meaningful and healing it is for me before  A version of the  following poem appears in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. Making Room for Me   After six years I stacked Paul’s books and records, once in alphabetical order on his closet shelves, in boxes out in the garage, and finally cleared away all the dust. I recreated his room and closet, with a new hardwood floor, a bay picture window, deep taupe walls, a white ceiling and crown molding, and file drawers and book shelves for storing my books and poems. I refurnished his room in shades of black and orange. The sofa is like a futon bec … [Read more...]

How to write a memoir of mental illness

If I remember correctly, my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, brought Sebastian and me together a year or so ago. He then began commenting on my blog, and I resonated with him because he is a young man struggling with his mental health demons. Unlike my son Paul, who succumbed to the pain he felt due to his bipolar disorder, Sebastian is a survivor. Sebastian’s memoir Please Save Me From Myself was released at the end of July 2014. It is about his struggles with mental illness. In describing his book, he says, “My upbringing was pretty good. There were a few fucked up moments and I didn’t learn any helpful coping skills that would suit me as an adult, but I wasn’t locked in a cage and fed baby birds to eat. The first part is about those few fucked up moments and my family dynamics taught me some messed up coping mechanisms such as lying about my emotions until they exploded in my face. I also talk briefly about how the genetics of my family attributed to my mental illnes … [Read more...]

How my memoir came to be

I wrote the following piece a little over a year ago for the Women's Writing Circle. I'd like to share it with you now. When I Knew I Had A Memoir I returned to writing regularly when our son Paul was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in March 1993. He had just turned 21 and was a senior at the New School in New York City. Early on during his illness I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992), and her suggestion to write morning pages resonated with me. Because I was employed full-time then, I didn’t always write in the morning, but I always finished my three pages before the end of the day. So writing about my son’s bipolar disorder and later about his 1999 suicide death became my therapy. Writing during the most stressful time of my life became an obsession and a balm. It gave me a way to organize my fears, pain, and thoughts. Besides journaling I began to take writing workshops at the UCLA Extension Writers Program and Esalen Institu … [Read more...]

Stanley Family Foundation donates $650 million to psychiatric research

A donation of $650,000 for psychiatric research is so important to those with mental illness and their families and friends that I had to share this complete article from yesterday's "New York Times." My son Paul was struck with his first manic break when he was a senior in college in New York at age 21. He believed that people were poisoning his food, drinks, and cigarettes and were lurking in doorways out to get him and his girlfriend. He also became freaked by the constant sirens going off in the city. He was prescribed lithium during his first hospital stay, but he didn't stay on it consistently - he felt it interfered with his creative abilities (he was a jazz musician) - and unfortunately that was his downfall. After seven years of alternating manic and depressive behavior and many hospitalizations, he killed himself. You can read his story in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Sui … [Read more...]

We’re mourning two young men in Manhattan Beach

I don’t normally write about current events, but an article by Paul Silva in our neighborhood paper, The Beach Reporter, made me realize I needed to write this. This week two young men from my hometown of Manhattan Beach had their lives end way too soon. One, a senior at the University of California at Berkeley, was spending a semester abroad in England. He was hit by a car as a pedestrian. He had looked the wrong way (the way we usually look in America) for oncoming traffic as he stepped off the curb to cross the street. The other young man, a high school student, was riding in the top of a double-decker bus celebrating a friend’s birthday. He stood up on his seat at the wrong time and hit his head on an overpass. As a mother who has lost one of her sons (mine to suicide and just as sudden), I know the death of a child is the worst thing that can ever happen to a parent. And I just had to say how much I mourn with the parents and families of these two talented and abl … [Read more...]

Paul’s CD is almost ready

Last December I wrote that I was intent on putting out a compact disc of my son Paul's music and have all proceeds go to charities that work toward erasing the stigma of mental illness and/or preventing suicide.  And I am pleased to say that it is almost ready to go. My plan now is to launch it sometime in the week of September 23 to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of Paul's death. As the date gets closer, I'll let you know where and when the launch will take place. I must credit the three people who have helped make this project a reality: Martin Borsanyi, Paul's friend from their Crossroads high school jazz ensemble days, copied all of Paul's music from the original cassette tapes that Paul left us onto CDs Patrick von Wiegandt, a brilliant recording artist and singer and musician (he leads a band called Swanky), produced and engineered all the songs. He also helped me pick the songs for the CD and the order in which they will appear. Paul Blieden, photographer ext … [Read more...]

My Gutsy Story Anthology

I’ve been so proud to be a part of the group of sixty-four writers who participated in the 2013 edition of  the My Gutsy Story Anthology: True Stories of Love, Courage and Adventure from Around the World, conceived and edited by Sonia Marsh. The anthology has won three awards so far: 2014 ELIT Gold Award for Anthologies 2014 International Book Awards Finalist 2013 Benjamin Franklin Award Silver Honoree Winner at the Paris Book Festival Sonia is now taking submissions for the all-new 2015 anthology. I encourage you to submit your story now. Click here to find out how. Here’s the piece I wrote for the 2013 edition. And if you like my piece, I promise you, you won’t be disappointed in the sixty-three other stories in this wonderfully inspiring book. You can buy it here. My Gutsy Story When my older son Paul died by suicide in 1999 after a seven-year battle with bipolar disorder, I knew I had to find ways to keep myself busy and productive or else I would wallow away in my grie … [Read more...]

