20 years after attending UWF, Nashville psychologist R.J. Jacobs to release novel
by Jamie Calvert, Staff Writer
Robert “R.J.” Jacobs attended the University of West Florida from 1997 to 1999, taking graduate-level classes focusing on psychology. He went on to earn his medical degree from Texas A&M. Jacobs completed a postdoctoral residency at Vanderbilt, has taught abnormal psychology, and has presented at numerous conferences.
Although he’s primary a psychologist, Jacobs began pursuing writing six years ago and is set to release his debut novel, “And Then You Were Gone,” in a few weeks.
“I’d love to say that I just got inspired,” Jacobs said on how he got started. “But the way I got interested was by being a reader.”
He recalls spending his childhood in a house full of books and always reading, wanting to continue that through adulthood. As his medical career progressed and he started a family, Jacobs realized later in life that it was important to have a creative outlet.
“It functions better outside of my professional life,” he said. “I enjoy it more. If this was my main occupation, I think my creativity would be stifled. There’s rigidity of thought in my occupation, but [writing] allows me to explore and think in different ways.”
On the stark contrast between the writing industry and the medical field, Jacobs believes that there are occupational hazards to avoid.
“There can be compassion fatigue and burnout,” Jacobs said. “Most practice self-care so they can stay present. The caveat here is that it depends on the population you work with.
“If you work with patients who have had a lot of trauma, you can walk away from one of those meetings with a dark sense about people, or how people treat each other. It’s good to have a hobby or pursuit that has nothing to do with psychology.”
His best advice for hopeful writers is to persevere.
“I wish someone had told me as I got going to not be discouraged,” Jacobs said. “It might take a while to get rolling, especially if you’re not somebody who doesn’t know many people in the industry. It can be frustrating to get groundwork.
“A lot of people think that if you write a good enough book, people will be naturally interested in it. It doesn’t work like that.”
He advised that you have to think long-term, and put yourself in the shoes of a publisher.
“It’s a business,” he said. “[Publishers] have to see what you’re writing as a product. The industry is relatively fickle, so go to conferences and meet other writers.”
Since “And Then You Were Gone” is his first novel, Jacobs has found that the publishing industry has been nothing but supportive.
“I’ve been very lucky and I’ve met excellent people,” he said. “Writers, as a whole, are a supportive group. [Writing] is a solitary pursuit, so when you’re sitting there with your laptop open, you’re very alone. It’s not a glamorous pursuit. When you talk to other writers, you have a sense that they’re going through the same kind of thing. I have an empathy with someone who put themselves out there creatively.”
On the ego’s effects on writers, Jacobs said that you have to check it at the door.
“You have to believe in what you’re doing,” he said. “Writing something as long as a novel is an interesting pursuit in that you have to believe it in enough to spend so much time on it. What makes for a good book is an insightful writer is being able to connect through their own vulnerability.”
The novel, set to release in March, focuses on a woman with bipolar disorder and the scrutiny she’s put under after her boyfriend mysteriously goes missing. Set in Tennessee, it explores the often-tentative subject of mental health.
“I really wanted to have a character who dealt with something that might have been considered a disadvantage,” Jacobs said, “but turned into an advantage when solving a mystery.
“For instance, when in a manic state, a person with bipolar disorder can stay awake for a long time and have tremendous insight into a lot of things. They have a lot of confidence, and pay attention to detail.”
Jacobs considered what literary success meant to him, chuckled and thought for a moment before a deliberate answer.
“I want my book to touch people’s hearts,” he said. “I’ve heard from people that I would have never expected to hear from, from all over the world. They relate to main character, who suffers from bipolar disorder. I’ve created something that’s so relatable to them, to the point where they reach out to the author.
“For me it’s not about numbers of sales – of course I want it to sell – but it’s mostly about the depth for which it resonates with people.”
To learn more about R.J. Jacobs and his upcoming novel, visit rjjacobsauthor.com.