I’m excited to get to help close out the Debut Authors Bash, put on by YA Reads, with an interview from Linda Vigen Phillips. I was fortunate enough to meet her and get a copy of the Crazy ARC after being “Facebook introduced” through a mutual friend, which I am so grateful for. She’s sweet and humble and her writing is absolutely beautiful. I wish you all the publishing success in the world, Linda!
First, because Crazy hasn’t quite been release to the world, here’s the Goodreads summary:
Laura is a typical fifteen-year-old growing up in the 1960’s, navigating her way through classes, friendships, and even a new romance. But she’s carrying around a secret: her mother is suffering from a mental illness.
No one in Laura’s family will talk about her mother’s past hospitalizations or increasingly erratic behavior, and Laura is confused and frightened. She finds some solace in art, but when her mother, also an artist, suffers a breakdown, Laura fears that she will follow in her mother’s footsteps. Left without a refuge, can she find the courage to face what scares her most?
Sounds interesting, right? And it is… it’s just wonderful. I sent Linda a few questions, some about the story itself but also some that focused on the art found in the story. It was intriguing and added a lot to Laura’s character. Check out my questions and Linda’s responses below, then make sure you enter to win a copy of Crazy!
- This interview will publish a few weeks in advance of Crazy’s pub date. Assuming most of the audience hasn’t been fortunate enough to get their hands on an ARC, what would you like them to know about the story going into it?
Crazy is semi-autobiographical, and while the names and certain events are fictional, much of the story is based on my experience growing up with a mother who had undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
2. Crazy is written in verse rather than prose, which I think gives it a quiet sort of elegance. What was your reason for wanting to tell Laura’s story through poetry?
I started writing poetry when I was an adolescent, and it has always been a source of comfort and my favorite way of thinking things through. My father’s love for poetry, as it is mentioned in the book, was genuine and contagious, and that’s how I became hooked on it. Originally I wrote a collection of twenty poems that served as a cathartic means of dealing with the raw emotions and unanswered questions surrounding my mother’s illness. A number of them were published in adult literary journals, and I began thinking in terms of a book of poetry when my best writing buddy suggested they should become a novel. I had the good fortune of working with Patti Gauch, retired senior editor at Philomel, during a 2009 Highlights Foundation workshop at Chautauqua, and she was instrumental in helping me nail the YA voice in verse form for this book.
3. Why did you choose to set the story in the 1960’s, and what do you hope today’s teenagers will take from it?
By now you’ve probably figured out the answer to this question. The 1960’s is actually when it all happened, and I wrote it like it was. An interesting side-note to this time period came during the editorial process, during which I had to throw out over twenty phrases that were certainly appropriate for “the sixties” but apparently not specifically for 1963. It seems that all the “grooviest” catch phrases and slang happened just after 1963, which is the year in which the story is set. That was the year Kennedy was assassinated, and there is a section that features this in the book. I do hope that young readers will get a sense of how that event affected all of us who lived through it, not just families like mine who were dealing with their own crisis. And, as I mentioned in the afterword, I hope that young people who might be affected by mental illness will realize that methods of treatment and available resources have made considerable gains since the sixties.
4. My favorite element to Crazy, hands down, was the art. I so desperately wanted to see the paintings and the sculptures that my brain worked overtime trying to imagine it all, which forced me to pay attention to the details and try to visualize the artwork. What was your inspiration for the artistic elements to Crazy? Does the sculpture family actually exist? Are there pictures, of any of the actual artwork or that served as inspiration, you could share with us?
It wasn’t until after several revisions that I realized the artwork was a metaphor for my own writing. Art was the glue that held Laura together, just as my journaling and poetry helped me to stay intact in my youth.
My mother really was a gifted painter, although we only have two of her pieces. But they are good, and I’ve spent countless hours staring at, appreciating, wondering about, delving into, imagining, and seeing the passion that she had. I guess it is that appreciation of passion that drove me through the artistic part of this book. I, too, in my limited way, appreciate good art, and I have some personal favorites that I mentioned throughout the book. Of course I have a fascination with Van Gogh, not only for his art, but his tormented journey through mental illness. And Hopper is a personal favorite because of his amazing use of light, Monet for his wonderful colors.
I am a visual thinker, and it was relatively easy for me to envision the paintings of the pelicans as well as the sculptures. There was no existing artwork serving as models for any of those pieces other than the pictures I created in my own imagination. It was important that Laura get in touch (literally) with the art that was her new medium, and I thought her creation of the clay figurines was a fitting extension of the ceramics that her mother painted, but did not actually create. It was Laura’s new identity, and her way of working through the family issues and finding peace within the existing structure.
5. Is there anything else you’d like to share about Crazy?
I poured my heart into this book. I hope it might pour back to the reader a healing of memories, a comfort for the present, or a hope for a better future. Persons suffering from bipolar disorder can have normal and productive lives if they seek and follow good medical practices. I hope this book helps get that point across.