Six questions: Interview with Francisco X. Stork, author of The Memory of Light

I have to be honest here: This one I came across in the course of doing research for these interviews, and I was so interested in the plot I read it. It was gripping, heavy, painful and beautiful. It’s absolutely worth reading.

From the blurb:

“When Vicky Cruz wakes up in the Lakeview Hospital Mental Disorders ward, she knows one thing: After her suicide attempt, she shouldn’t be alive. But then she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had.

But Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up, sending Vicky back to the life that drove her to suicide, she must try to find her own courage and strength. She may not have them. She doesn’t know.

Inspired in part by the author’s own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one — about living when life doesn’t seem worth it, and how we go on anyway.”

Here are six questions with Francisco X. Stork, author of The Memory of Light.

1) Your book is heavily inspired by your own experiences with depression. What made you decide to “go public,” so to speak, with that experience?

The decision to connect the story in The Memory of Light to my own experiences was made shortly before the book went into production. It was then that I wrote an author’s note where I mentioned my own life-long struggles with depression and with a suicide attempt when I was in graduate school. I had talked about my depression and bipolar disorder in my blog before, but it was the first time I talked about the suicide attempt. I realized that there was still a lot of shame and guilt associated with that and I thought that I should try to confront that shame and stigma, just like the characters in my book. I also wanted the readers of the book who were suffering from depression or considering suicide, to know that I understood in a very personal way what they were going through and that the hope and light offered by the book was hard-earned and genuine.

2) How much of you can be found in your main character?

One of the reasons I made my main character, Vicky, a young woman is that I thought it was important to create some separation from my own experiences and the main character. If the character had been male, I would have a tendency as I wrote to see myself as the main character. The distance between me and Vicky gave me the ability to filter my own experiences and feelings and transform them into those of a sixteen-year-old young woman and to express these feeling the way she would. Of course, there is a lot of me in Vicky. But the novel is not a memoir and so what mattered was the creation of a unique character that would be real in the heart of the reader.

3) Much of your book seems to deal with the resilience – the ability of the main character to cope. Did your book consciously attempt to teach readers how to build their own resilience? 

For many of us, even with medication, depression is a chronic condition and even when we are “well”, it is always there lurking beneath the surface. So “resilience” or the ability to cope and to live useful and peaceful lives despite of it, is an important goal. This requires that we let go of images of “happiness” that our society gives us and that we create our own realistic version of a life that contains joy and meaning despite depression.

4) How was The Memory of Light therapeutic for you? Or was it? Did you find it dredging up old memories?

I’m not sure “therapeutic” is the right word. The book did not cure my depression or necessarily make me feel better for expressing heretofore hidden truths about myself.  When you seek to write fiction as opposed to memoir, the goal is to create an experience for the reader, something that touches him or her in a real way. The benefits for the writer, when fiction is done well, is the unforeseen discoveries about self and the world that the writing brings about. I understood and saw things about the illness of depression and how to live with it, that I had not understood and seen before. I felt less anger toward my own depression and was able to see the negative moods that come with depression with less condemnation and judgment and with a greater awareness that these negative states were not permanent.

5) What do you think readers can learn from your book about depression and recovery?

My hope is that in the process of reading the book, the reader will become involved with Vicky and the other characters in the book and grow to care for them. If that happens, there will be a good chance that the reader will be able transfer that same care and love to him or herself. The horrible thing about depression is the feeling that we are not good enough, that we are not worthy of all the good that life offers. But when you see a character like Vicky slowly learn to accept the good in her and in others, then it will be easier for us to feel the same about ourselves and about others.

6) The book is now about two years old. Anything you wish you had or had not done with it?

The Memory of Light took me a long time to write and I went through various drafts making sure that the final product would be one that offered hope to a person who was considering whether life was worth living. I’m happy with the book as it is. During the past two years I’ve heard from young people who were touched by the book and found light and hope because of it. That is what I hoped the book would do. The book is no longer mine. It belongs to the reader.

If you enjoy books about young adults and mental health, then I encourage you to check out my upcoming novel, Redemptionwhich will be out on June 5 but is available for pre-order at a discounted price today. Redemption is a young adult/sci-fi thriller about depression, anxiety and saving the world.

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