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Watertown Author Talks About Her Book on Battling Mental Illness

Julie Greene turned her Master's thesis into a novel, which is now available in paperback and for Kindle.

Watertown's Julie Green faced bouts with mental illness and eating disorders to complete her Master's thesis, which she turned in to a book called "This Hunger is Secret." She grew up in the area, and used some local spots in her novel, which is available in paperback and for Kindle.

Watetown Patch recently interviewed Greene about her writing and her life:

Watertown Patch: Tell readers about how you were inspired to write your book, "This Hunger is Secret: My Journeys Through Mental Illness and Wellness."

Julie Greene: "This Hunger Is Secret" is my master’s thesis for my MFA in Creative Writing. But it wasn’t my first thesis. I got to Goddard College by a round about route. I did my undergrad at Emerson College in Boston, finishing when I was 45 years old. Only a few weeks after that, my boyfriend, Joe, died suddenly of a heart attack. The day of his funeral, I came home to find a message on my answering machine that I’d been accepted into the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt. It is a low-residency school, meaning you spend nine days there, then do the rest of the work at home. Within weeks after Joe’s death, my dog died. You can imagine how lost I was starting up school that next winter. My first thesis was a novel but I abandoned it. It was like Joe’s ghost was all over the manuscript. Then, on a whim, I switched campuses and did the nine-day residencies at Port Townsend, Wash., instead of in Vermont. I decided that writing a memoir about my mental illness was my calling. All my advisors were excited and enthusiastic about the project. I wanted to share with others what it is like to live with a mental illness and survive the mental health system. I ended up dedicating the book in memory of Joe.

WP: What was the greatest challenge writing the book?

JG: While working on my book, my eating disorder began to return. I don’t think it had anything to do with the book itself except that I used my work as an excuse not to eat. Mostly, getting skinny was an eventual consequence of being given an antipsychotic medication that had caused extreme weight gain a few years back. I needed to get the manuscript done, and I was so starved that I couldn’t concentrate and feared that I would pass out. During the week that I had to mail my thesis in so that it could be approved for my degree, I worried that I would be forced into the hospital, so to make sure all the degree paperwork got squared away, I sent off my thesis early. I dealt with my eating disorder for another couple of years but now I think I am finally free.

WP: You mentioned the book is set in the Watertown area. Where are some of the places people will recognize?

JG: I grew up in Lexington, and my chapter, Locker #47 takes place at the grounds of Lexington High School. Lexington was a very different town in the Sixties and Seventies. My chapter, “ProRe Nata” takes place at the old Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, that was torn down about 20 years ago. It is so ironic that this so-called “hospital” was so close to McLean. I have a chapter on McLean as well, called “Walking the Line.” There is a scene at Demos in one of the shorter chapters. My chapter, “Off Limits” refers to Doty Street in Waltham. In my epilogue I describe getting off the No. 70 bus in Waltham at the Dunkin Donuts, walking down Prospect Street as far as the Charles River, following the path along the river, and then hopping back onto the bus at the train station.

WP: Have you written other books, and do you have any other books in the works?

JG: Yes, This Hunger Is Secret is my third book. When I was 39, the doctors said I would never make anything of myself and maybe that’s why I defied them and said, “Yes, I can!” and decided to write a novel. After 18 years of bopping around the mental health system, I returned to school and finished my degree. I shocked everyone. I have proved them wrong again and again. My first book wasn’t very good. My second I self-published on demand. It is called, "Breakdown Lane, Traveled: An Anthology of Writings on Madness." My publisher, Jason Pegler, has taken interest in it and I want to revise it and get it on the market with Chipmunka Publishing. My fourth book I did for National Novel Month 2009. It is a memoir called Summer in November about my hitch-hiking trip across the country in 1979. I like the book. My fifth book is a novel about a woman with anorexia that I did for National Novel Writing Month 2010, called "I am So Cold, and Hungry in My Soul." It is a tragedy and it is my favorite. I am planning a novel, apolitical satire, for my sixth book. It will be a female version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" because it will take place on an eating disorders unit, starring the Jack Nicholson-style rebel, me. The novel will make some very radical political statements against forced care and against the forced use of the nasogastric feeding tube, or any method of force-feeding. I will be making some very strong statements about Western medicine and psychiatry in general.

WP: Where can people purchase the book?

JG: The book is available from the publisher, www.chipmunkapublishing.com via .pdf, or via Kindle from www.amazon.com. These are immediate downloads. Or you can order the paperback from the publisher. The paperback should be available to be ordered from any bookseller soon. When you have them shipped to Watertown, they come from Pennsylvania, so they are quick, in about two days. Or anyone can get a signed copy from me directly.

WP: Do you have any readings planned in the area?

JG: I’ve been reading at local open mics recently, and I hope to schedule some readings of my own at local venues. I will be signing up for alumni readings at my tenth Emerson College reunion. Goddard College’s radio station has also asked to interview me. I want to change the world and radically change what this thing “care” is, especially for people with eating disorders, and make it something that really works and is accessible to all. What they have to offer now is a money-making racket, and I got better in spite of it.

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