Saturday, May 7, 2016

May is Mental Health Month & with it Meet Mental Health Advocate & Memoir Author Martha Graham-Waldon...

Hello one and all! How are you today? I hope everyone is doing well and happy! It’s so great to be with all of you again. Welcome back everyone to my writing blog where I try to share whatever I think may interest you: Whether it is writing information, interviews with other authors, and anything or anyone connected to writing. I just love introducing, welcoming and interviewing authors. Welcome to an interview with Martha Graham-Waldon, author of the memoir, Nothing Like Normal—Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia. 

Author Martha Graham-Waldon


Martha is a writer, spiritual entrepreneur and armchair activist who resides in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California with her family and a menagerie of pets. Her articles have been published locally, internationally and online. She is a winner of the 2015 Women’s Memoirs contest for a vignette based on her memoir in the anthology Tales of our Lives. Her memoir Nothing Like Normal—Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia was published by Black Opal Books and is available on Amazon, other on-line retailers and independent booksellers. A member of the National Association of Memoir Writers, Martha also loves travel, the outdoors, Jazzercise and music. For more information, please visit

In case anyone isn't aware, the month of May has been designated as Mental Health Month by NAMI, the National Association on Mental Illness

During May and year-round, NAMI and participants across the country are bringing awareness to mental health by fighting stigma, providing support, educating the public and advocating for equal care for mental illness. As an author and mental health advocate, Martha Graham-Waldon has helped to bring awareness to mental health issues within families through her memoir, Nothing Like Normal: Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia.

How about you? Have you experienced mental –illness in a loved one?

Martha will be giving away an e-edition of her memoir to a reader selected at random from the comments below.

We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~Now to the interview....

SJ: It must have been very difficult to live in your sister's shadow of ill health. It certainly was a personal issue. What made you decide to share your story with others?

Martha: It has been very personal for me and when I first began writing on this subject, it was mainly as a form of therapy for me as I tried to come to terms with my past and what had happened to my family. However, I soon realized that I was not alone in my experience. In fact, each year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition in either themselves or in a loved one. I decided that I could be a voice in the important national conversation on mental health and that my insights might help others in similar situations.

SJ: What do you hope to accomplish with the publication of Nothing Like Normal?

Martha: I have already received lots of positive feedback from readers because my story resonates with so many others. People tell me about their siblings, parents and friends who have struggled with schizophrenia and other mental health conditions and how reading the book has given them a helpful perspective on their past and present struggles. I have also joined a NAMI speakers bureau called LETS (Let’s End the Silence) and we travel to local high schools and educate the students on mental health and suicide prevention. This has been incredibly rewarding for me and we hope that our efforts will save lives.

SJ: Looking back now, was there ever any warning, a red flag that may have signaled to you or others that your sister was ill before it actually occurred?

Martha: In my memoir, I describe some incidents that I remember from our childhood which where warning signs that something was amiss with my sister Kathy. She had a few violent outbursts which were puzzling and upsetting to me as a younger sibling, such as breaking things. Unfortunately, there was not a lot of awareness about mental illness in the 1960s and 70s, and no one recognized this as anything other than a child’s tantrum.

SJ: Were there any issues you had to overcome in being able to write this story? If so, how did you overcome them?

Martha: Writing my story was painful because I had to relive many difficult parts of my past in order to better understand them. I found that I was experiencing many memories, some joyful and some painful, and as they arose for me I would jot them down, sometimes in the middle of the night or at odd times. I took my time with each memory, processing one at a time so they would not be overwhelming as I re-created scenes that had taken place in my past.

I discovered and poured through old journals, poetry, prose and family letters and then created and referred to a timeline of important turning points in my life that helped me to be objective in understanding my past. 

SJ: Now that you've published non-fiction, is there a writing genre you would ever like to try writing in? Why or why not?

Martha: I am currently working on a novel which is nice break from the intensity of memoir writing. It feels very powerful to create characters from scratch and control their destiny with a wave of my hand!

SJ: What is a favorite book you enjoyed reading and would recommend without hesitation? Why?

Martha: I have enjoyed escaping from reality and the present through historic novels such as The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory. In terms of memoir, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is an inspiring coming of age tale about overcoming the hardships of poverty and a tough childhood.

SJ: Any advice for those interested in writing a memoir? Is there anything you know now that you wished you had known before your book was published?

Martha: Read as many memoirs as you can. Study the memoir writing genre and connect with the memoir community online or through the public library. There are lots of memoir workshops and seminars that you can participate in online and in person. Look at old photos and journals to ignite your memories. All these things will help you find your own voice. Don’t get discouraged and try to write a little each day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes.

