It’s Sunday, which means it's time for another awesome #BeyondTheBio interview! These weekly interview series features YA authors chatting with teen readers, and we’re so excited to have two very special guests with us today.
Our guest author this week is #BeyondTheBio alum Heather Demetrios, whose newest book is titled Dear Heartbreak. She's an author who loves world-traveling and ass-kicking. You may remember Heather from when we named her semi-autobiographical book Bad Romance one of our favorites of 2017.
Today’s teen interviewer is Sasha. Sasha’s one of our teen interns here at PickMyYA, and she’s currently stressing over which college she should attend after she graduates this summer. (Too many fat envelopes to choose from. What's a girl to do?) She’s previously interviewed Nic Stone, Candace Ganger, and many other amazing authors.
Alright, let's get to the interview! And don't forget to stick around to the end to find out how you can win a copy of Dear Heartbreak, host a future #BeyondTheBio interview, or both!
Sasha: Hey Heather! Your book starts off by saying it’s not about the lovey dovey side of romance, but more about the dark side instead. Why was it important for you to focus on this side of love in Dear Heartbreak?
Heather: Ever since I wrote my very auto-biographical novel about teen dating violence, Bad Romance, I’ve had SO MANY teen readers—and women, plus a few guys, even—email me to tell me their stories with heartbreak. So heartbreak was definitely on my mind, and I wanted to give voice to the variety of hurt out there, but I also wanted to more directly address it. I love Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar advice column, which became the book Tiny Beautiful Things, and I was really inspired by how she wrote these beautiful essays. It’s unlike any advice column you’ll ever read. I wanted to do what she did there—basically a Dear Sugar for the YA crowd.
Sasha: In the first letter, the teen writer mention of the “secret code to love.” I felt that, and so did Becky Albertalli. Did you ever feel like you had to crack a certain code to find the right love?
Heather: Yes. But my code was a bit different. For me, the code I had to crack was the realization that I would never find the right partner, or be happy in a relationship, if I didn’t think I was kickass and they were lucky to have me. I’d been in so many relationships where the balance of power was way off. They weren’t always abusive, but there was a similar thread that ran through all of them: me thinking I was unworthy of being treated with respect. So I had to get to a place where I could get the relationship and partner I deserved, and that meant learning to speak up, to own who I am.
Sasha: There is a reoccurring theme in almost every letter saying loving yourself is the greatest romance. At what point in your life did you realize the importance of self-love?
Heather: I realized the importance of self-love way too late—in college. (Full disclosure: still working on this. Self-love is Next Level). There was this weird thing among my various groups of friends where they would roll their eyes and say “Oh, Heather” when I said or did things they thought were weird or outlandish or dramatic (I was a Theatre major). It was really dismissive. Even though it was often people who were solid friends, who loved me and generally had my back, there was this weird idea out there that it was okay to make fun of me.
My husband, Zach, who I co-wrote my letter in Dear Heartbreak with, was the first boy I went out with in college. We had acting class together when we were eighteen years old. We dated off and on, then on for good halfway through my sophomore year—and actually got married my senior year (!). It’s been over fourteen years. He was the first one to articulate for me how uncool it was that people did that. I felt it, but he helped me see how not okay that was. And him seeing it, seeing me, helped me see myself better. I know this means I didn’t totally do it on myself, but one of the cool things about finding the love of your life is that they can be a mirror. You know you have a good one when that person is showing you your true self, and how awesome that true self is.
So I started not letting people Oh Heather me and it’s actually a barometer for me with relationships—friends and family. When someone does that, I know I have to set boundaries with them because that’s a line that is not cool to cross with me. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And I have to watch myself and not Oh Heather me, either. It works both ways.
Sasha: Every response letter has a bold line on top that turns into a poem by the end of the book. What significance does this poem have to you? Heather: This was one of the things I was really excited about doing in this book. I really wanted to have one special thing the readers could take away with them, and, to me, this poem is that. Because, no matter what your flavor of heartbreak is, I wanted people to see how EVERYONE is hurting, all of us, and that we’re not alone, and that we can watch out for each other. It’s a big group hug from all of us to the readers.
