This week, we’re speaking with Stephanie Elliot, the author of young adult novel SAD PERFECT (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). SAD PERFECT tells the story of sixteen year old Pea, who struggles with a little known eating disorder known as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). The novel was in part inspired by Elliot’s daughter’s real-life experience with the disorder. Called “a well-written page-turner whose sensitive topic is covered with finesse and grace” by School Library Journal, SAD PERFECT is Stephanie’s first book, and we were excited to talk to Stephanie about her writing process and what she is working on next. Stephanie has also long been a fan of The Debutante Ball and is thrilled to be on the blog!
And of course, we’re hosting a giveaway of SAD PERFECT! For details on how to win a copy of Elliot’s riveting novel, share this interview on Facebook and/or Twitter–you can submit an extra entry by commenting on the post.
Stephanie Jimenez: It’s almost 2019! Tell us about a project you’re currently working on or any writing-related goals you have this year.
Stephanie Elliot: I have been working on a manuscript that I’m not totally in love with but it’s one I feel compelled to complete since I’m so close to being done with it. It’s the story of two teens who meet on the bus on their way to their senior class trip to Disneyland. The girl has just broken up with her boyfriend and is doing all she can to avoid him. The boy is taking the trip only to get to California, where he plans on ditching the school events and going in search of his birth mother.
SJ: What inspires you?
SE: Other writers inspire me! Often when I feel down about my process or my journey, all I need to do is catch up with some writer friends and listen to what they’re doing and I instantly want to go home and continue working on my project.
SJ: Tell us about how to make the most out of being in a writer’s community.
SE: We have such a great community of writers in Arizona and I feel very lucky to call many of them close friends. Keeping in touch with like-minded people who have the same passion for writing is completely inspiring and motivating. As we all know, writing can be pretty lonely, so being involved in online groups, real-life writing groups, and interacting with readers and other writers at book events are all so important for staying motivated.
SJ: Your book SAD PERFECT is based loosely on your daughter’s experience with an eating disorder. What is it like to write about the experiences of a family member? What kind of conversations did you need to have with your daughter before and leading up to publication?
SE: This is such a great question! The main character in Sad Perfect is most definitely based on my daughter and her personal experience with ARFID, which is a unique eating disorder. ARFID people fear foods they are not familiar with, and think they will die or choke if they try new foods. Not only can they not eat, but there is a ton of anxiety and depression surrounding this disorder.
It was honestly pretty easy to write about the experience because it was all happening WHILE I was writing the book. My daughter was in an out-patient therapy program and when she attended therapy, I wrote the book at the coffee shop across the street. I had written several manuscripts previously and came close to publication, but about midway through writing Sad Perfect, I thought, “This might actually be the one to get published.” My daughter, who was 15 at the time, did NOT know I was writing a story based on her at that point. I needed to tell her I was writing this story, and if she didn’t want me to finish it, I would have honored her request and not worked to get it published. But when I told her I was writing a fictional account of what she was going through, she was very excited and encouraged me to finish it and try to get it published. I asked her to read it and she gave me a ton of valuable and personal input about what it was like for her to have this eating disorder. When I sold the book, she was the very first person I told. She is extremely supportive and we are both advocates for sharing information about ARFID.
SJ: What was the most fun part about publishing SAD PERFECT?
SE: The very best part is getting emails and letters from teens and adults who have read the book and either learned something about ARFID, or if they have ARFID, they have told me they feel like someone else out there understands what they are going through, and that has helped them to not feel so alone any longer. When I can reach a person on a personal level, that means more than any book sales or awards.
You can learn more about ARFID and Stephanie’s daughter’s story on her website.
Follow Stephanie on Twitter at @stephanieelliot.