For my first interview, I chose Judy Gregerson, author of Blooming Tree’s debut YA, Bad Girls Club.
What inspired you to write Bad Girls Club?
It’s a mix of things. But the biggest influence was a man I met some years back who told me a story about him and his little brother. When they were about five and three, their mother set the house on fire and locked them inside. Then she left them there to die. I was horrified by the story and it cut into me so deep that I couldn’t get it out of me. For two years it kept calling to me and I really didn’t want to write it. But then I realized that there are kids out there whose mothers are lethal to varying degrees. Actually, a toxic personality of any kind is very damaging to kids and childhood trauma is so prevalent in our society. So, I decided to write the book. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I had watched my own mother unravel and go into a mental hospital when I was thirteen. So, I combined my story with the story I’d heard and came up with Bad Girls Club.
In your book Destiny and her sister must face their mother’s mental illness. What kind of research did you undertake to write your book?
I think that my life experience was really enough. I watched my family disintegrate over a period of about five years and I watched my mother become sicker and sicker. I did research on schizophrenia and dissociative disorder. I also did a lot of research on borderline personalities, which I felt was the core of the mom’s personality in Bad Girls Club. But it’s hard to read about these things when you’ve suffered it in your own family. In the end, I had to go with my gut.
I have since talked to a lot of experts on child trauma, abuse, abandonment, parentification, and attachment disorders.
Why did you decide to tackle the delicate subjects of attachment disorders and general mental illness?
More than those issues, I wanted to show what it was like in the mind of a sixteen-year-old who is holding on for dear life and how damaged her soul had become as a result of the family problems. But I also wanted to show her letting go of who she thinks she has to be in the family and find a way to discover her true self. Children who live with mentally ill parents or children who are traumatized and abandoned often act out their parents problems or believe that they are just like their parents. I wanted Destiny to discover that she wasn’t like her mother and she wasn’t what her mother said. I wanted her to find her own soul. Amidst the problems she deals with, that’s pretty hard.
Another thing is this. I don’t know how aware people are of attachment and abandonment issues or what it does to a child. Early on, I had an agent tell me how much he hated my main character because she didn’t stand up and do something. Well, kids in that position can’t just stand up and do something. They do not have the emotional wherewithal to do that. It’s easy to tell a kid to just “stop it”. Stop being depressed. Stop obsessing on their problems. When you don’t have the emotional equipment to “just stop”, you are in a very precarious place, as is Destiny and her sister. It’s like telling a person with a broken leg to just get up and walk.
But, it is possible to find healing and find your true self when you’ve been in circumstances like Destiny. I wanted the reader to see how she did come to the realization that she was walking a slippery slope and had to change her life.
Recently there have been discussions about people writing material simply for its shock value. Many shocking things caused by the mother’s mental illness happen in Bad Girls Club. How do you integrate these difficult scenes into your book without making them seem as though they are there purely to surprise the reader?
A lot of what happens in the book is a natural consequence of where Destiny’s mother is at mentally and emotionally, it could not have happened in any other way. That aside, I didn’t write this to shock. In many cases, I put the horror of parts of the story in the background. There is no visible abuse, just the signs of it.
And let’s face it. Abandonment, abuse, mothers who kill their children – all those things ARE shocking. There’s no way around it. But if you’ve lived it, as I lived it when I was a teen, it seems so normal because it’s all you know. I didn’t realize until I was about thirty that everyone wasn’t as damaged as I was as a teen. Now that’s shocking!
Now for the general questions every author gets asked. What advice do you have for someone trying to write their own YA novel?
Write from your heart and write what’s important to you.
What route did you take to get published?
I’ve published one other book, but this one had a very circuitous route. I had two very nice editors along the way who helped me. One helped me get the first draft together. The other helped me find my voice. They were very generous with their time and comments and I am thankful for having them in my life.
This book wasn’t sent around to a lot of editors. I wasn’t looking for just any editor or any publisher. I wanted the right person for this book, someone who really “got” the story and understood what it was about. I was actually quite shocked that BTP wanted to buy it because they were not looking for edgy YA’s at the time.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have a few. Janet Fitch. Kathryn Harrison. Sylvia Plath.
What inspires you to write?
Having something to say.
As a former marketing person for books, what advice do you have for other authors trying to publicize their books?
Oh, wow, that’s really hard. There are so many layers to marketing and publicity. And you have to get the word out on so many levels. I’d say to get the word out to librarians and booksellers. Make yourself available for conferences and school visits.
Do you have any future books that you are working on?
I have a humorous YA that I’ve finished. I haven’t worked on it in a while because I’ve been busy with pre-launch publicity for Bad Girls Club. I also have a few MG’s that I should polish.
Bad Girls Club by Judy Gregerson releases in hardcover on June 15, 2007. ISBN (13): 978-1933831015