The author of "It's Kind of a Funny Story," a novel about a teenager's triumph over depression, answered questions from readers.
Q. 1. What made you pull through your depression and get back on top of things? How did you manage to beat the demons? The reason I am asking is that my 19-year-old son has tried to end his life twice, and dropped out of high school last year in his last year. He has lost all self-confidence, is very insecure, very doubtful of himself. He is actually doing much better than before, but I was wondering what brought about the change in you? No comparisons, of course. I admire you for your strength and courage, and look forward to your reply.
Claudia, this is going to be a long answer. I took many steps to get through my depression, and it's not over. (I had a great two weeks, but the last five days have been not-so-good.) The first and most important step I took happened a week after I left the psych hospital, when I realized, while looking over my receipts of all things, that suicide was not an option. I had wasted so much time thinking about it and mulling over its intricacies and artistic seductiveness; starting right then and there I crossed it out as an option. From then on it was a hard road — even though I didn't want to kill myself, I didn't really want to live either and I withdrew into oversleeping and under-eating. I tried many things to combat this. Writing "It's Kind of a Funny Story" was certainly a help, but once that was over I felt almost as empty as before. Then I started my own business, which lasted less than a year, and then I worked for five months at a huge computer company. None of these things suited me, but neither did sitting in my house alone trying to write the Next Novel. I opted to try for the New York City Teaching Fellows program, an alternative certification track for secondary school teachers in New York City with a two-year subsidized master's degree. I've always loved working with kids and now I have an opportunity to leave the ego train and think about people other than myself for a few years. My attitude has improved immensely since I began the program. Your son is trapped, thinking about himself and his perceived failures to the exclusion of everything else. Do whatever you can to get him out of bed and into some volunteer work. And then, of course, there's medication. I started in on new meds about two months ago for bipolar disorder instead of straight depression and this has been a big help for me. Many people simply need to try and try until they find the right medication.
Q. 2. What do you think of the notion that the more one is aware of current events, the more one is prone to feeling despair?
— Joyce Gorsuch, Las Vegas, Nev.
I disagree with the notion that the more one reads the news, the more depressed one becomes. The opposite is true. Connection is never bad and withdrawal is never good.
Q. 3. Considering how the novel is based on personal events of your life, did the novel help you in any way deal with your sense of self/control/anything? How personal is this novel for you as a person and a novelist?
— Catherine Jung, Flushing, N.Y.
"It's Kind of a Funny Story" helped me in that it provided something good out of something horrible. That was its chief contribution to my life. It also helped me realize that life is precious, that I have gifts, and that it would be a real waste to snuff myself no matter how depressed I get. It's about 85% true, which makes it very personal, but I've never had a problem being personal in my writing — I'm an open book.
Q. 4. You are just 25 years old and this is your third book. What's it like to be an established author so young and are there other authors your age you think are exciting?
— Lisa Aldiss, New York, N.Y.
Putting out three books by the age of 25 has been a strange and surprisingly long trip. I am ten years into this, so for me it doesn't feel as if I'm young at all. I look at it as something to be proud of but not presumptuous about — there are many young authors out there. Some of the ones I respect and admire are Tao Lin and Nick Antosca, who are here in New York writing poetry and short stories respectively. I've always admired Marty Beckerman for his iconoclasm and attitude.
Q. 5. Do you have any plans to write a novel with a protagonist who is a mature adult?
— Jefferson Whittaker, New York, N.Y.
Now that I'm an adult (presumably), I absolutely intend to write from an adult perspective. My next work will be an adult novel. I'm not sure how long it will take, but I know it will be good.
Q. 6. Now that this is your third book, do you have a process or a structure in place of how you approach writing your books? Asking as a young writer working on my first book.
— JaCarlo Hairston, Baltimore, Md.
Good luck! I wish I could say that I had discovered the formula and found a foolproof method for writing books, but I don't. They have all been different. "Teen Angst? Naaah . . ." was a collection of essays written over several years, "Be More Chill" was a mostly pleasant process of writing regularly, and "It's Kind of a Funny Story" was a mad month-long dash to exorcise some demons. My approach is to come up with an idea and begin hacking away at it — I'll know soon enough if it's good enough.
Q. 7. You're going to teach high school math in the fall? I once had a math teacher who said mathematicians thought only in terms of logic, in terms of linear structure and order, and the reason that I was failing math was because writers see things as being made up of logical fallacies, words and complicated structures that we didn't try to understand, only describe. I'm projecting, here, but you get the idea. What do you think?
— Emma, Toronto
It doesn't make sense to anyone that I'm a New York City Teaching Fellow and that I'm going to be teaching math in the fall. But many people don't know that I have a computer science degree and that I've always enjoyed and excelled at math. I don't think that math and writing are mutually exclusive at all. When the right words come, they click just like a math problem. Mostly I took up the Teaching Fellows program because I wanted a challenge, something to occupy my time and put me through more experiences to write about, and it has certainly done that already — I'm working harder than I ever had in my life and treasuring the time I have to write.
Q. 8. I'm a high school English teacher and reading specialist. Thanks for your wonderful novels. What kind of literature and teaching methods do you wish you had been exposed to when you were in high school?
— Helen Goss, Minneapolis, Minn.
I wish that I had been given the chance to read more contemporary literature in high school. Recently I spoke at my high school and was delighted to learn that "Rule of the Bone," by Russell Banks is now being taught there. To truly inspire students to be writers, we should not limit them to the classics — let's allow them to see what writers are doing now so that they can aspire to be a part of that continuum.