When I read for me, I read either Sci-Fi/Fantasy or YA. I promote books that I enjoy and think you will too. The reason I’ve asked Laura Kurk here today is because her books touched me. (You might remember me writing about Glass Girl in a previous blog post.) And because I like Christian fiction that doesn’t skate around tough issues.
Please welcome Laura to the blog and stay tuned at the end for a book giveaway.
Hi, Laua! The first question I always ask is this: do you consider yourself a Christian author or author of Christian fiction? What do you think the difference is?
LAK: I’m an author who happens to be a Christian. I’ve been a bit outspoken lately about this topic. I worry that the category of “Christian fiction” has actually contributed to the demise of literature of belief in mainstream fiction. (see http://www.christianchronicle.org/article/christian-fiction-may-contribute-to-demise-of-mainstream-voices-of-faith-in-literature .) I think that when Christian publishing separated out of mainstream and called this thing “ours” that we ceded ground and are now finding it difficult to regain territory. I believe my place is in representing belief in my fiction without alienating mainstream readers. I could argue that the theme of both of my books is something like “find one lost sheep and the angels rejoice,” but that theme is woven through pretty quietly.
I’d like to see a resurgence of literature of belief that follows in a long, rich tradition in mainstream works.
Me too. 🙂
Glass Girl deals with some pretty hard-hitting issues: survivor’s guilt over a school shooting and a parent with an emotional imbalance. Why these issues? Where did you come up with the idea for this story?
LAK: In 2010, when I first began working on Glass Girl, our country was seeing a rash of school shootings—in middle schools, high schools, and on college campuses. The questions that occupied a lot of my thinking at the time were – What did the siblings of school shooting victims feel like as the surviving child? What did this kind of loss do to their place in the family and the formation of their personhood?
I read an interview of Craig Scott years ago that stuck with me. Craig’s sister, Rachel, was the first victim in the Columbine shooting. I worried about Craig, although the Scott family is tremendous and he had plenty of support. It did make me wonder about survivor guilt in this new, horrible phenomenon of school violence. This was, to some degree, an unprecedented psychological turn that this country faced. Children were dealing with the violent deaths of their friends and siblings in the halls of the places they had felt most safe. Children faced their own post-traumatic stress disorders because they’d had to cower under desks and in bathroom stalls to survive. These were issues faced by families in war torn countries, not here.
I wrote about the anguish of intractable depression and anxiety in Meg’s mom because it’s a very real part of so many teens’ lives. I’m encouraged to see that our country is beginning to try to remove the stigma of mental illness. School shootings and the discussion of mental health go hand in hand and these topics allowed me to step back and forth between affected characters. We have many, many miles left to go on this issue, but I fervently believe that if we, as writers, depict the realities of mental illness in a way that shows readers they aren’t alone and there is help available, we will provide a little light to those who struggle. This is important, though—we can’t drop in characters with psychological diagnoses like we’re ticking off the boxes of diversity in our character lists. We must work hard to speak authentically and respectfully about a disease that hurts so much and kills so many.
In Perfect Glass, we learn more about the hero of the first book, Henry Whitmire. In Glass Girl, he seems like the perfect guy. In Perfect Glass, we learn he has real life struggles just like anyone. What can we learn about relationships and dating from studying Henry’s life?
LAK: In the sequel, Perfect Glass, I had some clear questions in mind – What happens to “perfect” all-American kids when they suddenly face adversity in an international setting? What happens when we are stripped of all the crutches we’d leaned on? How does calamity sharpen and focus us more than anything else? What does loving the “unlovable” look like? In Glass Girl, Henry is seen through Meg’s eyes and she’s love-struck, for sure. He does seem awfully good in that book.
Moving Henry to an orphanage in Nicaragua happened when I heard the very true and heartbreaking story of Programa Amor. This government closure of privately run orphanages really happened, and it affected some dear friends of mine who were directors of a home for children there. They watched as their children were taken from them and then they spent months trying to locate them again. I felt like this was a story that needed telling, and that Henry’s character needed to taste a bit hardship so we could see what he was made of. Turns out, Henry struggles like the rest of us to overcome failings, but what makes him great is that he sees things through and is loyal to the end. Things didn’t work out like he wanted them to, but he surprised himself with his acceptance of that.
