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Can a Fiction Book Help Your Mental Health?

Guest Blog by Chris Schallert

My book Mather’s Odds was born during my Junior year of High school. How did it come about? I had a crush on someone at the school, and my passion for this person was so intense that I ran mile after mile every morning during the summer of my junior year. My mental health needed support in one way or another, and running gave that to me.

I was gawky and awkward and nowhere near as charming as my brother, who worked the same shift and job. He could actually talk with the spunky red-headed girl that I adored from a distance. I… I knew her name, but anything further I gleaned from overhearing his conversations.

I was so shy and just couldn’t bring myself to tell her about my feelings. My crush on her was just so bad. I knew that I didn’t stand a chance. More important, though, was that I knew it was just feelings—only emotions—only feelings.

“Only” emotions were making me sick. “Only” feelings were driving me to tears. Every teen goes through it sometime. That was my time. I needed to try it the healthiest way I could. I took up running to manage my emotions. I would run, and he would run.

I also had a hard time eating with all of these feelings and emotions. So, to cope and deal with it, I again had my character, Cadence, also take that on. Cadence also suffered from this. In fact, Cadence was nearly starving. But because Cadence was fictional, he had something I sorely lacked:

The ability to change how things were.

I can’t speak for published authors, but from the stories I have read by new or young writers, I think that most of our projects start as self-insert power fantasies of some sort.

Cadence’s power was the ability to change the values of energy, matter, and existence.

And it absolutely made no difference in what he went through emotionally. Having his power emerge suddenly and in full force drove him near suicide.

And the more I wrote, the more I wrestled with that. Having all the power in the world, the other characters still struggled against me and had their own things to say. The story could not be won by brute force, and the ability to craft stars did not win Catherine’s heart.

I started the book with the question, “If I had the power to overcome my limits, and if the object of my affection was even inclined toward me, would this be different?”

The answer was, “It doesn’t matter. I am still me, even with all the power in the world.” What an absurd exercise.

I lost the entire first draft when I went to college. I restarted it twice before I had enough to go on, but it still took me a half-decade to finish. I dated and lost three lovely girls in the meantime. I married the fourth, long after we had both given up on this thing called ‘romance.’ I wrote the most harrowing scenes while sitting in history classes.

My own story had healed. But now, this was Cadence’s story, and his story, and Catherine’s story. I watched them grow apart suddenly, and I watched the fallout from the meeting again. I watched and recorded each with goals, experiences, and hopes. And the longer it went, the more I thought about it.

Cadence had been me. Now he was himself, and his world was mine. He had the power to stop it. He had the ability, but he wanted peace. And it was finally for peace that he exerted his power.

That made me think. I knew I gave him unlimited power because I wanted unlimited power back then. I was not the one who decided the story. Cadence taught me the difference between ability and obligation and showed me the coincidence of duty and desire. He taught me how to live with regret.

He showed me the beauty of dying things, the joy of small items, how the most precious things were sunrises and journeys and pride in the family, how the truth heals and lies hurt and trust changes both.

Mather’s Odds was not the first book I wrote nor the first book I finished, and it was not the longest or the easiest.

But when my wife said, on the way back to our Shenyang apartment, “I think it is publishable,” I knew it was the first one I wanted in hardcover. In February 2020, I held a launch party with about 20 people to celebrate the ten-plus-year journey taking it from a ‘desperate idea’ to a ‘book with a cover.’

My writing has improved since then, and it will continue to improve. But Mather’s Odds is my first book. And I will always be thankful to Cadence for exploring our mutual world of chaos, emotions, and potential and for keeping me company in the long run while we escaped, just for a little while, the feelings we shared for a girl named Catherine.

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