Author and emergency room psychiatrist Dr. Paul Linde reflects on his book Danger to Self, being in the public eye, and the craft of writing. ________________________________________________________________________
Danger to Self: On the Front Line with an ER Psychiatrist was officially released about a month ago. Today I am taking stock of the business and promotional end of publishing. As is true for most writers, publicity and marketing are neither my first love nor my finest aptitude. However, I understand that it’s a critically important part of the whole bookselling process.
I’ve done several readings, Q-and-A sessions, and media interviews for both print and broadcast outlets, and I can say that those endeavors constitute real work. While I am enjoying them and feel honored to have the opportunity, they do have me feeling a bit overwhelmed and tired. As I said, they require genuine effort and vigilance.
I suppose I am like most writers in that I enjoy the solitude of the writing process, the opportunity to revise and revise and revise to get the work, if not perfect, at least unblemished for the most part. I can handle the public speaking and live interviews all right. I don’t generally freeze or stammer or hyperventilate, but I’ve found the Q-and-A sessions and my interview on KQED Forum with Dave Iverson to be extra-stressful.
I am discovering that there seems to be an almost pent-up curiosity and interest in the practice of public sector psychiatry. It makes me think that psychiatrists, myself included, have not done a very good job of keeping the public informed about mental health issues. I’ve found the vast majority of questions and questioners to be articulate and well intentioned and genuinely curious about a subject that gets little media attention.
While I’d rather talk about the craft of writing at my events, I am finding that audience members are much more interested in asking direct questions of a real psychiatrist who is willing, perhaps even too acquiescent and open, to try and give real answers to their queries.
At each of my live and on-air events, I’ve fielded questions and heard comments from at least one or two, how should I call them, “eccentric characters,” with whom I could demonstrate my real-life work skills of communication and giving assistance. Upon encountering these kinds of folks, most people throw up their hands and walk away. But this is what I do for a living and if I can’t handle the “eccentric characters” in a competent and respectful way, then I do need to find myself a different day job than that of public-sector psychiatrist.
I answered several calls on KQED Forum and, and for a moment I fantasized about going commercial and being the next Frasier Crane. But at the end of twenty minutes I was absolutely fatigued and tense, rubbing my eyes and trying to massage an abrupt-onset headache out of my temples. I also received some negative follow-up from folks who went out of their way to contact me and register their displeasure at my handling of the questions.
I don’t want to be a spokesperson. I want to be a writer. I can and will document what I see, but, at the end of the day, I am not a naturally political person. The hardcore activism and advocacy will have to be left to someone else. My drive is to create and to work on the craft of writing. So a switch to writing fiction is looking more and more likely.
In the meantime, I will continue to accept the challenge of getting the word out about Danger to Self and to be a sounding board for the public on the mental health issues of the day. It truly is an honor to have the opportunity and UC Press has been a wonderful support in the process.