Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gabrielle Byrne: Writers as Voluntary Schizophrenics

I didn’t realize all at once that my Treehouse compatriots were rounding off the schedule of Wednesday guest bloggers until, oh, last week or so. I really should have spread them out a bit. You know, to keep the madness level of the world from reaching critical mass.  But here we are.

This week, one of the Treehouse of Solitude’s newer denizens, Gabrielle Kirouac Byrne is at the control panel with the giant robots, otter pops, and espresso machine to talk about the writing life as she practices it— as an exercise in controlled lunacy. And believe me. She’s Scottish. She should know.

The Circular Logic of Living Multiple Lives and the Blessing of the Treehouse.

I was honored when Maggie included me in her list of Treehouse guest bloggers, not least because we have never met. Luckily, thanks perhaps to the fact that writers spend a good chunk of life in our heads anyway, virtual friendship and support is not made less by the lack of face time.

When I sat down to write this piece, I was in the process of contemplating my “regular” job and asking myself what comes next.  I know, there’s a club for that – it’s called First World Humanity.
Nonetheless, as I reflect on all the potential salaried paths that I might have walked (medievalist, opera singer, marine biologist, lawyer, politician, librarian) and cross-reference that, in true Virgo fashion, with the paths that I am on now and have no intention of leaving (wife & mother, writer, singer, simplifier), I am struck by the uneasy thought that I am possibly not sane.

Alternately, I may be part of an elite crew of actually-very-sane-thanks-for-asking, and in good company. I’m going with that one.  For those of us whose whole lives are a collage, or in some cases a never ending film montage, of possible stories waiting to be written, is it really all that surprising that our paths, talents and personalities are multiple? Could it be any other way?  To write believable characters and put them on their paths we have to empathize not just with various experiences of reality, but with the imaginary. 
This is why I have trouble with the news. It’s one thing to be skilled at empathizing with living for real, walking around people—and that’s tough enough on the nervous system.  Writers have to empathize with very troubled people that don’t exist.

Thank gods for the Treehouse.
Thank great Poseidon for the otter pop (why not?).
Thank all that’s holy for the support and encouragement of our equally reality-challenged colleagues.  Considering the many parallel, evolving branches of our potential choices, in life or in story, there are no words (and that’s saying something) to express the value of a writer-colleague shooting out a simple, “I feel you, Sister.”

Being part of a group of fine folk, like those in the Treehouse of Solitude, can serve as a reminder that our struggle is collective, if solitary. Through sharing our writing with each other it becomes clear that we writers are not just challenged, but also blessed.  Who else lives as many lives as we lucky few? So some of the lives are in our heads – big whoop. Lives well lived, nonetheless.

If living multiple lives is a blessing, how do we do it without losing our minds? How do we know when our lives need a dose of reality? My life didn’t really “get real” until I had kids to support and I have to say, I had some pretty amazing experiences using the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method of decision-making. So, maybe “getting real” is over-rated.  After all, it’s been scientifically proven that our brains can’t tell the difference between dreams and reality.  Our overworked and underpaid spongy pink tissues send out the same chemical signals whether we’re living our lives as elven chattel under a neon sky or filing papers at our desks.  Action follows belief.

This is when Scott (Walker Perkins) and Maggie tell me to get out of my own head and start lobbing otter pops around the Treehouse.  Never underestimate the power of a blue otter pop, travelling through the air at the velocity of an unladen swallow, to knock a little sense into a person.  Maybe the real question is simple. What do you want?

Donning my Simplifier hat, it seems to me that wants (or un-wants, if that’s easier) can be divided into two categories; short-term and long-term. If we can be clear about both and keep them out of each other’s way, then we’ve found the path of gold through the poppy field.  Over time, what we want becomes who we are. For writers – those who write – a single sane life would likely be a bitter pill. So, I shall continue as I began - slightly off-kilter, glassy-eyed with wonder and grateful for both the otter pop in my hand and the friends in my Treehouse.

Gabrielle Kirouac Byrne (G.K. Byrne) writes dark myth and folklore-based stories for middle grade and young adult.  She’s the author of several middle grade fantasies, including Moira Black and the Faery Bargain, Moira Black and the Undine’s Secret, Islands of the Ternkey and The Unusual Odyssey of Michael Pacer.  She’s currently bucking the trend (of ignoring overworked trends) by writing a young adult dystopian with steampunk leanings, and challenges you to say that three times fast.  She is sans agent and light on publishers for the time being but IS holding her breath, so likely that will change soon.

Gabby got a Master’s degree in literature from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, the motherland for things fantastic, and has worked as an truck stop ice cream server, an editor, a paralegal, an opera singer, a marine biologist, an educator and a conservationist. She now herds politiciansgodshelpher (all one word). Gabby lives in Olympia, Washington with her husband and two outrageous daughters. She adores sharp wit, candlelight, parenthetical statements, and her own shadow.  Incidentally - yes, she is related to Jack Kerouac, but is neither alcoholic nor Catholic. You can find her at or on Facebook (of course). 


  1. Interesting post, for which thanks. That said, though, the word "schizophrenic" in the title is a misuse of the word. Misuse is admittedly is rampant. Schizophrenia is one condition, in which brain synapses and connections misfire. Thus schizophrenics actually hear (for example) the refrigerator talking to them. Multiple personalities is something else entirely. A schizophrenic can have multiple personalities, but doesn't necessarily. This misunderstanding is common, but a misunderstanding and misuse of the term nonetheless. What, me sensitive on the subject? Well, yes, ever since a cousin was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

  2. Thanks for the clarification, HGC!