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Susannah Cahalan
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Simon and Schuster Authors > Susannah Cahalan and Brain on Fire

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message 1: by Vincent, Mod & Author (last edited Mar 12, 2013 09:38AM) (new)

Vincent Lowry (vlowry) | 1102 comments Mod
Dear Authors and Readers,

I'm pleased to introduce Simon & Schuster author Susannah Cahalan to our group and her book, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. Below you will find links to her novel, along with several interview questions that I asked her. Feel free to send her questions/comments within this thread, and make sure to check out her great book!

Brain on Fire My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

"A gripping memoir and medical suspense story about a young New York Post reporter’s struggle with a rare and terrifying disease, opening a new window into the fascinating world of brain science."

Interview with Susannah Cahalan

Q: What was your inspiration for writing Brain on Fire?

I was inspired to write Brain on Fire when my editor at the New York Post convinced me to write a newspaper article about my experience. Another editor there had accompanied me to my doctor presention at his Grand Rounds, where doctors lecture on specific cases or discoveries to a group of their peers, on my case. This editor suggested to my own that I had lived through something extraordinary enough to write about it for the tabloid. He agreed. I remember that it was a Tuesday, our "pitch" day, and I had until that Friday to write it. It was a tremendous, mad dash to get it done, but I recall being so invigorated and piqued by the process. After the article was published and after all the incredible responses, I knew that I had to explore the subject further in book form.

Q: What message in your book do you hope to pass on to your readers?

There are several messages I hope to pass on to readers, among them: Don't be cowed by the men and women in white lab coats. Be curious, be inquisitive, ask questions, and don't be afraid to insist on a second opinion. This goes to another theme that I hope readers come away with my book, the understanding of how far we still have to go in the quest to understanding the mind, the brain, and the connection between the two. This struck me hard. I was a true believer in the incredible power of medical science, but after my research, I came to realize that we are still very much in the dark ages of understanding the brain and the self on that deeper biological level.

Q: Are there any parts in Brain on Fire that were difficult to write?

By far the hardest part to write was the third part, or the recovery section. In the two other sections, I felt as if I was writing about a stranger, or perhaps a distant relative. But in the recovery section, the most painful part of the whole experience, I could remember and feel what it was like to be that person and that in many ways made it harder to write freely and objectively about that time in my life. It was the most "memoir-y" part of the whole project and I really fought the process, but in the end, and despite some of the reviews to the contrary, it's the part of the book of which I'm most proud.

Q: Do you have any advice you could give to new writers?

First and foremost, pick up the incredible book "Modern Library's Writer's Workshop" written by the incredible Stephen Koch, a former professor of writing at Columbia University. Less a how-to guide and more of a pep talk, the book helped me through many dark periods of the writing process. This book is like an old, wise friend walking you through the stages of book development without judgment or overt praise. When he says, "Shitty first drafts," you go, "Amen!" I just fell in love with this book and recommend it often.

Another tip is to find your magical writing hour. Mine is at 5am, even though I'm not a morning person. Once I figured this out, my writing became more fluid and faster. It's not necessarily fun to wake up when the world is still dark, but I don't think that I could have written Brain on Fire without figuring out my strange and somewhat inconvenient writing hour.

And finally know that writing is hard. It's hard for everyone, even the greats. It's brutal, lonely, frustrating work. But sometimes, and this is not nearly the majority of the time, you get it right. (I almost wrote "write," oh man.) And it feels so good.

Q: What is your next book and when do you hope to have it out?

No plans just yet. As of now, I'm just taking in a bunch of research, speaking with doctors and experts on the history of medicine, waiting a bit for all this to subside and for the muse to find me again. I know that it will. But I also know that I have to be as obsessed with my next project as I was with this one-- and I want it to be as important as well--and I really don't think I'll settle for less. So stay tuned!

Thank you, Susannah!

-Vincent Lowry

message 2: by Libby (new)

Libby | 23 comments I devoured BRAIN ON FIRE when it first came out. What a terrifying experience it must have been. And yet, such a happy ending. You did a fabulous job writing about it, Susannah.

message 3: by Cary (new)

Cary Neeper (cary_neeper) | 16 comments I'm eager to read Brain On Fire and get the Modern Library book for my husband, just not finding his blog voice. I'm with you at 5 a.m., usually after my brain wakes me up, composing in my head what to put down on paper. Thanks for sharing.

message 4: by Andrea (last edited Mar 12, 2013 10:23AM) (new)

Andrea King (andrea_king) Ooh, I'm listening to this one from Audible right now. I'm in part 3, the recovery section, and I have about 1.5 hours left. Such an amazing story.

message 5: by Shelly (new)

Shelly Wright (shellygoodmanwright) | 26 comments Thank you!

message 6: by Karen (new)

Karen Einsel (kkrafts) | 46 comments I'll have to add Brain on Fire to my to be read list! Great interview!

message 7: by Susannah (new)

Susannah | 3 comments Libby wrote: "I devoured BRAIN ON FIRE when it first came out. What a terrifying experience it must have been. And yet, such a happy ending. You did a fabulous job writing about it, Susannah."

