By Kaitlan Tatro
After reading Every Ugly Word by Aimee Salter, I had so many questions, and who better to ask than the author herself. Sculpt reached out to Salter who was gracious and eager to answer our questions!
First off, Sculpt would like to congratulate you on your debut Young Adult novel!
Thank you! It’s been a bit of a journey, so I’m excited too.
As lovers of Young Adult fiction, we want to know what your favorite aspect about reading and writing Young Adult fiction is?
For me, it’s the opportunity to speak into the lives and minds of young people. I have a real passion for the high school age group, probably because the things that happened to me in high school were so influential on my emotional and rational development. I feel like it’s a time of life where you need answers from people outside of your family. And I love being a voice in that mix. Fiction is especially powerful, I think, because it isn’t about telling a young person “Think this way” or “Do it like this”. It’s an opportunity to show them a story and allow them to observe another person going through something to which they can relate. Letting them see what’s true, and what isn’t, in a totally objective way. I love it.
As the novel neared the end, I became increasingly anxious for Ashley, especially since you hinted at “the incident” that led her to being placed in therapy at the beginning of the novel. Did you intend for the reader to feel this way? Did you feel anxious as you wrote the series of events in Ashley’s life?
In short, YES. And YES.
The current structure of the novel didn’t develop until I was several drafts into the story. But the “incident” has always been the climactic event. I knew as soon as I started writing what was going to happen. I wanted the reader to feel afraid for Ashley.
For me personally, the journey to get there was more emotionally taxing than that particular scene. Even though the story isn’t autobiographical, I was severely bullied in high school and drew on my own experiences and emotions to inform Ashley’s life. Especially during the first draft, but at many times along the way, I had to relive what happened to me, the things that I felt, the ways I was hurt. It’s hard. But also very cathartic and healthy. So as we built towards the climax, my tensions ran very high.
Of course, I also had a ton of fun with the happy ending, so there’s that.
What inspired you to use the mirror as a portal between Old Ashley and Young Ashley?
A combination of metaphor and practical necessity.
On a practical level, to write a completely impossible element into a totally legitimate world, it has to be believable. The reader has to feel like it could happen, even if it doesn’t. So a mirror made sense from the perspective that she is, in fact, seeing herself. Just herself in another time.
On a metaphorical level, I thought a lot about myself as an adult, the things I’d learned, the healing I’d achieved—and how differently my life as a teenager looked to me from the perspective of an over-thirty mother. I thought about what I’d say if I could actually talk to my teenage self, and the way I knew she’d react.
I knew, if it were real, my adult and teenage selves would reflect each other—and not always in flattering ways. It felt right to make mirrors the key to their connection, because it meant whenever they interacted, they weren’t just judging or advising each other, they were also seeing themselves.
Ashley uses art as an outlet for her pain, when you experienced bullying in your personal life, did you turn towards writing as an outlet? Do you think it is important for people going through similar experiences to have a creative outlet?
I’m going to put my amateur sociologist / anti-bullying advocate hat on to answer this one:
When someone is in a position where they’re under intense emotional pressure, especially in a situation of bullying or abuse, they feel isolated. They genuinely believe no one understands (or will care). When you’re in that place, some kind of outlet is crucial. Now, depending on the person, that might be creative, or it could just be doing something that they’re good at. A way of connecting with other like-minds. I’m envisioning anything from art, to playing video games, to doing karate. It doesn’t matter what it is, but I think having the opportunity to pursue a passion, and hopefully achieve some kind of mastery of a skill or knowledge is critical. Because it’s something that, internally, you can point at and say “That. I’m good at that.”
Now, for me personally, I definitely used writing as an escape. But ironically, back then, I was so tired by the negative emotions, and so afraid I was going to be alone for the rest of my life, that I used writing predominantly to write myself actual escapes—happy endings, and sweeping love stories.
I also wrote a lot of really morbid poetry.
Fast-forward twenty years and I’m in the opposite place. I feel confident in myself, strong and content. I know my own value even if others don’t see it. So now I can focus on the negative, how it impacts you, and how you can find the answers to the questions that terrify you. Because that’s how you pull back the veil and understand what’s true about your life.
There’s not a single soul on earth who doesn’t have some value, and who isn’t unique. We need to be celebrating that, allowing people to explore their talents and passions. Then applaud and appreciate the work they put into them. Because you don’t have to be the best in the world to be contributing something. You just have to be doing what’s real and valuable for you.
I hope you enjoyed our sneak preview! Look out for the rest of the interview on our full journal launch, October 28th!
Update on October 28, 2015: Now that it has launched, read the rest of the interview here.