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Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Author Adrian W. Lilly writes horror, suspense, and mystery. He’s the author of three novels and has also been published in short fiction and poetry. Learn more about him and his books at his website. 

Writing About Mental Illness Isn’t Always Writing About the ‘Bad Guys’

I’m the type of guy who doesn’t take too many things seriously. I’m a notorious practical jokester who likes to give friends and family a good scare. And when it comes to repartee...nothing is sacred.

With my writing, however, I feel very differently. Especially when it comes to portraying difficult scenarios and complex issues. In my novel Red Haze, which at its heart is a murder mystery with a paranormal twist, I tackled bullying, suicide, and revenge.

Each of these elements has real world implications for potential readers who may have been bullied, who may have a loved one who has committed suicide, or who has dealt with the anger after loss. For these reasons and many others, I delved into research to create my characters and reactions.

Did you know*:

~One in four adults—approximately 61.5 million Americans—experiences mental illness in a given year.

~One in 17—about 13.6 million—live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

~Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For ages 8 to 15, the estimate is 13 percent.

~Approximately 26 percent of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46 percent live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

~Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.

Many of us know someone with mental illness. Maybe you have even struggled with anxiety, depression, or another mental illness. In Red Haze, one of the main characters, Marne, suffers from depression after the suicide of her brother. I wanted to delve into the complex web of emotions and connections within herself and her family that was keeping her trapped in the past. To me, that was a way to attempt to reflect the reality of anguish. I felt a great responsibility to portray mental illness without demonizing a character who suffers from the condition.

Since Red Haze is a thriller, of course, I had to have some bad guys with their own personality disorders. But I think we are long past the days of having only one representation of mental illness—and that being a crazed killer.

Red Haze
Something sinister is happening at Grove University.

Some nights the woods on the edge of campus glow with a spectral, shimmering red haze. Marne Montgomery knows—she’s seen it. She also saw a figure in the haze. He beckoned to her and then vanished. Marne puts the incident behind her until her roommate, Sara Murdock, shows her a picture of a student. The one Marne saw in the woods. But he’s been dead for more than a year. Suddenly, Marne and Sara are tangled in a secret that threatens their college careers—and their lives. Their only hope is to find the cause of the red haze…
Before someone else dies.

Red Haze is a haunting psychological thriller that hovers between the spectral and the natural, blurring the lines between remembrance and regret, dedication and obsession, justice and revenge.


Anonymous said...

Thanks. I have two responses to the "oh wait, I need a motive for this super-evil guy. Hmm... ah! he's crazy. Mission accomplished." 1) That's lazy and cliched and I probably won't read your stuff and 2) thanks for contributing to bigotry, ignorance, and the stigma that people you know and love live with even if they haven't told you about their illness.

Another fact to add to your excellent post: people with a serious mental illness are far more likely than others to be victims of violence. Let's not take the lazy way out and cast them as villains, okay? It's trickier but more insightful to try portraying them as they really are. You know, your cousin. That person you work with. Maybe yourself.

I hope others will call out this all-too-common problem in a genre that is particularly well-suited for calling out injustice.

Barbara Fister

Adrian Lilly said...


I'm delighted that you enjoyed my post. Thank you for the feedback and the valid and important points you contributed.

Best to you,
Adrian W. Lilly

Susan Oleksiw said...

This is an excellent post on a topic writers haven't done enough with. I won't read books in which the villain is defined as mentally ill--it's lazy and intellectually and emotionally dishonest. As another writer noted above, the mentally ill are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Thanks for bringing this problem to light.

Adrian Lilly said...


I agree with you. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and comment.

Best to you,
Adrian W. Lilly

Di Eats the Elephant said...

Yes, I've come to the conclusion that many of those "big" mental illnesses like delusions of grandeur, megalomania, and similar, are easily found in common folks working at low levels and these often leaf to sins of pride, etc. Just like Greek tragedies and Shakespeare, except we don't have to be gods and kings to have or see these ... conditions.

Nike Chillemi said...

I enjoyed your post. I gave me things to think about regarding mental illness.