What can we learn from dating from studying Henry’s life? That commitment and promises are important no matter how naïve you were when you made them. That living according to one’s principles deepens relationships and reflects character. That, when looking for the person you want to date / marry, you should watch how he or she treats those who society calls unlovable. Watch how they treat a hungry child or a fussy brother-in-law or a gang member turned orphan.
What are you working on now?
LAK: My next project will be a standalone YA contemporary. I can’t say too much because I’m always afraid I’ll jinx my own creative processes, but it deals with a subculture that hasn’t seen a great deal of discussion in recent years. The tagline is something like – A daughter who believes she’s finer than her origins learns that living on the surface is impossible when the boy who holds her heart is underground. I’m asking myself this—Do “place” and “belonging” shape identity, and who are we if we hate the place and never belonged?
And before you go, what is one thing you’d like your readers to know?
LAK: That I’m a complete dork. And I’d love to hear from them.
Laura has kindly left us with an excerpt from her first book:
Wyatt told me once that if tenderness were a disease, I’d be terminal.
“You’re just a little glass girl,” he’d murmur every time I blushed or cried or stared too long at someone.
I didn’t mind it so much. The point was he knew that one day I’d break—not my heart, but all of me. I suppose he was right. I feel physical pain when I see a stranger hurting. When it’s someone I care for, I come undone.
Robin, my counselor, had been trying to fill the fissures that opened on the day Wyatt died. Her voice no more than background noise, she tried to coax me into talking. I did my best to block her, but something she said at the beginning of this session slipped in, called to mind a memory as sharp as razor wire, and suddenly I was there again—in a happier time and place. I was little, and Wyatt sat next to me, all warm and alive.
“Meggie, you’re drooling on me! You’ve gotta wake up. Meg, we’re here.” His whispered words smelled like the waffles he’d had for breakfast.
I couldn’t have been more than seven on this vacation because I’d just finished the first grade. Wyatt was ten and tall for his age. People treated him like he was much older, and he usually rose to the occasion.
Dad got a wild hair and decided his East Coast family needed to see the South. So we’d driven a rented black Suburban from Pittsburgh to Nashville, Tennessee. Mom insisted that if he planned to torture us like that we had to at least stay somewhere decent. We ended up at the Tennessean Hotel, a garish testament to the fact that Nashville considered itself the Hollywood of the South.
Every hotel employee patted my head and told me I would be blown away by the laser light show. I started believing them. The first night, after my bath, I begged Mom and Dad to let me stand outside our door to watch the show to beat all shows.
Even at seven, I knew it was overplayed. Locals crowded into the atrium waiting for it to start. Then the lights went low, the fountain started dancing, and a few lasers changed the color of the water in a predictable pattern. Somebody banged out a patriotic song on a white baby grand.
Misplaced histrionics—that’s the only way to describe the crowd’s reaction.
“Mom, haven’t they been to Niagara Falls?” I clearly remember asking.
“It’s human nature to make a big deal out of something if you’re told it’s a big deal,” she’d whispered. “You just remember to let your own mind form your opinions.”
I’ll never forget the look in her eyes as she pressed her finger to my temple.
I didn’t ask to see the show after that night.
That memory wasn’t the one eating at my heart. On our second day in Nashville, Dad insisted we go to the local theme park. Wyatt and I thought it had potential—he was into roller coasters and I was into cotton candy.
We pulled into the parking lot that morning, ready to hit the gate as soon as it opened. It was July, and every paved surface in Nashville steams in July. I could already smell the asphalt around us heating up as Wyatt handed me the sun-block and bug spray. I copied the way he put them on himself.
Loaded down with maps, cameras, and illegal water bottles, we piled out of the car and started the mile-and-a-half walk to the park gate. Ahead of us, I could see a crowd gathered around an older red pickup truck. I worried that they were looking at a dog that had been left in the truck in this heat. The spectators jeered at whatever was in the truck’s bed.
