Tanya J. Peterson

With credentials as a Nationally Certified Counselor and personal experience with mental health care, novelist and columnist Tanya J. Peterson uses writing to increase understanding of and compassion for people living with mental illness. Her most recent work, My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel (Inkwater Press, 2014) was awarded a Kirkus Star, an honor given by Kirkus Reviews “to books of remarkable merit.” Further, Peterson’s My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2014. The novel received a coveted “Recommended” rating  ...See more >

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"A vital tool for sufferers and their families that broadens understanding of a debilitating illness."

Kirkus Reviews



Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2014: MY LIFE IN A NUTSHELL: A NOVEL

National Indie Excellence Award Finalist , 2013: LEAVE OF ABSENCE

Tanya J. Peterson Releases My Life in a Nutshell , 2014

Leave of Absence, the Evocative New Book by Tanya J. Peterson, Unlocks the Pain, Struggle, and Triumph of Those Suffering from Mental Illness , 2013

Tanya J. Peterson, Mental Illness Novelist and Advocate, to Speak at the M.I.S.S. National Conference , 2013

Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, to Co-Author Anxiety-Schmanxiety on HealthyPlace.com, a Leading Mental Health Authority , 2013

Hometown Eugene, Oregon (current and favorite hometown)

Favorite book To Kill a Mockingbird

Day job writer (novelist, columnist), volunteer

Favorite line from a book "If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?" (Jem, To Kill a Mockingbird)

Favorite word flow

Unexpected skill or talent The ability to walk any way but straight

Passion in life helping others find joy and calm


Pub Date:
ISBN: 978-1-59299-883-8
Page count: 334pp

Following the untimely death of his wife and son and a failed suicide attempt, a grief-stricken father is admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he struggles to find renewed hope and meaning in life.

Peterson’s touching second novel (Losing Elizabeth, 2012) begins with a dramatic fall. The one thing that Oliver Graham wants in life is to die. Stepping from the ledge of an 18-story building in downtown Chicago, he plummets toward the sidewalk, taking with him the police officer who was attempting to talk him down. The crowd of onlookers watches both men crash safely into an inflatable landing pad before Oliver is handcuffed and taken to an institution the book calls Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. He meets Penelope, a fellow patient who experiences auditory hallucinations. Penelope refers to the voice as Eleanor Roosevelt, which controls, demeans and beleaguers her on a daily basis. Oliver and Penelope both find their situations to be hopeless; that is, until they begin to relate to and encourage one another. Penelope’s fiance, William, is at first jealous of Oliver, but comes to recognize the therapeutic benefits that spring from their friendship. Meanwhile, William must fend off the advances of his attractive new neighbor, Mariska, and steel himself against his best friend’s suggestion that Penelope is a lost cause. The novel charts the emotional setbacks and triumphs of both patient and caregiver as Oliver and Penelope move toward their release from the institution. The author, a certified counselor, emphasizes the importance of human connection and creative endeavor in group therapy as a stimulus for recovery. Peterson succeeds in demystifying the world of psychiatric care and challenging the stigma that continues to surround mental health. A protracted and soapy melodramatic denouement sadly contradicts the book’s measured, sensitive tone, but this flawed ending cannot detract from the fact that this novel will offer hope to many of its readers.

A heartrending, realistic story about grief, depression and schizophrenia that finds positivity in the darkest of moments.

ISBN: 978-1-62901-072-4
Page count: 381pp

In Peterson’s (Leave of Absence, 2013, etc.) insightful third novel, a man suffering from various anxiety disorders finds hope after forming an unexpected bond with a troubled foster child.

Brian Cunningham, 43, is the night custodian and information technology specialist at Hayden Elementary School. A sufferer of acute panic attacks, he lives his life trapped in a nutshell, a self-imposed safety zone, beyond which exist his darkest fears. His profession allows him to minimize his contact with others and thus manage, or at least tolerate, his debilitating disorder. As the novel opens, the author quickly and deftly charts the anatomy of a panic attack, a phenomenon many nonsufferers might ordinarily find inscrutable. Brian’s mind races as his inner narrative alerts him to perceived external threats that pose no real danger. His breath quickens, his chest tightens, and he suspects his heart is failing—little wonder, then, that he chooses to shut himself away from any potential trigger. Enter Abigail Harris, a hostile 7-year-old suffering from attachment issues and disorders relating to abuse and frequent moves among foster homes. It is Abigail’s first day at school, and hating every moment of it, she decides to go AWOL. Brian discovers the small girl taking refuge in a classroom, and overcoming the paralysis he normally experiences when unexpectedly encountering another person, he begins to communicate with her. The two are surprised to find that they share a mutual understanding. The novel charts the evolution of their platonic relationship as they draw positivity and solace from their experiences. The friends begin to see a possibility for change, although numerous obstacles block their path. As in her previous novels, Peterson demonstrates a tender, notably human understanding of mental illness. In her latest effort, she plays to her strengths, jettisoning an occasionally soapy style in favor of constructing complex psychological portraits and realistic plotlines. In doing so, she accurately captures the crushing sensations of anxiety disorder while simultaneously offering rays of hope.

A vital tool for sufferers and their families that broadens understanding of a debilitating illness.

My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel trailer