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  • Writer's pictureJ.C. Hannigan

Reflections On Why I Write

I get asked a lot...why do you write? What inspires your writing? How did you "become" a writer?

The truth is long-winded, so bear with me.

Writing has always been my solace. I journaled from a very young age. I always knew I was going to be an author…it wasn’t a matter of if, just when. I wanted to see my name, J.C. Hannigan, on the cover of a book…a lot of books. At nine, I started writing short stories on lined pieces of paper, making covers and putting them proudly in binders. I had notebooks full of plot ideas for my “future” career as a real author.

When I was fifteen…my cousin told me I should start a blog. She knew I loved writing and I had a lot of things to say. She set me up with my first blogspot blog—Miss Misery Smiles. It was supposed to be ironic, you know? And sarcastic. That was my thing. Honesty, irony, and sarcasm.

I blogged about being a teenager and all that came with it—the dating, the friend drama, spats with my sisters even…but I also wrote about my experiences living with a rare autosomal chronic pain bone disorder.

I was diagnosed at 18 months old with Multiple Exostoses (Multiple Hereditary Exostoses/MHE, Hereditary Multiple Exostoses/HME, Multiple Osteochondromas—it’s the “bumpy bone” disorder with many names and faces. MHE is a rare autosomal dominant skeletal disorder where approximately 10-20% of individuals are a result of spontaneous mutation while the rest are familial (inherited). The prevalence of MHE is 1 in 50,000.

I was a spontaneous mutation, meaning nobody in my family had this condition. I spent a lot of my early childhood thinking I was kind of alone in the world. I was around ten years old when we found out about the Bumpy Bone Club and the MHE and Me groups online, and had already undergone surgery once, and a traumatic one at that.

Just knowing there were other people like me out there in the world was an incredibly freeing feeling. I started participating in the Bumpy Bone chatroom Wednesday evenings, and made friends my own age with MHE. They were all in different countries, but still we were all connected through this crazy inherited (in most cases) bone disorder. Exchanging letters and emails with people who shared similar experiences and knew what it felt like to live the “bumpy road life” was magical.

I wrote my first advocacy piece back then—a little “about me” for the Bumpy Bone Club website. It was my entry to “blogging”, to spreading awareness, and a crucial moment in finding my voice in my writing.

I blogged about meeting my husband, falling in love…and finding myself unexpectedly pregnant. I wrote about our journey seeing a genetics counsellor, and discovering my official diagnosis (which is a spontaneous mutation on EXT-1).

I chronicled my insecurities and journey to learning to love my body even when I struggled to like it, a quest I only really started undergoing after having kids of my own. I never wanted them to look at themselves the way I used to, I never wanted them to feel insecure or ashamed of their scars and bumps.

I transitioned from “angsty teenage blogger” to “angsty mom blogger”, more or less. I loved it…the sense of community, the sense of reaching people with my words. It was all very incredible and awe-inspiring.

A friend I’d met in the blogging community, Elizabeth Barone, was one of the first to jump into the independent author business, and she encouraged me to write a book of my own. Begged me. Made me sign up for NaNoWriMo and everything.

But the first year I attempted NaNoWriMo, I failed. I couldn’t give it my focus—I had an eight month old and he did not let me sit down for a moment of peace. Writing a book with a baby is tough—shout out to all you boss ladies doing it right now, but I couldn’t.

My body was in agony from the constant demands of parenthood and my chronic pain bone disorder. That didn’t stop, the MHE…the chronic pain and the surgeries.

My MHE was a huge motivation in me falling in love with writing. After receiving the diagnosis, my father realized I would need a healthy creative distraction. Both of my parents encouraged reading very early on and I spent a lot of my childhood immersed in fictional worlds or creating my own. I missed a lot of school due to bad pain days, surgeries, and recoveries. Reading and writing offered a distraction and a means of refocusing my thoughts away from the chronic pain.

As an avid and passionate reader, I noticed early on that there is a serious lack of disability representation. I wanted to create more characters that looked or felt like me.

This is part of the reason why I was so honest with my blog posts. For years, I wrote honestly about my life with MHE. The daily pain, what it felt like to feel trapped and limited by my own body, my fears and anxieties over having more surgeries, my recoveries post-op…I blogged it all.

I wrote about everything. Literally, whenever something crazy happened, I was met with firm instructions: do not blog about this. Family and friends told me this alike, often in jest, sometimes in seriousness. I knew the difference, even if I skirted the line a little.

There were a lot of topics I was told to not blog about. The struggles my family was having with mental health, for example, was something I was instructed to keep to myself. Up until a few years ago, mental health discussions were not commonplace. People didn’t share these struggles with each other, out of fear of judgment. They had them—oh boy, they had them. They just didn’t know how to talk about it, or get help for it.

