Sweet Sixteener Jeff Garvin recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Jasmine Warga about her YA contemporary debut novel, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES (February 10, 2015, HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray).
Jasmine Warga grew up outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. Before becoming a full-time writer, she briefly worked as a science teacher. This is her first novel.
Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness. There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution—Roman, a teenage boy who’s haunted by a family tragedy, is looking for a partner. Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together.
Jeff: Hi, Jasmine. For the sake of our readers, I’m going to suppress my genuine awe and affection for your book and do my best to play the part of an objective interviewer here. Okay?
Jasmine: Okay, okay. (Sorry, had to go for the TFIOS joke.)
Jeff: (No worries. That made me snort.) The narrator of MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES, 16-year-old Aysel (rhymes with Gazelle) grapples with some heavy (please pardon the physics pun) subjects: Mozart, family secrets, mental health, hope, suicide, and Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, to name a few. How did you go about creating such a complex character?
Jasmine: Well, thank you! I’m glad you found her to be complex. You know, for me, it was really just a process of listening to Aysel’s voice. I know that sounds rather arty, but I’m definitely a voice writer–it always starts for me with the voice, and the voice leads me to the character, and then I just explore from there. My writing process is messy. It’s an exercise in exploration, so all of those elements didn’t come into focus at once, but rather they came piece by piece as I spent more time inside Aysel’s head getting to know her and figuring out the fictional landscape of the story. I often end up writing a lot of scenes that don’t make it into the final draft, but by writing those scenes I’m able to discover certain things about my characters, and my hope is those discoveries will add texture to the scenes that do make it into the final draft.
Jeff: Your novel deals with themes most adults avoid grappling with—and does so with grace and a sense of humor. Why write it for a young adult audience?
Jasmine: To start, Aysel is sixteen years old. This was always her story and so a teen audience seemed natural. Secondly, I have such vivid memories from being a teenager, and I think adolescence is such a wonderful metaphor for all of life–we are all always coming of age, you know? I also think life is a journey of “firsts” and our teenage years are full of so many “firsts,” and I love writing about those emotionally charged moments. Finally, books were my life-raft when I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen–I learned things about the world, thought deeply about philosophical ideals, found friends in the pages–and so it is my greatest hope to write a book that will speak to a reader the way books I read as a teenager spoke to me.
Jeff: When did you know you wanted to become a novelist? And, once you knew, what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome on your way to publishing your debut?
Jasmine: I was my biggest obstacle. I’m always my own writing’s biggest obstacle. I second guess everything, give up on projects too quickly, and let my anxiety wreck my creativity. I’m still working on writing faster than my self-doubt.
Jeff: There’s no doubt that MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES is an emotionally-charged book. How do you capture emotion on the page and transform it into a catharsis for the reader?
Jasmine: Oh, well I hope I did that! Thank you. As for the emotion, I just tried to be honest. To me, authenticity was the most important so I wrote from my gut and from my heart and hoped that what ended up on the page would appear honest. I, as a reader, tend to be moved more by honest things than by emotionally manipulative things, and so I hoped since it was moving me, it would also move readers.
Lightning Round Questions:
Coffee or Tea?
Can I say coffee in the morning to wake up, but tea while reading? I’m indecisive to a fault–just give me all the caffeine!
Song that gets stuck in your head that you’re ashamed to admit you enjoy?
To be honest, I’m not ashamed of anything I enjoy. I’ve tried really hard to cultivate that attitude, but recently I’ve been really into Bruno Mars’s new song and I always feel a tad bit guilty when I give so much playtime to a top 40 hit.
First fictional crush?
Pacey from Dawson’s Creek.
Song that would play as you entered the boxing ring (if you were a boxer)?
“Sunshowers” by M.I.A.
Band you loved at 16 that you still listen to?
Neutral Milk Hotel.
Superpower: Invisibility or teleportation?
Teleportation! I think it would help me escape from many socially awkward situations.
About the Interviewer:
Before becoming a novelist, Jeff Garvin acted on TV and toured as the lead singer of a rock band. He has a BFA in Film from Chapman University and lives in Southern California, surrounded by adorable, shedding beasts. In his debut YA contemporary novel, SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN (Winter 2016, HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray), Riley, a 16-year-old gender fluid teen, starts an anonymous blog to deal with hostility from classmates and tension at home. But when the blog goes viral, a storm of media attention threatens Riley’s anonymity.