Alyson Santos Uncovers the Darkness with Night Shifts Black

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Get ready for an emotional ride. Author Alyson Santos introduces us to the powerful journey behind the creation of her novel, Night Shifts Black and song "Greetings from the Inside." She is not afriad to talk about difficult themes, like depression. In her novel, Luke is a troubled, widowed 27-year-old who meets Callie in a cafe that he visits daily. Learn more about their story — and Alyson's — below. 
Night Shifts Black received a tremendous review. How did that feel? What inspired you to tell this story? 
I’m so grateful and humbled by any positive review. Really, the most amazing part is the evidence that a reader has connected with the story and was touched by something I wrote. It’s an incredible feeling to know your words have made an impact, however small, on someone’s life, and I’ve been blown away by the dialogues with readers that have been opened because of this story. I've been left in tears listening to accounts of their own stories they felt compelled to share after reading it.
The story of Night Shifts Black was almost an accident. I had started the first few pages years ago, then put it down as life took me away from writing for a time. After coming through a major battle in my own struggle with depression, I picked it back up and just let Luke and Callie speak. The story they told was one that I never could have planned even if I’d tried. I’m not surprised by any of it, however, given the impact that writing and music has on my own life and relationship with depression. It’s certainly a story that addresses the darkness, but it’s also about love, hope and the power of compassion.
Tell us a bit about "Greetings from the Inside." It's a heartfelt song. Who is singing it and why did you choose this artist? When did the song come out? 
“Greetings from the Inside" was released [in July], but I wrote the lyrics well-before Night Shifts Black as a cry from my personal struggle with the mirror, the lies. The tattoo featured in the video is mine. In a lot of ways, Night Shifts Black is an original novel from the song, not the other way around, and when the lyrics turned out to play such a pivotal role in the book, it really became necessary to combine my passions as writer and musician and bring the song to life. I enlisted the help of one of the most talented musicians and songwriters I know, who also happens to be my brother, Jon Meckes. Logistically, I was not able to participate in the actual recording, but he did a tremendous job capturing my vision and the soul of the song and book. Night Shifts Black is beauty and love in the darkness, and I believe “Greetings from the Inside” embodies that beyond what I ever imagined. 
You're passionate about speaking out on your struggle with depression. What do you want to resonate with readers? What advice do you have for someone who might be struggling with depression? 
Part of my passion comes from a frustration with the silence surrounding this illness. 
I can’t tell you how many tears of relief I’ve watched fall from friends and strangers when I was open about my struggles and they learned they’re not alone, that many of those grinning faces who seem to have it all together are deeply hurting inside just like they are. Depression affects millions, yet, this is an illness that thrives in the shadows. I shared the following as part of the May Mental Health Awareness Month Book Fundraiser benefiting the Keith Milano Memorial Fund, and believe we need to break the silence.
I've lived the devastating effect of depression, watched suicide rip lives apart. It's a deadly disease and yet so horribly common. Despite the fact that it impacts so many of us on a daily basis, we as a society are hesitant to discuss it in an open, honest way. When it is addressed, it's often with a sense of shame, confusion or even blatant misinformation. Those of us who do suffer from depression often perpetuate our isolation by hiding and using the little energy we have to disguise it from the world, creating this illusion to ourselves and other sufferers that we are, in fact, alone. We often believe the lie that we deserve our prison, we are weak, that we should be ashamed, when actually, the opposite is true! Depression is not a personality flaw; it is a disease and we need to start talking about it and treating it as such!
My book Night Shifts Black is just a small step on the road toward opening the dialogue about depression and suicide. There's so much more we can do to change the conversation about depression, remove the stigma and start to bring others out of hiding to get the help they need.
My advice to someone suffering is to take that first small step out of the darkness. It feels like a marathon, I know, but that first step toward help can lead to many more. Remember, your illness is lying to you. It’s telling you the road is hopeless, that you’re not worth saving, but there is hope, and you are priceless. Recognize the lies and fight them. You are not alone, you are significant, you are loved and there are many people out there who want to, and can, help. The key is to identify the lies for what they are and stop trying to hide and fight it on your own.
How does writing and performing help you get past your own struggles? What is it about tapping into your creativity that helps you?
