It’s Father’s Day, but even that can’t stop us here at PickMyYA. James here, and I’m back with our latest #BeyondTheBio. Today’s guest is Heather Demetrios, author of such amazing novels as I’ll Meet You There, Something Real, and the Dark Caravan Cycle.
If you haven’t had a chance to read Heather’s other books yet, be sure to enter the giveaway at the bottom of this page. It’s our biggest giveaway of the summer! You can win three of Heather’s books, including her most recent novel, Bad Romance!
Bad Romance, which just came out on Tuesday, tells the story of a girl named Grace who escapes a toxic relationship with her abusive boyfriend. As a teacher who’s worked extensively with teens in similar situations, I’m so glad this book exists. Grace’s story, which is largely based on Heather’s own experience, aims to bring much-needed life and escape to people trapped in unhealthy relationships. Full honesty: this interview made me cry. It might do the same for you.
James: Hi Heather! Your new book, Bad Romance, just came out this past Tuesday. Can you tell our readers a little about what to expect?
Heather: It’s a pretty intense story, but one that readers seem to have an equally intense reaction to. It’s about how love can be both the thing that saves you and the thing that imprisons you. Though the main focus is on this complicated, messy, dangerous romantic relationship between the two main characters, it’s also about bad home lives, poverty, and the necessity of good friends and big dreams.
James: I know that this book was an extremely personal one for you in a lot of ways. Can you talk a little about that?
Heather: I originally sold this book as a memoir about an abusive relationship I was in for over two years while I was in high school. I eventually turned it into a novel. I didn’t want to write this at all, but I felt like I had to tell the story of how someone can stay in an abusive relationship for so long and really feel like they can’t get out. It’s not as simple as, “break up with him.” My husband teaches high school here in Brooklyn and he was seeing a lot of girls going through what I did. Many of them, like me, didn’t have good home lives, which is, I think, a big part of why it’s so hard for teens to get out of these bad romances. I knew I had to write this, if only to save the girls that are either currently in a bad romance, or might end up in one. I know there are a lot of guys who are in situations like this, too.
James: So would you say that Grace is based off of you?
Heather: Very, very much! I think she’s much cooler and stronger, but there is a lot of me in her, for sure. In some ways, this was the easiest character I’ve ever written, in large part because of that. I spent a lot of time re-reading my journals from high school.
James: Your book deals with a lot of difficult topics but still manages to have moments of hope and humor. How did you manage that balance?
Heather: When I look back on that period of my life, I can absolutely say it was the worst few years I’ve ever lived through. BUT, I had really amazing friends and was super involved in my high school drama program and this really saved me. I still laughed a lot and had some amazing memories that had nothing to do with my boyfriend. So, I wanted to make sure that Grace had that too.
James: What would you tell teens who find themselves in an unhealthy or abusive relationship?
Heather: I built a whole website for the book for this express purpose. You can check it out here. There is all kinds of inspiration, resources, help, and advice on there.
I would tell these teens these things:
1. You deserve real love, which includes respect, trust, and tenderness.
2. If you’re not happy, then that’s reason enough to leave.
3. You DO have to break up with him or her. No matter what. No matter if they say they’re going to kill themselves. I’m serious. Get help from a parent, your friends, a teacher, or a school counselor if leaving this person will be dangerous for you or them. But also get help so you can have the support and healing you need.
4. All that crappy stuff they said to you and about you? It’s not true. Abusers thrive on power and manipulation. They will say anything to have the upper hand, and to keep you. They know which buttons to push and they know just how to cut you down.
5. After you break up, you will not be alone forever. And yes, it will hurt like hell. But I PROMISE you will heal and you will find an amazing person who deserves you. Really, really, really: it will be okay.
James: One of things that I really appreciated about Bad Romance was how Grace’s friends could see the truth about Gavin even when Grace couldn’t. These friendships are so important to the book and to Grace’s personal development. What are some qualities you value most in a friend?
Heather: I love this question so much, because friendship is such a huge part of this novel and probably the number one reason I was able to get out of my bad romance (I seriously still have a recurring nightmare at least once a year in which I realize I actually MARRIED my abuser and that my whole life thus far has just been a dream).
My best friends, Sarah and Missy, are still my very best friends. We actually were all just at Georgetown to see Missy graduate with her Master’s! We’ve been there for each other since our freshman year of high school and are still going strong. When I was in my bad romance they never stopped pointing out all the ways my boyfriend was hurting me. And they stuck by me even when I ignored them to go be with him. They were always, always, always the light in the darkness.
The thing I value most in my friends is loyalty, honesty, and the sense that I matter to them. If a few days go by without us texting, I worry—that’s the level of close we are. I want to know that they have my back, but that they’ll be honest when I’m screwing up. You have to able able to be yourself with your friends – anything else is just an acquaintance.
James: What kind of future do you imagine for Grace after the final chapter?
Heather: Grace is a romantic, so I have no doubt that she will fall hard for other guys in the future. And she’ll likely make a ton of mistakes – choose a guy that’s too much like Gavin, etc. The romantic in me- spoiler alert!- wants her and Gideon to find their way back to each other. If I were writing the sequel, that’s what I would want to happen. I know she’s going to rock her theatre career. It’s not always going to be easy, but she’ll persist. And I think she’ll begin working hard on creating healthy boundaries with her mom, especially since The Giant is still in the picture.
James: Alright, I’ve got to ask because of your title. Are you a Lady Gaga fan at all?
Heather: I love, love, LOVE Gaga. I think she’s an amazing artist who is talented, authentic, and utterly unique. I really admire the outreach she’s done for teens, especially in songs like Born This Way and Hair. I think she’s the real deal and I love that she takes creative risks and just doesn’t seem to GAF.
James: I have a feeling a lot of people are going to be heading to the bookstore after reading this interview. Besides Bad Romance, what are some other YA books they should be adding to their book bag?
Heather: How much time do you have? Here are a few of my absolute favorites- some new, some oldies-but-goodies:
The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Feed by M. T. Anderson
All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry
Okay, I’m making myself stop…I mostly stuck to contemporaries, but I threw in a few different ones to shake it up.
James: What’s next for you, Heather? Any future projects you can tell us about?
Heather: I have all kinds of things up my sleeve! I’m terribly excited about a YA anthology I’m editing and also contributing to called DEAR HEARTBREAK: YA AUTHORS ON THE DARK SIDE OF LOVE. It’s basically a Dear Sugar, but for teens. We had teens write in from all over the world with their heartbreak (romantic) and YA authors are writing them back. We have an amazing crew including Gayle Forman, Becky Albertalli, Libba Bray, Adi Alsaid, and more. It’s going to be spectacular!
For just me, I have a YA fantasy coming out next year that’s got gangsters and magic and a 1930’s vibe, and I’m currently working on a YA narrative nonfiction about a real WWII lady spy. I have other things percolating, but those are the big ones.
That’s it for today’s interview with Heather, but that doesn’t mean you need to leave. In fact, you can read the first few chapters of Bad Romance right now for free by clicking here. And don’t forget that you can win Bad Romance (and two of Heather’s other books!) by entering the giveaway below. Winner must live in the United States. See you back here next week for another amazing interview!