Kathleen Glasgow is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Girl in Pieces and How to Make Friends with the Dark. You can find her on Twitter @kathglasgow or on Instagram at misskathleenglasgow.
Leah Kist: What advice would you give to young authors or those aspiring to write YA?
Kathleen Glasgow: My advice for young authors is to believe in yourself and believe in the story you want to tell. Don’t think about the “what ifs.” Concentrate on the “right now.” Start writing, keep writing, find your story, revise, and keep reading. If you are thinking of writing books for young adults, read lots of YA novels. Think about what’s important to teens now and also what you wanted to read when you were a teen that maybe you didn’t have access to.
LK: Do you have a routine when it comes to writing or what is your process from the time you gather your inspiration to when you complete your novel?
KG: Often, my stories come from something personal in my own life and when I write, I try to view them from the lens of an adolescent. For How to Make Friends with the Dark, I thought about the grief I carry from the deaths of my mother and sister. These things happened when I was an adult, so I have some tools, but what if they’d happened to me when I was a teen, when I didn’t have so much life experience? The book became a kind of manual for loss for teens who might not have the resources to assist them in their grief. I tend to ruminate a lot on a book before I start writing. Scenes appear as I’m walking, reading, cooking, playing with my kids and then I gather them in a notebook. When I start the actual drafting process, I’m very much a pantser; I let the story come as it may, and then I go back and revise, revise, revise.
LK: Girl in Pieces focuses around mental health and self-harm. This topic was surrounded by a lot of concern in the show 13 Reasons Why. What kinds of praises and criticisms do you receive towards your novel from those within the mental health community or those struggling with mental health? Do you face the same criticisms?
KG: I think any time the topics of self-harm and mental health are explored, you can expect some very strong reactions, positive and negative. I think the important thing is to explore the topics sensitively and honestly, because readers who are experiencing these things deserve sensitivity, respect, and honesty. When I was writing Girl in Pieces, I was writing for the reader who was experiencing, or had experienced, self-harm, and I wanted to be honest about the portrayal without sensationalizing or romanticizing it. I didn’t want Charlie to suddenly “get better” because that doesn’t suddenly happen. I didn’t want her to be “cured by love” because that doesn’t suddenly happen. I didn’t want her to have easy access to regular therapy because…that doesn’t happen. A lot of people have no financial access to therapy. A lot of kids are afraid to tell their parents what’s going on. The real-life story of self-harm is a hard one and I wanted to reflect that. What I hear from a majority of readers is that they are grateful Charlie exists, because she’s shown them they aren’t alone. I have had negative reactions to the book, of course. You can’t write a book like that and not expect pushback. But to that I would say: if you erase a hard story about what kids are going through, you erase the kid who is experiencing that story in real life. You are telling them, in essence, that you do not recognize their pain. Kids need access to books that can show them they aren’t alone, that show them how to get help, how to survive, and that their story matters. If a book makes you feel uncomfortable, you should think about why. You certainly don’t have to read it, but that doesn’t mean someone else shouldn’t, either. If a book about a girl who hurts herself makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s okay. It should. But I would also ask you: what else can you do for the more than 1.5 million kids self-harming every year? Are you going to ignore that, too, because it makes you uncomfortable?
LK: What do you wish for your readers to take away from the novel and Charlie’s character?
KG: I hope that readers of Girl in Pieces see that even though Charlie struggles with depression and self-harm, she is always striving to learn self-care and to survive. She learns to take each moment slowly, to believe in herself, to believe in her art. She survives. You can survive. There are things waiting for Charlie and she wants to get to them.
LK: What was your reason behind placing the novel in Tucson? It’s often said authors write about what they know, was that a factor?
KG: I spent my adolescence in Tucson and I love its vibrant, DIY culture, the music scene, the landscape, the seemingly endless possibilities for reinvention. The monsoons! I wanted Charlie in Tucson so I could talk about all the things I love about Tucson: Fourth Avenue, Armory Park, thrift stores, interesting people, desert musicians. All the places in Girl in Pieces in the Tucson scenes are real, except for the coffee house True Grit, which would, if you mapped it, be right next door to the Dairy Queen on Fourth Avenue and 6th Street, where the old Egg Garden restaurant used to be. I think it’s a smoke shop now? 🙂 Also, more books should take place in the Southwest, don’t you think?