I didn’t know I struggled with depression until recently. Like many sufferers, I didn’t understand and assumed my “darkness” was just me, part of my personality. Music and writing has always been that bridge from the shadows to the light, a way of channeling the darkness into something beautiful. I’ve been a musician since I was five and writing stories since I knew how, inventing them in my head before then. Without knowing it, I suppose my art was an escape, my writing especially. It was a way for me to explore the darkness in a safe way and navigate those “forbidden" corners of my mind that I hid from the rest of the world. Outside I was the perfect everything: daughter, student, wife, mother, employee, but when I wrote and played music I could tap into the hidden part that I had cut off from the world, even myself. It took many years and some painful honesty to begin to accept all of me, to realize that what I hid was just as much a part of me as the public performance. In a lot of ways, it’s been my music and writing that’s helped me form my two warring halves into a complex whole, instead of living the fractured identity with which I’ve struggled for so many years.
You're also a musician with a love for alternative music. Tell us more! Who do you love? What do you take away from those who inspire you and what are you planning on creating next?
I’m actually a classically trained harpist, but a rocker at the core. The dichotomy of my classical background with the soul of a rocker has led to my love of alternative music. I completely connect with the depth, the pain and the beauty that often accompany this genre. Alternative music is the best way I can describe my writing as well, the raw beauty that makes no apologies but somehow leaves you feeling lighter and touched. Bands like Red, Nothing but Thieves, Evans Blue, Nine Lashes, Chevelle … the list is endless, but this is the music that gets in my soul. These are the songs that make me feel understood and tell the story of my personal negotiation with life.
I’m not sure what’s next musically. I would like to write and record more songs from my books, and am always on the lookout for new alternative bands to add to my ever-growing list of rock obsessions. I mostly play keyboard now and love the deeply technological core of that instrument. With today’s music and technology, the possibilities to create are infinite. 
What can readers expect next?
My next project is actually a sequel to Night Shifts Black called Tracing Holland [September 2016]. I’m so excited to continue the journey with these characters who still had so much to say after Night Shifts Black. Night Shifts Black was written, and can be read, as a standalone book, but like any journey in life, has lent itself to a continuation of the story as the characters learn and grow. 
If there's one thing you want your readers to know about you as an author, what would that be? 
I write what needs to come out. There’s no agenda, no goal, except to let the characters tell their own story. My writing is always open, honest and raw, but the only thing my readers can truly expect is the unexpected because that’s what I get from my characters. My first book was TRICENT Commissioning, a historical romance spy thriller. My second was Night Shifts Black, a contemporary rockstar romance. My works-in-progress cross several genres and my writing often doesn't follow the rules. The only constant is my exploration of our complex nature and my fascination with the beauty and horror of what we do to ourselves and each other.
As I am writing this to you, I come across this list in my Twitter feedWhat would you like the media to focus on when it comes to depression? How would you change the coverage (or not change the coverage)?
There is a lot of truth to this article and I like seeing these honest accounts. This might sound strange, but I almost wish there was less of a focus on the emotional aspect of depression and more on the clinical realities of the illness. Until we stop viewing depression as a character flaw, an emotional state, and start viewing it as what it is, an illness that needs to be understood and treated, people are going to continue to view it as a personal weakness that the person just needs to overcome. You wouldn’t hesitate to seek help for a heart condition, and yet, those suffering from depression often don’t even realize they’re living with an illness that can be treated. There’s no magic cure, it’s true, but as we open up and confront our illness without bias, there are steps we can take to improve our chances at fighting it and finding a treatment plan that works for our unique situation.
As with anything, the first step is acknowledging and understanding it. Depression isn’t a “mood” that will eventually go away. It’s not something we can just “get over.” You can't “cheer us up” because it’s not sadness. There is a passage in Night Shifts Black where depression is described in vivid detail for those who don’t understand, as well as those who do. I think it’s important for people to realize that, like with any illness, understanding isn’t just for the person suffering, but also those whose lives touch the victims. Given the staggering numbers who suffer, it’s likely most people come in contact with someone who is dealing with it, whether they know it or not. 
Tell us more about Luke and Callie and what you want readers to take away from their story.
While I’ve been honest about my personal struggle, Night Shifts Black is definitely not a textbook on depression. I’m no expert, and only know my experience, what I live and observe. At the end of the day, the raw portrayal of depression in Night Shifts Black is only a piece of a much greater story. This is a story that’s really about a connection between a young writer and a desperate rocker that explodes both their worlds in a way neither of them could have imagined. Yes, there are no apologies for the darkness, but there is also plenty of humor, music, romance and vibrant characters who will draw you into their lives and make you feel like you belong in their world. I want readers to leave feeling like they’ve been touched, believing that one look, one word can make a difference. To not be blind to the pain around them, to never curb their compassion, no matter how insignificant a simple gesture may seem. You never know what’s hiding behind that forced smile. Maybe a small step can change someone’s life.
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