SJ: In closing, Martha, can you give us a hint into your next project?

Martha: Lair of Love (temporary title) is the story of two young people forced into homelessness. They rely on ingenuity to survive--first in a makeshift dwelling in the redwood forest and later in the concrete jungle of city streets. It is a love story that is innocent and idyllic until their love is interrupted by a series of challenges. Will they be able to find a real home and build a life together or will the harsh reality of homelessness drive them apart?

SJ: Sounds terrific, Martha! Can't wait to see it in print. Right now, before we say goodbye we have to share the blurb for Nothing Like Normal:

In Nothing Like Normal, after an idyllic childhood, the strains of adolescence send one sister spiraling down into a mental breakdown, leaving her younger sibling and family to cope with the aftermath. The younger sister must now face her fears and find her own truth or be pulled in the same downward direction as her former mentor. How she survives while navigating the ups and downs of their volatile teen years leads to an inspiring and endearing tale.

Interested? Want to learn more? Here's a brief excerpt for Nothing Like Normal:


As I stepped over the threshold, the heavy metal door to the psych unit swung shut with a resounding and decisive slam that made me jump. My eyes swept over the drafty expanse of the ward as I searched for her. The faded checkered floor was lit by afternoon shadows. Light spilled into the room like shards of crystals piercing through the tight wires imbedded in the thick shatterproof glass. I looked at my sister Kathy as she walked down the corridor toward me, thinking back on all that had happened to us both. My once fit, athletic sister was now obese. Her dark hair hung stringy down around her face, usually uncombed and dirty. Her teeth and nails were stained brown with nicotine. Suddenly I was caught up short in astonishment. Who was this metamorphosed girl in front of me? Why was she here? Why not me? And I reflected on the past and all that has brought us here…
Kathy Cat and Martha Mouse lived together in a great big house.
It was always the two of us. The "little girls" we were called.
As close as we were, we were far apart, too, different in so many ways. She was brave and outgoing; I was quiet and introverted. She had long, dark hair that she wore down almost always, tucked behind her ears and flung behind her shoulders. She wore hang-ten T-shirts like a uniform, a different one each day. She was dark and beautiful, like an American Indian. Somehow that tiny bit of our Cherokee ancestry was born out in her. In junior high once, a boy signed her yearbook, “To the best Indian girl I know”, and we wondered about that. She was all right till the bump of adolescence sent her careening over the edge. I lost her to a cruel illness that invaded; slowly taking her over her bright mind.
When your sibling becomes mentally ill, you feel powerless. The adults are making the decisions; there is not much you can do. It’s like being a passenger on a train pummeling towards a certain wreck, witnessing your family plunge into disaster and not being able to step off or change course…

That sounds heartbreaking. It certainly got me interested. Of course, I already read the book and think everyone should, especially if someone you know has a mental problem. It's important to know that you're not alone. I gave Nothing Like Normal 5 stars because it was a story from the heart that touched my heart while reading it.
Thank you, Martha. For allowing us to take some time out of your busy schedule and interview you as you share your personal experience about living with a sibling's mental problem.

Readers, take note you may purchase a copy of Martha's memoir, Nothing Like Normal—Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia at online retailers and independent booksellers:


                You can also find a copy at:


                                                OR      and more.

How about you? Have you experienced mental –illness in a loved one?
Martha will be giving away an e-edition of her memoir to a reader selected at random from the comments below.
We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~

Feel free to connect with Martha at:

Thank you all for visiting with us. It's always a pleasure meeting with every one of you.

Until next month...every one please stay safe. Smile. Be happy. Show compassion. Be nice to others. Put a little love into your heart. Please speak up for those without a voice, whether it be a dog, cat, elephant or monkey. One person, one voice can make a difference. Read a book and pass it on. Leave a review. Reviews are important for authors. Believe me. I know. Thank you!


S. J. Francis

Advocate for the underdog, and cat, and supporting writers, et al.

In Shattered Lies: "Good and bad, it's All About Family." Available now from Black Opal Books and for sale at all on-line retailers and independent booksellers. 


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And now for some legal stuff: Copyright 2016 by S.J. Francis. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the author, S. J. Francis and the guest author and are meant to entertain, inform and enlighten, and intend to offend no one.


  1. I've experienced this myself growing up in a family of six. No one had schizophrenia, but one of my siblings had some sort of disorder. I'm amazed at how we all denied it. When I was young, denial seemed to be the most common way of handling mental issues. I think people are more aware now. I've also known of similar situations in other people's families. They didn't talk about it then, but do now. Good interview.

    1. Hello Linda!
      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment and sharing your story. It is greatly appreciated!