|Q: Where'd you grow up? What was it like?
A: I grew up in a rather bland suburban development, not unlike the setting in my book. It was a place that, perhaps because of the sameness of all the houses, often made me feel different, out of place and lonely. In particular, there's a scene in the opening of Cut where the main character, Callie, is coming home in the dark and sees "houses with windows of square yellow light where the mothers are inside making dinner, and houses with windows of square blue light where the kids are inside watching TV." This is a memory straight out of my childhood from a lonely night where I was on the outside looking in on homes that seemed perfectly ordinary and therefore perfect.
Q: Where did Cut come from?
A: I wish I knew. The easy answer is that it was inspired by reading about the phenomenon of girls cutting themselves in secret, something that both repulsed and fascinated me.
The complicated answer, the one that even I didn't understand until I'd finished the book, was that I was unconsciously exploring my own self-sabotaging tendencies. I am not a cutter; I'm too much of a chicken to ever hurt myself with a blade. But I am, and I think we all are, self-destructive at times usually at the very times we need to take the best care of our selves. By writing Cut, I explored what prompted Callie, a sensitive 15-year-old girl not unlike me when I was 15, to hurt herself and feel so ashamed and desperate about it that she couldn't tell anyone. But, honestly, I didn't set out to investigate self-injury; the book just unfolded that way.
Q: How much research did you do? Who were some of the people you talked to?
A: I started out reading everything I could about cutting, although at the time there wasn't much written and there was only one young adult novel on the topic. Since I have a background as a reporter, I then planned to interview girls who self-injured and distill their stories into a fictional one. A very wise friend told me not to do that; she said that that kind of factual material would get in the way of me, as a fiction writer, imagining what it would be like to be a cutter. I took her advice and am glad I did. As a result, the whole story comes from my imagination and from experiences I had visiting a friend who was in a place like Sea Pines, the rehab facility in the book.
After I'd finished the first draft of the book, I went to SAFE (Self-Abuse Finally Ends) an amazing facility that treats people who self-injure. I spent several days there absorbing everything I could about the place the rooms, the girls, the staff, the schedule, the food everything. To my great surprise and relief, almost every detail was exactly like those I'd imagined in my book! I am forever indebted to the girls at SAFE, though, for sharing their stories with me. Without their trust I would never have had the confidence to believe that the story that I had imagined was so true and so worth telling.
Q: What's it like to write for and about teens?
A: It is so exciting thrilling, really to be part of a new imprint dedicated to speaking honestly and directly to teenage readers. Teenagers are, in my view, the most perceptive and open-minded readers there are; they are also the most under-estimated group in the marketplace. The books that the people at PUSH aspire to publish are challenging, uncensored books for readers who are looking for something more.
Another aspect of being part of PUSH that is unlike any other publishing experience is that PUSH is about new voices, about finding new talents and hearing directly from readers who send in their own work. My book is about one girl finding her voice, finding the courage to put her life into words. PUSH is about finding many new voices.
The books I read as a teenager went straight to my heart; they were very influential in helping me figure who and what I wanted to be. To have the chance to communicate with other readers who are in the midst of that search is profoundly satisfying.
Q: What are your literary influences?
A: I love the work of Carolyn Coman, Kaye Gibbons, Russell Banks and Tobias Wolff. What these writers have in common is that they treat the experience of adolescence and of growing up with great respect and compassion.
Q: What are your musical influences?
A: I've always been a huge Jackson Browne fan because of the complexity and, frankly, the sadness of his lyrics. I also love Van Morrison. My favorite newer artists are Dar Williams, Ani DiFranco, U2, and David Gray.
Q: What are your cinematic influences?
A: I love to watch movies that are told from the point of view of a teenager or even a younger adolescent because those characters are often usually on the perimeter in real life. I also think that perspective of the outsider is the most interesting, perhaps because it's usually tinged with longing, or with cynicism, or with a poignant or slightly skewed quality that is way more interesting than a mainstream view. Off the top of my head, films that embody this slightly off-center view: Welcome to the Dollhouse, This Boy's Life, and Girl, Interrupted.
Q: Person stops you on the street and asks you to tell him something cool. What do you say?
A: The coolest thing I've done lately (possibly one of the coolest things I've ever done) was to go rappelling off a cliff in the Blue Mountains of Australia. Wearing a harness and tethered to a rope staked in the top of the mountain, you lower yourself over the edge of a very sheer cliff and gradually walk down the face of the mountain until, eventually the cliff face falls away and you descend through space as you slide down the rope. I was TERRIFIED to do this because, as I mentioned, I'm a big chicken and because I have a huge fear of heights. But for some reason, I signed up for this adventure and simply did it. I felt unbelievably light when it was over, like I could do anything.
Why would I tell someone about it if they wanted to hear about something cool? What was cool was that I was terrified and I still did it. As someone once told me, it's not brave if you're not scared.
Q: If you had to pick a quote to fit your life right now, what would it be?
A: A Thoreau quote taped to the front of my diary: "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined."
Q: Writing. How do you go about it?
A: Having a routine is key for me. I'm also very lucky to have a place where I can write without the distractions of home, the phone, and the refrigerator: I go to a place in New York called the Writers Room. It's this absolutely serene place filled with desks occupied by other writers hard at work screenwriters, poets, novelists, playwrights. All you hear is the gentle clicking of computer keys as you get lost in writing your stories. I try to go there four days a week and work from early morning till after lunch.
I write without a plan or an outline because I find that that cramps my thinking. I discover what the book is about as I go along, which is kind of cool because it's like the reader's experience. I try to be fearless as I write, and I try to catch myself when I'm avoiding something difficult or writing stylishly because, at least for me, that's also a way of avoiding getting personal in my writing. I've always been pretty hard on myself as a critic and editor which I'm trying to stop since that attitude only hurts my confidence, which in turn shuts down creativity.
Q: Who wrote the book of love?
A: Gosh. I don't know. Aren't we all writing it together every day?