"They couldn't get enough of him. He told the kids, 'I had dyslexia and I hated school and I thought I was stupid.' Look at me now. I get to play all day long.'

"The kids in my class who were struggling were hanging on every word he said."

One way or another, most of Fuqua's novels involve a journey into the past, whether to an earlier historical period or to the author's childhood.

Several of Fuqua's main characters are in the fifth grade. That's when he first began showing signs of mental illness during the stressful period when his parents divorced.

The rupture was difficult for everyone, but especially hard on young Scott, Monet says. He recalls raised voices, unpredictable adult behavior and angry outbursts that left him terrified.

It didn't help that Fuqua's father was a military man who traveled around the world. Fuqua was born in Germany and moved about a dozen times before his 14th birthday.

It also didn't help that his only brother, now a microbiologist, was a "phenomenon," as Fuqua says, or that his only sister, now a nurse-practitioner, was a "genius" while he struggled to read and to perform basic math. It wasn't until he was a sophomore in college that his dyslexia was diagnosed.

Until then, he just thought he was dumb.

"When I entered first grade, my teachers thought I would be just like my brother," he says.

"But my grades were terrible. Nobody could figure out what the problem was. It was a great mortification for my father. From a young age, I could pick up a pencil and draw anything I wanted. But my father dismissed that as a secondary feminine characteristic."

Fuqua had his first breakdown in the seventh grade. For four months, he barely slept. He became convinced that "Star Trek" was putting bad thoughts into his head and making him go crazy. He was so lonely as he wandered through the house at 3 a.m. that he would call the time-of-day recording just to hear a human voice.

He saw a therapist and was placed on tranquilizers, but they didn't dent his pain. He learned later that standard drugs used to combat depression are ineffective in treating bipolar disorder.

"When I think of those years now," Fuqua says, "I see them as film strips. The parts that are from the time when I was depressed have melted and burned."

Monet was beside herself with worry. It hurt her that her sensitive middle child was so sad. And nothing could convince her that he wasn't every bit as smart as his brother and sister.

"My mother trusted in my intelligence completely," Fuqua says, "and she constantly reassured me that there was a smart person in there."

After the family moved to Florida and Fuqua entered his teens, his illness temporarily receded. But when he was a junior at Virginia's College of William and Mary, he again became severely depressed. He bought a gun. Two days later, he said, he walked into the school's psychiatric clinic and asked, "Is it normal for a person to want to die and to think about doing it?"

Fuqua was immediately hospitalized. He temporarily dropped out of college, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and began taking lithium.

"Within a week, I was an absolutely new person," he says. "It was amazing. For the first time in my life, when I went to bed at night, I knew who I was going to be when I woke up."

He'll be the first to admit that he still struggles with depression. But no one ever said that self-creation is for the faint of heart.

Monet thinks that her son chose a career as an author, even though it means struggling daily with his dyslexia, because it allows him to revisit and comfort his younger self.