Today on the Underground, I'm excited to bring you an interview with Elliot Gavin Keenan, author of On Being Insane: In Search of my Missing Pieces. You can find my review of his memoir here. Elliot wrote about his college years studying psychology while dealing with his autism and bipolar diagnoses and multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. Currently, Elliot is working on his PhD.
Memoir and lyric essay, mostly, but I also branch out into poetry and lately I’ve been writing a fiction piece. I like to sample different genres, and use whatever form is most conducive to the story I want to tell. I would say my single favorite form is lyric essay because I feel like I have the most freedom when I write that way.
Tell us about your latest book.
On Being Insane is a memoir that focuses on my years as a college undergraduate while going through a series of psychiatric hospitalizations. That said, it also dives into my childhood, giving insight into what it’s like to grow up with an autism diagnosis. I think the major theme of the book is the importance of neurodiversity.
Who are your favourite authors?
One of my favorite writers is Maggie Nelson. I fell in love with her work after reading her book Bluets. I also really like the work of Kay Redfield Jamison, whose memoir An Unquiet Mind was a major inspiration for On Being Insane. And, of course, I have to mention John Elder Robison, who is not only an excellent memoirist but a passionate advocate for autistic people who I have had the pleasure of meeting several times now.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Be truthful to the story you’re telling; be brave (especially if you’re writing memoir!); and be almost-recklessly bold. But not quite recklessly. It’s a fine line, one that I mostly dealt with in the editing process – but when you’re churning out the first draft, I say you should put it all to the page.
Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
I have a Tumblr blog (professorprettyboy.tumblr.com), which is one of the best ways to connect with me.
Who is your favourite character in your book and why?
My favorite character is the speaker’s mentor, Dr. Pinball, who is all at once an absent-minded professor and a sage-like figure dispensing timeless wisdom. He’s kind of a good-hearted goofball.
How long did it take you to write your book?
I wrote the entire book in about a year.
Who designed the cover?
The cover is actually derived from a painting I did myself!
What are you currently reading?
NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman – a book I should have read long ago!
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I love tabletop games, like Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and Settlers of Catan. I also will be spending a good deal of time studying from now on, since I’m in a psychology PhD program at UCLA.