Today’s interview is with Brad Barkley, co-author of Jars of Glass. From the summary:
Chloe and Shana want the same thing?for everything to go back to normal, the way it was before their mom went to the hospital. But both sisters know that things can never be the same. While Chloe wants their mom to come home so they can be a family again, Shana never wants to see their mother. And while Shana is trying to escape her problems by hiding under a new persona, Chloe is left trying to be the responsible one. Then things go from bad to worse, and the sisters are forced to band together and redefine what it means to be a family.
I really appreciate that this book takes a different look at what it’s like to have a family member with a mental illness. It also bounces between the two perspectives of the two sisters, which is different than usual.
1) Do you think that personal experience with mental illness is necessary to write a story like this?
I don’t think it’s necessary, no, as long as you are a writer who is willing to do your research and use your imagination. I mean, people write novels about the Civil War or living on Mars without having had any experience of that. But it might be a moot question. You know, one of the tricks that fortune tellers are taught is to say to customers, “You are related to someone in the military,” and you go away thinking, Wow, how did she know that? But the thing is, everyone, pretty much, is related to someone in the military. I think it’s the same thing here; pretty much everyone has had someone in their life with some kind of mental illness, either themselves or someone else. Sadly, mental illness casts a wide net.
2) This book is written from a slightly different perspective than most of the ones I’ve seen with mental illness – it deals with what it’s like to have a family member who struggles. What sort of point were you trying to drive home by creating a world like this?
In my mind, novels are not written to “drive home a point,” but rather to explore the lives of characters. Or to put it another way, not to provide answers but to ask interesting questions. The question here might be, “How does it affect your growing up if your parent is mentally ill?” Or, “How does it affect relationships with the people around you?” And not just in general, but specifically for these two girls. The “point” of any novel, I think, is to let us inside other people and their lives, to create empathy and understanding for other people.
3) What sort of feedback did you get from people who had been through similar situations?
We had letters and emails from teens saying that the book really helped them. But they don’t get too into the specifics of that. They feel a real closeness for the book, but the people who wrote that book are still strangers, so they aren’t going to go into too much detail. But it is gratifying to know that someone in a similar situation has felt like they were understood or that they had a voice because this book spoke for them.
4) The book goes back and forth between the perspective of two sisters; that obviously provides two different perspectives. What made you select these two specific perspectives from the point of view of the two sisters?
I wrote this with my co-author, so I really only had a hand in selecting the perspective of the older sister (the “even” chapters in the book, in Shana’s voice). Again, I think we wanted to explore a relationship between two siblings (both of us have a sibling), who are in many ways very different from each other, yet still love each other. As you write, characters kind of insist upon who they are, and my job is mostly to type and stay out of the way.
5) As you were writing from two perspectives, were there every moments where you thought, “Oh, damn, that’s not something that character X would say, that’s what Y would say”? In other words, was it confusing to write two different emotions, dialogue patterns, personalities, etc?
Well, that is part of the difficulty or fun of writing with a co-author. Of course, I “invented” one sister, and my co-author “invented” the other one, but I would have to constantly write her character into my scenes, and vice-versa. So we came up with one rule: we each have full veto power over our own character. In other words, I could say to Heather, “Nah, Shana would never say that,” or Heather could say to me “Chloe would never do that,” and then we would figure it out. But, over the course of three books, we only had to invoke that rule twice that I recall, so we were pretty intuitive about all the characters in the book and who they were.
6) Anything that you would change about this book, now that it has been years since publication?
It never occurs to me to think of books that way, or even short stories. I’m sure I could read through with a pen in my hand and a few things would make me cringe, and I would start marking this or that change. But a book is a finished work. It is complete in itself, and it’s also kind of a time capsule of where you were in life when you wrote it, and who you were, and all the ways you have moved on. Even if you could change it, why would you want to?