I respected my family’s wishes, especially when it came to blogging. They weren’t my stories to tell, either. Not then, anyway...and not in that way. But I always knew I wanted to write about those experiences.

Our family’s uncommon and long struggle with mental health has always been infused into characters and book worlds as seamlessly as it’d been in mine. Mental health just is, for everyone, regardless of their upbringing. Certain events and situations can make it worse, like poverty or a global pandemic or any kind of trauma. After all, the human mind is a remarkably fragile and yet exceedingly resilient thing.

For me, I know I am lucky and privileged to live the life I live. I had a wonderful upbringing; the majority of my family is very loving and supportive. There’s a lot of us, and we do our best to be there for each other, even if we don’t agree with one another or know how to help each other. That isn’t to say that I don’t have my struggles with my disability and with living almost below poverty level because of it most of my adult life, though.

I’ve never had an issue in writing honestly about my own experiences with mental health. Now I can take it a step further, by broaching ALL of these topics in my stories and with my characters.

I think we can collectively agree that mental health services are in dire need of a tune up. It’s a sector that needs continued conversation and funding for services. A year into this pandemic, and we’re all beginning to see it as clear as day.

People are falling apart at the seams, and there’s a billion reasons for it. The world is hurting and bleeding and the poison is seeping out. This happens with all infected wounds, and it needs to be drawn out. Called out.

Racism. Sexism. Ableism. Poverty. Corrupt politicians. Evil in general...all the poisons in society that exist are seeping out of humanity’s wound, like pus. It’s gross, but necessary. And we have to remember to be kind to each other while we’re fighting this seemingly endless fight together, you know? We need to pour equal measures of the good in, to remind people that we are capable of so much good and growth.

We just have to remember to listen to each other, to step into someone else’s shoes. This is why I love the art of writing.

When I was a little kid and I wanted something but my parents said no and wouldn’t listen, I had this mindset in my response…if I write it down, maybe he/she/they can see it from a different point of view…

I managed to convince my parents to get me my very own kitten this way, and that’s when I clued in. You really can make a difference with your words, you can show someone a different perspective and have them see a situation with a totally new lens. When I expressed how sad, isolated and alone I felt, and how I wanted a pet of my own to cuddle with—then ended it by listing all of the benefits pets have on mental health.

And isn’t that what writing is? A different point of view, multiple ones in fact. One where we have the moral obligation of doing more good than harm with our tools.

I believe that we all have a responsibility to be mindful of how we’re infusing the world with our art and our words and our tone. What we put into it is reflected back at us, and the world needs more good. More kindness. More love.

These reasons are exactly why I write contemporary romance. Because I can jam all the swoon-worthy, sultry goodness of romantic love and lust, and still put my characters to the test with outsider influences. My outsider influences just happen to be more…internal.

Every story I have ever written has been drawn from somewhere, from someone I know or some news article I read. Each character I’ve ever created, I’ve done with love and integrity and the hopes that I’m creating relatable characters and stories people are invested in. Stories that make them feel every emotion on the page.

Triggers are a huge conversation in the book community right now, as they should be! I know I personally don’t want to trigger people, but I also don’t want to shy away from topics that move life the way they do. Trauma shapes a lot of who we are, and what we do with it from there…that’s the defining moment.

Diversity and representation is something I am always conscious about trying to include, and doing so in a mindful way has always been my objective. I’m always terrified I’m not getting it just right, so a lot of my work has been slow-coming lately and absolutely RIDDLED with research. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy that part, though...

I’ve spent pretty much my whole life reading up on world history and the events that shaped everything we know today. The world wars, the Dominion Land Act, the Industrial Revolution...the things that brought many people from all over the world to our Canadian soils over the centuries are the backbone to our collective histories. What shaped and made our families, and it is the root of my characters and stories, too.

I grew up hearing my dad tell me “you can be the next Farley Mowat or Nora Roberts”, and honestly...I draw inspiration from them both.

We are all human, and we all want the same thing: a better world for our children and future generations. It’s important to listen to marginalized groups and amplify their voices when and where we can.

As authors, as story-tellers…we want to change the reader’s WORLD with our books. We want to leave them wanting more. My only goal isn’t to just do that job, and do it to the best of my’s to remember that my words carry weight and we as authors and creators have a responsibility to honour that.

With my latest rock star romance series, I’m taking you on a musical journey through the family tree of the Jacobs—and over the course of this journey, you're going to see a few other key players scattered throughout my other books making appearances.

Yes, it is a rock star romance series. But it’s so much more. It’s about generational patterns—and breaking them. It’s about those swanky ass rock stars just as much as it’s about the working class blue collar family man.

It’s an ode to the people that shaped the world and the communities we know today through their blood, sweat, and tears, through their sacrifices, their love, and their determination to make the world a better place for their children.

It doesn’t take one person and one action to change the world, it takes a whole lot of people and a whole lot of actions.

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