Happy Sunday! Hope all of you are staying cool in this heat.
(No, seriously. It's going to be 108F here today.)
Today, we're interviewing Karen Fortunati, as a part of the Meet the Newbs tour from Rachel at A Perfection called Books! Read on for more!
A Q&A with Karen Fortunati:
Author of The Weight of Zero
October 2016, Delacorte
Author Most Likely To Like Everyone on Goodreads who adds The Weight of Zero to Their “To read” List.
Nickname: Judy (from middle name –Judith) or Big Ka (my brothers’ name for me)
First Day of School (Book release): October 11, 2016
Homeroom (Publisher): Delacorte/Penguin Random House
Grade (Genre): YA Contemporary
Extracurricular Activities: Reading, writing and talking myself into getting on the treadmill
Favorite Class: American History
Favorite Quote/Motto: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” George Elliot.
Hi there, Karen!
We’re so excited to have you on the blog as a part of Meet the Newbs, and to share The Weight of Zero with readers! Let’s get started with our questions!
Q: Since we live in the age of instant communication, could you pitch us your book in one hundred forty characters or less?
Q: You’ve mentioned before that The Weight of Zero was inspired by watching relatives and friends grapple with the challenges that come with mental illness.
Could you share a little more on why you decided to make Catherine a teenager, and not an adult? Was her age a deliberate choice, or did the story just evolve as you were writing?
A while back, my daughter asked me why I wrote YA and not adult. I had no answer for her and that really surprised me. For THE WEIGHT OF ZERO, it felt so natural and right to tell Catherine’s story. But I thought for a long time about why I wrote YA. I realized that it was a collection of experiences that propelled me. I’m a mom, a rather nervous one, so the story was based in part on some of the stresses I’d seen my own kids experience during high school and in part, as a mom worrying about the incredible pressure kids face today.
Another big factor is my husband. He’s a child and adolescent psychiatrist and I have an understanding now that mental health treatment for teens requires a team approach - if everybody is on board with the plan - parents, clinicians, friends, school, etc. – it’s got a better chance to be successful. But that’s really true for anyone; we all need support.
Q: I’ve read in a number of medical journals that three out of four individuals with mental health concerns will experience a stigma at some point in their lives, especially when they are young.
Consequently, I’m grateful for books like yours, and Emery Lord’s When We Collided, because it really stresses the idea that individuals with mental health aren’t strange, unknowable creatures. Instead, they are just as normal as the rest of us, and often braver, because they have challenges and setbacks that the rest of us can never understand.
How do you think a book like The Weight of Zero can help influence the dialogue about mental health in teens in a productive, informative way?
Something that I never expected and that completely surprised me is how the book instantly opened up discussions that I would have never had. Especially this year, I’ve been talking with people a lot about The Weight of Zero. About sixty to seventy percent of the time as I’m giving the summary, an expression of recognition comes over their faces followed by a response of: “Oh, my brother/sister/cousin has bipolar disorder” or “I’ve been/my dad/my aunt has been battling anxiety or depression or x.” Just giving an outline of The Weight of Zero opened the door to very honest and real conversations about mental health. That was really eye-opening for me – how the book made it so easy to start this dialogue.
Q: On a related note, is there anything specific that you learned about bipolar disorder while writing/researching, which influenced how you wanted to share Catherine’s story with readers?
Q: While readers typically have individual interpretations while reading, is there a specific idea or theme that you want them to be cognizant of while reading?
Q: On a lighter note, let’s talk about some general writing questions! Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Q: You’ve shared before on how you progressed in your journey as a writer.
As we count down to your publication day, what is one expectation that you had about publishing, that’s been different on reality?
This past month, The Weight of Zero has been selected as an Indies Introduce Summer/Fall 2016 title and a Shelf Awareness BEA Buzz Book - I never even envisioned these and feel enormously grateful.
Q: If you were in an elevator with Steven Spielberg/Kathryn Bigelow, how would you pitch Weight of Zero as a film, and why?
I’m awful at pitching a story so most likely I’d clam up in the elevator and then kick myself for the next year. But in this lovely dream scenario, I’d pitch The Weight of Zero as a YA Silver Linings Playbook with a historical component. In the book, Catherine gains inspiration from a history project on the real 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the first all black, female unit to go overseas during World War II. The story of the 6888th is powerful and moving and like so many accounts of women’s history, barely known. I’d love to see this part of The Weight of Zero in a movie. Actually, I’d love to see an entire movie devoted to the 6888th.
Q: And finally, what’s next for you? (I’d love to read some Revolutionary War fiction from you!)
Writing-wise, I’m deep into my next YA novel that explores the stigma of mental illness and the hidden prejudices we hide even from ourselves. (My Revolutionary War tale is on the back burner for now :).)
About the title:
Expected publication: October 11th 2016 by Delacorte Press
Seventeen-year-old Catherine Pulaski knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disorder, almost triumphed once; that was her first suicide attempt.
Being bipolar is forever. It never goes away. The med du jour might work right now, but Zero will be back for her. It’s only a matter of time.
And so, in an old ballet-shoe box, Catherine stockpiles medications, preparing to take her own life before Zero can inflict its living death on her again. Before she goes, though, she starts a short bucket list.
The bucket list, the support of her family, new friends, and a new course of treatment all begin to lessen Catherine’s sense of isolation. The problem is, her plan is already in place, and has been for so long that she might not be able to see a future beyond it.
This is a story of loss and grief and hope, and how some of the many shapes of love—maternal, romantic, and platonic—affect a young woman’s struggle with mental illness and the stigma of treatment.
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About the author: