By Emily Pooley
After picking up My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga, I opened it and couldn’t put it down. Every minute for three days, I seized every opportunity to read I needed to know what would happen to Aysel and Roman. After finishing the novel, I felt like I just wanted to get to know a little more about the story and pick Jasmine Warga’s brain. Sculpt reached out to her, and she graciously agreed to an interview!
First off congratulations on your first novel! You stated in your author’s note that you began writing this book after the loss of your friend. Was it hard at times to keep writing on this subject, or did it more often than not, lend a hand to your healing process?
Well, I want to make it very clear that the story is not in any way based on my friend. But rather, my grief and love for our friendship served as a chief creative inspirations. I do think though that being in such a state of deep grief made me write faster than my self-doubt. I didn’t flinch when it came time to really dig in deep to the darker parts of the story, and I think that’s because my grief left me with many raw nerves that I didn’t feel the need to protect at that time. I don’t really believe in writing for catharsis (that’s not really a part of my own process), but I do think that so much of this book stemmed from the frustration about how our society handles conversations about grief and death, about mental illness. We’re conditioned and taught not to talk about it, and this book was my way of talking about it.
You seem to have an understanding of individual’s actions when they are depressed are contemplating suicide. Did you research children’s depression before writing your book?
I actually didn’t. I just wrote from my own emotional truth and experiences. I wrote from my gut. Once the book had sold and my editor and I had finished the content editing process, my editor sent the book to a psychiatrist to have it evaluated for authenticity and responsibility. We were both so pleased when his review came back and said that he found the book to be an honest, accurate, and responsible portrayal of teenage depression. (Fun fact: I even learned a few things about my characters because of the psychoanalysis he provided of them!)
Music is a really important focus and part of Aysel’s life, is there a reason you chose music? Do you use it as a calming mechanism in your own life?
Music is a huge part of my own life. Actually, my second book deals with music and love and worship of music in perhaps an even more direct way. I’m not sure why I chose classical music for Aysel, as I’m not by any means a classical music expert or aficionado. But she came to me with that interest as well as her interest in physics. I know it sounds crazy, but looking back on the writing process for MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES, it sometimes feels like Aysel chose me, as opposed to I created her.
Did you feel it was important for our main character’s to both experience a life altering event to spark their focus on suicide?
Eh, this is such a complicated question. The most honest answer is probably no. If readers take anything away from the book, I’d really like them to come away with the understanding that depression is not logical. You don’t need reasons to be depressed. That said, even if you are someone who suffers from clinical depression as opposed to situational depression, certain situations or events in your life can trigger your depression or deepen it. And so for the narrative reasons, both characters sort of have a catalyst. That said, I think of Aysel as someone who suffers from clinical depression whereas Roman’s is pretty firmly situational.
Do you have experience in physics or do you enjoy it? Was there a reason you made that Aysel’s favorite subject?
This answer is similar to the one I gave about Aysel’s interest in classical music. I’m actually horrible at physics, but after college, I found myself in the rather odd position of being assigned to teach science. I’m sure that experience somehow informed Aysel’s interest, but again, she came to me with a fondness for physics. At first it really freaked me out and I wasn’t sure I could write a character who was interested in science, but the story just didn’t seem to click when I tried to force her to be interested in art or poetry (two interests that more mirror my own high school experience). And so she stayed a physics nerd.
I know that you included the resources page at the end of your book. Do you have a message for your readers who are undergoing similar hardships as Aysel and Roman?
Just to know that they aren’t alone, that there is always someone who is willing to listen and someone who wants to help. And that I’m not sure life ever really does get better or easier, but to trust and believe that YOU get better. You get better at dealing with the highs and lows. You get stronger and it’s so worth waiting around to see just how much better you get.
Are you planning on keeping with a similar theme for your next novel? In which there is a focus on societal issues, such as depression, that can prove difficult for a young adult?
Hm. I’m not sure it directly has a similar theme, but it definitely deals with murky and complicated issues of friendship, the weight of secrets, the burden and falsity of fame, and the concept of forgiveness. I think it’s less direct about the issues it’s tackling than MY HEART, but they are definitely present, and I hope readers who enjoyed MY HEART will find similar threads that resonate with them in the new book.