Can’t help showing this off

My memoir Leaving the Hall Light On recently received its 109th 5-star review. The reviewer said it's one of the greatest books he's ever read. How could I not brag about it and show it off? Here's the review You can take your love with you, by israel eichenstein: "Madeline Sharples is one courageous parent. This is one of the greatest books I have ever read. Paul her son was bi-polar and tragically took his own life. Madeline and her family have through their pain taught the world the dangers of bi-polar and its devastating effects. But as I read the book through tears and waves of emotion, the overwhelming love for Paul shines brightly on almost every page. A life lost , especially your own child can make you a bitter and broken person. Madeline would not allow herself and her family to wilt under such incredible pain and sadness...she put herself out there in front of the whole world, told her story with love for her Paul and offering guidance to others that are affected by t … [Read more...]

Some stuff about me

With a birthday coming up next month I've been doing a lot of reflecting and a lot of thinking about the future. However, since my suggestion of a book everyone should read is Ram Dass' Be Here Now, I thought I'd share a recent interview that tells about me right now. 1. What is one book everyone should read? Be Here Now by Ram Dass 2. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Peanut butter and blueberries 3. Please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book, Leaving the Hall Light On. My book has much to share with anyone grieving the loss of a loved one or suffering any kind of loss. 4. Any other books in the works? Goals for future projects?  I’m currently working on a historical fiction book based a bit on my family’s history, yet with a twist. I also want to have a book of poetry published. And I'm almost through producing, with the help of an expert recording technician, a CD made of my son’s jazz music. I hope to have it … [Read more...]

Using memoir writing to deal with grief

On Sunday I’ll co-lead a workshop called Telling Healing Stories at the Story Circle Network’s writers conference in Austin TX. One of our goals for this workshop is provide the tools for our participants to address ways to transform a loss or crisis into readable and inspiring prose. It has been proven that writing is healing, and I happen to think that any creative outlet is beneficial to recovering from a traumatic event in our lives. My son Paul killed himself in September 1999 after a seven-year struggle with bipolar disorder, and I signed up for a writing class three months after his death. We sat in the instructor’s living room on couches and big easy chairs in a comfortable and forgiving atmosphere. Each week the instructor told us to write a journal entry. He didn’t specify a subject. This was a beginner’s class. All he wanted us to do was learn to “write like you talk,” and to write in a voice that came from deep within our bellies. And then we’d come bac … [Read more...]

Drumroll please for my WOW guest Sue Silverman

Please give Sue Silverman a huge welcome. I'm so glad she agreed to stop at Choices while on her WOW - Women on Writing blog book tour. I can relate to Sue Silverman author of The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew. I too was a nice little Jewish girl looking over at my WASP grade school classmates and wishing for their long blond waves, blue eyes, clear skin and willowy bodies instead of my frizzy dark hair, short and stocky frame, and my best feature, my hazel eyes, always hidden behind thick glasses. Unlike Sue, I did not experience an abusive upbringing. However, I write about the other taboo subjects that darkened my history: mental illness and suicide. I feel our frank and raw writing goes a long way to erasing the stigma associated with such topics. Plus, writing these hard stories can be healing. Putting your pain on the page can be very liberating. That said,  I’m excited for you to read Sue's thoughts about writing about taboo subjects. Writing T … [Read more...]

Why I turned to digital journaling

Journaling remains a major force in my life. Rarely a day goes by that I don't write a journal entry.  I find the time to write down at least no matter where I am. M. Shannon Hernandez recently posted my thoughts on digital journaling at her The Writing Whisperer blog. I feel so honored to be her guest poster. Here's Why I Turned to Digital Journaling  Writing for Healing I turned to journaling regularly in 1993 just after my son Paul was diagnosed bipolar, and I continued on after his suicide death in 1999. Journaling became my therapy. Keeping my fingers moving across the page was both an obsession and a healing balm. It gave me a way to organize my fears, pain, and thoughts. As a result I have become a huge proponent of journaling as a way to heal. I still journal every day. At first I wrote in notebooks – the finer the better. I especially love the ones I bought in France and later found at Banner Stationer’s in El Segundo California – Clairefontaine. The pages a … [Read more...]

Five star review number 105

The 105th five star review arrived on my Amazon page on January 29. I was so impressed with what Stace of Australia wrote about Leaving the Hall Light On and her sensitivity to our son Paul's and our family's struggles, and the different ways people react to physical vs mental illnesses, I wanted to share it with your here. The gist is: mental illness is an illness just like a physical illness and needs to be recognized as such. "I really related to this book. Having experienced major depression I knew a lot of the scenarios and can imagine how Madeline's son Paul felt. How scared and alone he would have felt. This book is so heart felt and detailed. It's a real life experience that they can't take back but have learned so much from. I felt so sorry for Paul's family and friends. In some places in the book I felt angry with the parents for criticizing their son after he'd passed away, but at the same time I knew that they're hurting and angry that he left them. It hurts to hear … [Read more...]

Book reviews matter

I’ve written about book reviews before. Frankly I wish they’d all go away. But since I’m an author I have to live with them. I also know that reviews matter. Good ones help sales. Bad ones hurt author’s egos. I reblogged a post about reviews from Kristen Lamb last June. She and I are on the same page about writing bad reviews. We just won’t. We know how much they hurt, and why hurt our author friends and colleagues? And, I’ve had some reviews of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On that were pretty ego-hurting. However, I’m fortunate that most been very positive. Like the one posted on Amazon yesterday. It is so in tune with my sentiments and what I wanted to get across in my book, I have to share it here. My only connection to the reviewer is she contacted me about how to get permission to use a Paul Simon song quote in her own book, and I gave her the information. When she told me she read my book, I asked if she’d write a review. Yesterday she contacted me again … [Read more...]