Girl in Pieces: An Interview with Kathleen Glasgow

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“Everyone has that moment, I think, the moment when something so…momentous happens that it rips your very being into small pieces. And then you have to stop. For a long time, you gather your pieces. And it takes such a very long time, not to fit them back together, but to assemble them in a new way, not necessarily a better way. More, a way you can live with until you know for certain that this pieces should go there, and that one there.”

So says Felix, one of my favorite characters in Kathleen Glasgow’s debut YA novel, Girl in Pieces, to Charlotte (Charlie), as she’s trying to find her way toward healing.

This is a stunning, heartbreaking book about loss and survival, friendship and love. For seventeen-year-old Charlie, the only way to calm the noise in her head is to cut herself. But she wants to do things differently, to make peace with herself and the world. Glasgow’s characters are real and human, flawed and beautiful. I loved this story, which ultimately is about finding one’s voice through art.

I’m pleased to welcome Kathleen, who is here today at Motherhood & Words to talk about writing, motherhood and Girl in Pieces. (If you’re in the Twin Cities, she will be at Magers & Quinn tomorrow night, Wednesday, September 7th, in conversation with the fabulous Julie Schumacher.) And don’t forget to leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing for a signed copy of Girl in Pieces. Now without further ado, please welcome Kathleen!

KH: Charlie’s friend Louisa writes in her journal, “People should know about us. Girls who write their pain on their bodies.” In the author’s note at the end of the book you say that for years you didn’t want to write this story. What changed? What happened in your life that made it not only possible, but necessary to write this story?

KG: Well, I don’t know if anyone wants to revisit painful emotional turmoil from their past! Except maybe comic book characters. What really spurred me was sitting next to a girl on the bus in Minneapolis and noticing she had fresh scars, and not reaching out to her. When I was teenager, we didn’t yet have books like Speak, All the Bright Places, All the Rage, or Girl, Interrupted, so when I went to the library or bookstore, I had a hard time finding myself in books. I wrote this book so kids who are having problems with depression, and everything that comes with it, can find themselves. And, hopefully, their parents will see themselves inside Girl in Pieces, too.

KH: What was the most surprising thing that happened in the process of writing Girl in Pieces? (In terms of the narrative itself, your writing process, or how you approached the material, etc.)

KG: Things shifted around the fourth draft, when someone suggested that I needed to write scenes in the hospital. Originally, the book takes place after the hospital. I didn’t want to go into the hospital, because I was committed to talking about people who have no money for therapy or health care, but I did it, and writing that section opened up the book, and Charlie’s voice, in tremendously helpful ways.

KH: How has motherhood affected your writing? 

KG: Motherhood influenced the ways in which I drew the adult characters in Girl in Pieces, particularly Ariel and Linus, who have both struggled with their children. Now that I’m a mother, I can really understand all the things parents go through that their children never know about—the decisions you have to make, etc. I tried very hard to make the parents in this book flawed, but understandably so.

KH: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

KG: Time. Being a working parent and also a writer is very hard. You want to be with your children, but you also know writing makes you a happier person, and thus a better parent, so you have to really try to find some sort of balance. And forgive yourself if you have a deadline and they need to watch Octonauts for three hours straight.

KH: I’ve been there! That leads into my next question. Can you talk a little about how your writing life fits in with the rest of your life—mothering and work?

KG: What? Writing can fit into your daily life?! Right now I am working at home doing my full-time job and writing the second book in my contract. Thank god for school! That’s all I have to say. Otherwise, it’s a lot of late nights. That’s the only way I can make it happen. Which is really too bad, because, honestly? I just want to watch television after a day of working.

KH: I’d love for you to talk a little about the editorial process. (How much did you revise the manuscript after it was sold? Can you also talk a little about what it’s like to work with an editor?)

KG: Novels for young adults have a very different editorial process than novels for adults (I don’t really like the distinctions between the two categories—I think teenagers are smart enough to read whatever they want, and there are so many adults who read “YA”). For instance, we aged a character down to 27 so that the difference in age with his love interest would be more nuanced than, say, illegal (she turns eighteen in the course of the novel). That one change necessitated dropping pages and pages of his backstory, which had to do with Tucson’s music scene in the 1980s. I felt sad losing all that—but in the end, the change made the relationship (on the page) stronger and more interesting. The editorial process after a book is sold is super interesting. You go through what’s called “first pass,” “second pass,” etc. These actually happen AFTER you do edits with your editor. This doesn’t even account for what you go through with the copy editor. Copy editors are worth their weight in gold. Editors are like that person you always wish you had in workshop: blunt, to the point, no soothing of ego. I kind of loved it. I am a person who desperately needs an editor in all aspects of my life.

KH: How does it feel to have this book out in the world? What kinds of responses are you getting from readers?

KG: It’s very scary when your book goes out to reviewers and bloggers in the form of advanced review copies. This is when your publisher is trying to create buzz. Total strangers are now reading your book! I’ve gotten a lot of emails from advance readers for the past several months, and from librarians and teachers after my visit to ALA this summer, telling me how much the book will help teens who are struggling. Those are the readers I want to reach, and I hope they find the book.

KH: I hope so, too, Kathleen! Thanks so much for being here!

Friends, check out Kathleen’s website. If you can’t be at her reading tomorrow night, maybe she’ll be at a bookstore near you soon. And leave a comment by 9/23 if you’d like to be entered in the drawing for a signed copy of Girl in Pieces. You’ll love it.

19 Comments

  1. I love that quote you used at the beginning of the post.
    Just added this to my Goodreads list.

  2. I think it was Flannery O’Connor who said, “The problem with so many authors is, they’re not *from* anywhere.” One reason I love this book so very much is because Kathleen Glasgow is from (even if not by birth) a very specific neighborhood in a specific city – my hometown – and she has captured in spirit and in letter what it means to journey there and then to settle in to have important and terrifying experiences. Tucson is a place people run to, when they aren’t running from it, and Kathleen has translated all its wordless, arid beauty in such a way that people who have never been there will see it and know it. I love how she makes the heat a character unto itself; how she honors every Dairy Queen punk and Day of the Dead stilt walker with sentences like silver coins tossed in the air.

    It was also Flannery O’Connor who said, “If you don’t hunt it down and kill it, it will hunt you down and kill you.” And without giving away too much of the plot of “Girl in Pieces,” I love Kathleen for showing us a girl who hunts it down.

    • Yes, Sarah, exactly! And I love how she does the same thing for the Twin Cities. Such a kick-ass sense of place in the book! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  3. Ooh! This sounds like a good book. I can’t attend the reading but will get a hold of a copy. Please enter me in the drawing!

  4. Hi Kate! She really sums up the life of a creative working parent so well:
    “You want to be with your children, but you also know writing makes you a happier person, and thus a better parent, so you have to really try to find some sort of balance”
    Thanks for entering me in the drawing

  5. I would love to read this book! Sounds really good! Please enter me I the drawing.

  6. This is my favorite book of the year!!!!

  7. I’m loving this book!! But I wanna enter anyway. If I win a copy I’ll donate it to the middke school library!

  8. Ha! I’m also a person who desperately needs an editor in all aspects of my life. Great interview, Kate!

  9. I’d love to be entered into the drawing! This book sounds so great 🙂
    Contact: @WordsThatStay1 on twitter

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