A bout of depression pointed Jenna Patrick in an unexpected direction.
After initially resisting treatment because of the stigma associated with the condition, Patrick turned to writing as a way of therapy. The eventual result was her debut novel The Rules of Half, which was released June 6 by SparkPress publishing house.
Jenna Patrick’s debut novel, 'The Rules of Half,’ was released June 6 by SparkPress. She will discuss the book Saturday at Gathering Volumes in Perrysburg.
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At 1 p.m. Saturday, Patrick, the pen name of 1996 Whitmer graduate Jennifer Scott Starnes, will sign copies of her book at Gathering Volumes, 196 E. South Boundary St., Perrysburg.
The Rules of Half is centered on Will Fletcher, who is diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder. Once a happily married husband and father and successful veterinarian in his small hometown of Half Moon Hollow, Ohio, Will now lives in his childhood home with his sister, Janey, as he struggles to come to terms with the death of his young daughter and the failure of his marriage. When Regan, a 15-year-old orphan, shows up claiming that she’s his daughter, Will is forced to face his fear of fatherhood.
“It was crazy the first time I held it in my hand,” Patrick said of the book. “It was just one of those things. All of my writer friends compare it to giving birth. You spend all this time nurturing this [story] and then you throw it out in the world. It’s kind of scary.”
Her goal, she said, was to tell a story that allowed people to view mental illness in a new way.
“[My own experience] made me realize a lot about depression and mental illness and the way we look at it,” she said. “I wanted to push past that and show it’s not something to be ashamed of.”
She also wanted to approach mental illness from all sides — a man directly affected by it, his caregiver, his child, and from others in the community.
As a reader, “it depends on who you are, because [mental illness is] so common, whether you’re the daughter or the caregriver, you’re going to resonate with that character.”
A couple months after its release, Patrick’s novel has received strong reviews from such publications as Redbook, Working Mother, Buzzfeed, and PopSugar. Reader reviews on NetGalley and Amazon average four stars or better.
She said she’s also heard from readers who want to know more about certain secondary characters.
“It’s been kind of surreal,” she said. “It’s a debut, so I didn’t expect that. I’m kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Patrick has also shared her own struggle with depression in a frank essay in Harper’s Bazaar, titled “I Didn’t Know I Was Depressed Until It Almost Ruined My Marriage.” It openly discusses how she privately blamed her husband “for a life she didn’t want” and how her kids called her illness “the time mommy went away” even when she was physically present. She also talks about how she resisted medication until it was almost too late.
The response has been the coolest part, she said.
“Everybody asks, ‘Aren’t you afraid to put yourself out there?’ ” she said. “But I’ve got through it, and if I can help someone realize that they need help, that’s what I want.”
As for The Rules of Half, Patrick said she was driving home from her daughters’ gymnastics competition when she heard from her publisher that the novel had received its first review — a positive one — on NetGalley.
“I had to pull over and read it,” Patrick said. “I was in tears.”
Patrick left Toledo to attend the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she received a degree in civil engineering. She still works part time in the field.
“I always liked to write,” she said. “But I thought, at the time, that there wasn’t a way to make money in it.”
She credits her husband, Chad Starnes, for encouraging her to pursue a novel.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do it without him,” Patrick said. “There’s a lot of rejection in this business, but he kept on me to get [the story] out there.”
Though Patrick said she fell in love with the North Carolina weather in college, she still visits family in Toledo about once a year. Cedar Point is a must-visit, she said, and she likes to visit the Toledo Zoo.
But what sets Toledo apart? The wide diversity of festivals, she said.
“I love it, and I really miss that part of summer,” she said.
Her ties to Ohio are evident in The Rules of Half, which is set in the fictional town of Half Moon Hollow, Ohio.
“I loved driving through those small towns and these cornfields,” she said. “It was something I enjoyed doing as a child.”
She plans to return to Half Moon Hollow, Ohio, for a second novel, but with a new family as its premise.
Contact Shannon E. Kolkedy at:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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