Girl in Pieces: An Interview with Kathleen Glasgow
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One of the great professional joys in my life is celebrating beautiful writing and wonderful, necessary books. That’s why I was so happy to find Girl in Pieces (Delacorte Press, August 2016) by Kathleen Glasgow. Already a New York Times bestseller, the book is so raw and lends an important and effective voice to issues that need addressing.
Here’s a description of Girl in Pieces book from Amazon:
Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people do in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.
Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.
A deeply moving portrait of a girl in a world that owes her nothing, and has taken so much, and the journey she undergoes to put herself back together. Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.
Here are highlights from my email interview with the very talented Glasgow.
EZ: I’m intrigued that you’re a researcher for The Writer’s Almanac. How would you describe that job in a sentence or two, and do you enjoy it?
KG: Answer: I love researching for The Writer’s Almanac! I get to read about great historical figures all day and ferret out interesting anecdotes. I learn something new every day.
EZ: Did you have a specific writing plan or process for Girl in Pieces–especially since it took 14 drafts and 9 years to come to fruition. (Kudos to you for your perseverance!)
KG: Well, partly it took so long to write because I had a full-time job and had two babies along the way! That takes up quite a bit of writing time! I had to squeeze in writing very early in the morning and I also received three arts fellowships from the state of Minnesota that allowed me take some time off in the summers to really get down to work. I would write as much as possible–I’m a true believer that you need to have at least 300 pages before you can seriously start thinking about what your story is really about–during those summers and then peck away the rest of the year, a few hours at a time. There were 14 drafts, yes–which is kind of a testament to what changes along the writing route and how you ultimately find your real story. In the first drafts, Charlie was a twin, she had a different best friend, and everything took place after the hospital. Riley was a different plot point in the book and she pined after a guy named Ike, who was away in rehab.
EZ: When you wrote Girl in Pieces, did you ever hold back or were you ever afraid that friends, relatives or anyone you knew would recognize themselves in your words? Did that thought even cross your mind and if so, did it affect what you included in the book?
KG: Girl in Pieces is fictional. I gave Charlie my scars, and some of my emotional feelings, but her story is fiction. My reasons for self-injury are not the same as Charlie’s–my story is my own.
EZ: What made you need to write this book/tell this story? And did you ever worry that it would be too dark, especially for kids who have mental health struggles or who engage in any kind of self-harm? (I actually appreciate that you told Charlie’s story so authentically.)
KG: Well, I wish I’d had a book about what Charlie goes through when I was a teenager. Books like Speak, All the Rage, and Girl, Interrupted weren’t around, yet. I didn’t have a book that could tell me I wasn’t alone, that my mental health struggles were real, that I mattered. So, later, I wrote one. And I decided that if the book focused on self-injury, I was going to be as honest about that as possible, because people need to know, and teens (and older women) who self-injure, deserve to have a realistic portrayal. When you struggle with mental health issues, there’s no easy fix. It’s a lifelong struggle and one you have to be diligent about taking care of. I think that we underestimate the lives of teenagers–what is “too dark”? If a girl is assaulted, she should be able to find a book that explores her experience so she can process it. If you don’t write those books, and you don’t put them on the shelf, then you are saying she’s old to be assaulted, but not old enough to talk about it. Life is very, very difficult for teenagers. They need help and assurance–much of that comes from what they read. Reading is one of the few safe spaces they have to ruminate on their experiences and to see them reflected in different ways.
EZ: How do you guard your writing time? Do you have set days and times to write, or do you write when the mood strikes you, or some combo of the two?
KG: I have two kids and work full-time, so I usually write at night after they go to sleep. I have to work quickly, though, because by that time I’m pretty tired. So, I’m fairly disciplined—I can’t waste a lot of time on the internet.
EZ: When you write, where are you? What (if anything) do you listen to? And do you write alone or does it help to have others around?
KG: I start every book in composition books, writing by hand, and then when I have five or six filled, I start typing everything up, hoping to reach at least 300 pages. I don’t usually listen to music as I write, though I listen to music as I am thinking about my story, like when I’m walking the dog or attempting yoga. I like to write in libraries, mostly, when I can. I don’t like writing at home all that much—there are too many chores looking over my shoulder.
EZ: What next can we expect from you? (I personally cannot wait to read whatever you write.)
KG: I have another book coming out sometime in fall 2017 or spring 2018. I’m in the editing stages right now.
EZ: If you could put any five books on your nightstand forever, what would they be and why?
KG: The Catcher in the Rye, Sense and Sensibility, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Sorcerer’s Stone. The first because it was the first book that spoke to me of loneliness; the second because it’s a deeply moving story that gets deeper the more often you read it; the third because I love Meg and I love her crazy family; the fourth because I read the series as an adult, not a kid, but the first time I discovered Harry, I loved him–the first book is still the best and most surprising to me. The fifth would probably be whatever book I was currently reading at the time.
EZ: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? The best writing advice you’ve given to aspiring authors?
KG: The best advice I ever received was about dialogue: it’s not what people say, it’s what they don’t say. My advice to aspiring writers is: sit down, turn off your devices, and start telling your story. Someone out there needs to hear it.
Here are some reviews of Girl in Pieces:
To learn more about Glasgow and her work, visit her website.
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