Kathleen Glasgow is the author of the New York Timesbest-selling novel, Girl in Pieces. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. Girl in Pieces has been named to best of lists by TheNew York Public Library, Amazon, TAYSHA, Goop, Teen Vogue, BN Teen, Refinery29, EW.com, Teen Reads, and more. Her second young adult novel will be published by Random House/Delacorte in 2019. Intern Christy Duprey caught up with her by email to ask about her process, her novel, and her inspiration.
Christy Duprey: You’ve talked in the past about how Girl in Pieces was inspired by your own experiences with depression, self-harm, and substance abuse. What was it like, putting such a deeply personal book out in the world? Did you struggle with the decision of whether or not to publish?
Kathleen Glasgow: I wrote the book as a kind of long letter to a girl I sat next to on a bus many years ago. She had fresh scars and I didn’t say anything to her at the time—I should have. I should have said, “Me, too.” So, I wrote her, and kids like her, a book, instead. I always knew I wanted to publish a book, and I wrote a few before Girl in Pieces, but this was the first one I submitted, and I got very, very lucky. I was a little nervous when publication happened—what would people think? Would I get backlash? But I started getting messages from readers almost immediately, and they were uniformly grateful, and that made it all worthwhile. And Charlie isn’t me. We share scars, but the story of how and why and where are fictional.
CD: This book tackles some issues that are rarely talked about, especially in young adult fiction. Were you afraid of pushback from publishers? Did you get any? Were there other books that you looked to for inspiration or for proof that this kind of book could and should be published?
KG: Lots of books have tough subjects at their core: Wintergirls; Cut; The Way I Used to Be. My book did reach a little farther, though, in the way that I described self-harm. I made a conscious decision to be very honest about the particulars of harm: what it feels like, the dangers. Kids who go through this deserve that honesty. I expected to have to edit a lot of tougher scenes out, but my publisher didn’t touch a word. They believed in the book 100%. There are some libraries that won’t stock the book. I wish they would. If you don’t have books that talk about suicide, depression, self-harm, domestic abuse: you are basically telling those kids their lives don’t exist, you know? That they don’t matter. You don’t have to personally like a book; you just need to recognize that it may have value—sometimes life-sustaining—to a reader, particularly a young one. And books are a safe way for a young reader to explore a difficult issue.
CD: Charlie and Riley’s relationship is central to the book, but it’s not the happy romance we often expect from teen novels. What do you want readers to get out of their relationship, and Riley’s character in general? Do you think there’s hope of redemption for him?
KG: Charlie is completely alone in this book. No family, no supportive friend network. When kids are on the street and alone, they fall victim to predators. Sometimes those predators can come in somewhat cute, disheveled packages, like Riley. He’s an addict, he’s a liar, but he sees Charlie, and she feels that, at least in the beginning. And she’s starved for affection. If you’ve come from a lifetime of neglect and abuse, sometimes the tiniest crumb of affection is all you think you deserve. I want readers to see that they deserve more than the Riley’s of the world. And he’s older, and that fact is addressed quite plainly in the book: at the time they meet, Charlie is 17. That’s statutory rape, even if she consents. Riley uses her desperation for his own needs. It’s not healthy, and it’s not ideal. Riley is also an example of how we treat addiction and depression differently when it comes to the sexes. Riley is forgiven for his addiction because it’s somehow “romantic” and “poetic” because he’s a singer. But Charlie is treated like a pariah—a slut, a loser, even though she’s just as artistically inclined as Riley. Girls get locked up for their problems; guys get record deals.
CD: What made you decide to set so much of the book in Tucson? Did you consider any other settings before settling on a familiar one? What was it like to tell such a personal story in such a personal setting?
KG: I love Tucson. I think the Southwest should be in more books. I also wanted Charlie to move from a cold place—Minnesota, where she could literally conceal her scars under long sleeves and jackets—to a warm one, where she’d be forced to take off her layers, emotionally and physically. And I wanted to really talk about how great and diverse and weird and wonderful Tucson is. So many people here are creative and artistic and deeply spiritual. And the spirit of Fourth Avenue and downtown has always moved me. I like putting real places in my fiction. Basically, I think it’s cool.
CD: Charlie has difficulty finding the mental health resources she needs when she comes to Tucson. Was that based on your own impression of the city’s psychiatric infrastructure? Do you think Tucson is worse about this than other places, and how do you think this plays into the homelessness problem here, either for your characters or real Tucsonans?
KG: I think Tucson is like any other city when it comes to how they treat mental illness and homelessness: they try as hard as they can with what little resources they have. So many books I’ve read have themes of mental illness, yet the characters all have insurance and treatment centers and money isn’t a problem. Well, money is a problem for 90% of people. Most people don’t have access to mental health treatment. How does a homeless person get access to mental health care? Dental care? Basic human needs? Many homeless teens and adults are suffering severe mental health issues that go unchecked and the longer you are outside, the worse things get for you.
CD: Charlie uses visual art as a catharsis and a way to tell her stories, and you discuss in the author’s notes at the end of the book that you use writing in a similar way. Why did you choose visual art for Charlie’s voice? And why comics, in particular?
KG: One of my favorite comic series ever is Love and Rockets by the Hernandez brothers. Maggie and Hopey are ingrained in my soul. I felt like drawing for Charlie was perfect because the act of it is silent; it was something she could do to stay out of her mother’s way. And all art is therapeutic, in a way. The act of drawing or making music or writing can often refocus you when you’re agitated or anxious. You can lose yourself in a safe and healthy way when you do art. You can explore tough issues and feelings in a safe way. And all kids are exposed to comics—it felt right to me that Charlie would latch onto that form as a way to tell her story.
CD: Do you have any recommendations (film, tv, theater, or…you know…books) for readers looking for stories like Girl in Pieces?
KG: Some of my favorite books that examine real-life issues like self-harm, depression, suicide, abuse, etc., are: The Way I Used To Be (Amber Smith); The Weight of Zero (Karen Fortunati); It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Ned Vizzini); Wintergirls (Laurie Halse Anderson); Bleed Like Me (Christa Desir); All the Rage (Courtney Summers).
CD: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors with stories to tell like this one?
KG: Keep going. Someone out there needs your story. They really do. You have to trust me on that.
PRR Writer, Christy Duprey
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