As I say on the back of Emma Eden Ramos’ Still, At Your Door: A Fictional Memoir:
“Still, At Your Door: A Fictional Memoir is a powerhouse of emotion from the moment you begin. Sabrina Gibbons’ story is upended from the moment her mother drags them out of their abusive home in Butler, Penn, and drops them off with their grandparents in the Big Apple. Like New York City, this novella precariously teeters between nightmares and dreams, exploring mutual dependence where one wrong step over the threshold can lead to disaster.”
Today, Emma has agreed to answer a few questions about her latest work. Please give her a warm welcome, and check out my review.
1. You now have 2 full length young readers works completed and published. What inspires you to write for that audience? Is there a message you are looking to get across?
Adolescence, while it only takes up a short chapter in our lives, is a time many of us look back on with relief. “Thank God that’s over,” we say. It’s easy to leave those eight years behind and pretend they are that section in a book we’d rather not underline and revisit. In divorcing ourselves from our own painful experiences, however, we can do a great injustice to young adults who want understanding and reassurance. Yes, being a teenager can feel torturous. Yes, it seems to go on for eternity. No, it doesn’t actually last forever. It’s been ten years since I was sixteen. I attempted suicide twice, engaged in dangerous and impulsive behaviors, and assumed my daily unhappiness would never dissipate. When I look back, I wish there’d been someone there to tell me my life would get better.
The demand for YA fiction is enormous. Authors like Jacqueline Woodson, Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins have helped teens make sense of their experiences and, most importantly, validate their feelings. I’d like to follow in the footsteps of these writers. I want to write stories that resonate with young readers. I want to let teens know that they are resilient and there is hope.
2. Sabrina’s life is far from the nuclear family most people envision. Was there a particular real life experience or inspiration for her and her situation?
The idea for Still, At Your Door: A Fictional Memoir came to me after an unpleasant conversation I had with someone I am happy to say no longer has a leading role in my life. “People like you,” she said, “should never have children.” The comment lingered with me for a few days. I’d recently read Linda Gray Sexton’s memoir titled Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton, so exploring the mother-daughter relationship was something I already wanted to do. While reading Searching for Mercy Street, I found myself identifying with both Linda Gray and Anne Sexton. Linda Gray was the first daughter of a woman who suffered from a debilitating mental illness.
She, like many children of a parent who has a psychiatric disorder, was forced to grow up quickly and learn to fend for herself. While I empathized with Linda Gray’s struggle, I caught myself wondering if I would be the kind of mother Anne Sexton was. Would the stresses of motherhood be too difficult for me, too?
One evening I was brushing my teeth and, as I caught my reflection in the mirror, I asked myself (these are the exact words), “who is the mother I don’t want to be?” Sheila, Sabrina’s mother, was the answer to my question. That was the first line on the blueprint for Still, At Your Door.
3. You’ve studied psychology and that comes through in the Still, At Your Door. What particular behavioral conditions and knowledge did you use and why?
Sheila, Sabrina’s mother, suffers from Bipolar disorder. While she is an eccentric person between episodes, Sheila, when she cycles, is at the mercy of her illness. Bipolar disorder, like other psychiatric illnesses, varies in severity from person to person. Sheila is on the higher end of the spectrum.
There are psychiatric disorders that seem to be associated with creativity. Many famous artists, while they went undiagnosed because psychiatry was in its early stages of development, showed signs of particular disorders. Virginia Woolf, for example, seemed to be Bipolar. Like many sufferers, Woolf experienced severe depression, hypomania and mania. The hypomanic phase is the phase in which people tend to feel most creative. In Sheila’s case, it is in the hypomanic phase of her cycle that she is the fun-loving, creative woman her children adore. Sheila will learn all the lines to a play in just one evening, take her children on exciting outings and still have energy to entertain a crowded restaurant with Marlene Dietrich impressions. When she is experiencing depression or full-blown mania, however, Sheila is frightening and even dangerous.
I have been interested in mental illness and its effects on creativity for some time now. Two disorders that seem to be linked directly to creativity, Bipolar disorder and Borderline personality disorder, are especially interesting to me. I am not, however, merely curious in clinical sense. For me, it’s personal. That’s another story, though.
4. How would you describe your writing process?
I tend to begin plotting a story a month or so in advance. I do most of my plotting in my head because I have a habit of losing things. I once wrote out an idea for a piece on a pamphlet I received from the Hare Krishnas in Union Square Park.
I, at some point between discussing Krishna consciousness with a lovely woman named Gopi and riding the subway, lost the outline. I’m not sure which I missed more, the pamphlet or the story idea.
It generally takes me nine months to write a book. There have been times when I’ve started a story, abandoned it, then revisited it later on. Still, At Your Door was one of those stories.
5. What projects do you have coming up next?
I’m in the process of writing another YA book. Please stay tuned!
Thanks, Emma, for taking the time to chat with us!