I am pleased to welcome author Jenny Torres Sanchez to my blog. She has written The Downside of Being Charlie and Death, Dickenson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, both books that I love and enjoyed. I pretty much give both of these 5 star ratings. I reviewed the latter, but did not review the former. I hope you all enjoy this interview and will consider purchasing her books. They’re great reads.
1. Tell us about both of your books, The Downside of Being Charlie, and Death, Dickinson, and The Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia.
Both books deal with characters going through a difficult time in their lives. In The Downside of Being Charlie, Charlie is a teen boy dealing with his very dysfunctional family (mainly, his mother who runs away). He also battles with his weight and self image and is trying to understand the girl who he is in love with but who may or may not love him back. In Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, Frenchie is dealing with the aftermath of her high school crush’s suicide. They spent the last night of his life together and Frenchie doesn’t understand why he chose to spend it with her. The summer after her senior year, she should be looking forward to the rest of her life, instead, she’s trying to figure out why Andy ended his.
2. Both of these books deal with some pretty heavy topics. In The Downside of Being Charlie, Charlie’s mother is absent all the time and appears to be struggling with her own demons. Charlie is also struggling with his inner demons, especially when it comes to food. What made you want to deal with such heavy topics in The Downside of Being Charlie? As for The Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, Frenchie is reliving the moments she spent with Andy right up to the point of his suicide. You could have put the book in Andy’s perspective, and we would have received a very intimate look into his psyche, especially understanding what made him choose suicide, so what made you decide to put it in Frenchie’s perspective instead?
I don’t initially set out to write books with heavy topics, but my characters show up and I can tell they have problems. Sometimes it’s easy to dismiss teens and think their lives are easy and not so complicated, but lots of teens go through really heavy things. I want teens who are going through those or similar types of issues to see themselves in these characters and know that while sometimes they might feel alone, they’re not. There are a lot of people struggling. And there’s not always a clear solution. Sometimes the only solution is to struggle on for awhile and know that eventually, things can get better.
I wrote suicide from Frenchie’s perspective because I think the effects of suicide are far reaching. Andy wasn’t Frenchie’s best friend. He wasn’t her boyfriend. She hardly even knew him actually. But his suicide hit her really hard and left her reeling. I think this happens to a lot of people. Suicide takes so many people from this world and it seems like the people around them end up in this place where they keep trying to understand, keep looking for clues and answers, even if they weren’t particularly close to the person. I wanted to explore that place, that person’s story. I think it’s a story worth telling.
3. Do you see yourself always writing books that deal with heavy topics? (I myself set out to write about heavy topics)
It’s hard to say a definite yes, because I really do want to write whatever stories come to me. Sometimes they may have heavy topics, sometimes they might not. But it does seem like I’m drawn to exploring stories with darker themes, so for the most part, I think that will always be a part of my writing. Sheesh, that seems like a longwinded way of saying, “Yeah, probably.”
4. How long did it take you to write both of these books, from draft to publishable material? (This is how long it takes me, too)
About 1 year and a half on both.
5. What was the publishing process for you like? How long did you have to query before landing a bite?
I received a request for the full manuscript to the first query I ever wrote. And when I received that email, I kind of cried like a baby. It was silly, because it was just a request, but to me it was like angels were singing and trumpets were playing somewhere in a golden sky just for me. Seriously, I cried. But I guess it was because I figured, if I can get this request, I can get more. And if I can get more, then I think I can actually do this.
That agent ultimately passed, but the request gave me so much hope. Three months and several queries later, I was offered representation by the amazing Kerry Sparks (seriously, she is wonderful).
6. What is it that you love about young adult literature? Will you always write young adult literature?
I guess I just really like that point of view. It’s that point between childhood and adulthood that has it’s own unique flavor; there is wonderment, there is angst, there is confusion and fear, and all just makes for such a unique and interesting perspective. I love it.
7. Are you currently working on anything right now? If so, are you able to tell us a little bit about it?
I am working on something and it’s actually pretty different than Charlie and Frenchie, but I can’t reveal too much. There is dysfunction, though. And darkness. It’s been challenging, but I think it’s made me a better writer, so that’s pretty cool!
8. Now tell us anything and everything about yourself, including your love for red swedish fish.
Anything and everything? Ha, okay, well, obviously I love reading and writing. I love photography, painting, going to art museums, and music. I love hearing bands I’ve never heard before, though I cling to the music I grew up with. I am a very, very slow reader and an even slower writer. I want to like tea for some reason, but I actually don’t. But I still buy it anyway. My standard coffee (which I do like) order is an Americano. If given enough time, I will freak myself out when I’m home alone (because I think ghosts or aliens or something is out to get me). By given enough time, I mean, oh anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours. Which is completely contradictory the fact that I do actually enjoy being alone. I’m afraid of the dark. I run fight or flight mode and recite the alphabet when I’m scared. I don’t enjoy the outdoors unless it is NOT super sunny or hot out, which means I mostly stay indoors since I live in Florida. I’m married to someone who actually knows all this about me and still loves me. We have three amazing kids, the youngest whom we actually named after Frenchie (yeah, no joke). Oh, and I like to eat Swedish Fish until I feel sick and can hardly stand to look at them. Then I eat them some more.
9. Anything else you want people to know?
Ha, I think the above pretty much covers it! Thanks so much for these great questions. 😀
***Links and Bio***
Yesterday my mom brought our dog of seventeen years to the vet and had him put down. The major reason he was put down is that he wasn’t eating. He hadn’t eaten for a week. Not only that, but he was basically blind and confused and likely dealing with a mind that was deteriorating. It was a sudden decision–he hadn’t eaten that morning. But it was heartbreaking to hear that that would be the last day he was going to remain alive.
