Inge: As part of the Mental Health Book Bingo, author Katrina Leno has agreed to talk with us about books and mental health! She writes Young Adult novels such as the brilliant Everything All At Once, which I will never stop recommending, and The Lost & Found. Welcome, Katrina! You are the host of this tea party in Wonderland. What beverages and pastries are you serving?
Katrina: Well I’ve been suffering from my usual wintertime itchy throat, so I’m going to go with some nice hot tea and scones. Scones are underappreciated in America and I want to give them their time to shine. Also I really like clotted cream and there is no better combination than scones and clotted cream.
Inge: Excellent choices. *nods approvingly* You are clearly a connoisseur. First of all, since we are talking mental health – how are you?
Katrina: I’m pretty good! I tend to suffer from a bit of seasonal affective disorder—I got up today at 6 and it was PITCH BLACK and it’s 5pm now and PITCH BLACK AGAIN—but I’m trying to combat that by getting plenty of sunshine when it’s actually out!
Inge: What are some of your favourite mental health reads?
Katrina: I read Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand last year and that was really meaningful to me since it was a middle grade book that talks about depression in such a beautiful, honest way. A YA book I read recently that just killed me was We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. I thought that book just got everything RIGHT. And although it’s not a novel, the Letters of Vincent Van Gogh is probably the book about mental illness that has moved me the MOST. Just hearing this firsthand account of such a troubled artist struggling in every aspect of his life really spoke to me. He’s a great painter, and everyone knows that, but I think he’s actually a much better writer.
Why is representation of mental health in books important to you? – Wendy @ What the Log Had to Say
Katrina: There are so many stories to tell in this world, and I think it would be a pretty big shame if we only told ones that overlooked the many, many people who struggle with mental health. I know I fall firmly into that category, as I’ve suffered from depression my entire life. All I’d really like to accomplish in the time I have is to help some people feel better about their own struggles. I look at it as my own way of helping people who might be in the same situations that I’ve been in myself.
Inge: In The Half Life of Molly Pierce, Molly has DID (= Dissociative Identity Disorder). It is a mental illness that is not talked about as much. Why do you think that is?
Katrina: There are many dissociative disorders but DID, what Molly suffers from, is actually pretty rare. I’ve experienced a form of dissociation that is much, much less severe, and so it made me personally interested to explore more about when it means to disassociate. I think the reason, maybe, that DID isn’t talked about or written about more is that it’s been used, in the past, as the sort of punchline or plot twist to a movie or a book. I definitely didn’t want to do that — which is why I think it’s rare that readers of Half Life get to the “reveal” and haven’t already pretty much figured the book out for themselves. I think it’s okay to have a bit of mystery there, but I didn’t want that to be the ONLY point of the book. Hopefully people will write more about DID in the future and refrain even more from using it like a plotline in a horror movie.
Inge: How do you perceive the difference between anxiety/depression and DID when it comes to discourse and stigma?
Katrina: In my lifetime, I have absolutely seen a change with the discourse and stigma surrounding anxiety/depression. I say this from a very personal perspective—ten years ago I don’t think I’d feel comfortable announcing to the world that I have depression, but today it’s something I rarely think twice about. (In fact… maybe I talk about it too much?? Haha.) Unfortunately I think DID still has a lot of that heavy stigma around it, and probably because of what I was talking about before, and how it’s still really written as a plot device instead of a real thing that real people deal with. THAT’S why we need more stories about people living with DID—to start to chip away at that stigma bit by bit.
Is mental health something that got you into writing? – Sana @ Artsy Musings of a Bibliophile
Katrina: I think you could say that, yes, but I think you could also say that mental health and all of the things surrounding it are so deeply planted inside me that it drives almost every part of my life. Meaning—I’m always thinking about it, and looking at how it’s affected me life, and wishing I could do more to talk about it… So yes, it absolutely got me into writing and has probably touched ever single word I’ve ever written, too.
How do your own experiences influence your books? – Maraia @ Büchermonster
Katrina: In both big ways and little ways! Honestly I think most of my experiences make their way into my books in tiny little details that no one would ever pick up on except my close family and friends (like if I ever describe clothing, it’s almost always something I own). But bigger things make their way in there, too! I think as a writer you’re always on the lookout for details to put into your writing, because there’s nothing more believable than real life.
Inge: Do you have any coping mechanisms that work for you?
Katrina: Yes! Whenever I’m feeling low or anxious, I always try and change what I’m doing. Am I in a crowd of people? I’ll either go home or, if that’s not possible, I’ll try and find a quiet corner to chill for a minute. If I’m in my house, I get outside. I don’t like to get too caught up in any one routine—it starts to weigh me down too much. Getting out and doing new things is huge to keeping me happy and functioning.
Inge: You have recently released the blurb for Summer of Salt, which sounds fabulous! Will it have a mental health theme as well?
Katrina: Summer of Salt deals with trauma and how we process that, and it comes from a very personal part of my life. There are mental health aspects to it, of course, and these come out more toward the end of the book, but I will say that it isn’t quite the theme of this book. But any book I write will have those threads in it, always.
HOW DO YOU WRITE SUCH GOOD WORDS I’M A BALL OF FEELINGS – Cait @ Paper Fury
Katrina: LOLLL. I think there’s probably a secret there that I’m entirely unaware of. I will say that I think everyone has the capability of writing and developing the craft of writing. I don’t think writing is something you’re born doing great—a predestination, sure. But it’s 90% practice and dedication. And tea.
Inge: A little bird called Crini @ All About Books suggested that I ask you about your music, The July, and your pen collection. So consider this me asking you about your music!
Katrina: Haha—she is the best little bird! I play music with my boyfriend under name The July. We have an album out that you can listen to pretty much anywhere called Everything is Fine. And we’re working on another one RIGHT NOW. Well, not right now. But right now!
(Note from Inge: Follow this link if you’d like to listen to the album. It’s this really lovely folksy country and easy-listening and I quite love it.)
Inge: And what’s this about a pen collection?
Katrina: Yes, I have a silly amount of fountain pens, both new and vintage, and I use them every day (not ALL of them every day, but I have a constant rotation). Physically putting pen to paper is something that’s always been important to me and the satisfaction I get from using fountain pens is endless. There’s even a fountain pen on the cover of The Lost & Found, and in Everything All at Once, Aunt Helen was a fountain pen collector too 🙂
Inge: What are you currently reading?
Katrina: Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K Johnston. I’m usually only reading one book at a time, but sometimes other ones sneak in there.
Inge: Thank you so much, Katrina!
Katrina: THANK YOU SO MUCH!!