Wyatt told me to put my hands over my ears, and I did, but I left slits on each side between my fingers. I never wanted to miss anything important.
Male voices whined in the heat.
“Hey, big girl, did they drive you to town and forget about you?”
“What’s your dress made out of? A hot air balloon?”
“There’s a weight limit on this axle, lady.”
Three men were speaking—three men who looked and sounded alike to me. They were thin and sunken-chested, and they had the twitchy look of dogs with fleas. Mom and Dad crossed us quickly to the other side of the row of cars, and Wyatt watched my face intently to make sure I couldn’t hear them.
Did Wyatt know what was in the truck? I couldn’t see it yet, because I was too short. And then, just as we were directly behind the truck, the crowd walked away laughing, and I saw her.
She was gigantic. She must have weighed five hundred pounds. Her body filled the entire bed of the truck. In fact, parts of her bulged over the sides, and I think that must have been painful.
Her short black hair had probably been cut with dull kitchen shears, because it stuck out in greasy, spiky strands. She wore what looked like a blue bed sheet sewn together, with holes cut for her arms. More tragic still, it was too short, or maybe it had been pulled up when she slid into the truck. No one would have been able to settle it down around her knees if she was sitting on it. It fell awkwardly just to the very top of her thighs.
She fiddled with a bag of malted milk balls—my favorite candy—and when she finally opened the bag, it exploded. The chocolate balls flew into the air in a thousand directions and fell. They made no sound, falling on her soft body or on the hot asphalt.
Her eyes have haunted me. I only caught them for a second as she glanced our way, wondering what we had to say to her.
“Don’t stare, Meg, it’s rude,” Wyatt said through his teeth, taking my hand in his and tugging me along gently.
But I wasn’t staring to be rude. I was intensely curious about the emptiness I saw there. I caught no hint of interest, no flicker of emotion. I looked back over my shoulder to make sure she was breathing.
She turned and tilted her head as she watched me and then, most amazingly, she smiled. And it wasn’t a malicious smile meant to scare me into not staring. Hers was a smile with sweetness in it. She liked children—she must have children, grandchildren—and she liked me.
Her eyes softened when I smiled back and waved, and she held her hand up to wave.
And because I was there, she was happy.
I repeated this story to Robin when she asked me, again, why I would feel guilty about Wyatt’s death. I couldn’t explain away my guilt; I just knew that I’d played a role. I’d touched the stage before the actors had entered and my touch had screwed something up. Wyatt died and I lived.
I pleaded with Robin to understand.
“My mother would be able to function if Wyatt were here instead of me,” I said.
Robin shook her head and put her pen to her lips. “That’s not true.”
“Wyatt’s death is connected to everything ugly in the world,” I added. “How can you not see that?”
The fan, buzzing away in the corner, oscillated my way, blowing long strands of my hair across my face. I left them there as an excuse to close my eyes.
“Why is your brother’s death part of a worldwide tragedy, Meg?”
Through my hair, my gaze met hers in a look that I hope conveyed serious disdain. “Nope. Not what I said. You’re doing that thing where you turn my words around and try to feed them back to me.” Every adult in my life did that and I hated it.
“Then tell me what you meant when you said—” She stopped to read from her leather-bound notebook. “—‘Wyatt’s death is connected to everything ugly in the world.’”
I chose to be long-suffering to speed this session up. “I meant that the hatred of that July day in Nashville was alive and well on that horrible day in Pittsburgh. People hate others so they strike like snakes. It’s all connected—we’re all connected, bumping around into each other, some of us good, some bad, most a mixture. Every thought acted upon has consequences. Every one.”
I cleared my throat, surprised that I’d put into words what I’d concluded on the day Wyatt died. I’m sure my surprise registered on my face because Robin studied me for a moment. Then she adjusted the throw that she had over her crossed legs—she used these visual cues to relax me—and looked at me calmly.
“Meg, you’re feeling pain, and it’s palpable; you’re feeling guilt, and it’s normal. But these feelings don’t define you. They are false constructs that your mind has created to make sense of your loss.”
She clicked her pen several times and took a long time considering what to say next, what I would actually hear.