I wasn’t close to him–not anymore, anyway–not since my cat Neko came into my life. I’m not going to lie and say I feel bad for drifting away from him, because I don’t. It was mostly his ungodly body odor that kept me at bay, but I never once wished we didn’t have him anymore. He was close to my mom, and that was good enough for me. I still paid attention to him, but most of my attention has gone to my cat, as she is attached to me and I attached to her, and we practically demand each other’s attention.
Unfortunately, I myself don’t have any picture of my dog. But he was a cocker spaniel/beagle mix.
But it was so hard just knowing he would no longer simply be at 5:30 PM. I was a sobbing wreck yesterday, even though I kept all of my feelings to myself. I’m trying so hard not to sob as I write this, in fact. In spite of no longer being as close as I once was to that little dog, he still left paw prints on my heart, prints that will remain until I die because the heart is a muscle strengthened by the good things in life, and he was one of those good things.
To be honest though, I’d been waiting for him to die simply because his life has been so hard for the past two years. He just stayed in bed…all the time. It’s tragic that death is the only solution to release him from his suffering. It’s what suicidal people feel. It’s what I felt at one point. And that’s the tragedy of existence, that at some point in our lives we’re going to want to die, either because of some crippling disease or because old age has become so painful that there is no current solution to make it otherwise. At the same time, life is still so very precious. It’s so precious that sometimes we just have to let it go.
I don’t know if there is an after for a dog. I don’t know if there’s an after for people. I’m also not going to say there isn’t because I don’t know. I just don’t know. What gets me most though is when people like to tell us that those who die are in a better place. Why can’t our current reality be that better place? Why don’t we make our current reality that better place?
I suppose I’m just troubled. Death is a strange concept to me, a concept I will honestly never understand. It was so weird looking at the deceased body of my dog and touching him and still feeling that lingering warmth. One moment he was alive and the next gone. It doesn’t make sense to me, but there it is. I will never understand death, and that’s all there is to it. I don’t deal well with death. I guess that’s just who I am.
However, I think the biggest tragedy of existence is that we form bonds with things we know are going to die. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green talked about how we leave scars of existence on each person. Some of us leave deeper scars than others. Some of us try to leave the shallowest scars we can, but most of us don’t think about what it means to bond with another person and animal –and I suppose that’s a good thing because it means we’re thinking about the here and now.
I think a lot. I think too much. Sometimes I think about what it’s going to mean when my cat dies, what it means when anybody I love dies. Other times, I try not to think about it. But yesterday I knew that my cat had left the deepest scars possible because she hasn’t just left paw prints on my heart, but in my heart and my blood and all around me. I feel like that when she dies, I won’t be able to function for a bit because she’s not just a pet to me–she’s a practical friend who has been there through my best and worst and has not once ever hated me for anything I’ve done to her that could have been hurtful. She is so forgiving.
But I suppose I should just accept that death is the most nonsensical thing in the world to me. Science can explain it, but the emotions can’t grasp it.
Sometimes I ponder why the most vulnerable of us often find ourselves afflicted with mental illnesses we don’t deserve. Imagine dealing with the death of a loved one. Your depression starts out as a symptom of grief. Soon you come to terms with the loss of your loved one, but for some reason you can’t shake this deep, aching emptiness within you. You try to tell yourself it’s because you really haven’t gotten over your loved one’s death, but then the pain just persists. You can’t push through it, or move on from it. Something dark has grown in you, and you steadily begin to lose yourself. Your appetite dies, your sleep either becomes too much or too little; out of nowhere you think you’re worthless, unloved, unneeded; you might want to die, you might not want to do anything at all. Your symptom has turned into the syndrome. Not only are you grieving your loved one, but now you’re battling another monster known as mental illness.
My fibromyalgia was already bad enough to deal with and depression is a common symptom of pain, but then when does the symptom become the syndrome? My fibro was getting better, but my mental health was declining, and I couldn’t understand why, when before I valiantly fought through my fibro.
But someone like me can only take so much before she breaks.
I’ve learned, through mental illness, what an incredibly sensitive person I am. I don’t even have to know you and your pain will strike something so deep within me that I’m compelled to tears. While I am better, I am still easily triggered by anything that has to do with death or suicide.
When you’re depressed and suicidal, you don’t think how traumatizing the feelings are. You’re used to them. Your brain has tricked you so well into thinking you want to die that you accept being suicidal without question. You want to die. You crave it. You want to end your pain because your illness doesn’t want you to see a way out.
Now that I am better, I look back on those feelings, and a heavy pang spears through my heart. I could have given into those feelings, and I wouldn’t be right here telling you all this. They’re terrifying feelings. I’m terrified that I felt that way. Sometimes I want to cry just knowing I did because the truth is that I am still vulnerable to feeling that way again. All it would take is for one of my medications to stop working, and I could go from screaming that I don’t want to die to wishing I would the next day.
Bipolar disorder is a traumatizing illness. Mental illnesses in general are traumatizing. You start out with one problem, and then for some reason that problem makes you sick, and you wonder why others don’t get sick from the same problem. My brother went through a traumatic divorce, and while he was depressed, it was just a symptom. He pulled himself together and now he’s better. Me, I just cracked under the weight of stress and the depression spiraled out of control until it became its own monster.
But there is nothing I can do but to accept it. I accept that it makes me a deeply sensitive individual. I accept that I could become sick again. But most of all, I accept that it has given me the power to empathize so deeply with other people that I would do anything to soothe their pain.