Sasha: One of the letters that stuck out to me the most was Own Your Heart because it spoke about how friends can break your heart too. While most of the letters are about romantic relationships, why did you include a platonic heartbreak?
Heather: I think that female friendships—I can’t speak to male ones, being female-identifying—often have the same level of intensity as a romantic relationship. When I have friends who are in a fight or stop being friends, it’s legit a breakup. And I often think that, among women, there can often be a lot of heartbreak surrounding common romantic interests. It adds to the mix of deep feeling, a strange combo of competitiveness and admiration and dependency. I think I’ve often been a little in love with my friends. Not romantically, per se, but I think it verges beyond the platonic. A lot of the same things are present—the same need to be seen, to be the most important to that person, to share things with them—that are in a romantic relationship. The only thing that has actually been missing is the sexual component, the butterflies in the stomach feeling. But other than that, my best friendships have been just as intense and harrowing and heartbreaking and exhilarating—if not more—than any romantic relationship I was in. It’s like a Venn Diagram that overlaps.
Sasha: I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to put together a collection of words about crushes, sexual abuse, and so many other forms of heartbreak. How did you encourage yourself, as well as the other authors, to keep going?
Heather: It was hard to read the letters. There are SO MANY more I wanted to include, but they were about family heartbreak or other kinds of heartbreak outside “the dark side of love.” I focused—as I always do with hard books—on my readers. The people who need to read these letters. I focused on the healing it would bring, and on the beauty of the teen and YA authors who were so incredibly brave and vulnerable with their words. I was so inspired by their willingness to share for the benefit of others. So there was a lot of joy, seeing what we can mine from our pain. A silver lining, if you will.
Sasha: Speaking of team work, what was your favorite part of being able to put this collection together with so many incredible YA authors? And do you think you’d do it again?
Heather: My favorite part was seeing the authors push themselves to be braver. It was incredible to witness different iterations of their letters. Kim Liggett’s letter was an extra-special honor. For her to publicly talk about being raped as a teen girl, to put that out there so she could help other young women: WOW. I bow down to that kind of fearless love for one’s readers, for the sisterhood, for justice. I would absolutely do a project like this again. In fact, I have a few bubbling on the stove of my mind right now! I love being able to combine writing and activism, and—to me—empowering young adults (and anyone else who picks up this book) through story is pretty much the pinnacle of what I hope to put out into the world. You are the future.
Sasha: As you mentioned earlier, both you and your husband collaborate on giving a response. How did this allow the two of you to understand each other’s feelings about love and heartbreak more?
Heather: Great question. It actually opened up a really important conversation we needed to have about our own relationship. And it gave me the chance to see, in a new way, how incredibly good he is. In addition to being an author, my husband is also a high school teacher, and I just kept thinking how lucky his students are to have a male teacher full of so much empathy, someone who really respects teens and sees them as sovereign beings. It was also cool to see how much we were in alignment with the messages we wanted to give our letter writer. Sasha: Each letter gives personalized stories and amazing advice, all of which speak directly to the heart. This collection really feels like a hug for readers with bruised hearts. Which line speaks to you the most?
Heather: Oh, that’s so good to hear! That was what we were going for and I’m glad that, despite the tough parts, it’s ultimately a hug. To choose one line, though! Okay, I’m going to go with what Kim Liggett said in her letter, because, to me, it sums up the heart of this book, and, really, why I write and read in the first place:
But here’s how I know I’m going to be okay: I’m writing this. Here’s how I know you’re going to be okay: You’re reading this.
That’s it for today’s interview with Heather. If you'd like to win a copy of Dear Heartbreak for yourself, just click on the image below to go to our giveaway page. The contest is open to anyone living in the United States, but we'll give you a free extra entry if you're a teen.
Speaking of teens, if you're a book-loving teen like Sasha, we'd love to have you host an upcoming #BeyondTheBio interview. It's an easy and fun chance to interview your favorite YA authors, and we'll guide you through every step of the process. Click here to learn more!
See you next week when we'll be chatting with Justina Chen, author of Lovely, Dark, and Deep!