“This assumption you developed when you were little—that you are somehow responsible for the happiness, or even the safety, of others in your life, whose paths you cross, that woman in the truck in Nashville—is wrong, and it’s dangerous for you. That’s something you need to come to terms with.”
She turned back to her notebook, thumbed to a page in the middle, and read quietly for a minute. Maybe she was waiting for me to say something. I cracked my knuckles, trying to stop myself from filling the dead air with more words. Words don’t change anything.
A smile flickered at the corner of her mouth and her eyes softened. I flipped my hair out of my face so I could see her better.
“When we first met,” she said, “I asked you to tell me about the Meg before Wyatt’s death.”
“You told me about how she wore her skin inside out. I found it interesting that the people in your life have always treated you like you’re breakable. What was it Wyatt called you? A glass girl?”
The familiar protective impulse snagged the threads of my mind. Wyatt hadn’t meant any harm. He hadn’t known how sharp I’d be when I broke¼how I’d cut someone if they got too close. My eyes burned with the effort of staying dry.
In an unprecedented move, Robin stood, letting her throw fall to the ground with a soft whisper of cotton and fringe and air. She knelt next to my chair and touched my arm like she meant it.
“Meg…you have to let that go. You’re tougher than you think. For goodness’ sake, you are not responsible for Wyatt’s death. Your mother doesn’t wish it had been you. And the woman in the truck? She was trying to make you comfortable, not the other way around. You were the child, Meg…she was the adult.”
I shifted away from the invasion. It was uncalled for, really, so I studied the black-and-white print on her wall, a picture meant to inspire her clients. The girl in the print had just reached the top of a mountain. She stood peacefully and looked at the sky. It said, “Gratitude” under it.
Robin followed my gaze, sighed, and backed into her chair again, like a film editor had suddenly rewound her.
“We all have a gap after we lose someone,” she said. “We think that we will always have this hole that’s obvious to everyone around us. We won’t. The hole will be filled with life. It will be something entirely different, but at least it won’t let the wind in anymore.”
“You say all this like you think I should move on.” I leaned over, curling into myself. “So I’m failing therapy now, too?”
Robin stood again and paced. She seemed at loose ends today. “Here’s what I’m saying. Your whole life is a much bigger story than this terrible thing that’s happened.” She stretched her arms out wide in illustration. “Yes, your story will be shaped by that moment, but you were already well on your way to living a profoundly meaningful life. Wyatt’s death gave you even more perspective. You get to see the world more clearly than the rest of us.” She stopped and mumbled something to herself that I didn’t catch.
“What?” I said. Her burst of passion intrigued me. In my recently extensive experience with therapists, they preferred equilibrium to passion.
“I said I think you’ve always seen the world more clearly.” Hands on her hips, she stared at me for a minute, lost in thought.
I could tell, then, that she believed there was hope for me. I sat up a little straighter.
Robin nodded. “It’s just like when you chose to tell me the story about being in Nashville on vacation. That story had nothing to do with Wyatt’s death. But in choosing to tell me, you showed your hand.”
“What hand?” I squirmed under her scrutiny.
“The hand you have to play,” she said. “You see things that others miss. That is who you are and it’s what consumes your time and energy. It’s not a bad thing but it’s a tool that you’ll have to figure out how to use. Your story is bigger than a mentally ill kid with a gun.”
“There’s nothing on earth bigger than that.”
“Right now it seems that way, I know.” She sighed. I think she struggled with her own non sequitur.
“Think of it this way,” Robin said. “You’re different. You’ve got an advantage over others your age because you know how precious life and relationships are. But—here’s where I give you my professional opinion—you had that knowledge, that wisdom, before Wyatt died.”
“Yes,” I said. “Hence the glass girl thing we previously discussed.” I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. I knew what Robin was trying to say and the part that scared me was that it kind of made sense.
She shook her head. “No, the nickname is off the table. I’m not talking about that. One of these days, you’ll find that someone recognizes your strength and wisdom and loves how very big your spirit is. That person will want to be part of your story because it will be beautiful.”
Excerpt used by permission.
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