By Fully Booked Staff Writer
Photo by Ashley Sillies
Jasmine Warga loves iced coffee, old swing sets, and writing stories that strike straight through the heart—like her novel, My Heart and Other Black Holes. We talked to her about how Aysel’s story, and her own story as a writer, came to be.
FULLY BOOKED: My Heart and Other Black Holes. Even with just the title, you could somehow feel the weight of the story. What drove you to tell this particular one?
JASMINE WARGA: I get asked this question frequently, and I always find it difficult to answer as my own creative process is still a bit murky to me. I’ve never completely understood why I’m drawn to particular ideas or why a certain character’s voice will pop into my head—but in regards to MY HEART, if I had to guess, I would say that Aysel and her story arrived to help me navigate my own personal grief. I wrote MY HEART while grappling with the loss of a close friend, and I was thinking a lot about what makes life worth living, how depression can sometimes make us unreliable narrators of own lives, and the importance of those relationships that ground us and provide meaningfulness. Also, of course, I’m a strong believer that we need to be more open in our discussion of mental health, but honestly, I never come to stories with the desire to evangelize a certain message—the story began for me with Aysel and I followed her voice.
The story deals with very delicate topics: depression and suicide, in this case specifically for teens. What was your research like when you started writing about these?
JW: To be honest, I didn’t do any research while writing the novel. I wrote from my own personal understanding of depression and suicidal ideation. That said, when I’d finished revising the book, my editor wisely suggested we have it reviewed by a clinical psychiatrist and I’m pleased to report he found the book to be authentic and responsible.
This is ultimately Aysel’s story, but Roman inevitably gets tangled up in it. How was writing Aysel’s story different from writing Roman’s? How about the other characters affected, like Aysel’s dad and Roman’s mom?
JW: You know, I always viewed the book as Aysel’s story so when it comes to the other characters, I only really ever explored them from Aysel’s POV. In that way, writing Roman’s story was no different from writing Aysel’s because I got to know Roman as Aysel got to know him. The same goes for Aysel’s dad and Roman’s mom—I learned about them through Aysel’s eyes.
The image of the black slug is something that really stuck with us. It’s so accurate, and we feel like it helps readers get a better grasp of what goes on inside—not just in the mind, but in the body too—when you’re depressed. How did you come up with this image?
JW: Ah! Well, first, thank you. And second, I don’t really know. Again, writing is so weird—I [have] no idea why certain images come to me when they do. I guess I was searching for an honest image. I was tired of reading romantic and flowery and BEAUTIFUL descriptions of depression. I wanted an image that felt like the depression I know, which [was] certainly not beautiful or romantic. I also wanted to bring out that bridge between the mental and the physical, which is something I think people sometimes misunderstand. Yes, it’s in your mind, but there’s a paralyzing and harrowing physical component too.
Before Roman comes along, the spark in Aysel’s life came from her love for physics and classical music. Not the most common of combinations, but you tied them up together seamlessly. We can really see it when Aysel talks about notes and energy. Why physics and why classical music? Any personal ties to either one of them?
JW: Yikes. I don’t really know. Aysel came to me with both of those interests. Her interest in science actually at first freaked me out because I’m not a science expert by any means. (Full disclosure: I previously taught science, but was wildly unqualified for the job. So probably her interest stemmed from those memories.) I actually tried to give her an interest other than physics, but she fought me on it. (I know that sounds crazy, but just go along with it!) As for the classical music, I’m a complete music nerd, but not really that well versed in classical music, but one of the most haunting pieces I’ve ever heard is Mozart’s Requiem. It’s especially haunting when you learn that he wrote it with the intention of it being played at his funeral. Her love for that song and classical music in general just seemed right. Oh, and also, my dad loves classical music, and I think I was searching for a way to connect her to her father.
What was your spark when you were growing up? Is it still your spark now?
JW: Wow. That’s a tough one. My loved ones, especially my family, which is still true now, though my definition of family has expanded to include my husband and baby daughter. And, of course, writing. Writing has saved me in countless ways and continues to do so.
Let’s talk more about you. What made you decide to be a writer?
JW: So this is cheesy, but I don’t think I chose to be a writer so much as writing chose me. I’ve been a storyteller as long as I can remember and writing is the way in which I grapple with and think about the realities of life.
Do you remember the first story you’ve ever written? What was it about?
JW: The first story I ever remember writing was about two tigers—one who lived in the zoo, and one who lived in the wild. They were brothers who had been separated when they were younger and the story depicted their reunion. It was pretty dark for a 3rd grade audience (surprise, surprise!), but I like to think it was my first foray into playing with themes of family and immigration and how the past informs the present. (All of those themes play a big role in my second book actually, and that coincidence is pretty funny to me.)
The impossible question: What’s your favorite book of all time?
JW: So, so, so impossible to choose. So I’m going to cheat and give you three: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Diving Into The Wreck by Adrienne Rich. I’m also a huge fan of Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Going back to books, how’s your new book coming along?
JW: …It’s coming! In all seriousness, it has been a long journey, but I’m VERY excited about the current state of it. I’m revising it for the umpteenth time as we speak, but I think I’m finally getting to a place with it where I hope the end product is going to be something that I’m going to be thrilled (and terrified, but in the best of ways!) to share with readers. In fun news, I recently saw a cover comp for it and I’m SO excited about the design. So keep an eye out for more news on the second book, which will hopefully be coming sooner rather than later!
One last thing. We heard the film rights of My Heart and Other Black Holes have been optioned to Paramount Pictures. Any news you can share with us?
JW: Nothing I can share publicly yet, but I can assure you exciting things are happening. We’re currently in the hunt for a director, and I hope to have news I can share really, really soon. But rest assured, the team that’s working on it is fantastic and I have high hopes.
Thank you so much for your time, Jasmine! But before you go, we need to identify that you are, in fact, a human being. Can you take a photo of yourself right now?
My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga is available at Fully Booked Online.