For this weeks Ask the Author I'm bringing you the amazing Karen Fortunati, author of The Weight of Zero. When I first came across this book I knew that this was something I would love, I mean, it deals with hard topics - bipolar disorder and depression - which already is a big plus, but additionally this story sounds really amazing. So, of course, I e-mailed Karen to ask for an interview. She was extremely friendly and fun to talk to. She agreed to do it so, below, discover her book and her amazing A's for my Q's.
The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati
Expected Publication: October 11th 2016 by Delacorte Press
Number of Pages: 400 Pages (Hardcover)
Seventeen-year-old Cath knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disease, has almost triumphed once, propelling Catherine to her first suicide attempt. With Zero only temporarily restrained by the latest med du jour, time is running out. In an old ballet shoebox, Catherine stockpiles meds, preparing to take her own life when Zero next arrives.
But Zero’s return is delayed. Unexpected relationships along with the care of a new psychiatrist start to alter Catherine's perception of her diagnosis. But will this be enough? This is a story of loss and grief and hope and how the many shapes of love – maternal, romantic and platonic – impact a young woman’s struggle with mental illness. (goodreads.com)
Interview with Karen Fortunati
1 - Describe The Weight of Zero with a twitter pitch.
Supported by friends, doctors and family, a young girl moves beyond thoughts of suicide toward a better future.
2 - What was the first initial thought or thing that sparked the idea of The Weight of Zero? Was it a name or the most basic idea of a story about a girl with depression caused by having bipolar disorder?
In 2012, I was attending a writing workshop and had to come up with a first page of something brand new. Catherine, the main character of The Weight of Zero, and the general idea of her story came to me almost immediately. I knew right away that she was considering suicide because she had little hope that a life with bipolar disorder could be meaningful. And I knew it would be a story of hope. When you first meet her, Catherine is seriously struggling and her doctor has made some changes that include a new group therapy program. So the story unfolds from there and we see how these new supports impact her struggle.
Looking back now, I think I understand why her story called to me. I’ve seen first hand the impact of suicide. I know people who suffer from depression, anxiety, addiction and bipolar disorder. And for these family members and friends who have battled these issues, I’ve also seen them get through it and emerge to a place of stability and peace. My husband’s work continues to support my own experiences. He’s been a child and adolescent psychiatrist for sixteen years and through him, I have a good understanding of the potential of mental health treatment. My unwavering belief that there is always hope is what propelled me to write Catherine’s story.
3 - How much research did you do on bipolar and depression? And did you, at some point during research, feel discouraged or anxious in terms of writing about it, or rather incorporating it into your story?
My first manuscript was a middle grade fantasy so when I started writing The Weight of Zero, I felt a frightening amount of responsibility in getting it as authentic as possible. I read all the time, scoured the Internet reading personal accounts, subscribed to blogs, etc. I found Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind especially moving and that helped me a lot in understanding Catherine. My husband was invaluable in explaining the symptoms of bipolar disorder and the different types of treatment. I was really lucky that way to have him as a resource 24/7.
4 - Did you have a personal motivation behind writing a story dealing with mental illness or was it out of pure interest in the illness itself?
I definitely felt compelled to write about high school and what it’s like with the added weight of a mental illness. High school can be tough – intense pressure to have your life completely planned out by age sixteen, social media, peer pressure, bullying, the stress of friendships and romances beginning and ending or not starting at all, college applications, etc. This is what I remember and these are some of the things I’ve seen my own kids struggle with. So Catherine has to deal with all of that. And come to terms with her bipolar disorder. A struggle that’s complicated by the very real stigma having a mental illness often carries. The story follows Catherine as she learns to navigate the built-in stressors of high school along with her mental health and treatment.
5 - How long did it take you from first thought until publishing deal? Out of curiosity, how many queries did you have to send until you found 'the one'?
I wrote the first page of The Weight of Zero in the fall of 2012 but didn’t really dive into writing it until a year later. It took me a year and I finished it in November of 2014. Things moved really fast from there. Sara Megibow of KT Literary, my dream agent, offered me representation in January 2015 and Delacorte Senior Editor Kate Sullivan bought it in February 2015.
Regarding the number of queries, once The Weight of Zero was finished, I queried around fifteen agents.
6 - How do you feel about the fact that in only a few more months thousands of readers will be able to hold and read your debut novel?
Incredibly grateful, excited and nervous!
7 - Why do you think the readers out there should pick up The Weight of Zero? What makes the story stand out and, in a way, important?
The story explores the culture of high school and what it’s like for kids who have the added burden of a physical or mental disorder. The story focuses on Catherine’s journey – how she adjusts to changes in treatment: a new psychiatrist, a new group therapy program and a new medication. What’s different about The Weight of Zero is that it shows treatment making a positive change in Catherine’s life! It’s about what can happen when doctors and therapy and medication align. Catherine gets this new, expanded support network from the most unexpected people (including one tiny, Italian grandmother!) These changes and these new supports turn out to be critical.
8 - While writing the story did you ever imagine how a cover might look like and what do you think about the absolutely gorgeous final version?
I had a very specific image of Catherine and was really worried that the image of her on the cover wouldn’t be right. My editor Kate Sullivan shared that concern and I know she went through tons of images before coming up with the final version. I can tell you that the cover still blows me away. I love the bright yellow and how Catherine is positioned in the middle of the scribbled zeroes. It perfectly captures her and the essence of her story.
9 - Did you listen to any particular songs or artists while writing The Weight of Zero? If so, could you give us an example?
I didn’t listen to a specific playlist or artist while writing. In fact, most of the time I wrote without music. But there was one song I heard after I finished the story. It reminds me of Catherine especially as she is in the last three or four chapters of the book - Kelly Clarkson’s “Catch My Breath.”
10 – What advice could you give aspiring authors?
Don’t quit! Find critique partners that you trust and enter contests. Contests open up new ways of networking and mentor possibilities.
11 – If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
Flying. I have always wanted to be able to take flight like a bird – just start running and then go airborne. Probably because I’m lazy and flying looks effortless.
About the Author
I’m a writer of contemporary, realistic YA. The subject of my first book, The Weight of Zero, is mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, and it explores the shame, stigma and anxiety that often complicate the management of this chronic condition. The issue is personal to me having witnessed the impact of depression and bipolar disorder in relatives and friends. My goal was to write a story of hope for teens who struggle with mental illness. (karenfortunati.com)