Kelsey Macke Reveals Cover for ‘Damsel Distressed’ + Talks Erasing Stigmas of Mental Illness

Photo: (Kelsey Macke)

Photo: (Kelsey Macke)

There are lots of distressed damsels in YA books today, but Kelsey Macke is hoping hers, Imogen Keegan, will actually end up inspiring readers.

For the first time, Macke is revealing the cover of her upcoming book, DAMSEL DISTRESSED, as well as the cover art for the accompanying album. That’s not all, however; the author also announced she will donate a portion of the proceeds from her sales to NoStigmas, an organization dedicated to erasing the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness.


Photo: (Kelsey Macke)

Check out our interview below to find out how she’s changing the face of YA books as we know it now.


Photo: (Kelsey Macke)

ACT: What can you tell us about your novel?

MACKE: Damsel Distressed is the story of Imogen, a girl who lost her mother (and also lost much of herself) in the seven years since. Clinical depression and anxiety are a normal part of her life, as is her school’s theatre program and her best friend Grant. Living with the stigmas of mental health issues, along with the self-esteem problems that come from years of over-eating have left her unprepared for the new addition to her life — her father has re-married and now, she has a stepsister who is practically perfect.

She sees in her everything she hoped she might be if she hadn’t lost her mom.

Imogen is sad, but funny, and so much stronger than she seems.

ACT: Why was it important for you to tell Imogen’s story?

MACKE: Imogen represents so many people who live with mental health issues and who fight mental health stigmas every day.

Imogen is my story and the stories of my former students and the stories of strangers.

I have read lots of Young Adult books and sometimes, I found characters who were “sad” or “melancholy” but I had a hard time finding characters who were living with diagnosed difficulties. I wanted to write a character that has a therapist and a support plan. I wanted to write a character who is living with the realities of therapy journals and meds and labels at school, because I believe that the real young people who experience that life deserve to see themselves on the page.


Photo: (Kelsey Macke)

ACT: So many people struggle with depression, anxiety, and self-harm. What are some of your favorite organizations that support mental health initiatives?

MACKE: There are a growing number of organizations all across the country, which is so exciting to see. I believe that making help and support more accessible is vital to destigmatizing mental health issues.

One organization that is working hard to remove stigmas and to create an infrastructure of support is NoStigmas based in Chicago. They’re developing peer mentor programs, community outreach, online resource directories, and tons more.

ACT: Why did you decide to donate a portion of the proceeds from your book to No Stigmas?

MACKE: Last December, I was doing a lot of research on mental health awareness organizations and stumbled upon NoStigmas and their mission statement. Their dedication to helping all people, including those with specialized experiences such as military members and people in the LGBTQIA community set them apart.

I created a public service announcement for the organization on my YouTube channel and then contacted the founder and introduced myself. It was a great match from the start. We have such similar hopes and passion for raising awareness; I knew it would be a great fit.

ACT: You’re also releasing an album to go along with the book. What can you tell us about it? 

MACKE: My husband, Daron, and I are the band Wedding Day Rain. We’ve been making folky-pop music together for almost ten years, but we’ve never shared it with the world.

When my agent suggested that we connect two passions, everything just clicked. We realized that a few songs we’d tucked away over the years perfectly complimented the story I was telling on the page. We wrote more songs to round out the album and now, we’ve basically created a soundtrack for DAMSEL DISTRESSED called IMOGEN UNLOCKED.

The book is peppered with full page illustrations that represent Imogen’s inner thoughts. On those pages are QR codes that the reader can scan to navigate to the webpage of the specific song that belongs with that scene. The music is meant to heighten certain emotional moments, and for people who are into multi-media work, we hope it will be a really unique and enjoyable experience.


Photo: (Kelsey Macke)

ACT: If you could tell your future readers one thing, what would it be? 

MACKE: I would tell my readers that we create an illusion of isolation when we’re in pain. But it’s just an illusion. There are people there to love and support us, and we never have to suffer alone.

I hope that readers will find comfort in Imogen’s story, and find a new pocket of strength within themselves that they might have been overlooking.

ACT: What did you wish you knew when you were 17 that you know now? 

MACKE: Oh, wow. So much.

When I was seventeen, I was in the middle of a whirlwind surrounding a song I wrote following the events of 9/11. I was flying up to New York and meeting with fancy people who were interested in signing me if I was willing to try and squeeze myself into the acceptable mold: a perfect body and back up dancers.

Saying no at 17 or 18 years old was one of the hardest things ever. Someone standing there offering you what feels almost like your dream, but you know in your gut it’s not right.

I would tell that girl to trust herself. To never doubt her own instincts.

ACT: Now that you’re going to be a published author, do you have any solid career advice?

MACKE: Everyone’s professional path is different. From big corporate ties to indie development, my only advice is to keep the promises you make to yourself.

If you want to be something, keep fighting until you are. But listen to yourself, because the things we want change all the time.

New dreams are almost always sweeter than old ones, so keep dreaming.

To find out more about the causes mentioned in this interview, check out the action widgets below. You can preorder Macke’s book here.

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Support NoStigmas in erasing the stigmas of mental illness.

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