LK: It appears that creativity can pave ways for healing, is that a mixture of your personal experience or a message you want young readers to attach themselves too, or perhaps both?
KG: I definitely think there is a link between healing and creativity. The body and mind naturally respond to activities like drawing, painting, and writing, to name a few. Your blood pressure lowers, your anxiety level lowers, your endorphins kick into gear. I often wonder if part of the rise of depression among teens can be attributed to the fact that music and art are no longer requirements in school, but electives (which should still not be graded, in my opinion). Kids are so pressured now to be high achievers and we’ve basically taken away two hours of the school day when they could be just…creating, letting loose, relaxing, and finding ways to relieve their tensions. Sit down and just let yourself draw for twenty minutes and then come back to me and tell me if you don’t feel more relaxed and recharged. I dare you.
LK: The ending offers glimmers of hope, but truthfully depicts how difficult the road of recovery is for Charlie, how and/or why did you decide on this ending?
KG: It would be dishonest of me and a disservice to readers to have Charlie “cured” at the end of Girl in Pieces. That’s not how depression and self-harm work. They require daily management and care. It’s not an easy road and I didn’t want to present that falsehood. I did want to show that Charlie had made some positive steps, that she was committed to working on her recovery, and that she had some good stuff waiting for her. And I wanted her art to bloom, just like she’s starting to bloom.
LK: The novel has a letter from the author, how important was it for you to reflect and share your own experiences, did you want to add authenticity to the novel or was it a way for readers to relate to not only a character’s struggles, but a real person too?
KG: I like to tell people that I gave Charlie my scars, but her story is her own. I used my own experiences with self-harm to write Charlie’s physical and mental story, but the book’s main plot is fiction. I think that readers trust the story a little more knowing that I self-harmed and that I stand with them and believe in what they are struggling with.
LK: In the past these topics (self-harm, hospitalization, etc.) seemed untouchable—now, they seem almost like buzzwords. Do you think it was easier or harder to find a publisher for a piece that’s so raw, honest, and real?
KG: I actually didn’t have a problem finding a publisher; my publishing journey was a lucky one and very unusual. Delacorte believed in this book from the very start and never tried to soften the self-harm aspects or Charlie’s story, at all. I was lucky to have an editor who understood that her story was one that needed to be told. She got it. She got that self-harm was something no one wanted to talk about, but that kids were aching to read, because they didn’t have a book that fully explored such a difficult topic. I don’t know that I would say self-harm is a buzzword. If it was, we might be talking about it more and doing more to help kids make it through. We wouldn’t still be making girls feel devalued because they have scars.
LK: Did you write this novel with a particular audience in mind? Have you always wanted to write YA fiction, and was that your original intent for this piece? What do you think makes this particular novel YA versus adult fiction? Simply character age or something else?
KG: I started as a poet and dabbled in short fiction, where most of my characters were teens. It felt natural to me, when I started writing Girl in Pieces, that Charlie would be a teenager, because that’s when self-harm starts, for the most part. I like writing for that age group, because teen readers are open to stories and experiences in a way sometimes adult readers aren’t.
LK: After the book was released, did you read reviews? Obviously you received tons of (deserved) praise, but with a subject matter so sensitive, there is bound to be vitriol. Did you choose to completely ignore, or did you weed through that as well?
KG: After Girl in Pieces was released, I did read reviews (your publisher sends you the good ones). There will always be negative reviews and that’s just something an author has to take in stride. Not every reader will like your book and that’s cool! I don’t like every book I read, either. I like Goodreads because it’s a great place for readers to talk about the books they liked and didn’t like. Often, the reviews are detailed and honest, and yes, that means sometimes a reviewer doesn’t have the nicest things to say. But again, everyone gets an opinion and it’s not my place to push back on that as an author. That’s the beauty of art. It creates conversation, it expands our horizons, it makes us think, it improves our heart, it improves our soul.
LK: Have you always wanted to write? What led you here?
KG: My mother used to bring home her typewriter from work every weekend so I could write stories for hours on end. That’s what got me started. I loved books and somebody believed in me. It’s as simple as that.
Writers: Kathleen Glasgow, Angela Ferdinardo, Marisa Blair, and Natassja Meredith
PRR Writer, Leah Kist
Pick up your own copy of both novels today!