Thank you, Libby!!

message 8: by Susannah (new)

Susannah | 3 comments If you all have any other questions please feel free to ask!

message 9: by Inglath (new)

Inglath Cooper (inglathcooper) | 2 comments Wonderful interview here! I'm very much looking forward to reading the book!

message 10: by Libby (new)

Libby | 23 comments Susannah, I do have a question. I think I remember you saying you don't remember much of the time when the illness was at its peak. Now, a few years later, have any memories resurfaced?

message 11: by Susannah (new)

Susannah | 3 comments @Libby I have retained some memories from that time (mainly hallucinations) and along the way while talking to various people about the book and reliving it again and again, some parts of my story were clarified, refined, added to. But there have not been whole memories that have resurfaced...and I think I'm okay with that now. Thank you for your question!

message 12: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Murdock | 1 comments I am almost finished with Brain on Fire, and each bit I read stays with me throughout the day. Thank you for telling your story. I'm so glad you are back with us. Thank God for your family and Stephen. I felt so restored by their faith and strength, as well as yours. I'm looking forward to seeing you in Cambridge next week!

message 13: by Ken (new)

Ken A | 1 comments I have read this book and found it very fascinating as it closely paralells the information I have read on the subjects of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology. It is also a good portrayal about the challenges the modern medical community have in diagnosing this kind of disorder. Medical schools primarily teach differential diagnosis which didn't work in this case. It took out if the box thinking and a very simple tool to diagnose it ( the clock diagram). I would never wish this phenomenon on anyone and am grateful Susanah chose to share it with the world!

message 14: by Sue (new)

Sue Knott (sueknottauthor) | 2 comments Looking forward to reading the book!

message 15: by David (new)

David | 5 comments Susannah, your memoir sounds really powerful. I look forward to reading it.

message 16: by Dianna (new)

Dianna Winget | 5 comments I read the condensed version of your story in the Reader's Digest, Susannah. IWhat an amazing experience! I look forward to reading the full story.

message 17: by Sheila (new)

Sheila Callaham | 9 comments Great interview and I look forward to reading your book!

message 18: by Andrea (new)

Andrea (hermia) | 8 comments Bravo Susannah, can't wait to read your experience, thanks for being so brave as to share with the world! That takes courage.

message 19: by Libby (new)

Libby | 23 comments Susannah, what's next for you? Are you still with the paper? What do you hope to do, going forward?

message 20: by Andrea (new)

Andrea King (andrea_king) Susannah, are you still with Stephen? Do you ever just want to stop and thank him for staying with you through those horrible months?

Do you think about those people who may have something similar to what you did and were never diagnosed? How they may be stuck in an asylum or hospital, in that unconscious place you were?

Are you pleased with how far research has come in the few years since you were diagnosed?

message 21: by Deborah (new)

Deborah | 20 comments Very interesting interview! Sounds like a fascinating book and one I'm looking forward to reading!

message 22: by Cecilia (new)

Cecilia | 167 comments Hi Susannah...I'm so glad that all this worked out well for you. Thank God for that one doctor that figured out what was going on before it was too late.

You are so right when you tell people: "Don't be cowed by the men and women in white lab coats." Remember, they work for you. You sometimes have to respectfully be aggressive to get any answers & keep asking until you are satisfied with what they tell you. I've learned that lesson first-hand over the years in dealing with the medical profession. By the way, I do have respect for all those working in the medical profession but also have dealt with some doctors that were fairly full of their "special-ness". One specialist in particular had to be chased down a hospital hallway by three rather big guys & escorted back to my room because I had questions about my condition after a serious car accident that the doc previously didn't take the time to even hear. Actually, except for the pain I was in...that episode was rather amusing...:>

I viewed your video, Susannah, and what really hit home with me was that your doctor asked you to draw a clock. My mom, now passed on, was diagnosed with psychosis/dementia and one of the tests they gave her was to draw a clock...just like your test. I found it interesting that asking something that seems so simple to do apparently gives so much information to the doctor.

Much like you, mom seemed fine but during the last part of 2009 she started telling us such bizarre & frankly unbelievable tales about her neighbors & even us, her family, which I won't go into now. It seemed like she had changed almost overnight into this crazy woman I didn't know anymore. It wasn't long before we, her family, could see that she had completely "lost it" was horrible! Mom thought we were all against her & wanted to be alone yet was afraid to be alone. Again, as you, the frontal lobe of her brain had been her case by a deterioration of brain cells that could not be halted, healed or treated.

I'm sure you are grateful for every day of your life, Susannah, and for the doctor that helped give it back to you. I look forward to reading your book and wish you a happy here, now & future life.


message 23: by Urenna (new)

Urenna Sander | 57 comments Interesting interview.

Thanks, Vincent



True Season of Love

message 24: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Tun (httpwwwgoodreadscomsarah_tun) | 3 comments Love the interview, especially "First and foremost, pick up the incredible book "Modern Library's Writer's Workshop" written by the incredible Stephen Koch, a former professor of writing at Columbia University. Less a how-to guide and more of a pep talk, the book helped me through many dark periods of the writing process." I plan to pick it up. Also, I can think of someone to pass on her book to; thanks so much for the informed blog post.

message 25: by Maureen (new)

Maureen (maureendowning) I cannot wait to read brain on fire. it sounds amazing.

message 26: by Vincent, Mod & Author (new)

Vincent Lowry (vlowry) | 1102 comments Mod
Congrats to the success of Susannah Cahalan and her book, Brain on Fire.

It's great to see readers have enjoyed it.


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