The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Klettner is a heart-wrenching novel about self discovery and family relationships.
The First Time She Drowned sheds light on the long-lasting effects of childhood abuse and captures the beautifully sad inner struggle of a girl whose fragile relationship with her mother has negatively defined her entire childhood and caused her extreme pain. This is a raw and fresh take on the most formative and basic of relationships, one not often explored to such depths in young adult fiction.
Kerry Kletter has had a lifelong passion for story. She holds a degree in literature and has an extensive background in theater, having appeared in film, television, and onstage. A native of Ridgewood, New Jersey, Kerry now lives in Santa Monica, California.
Tell us five random facts about yourself.
I type with two fingers like a chimpanzee.
Pat Conroy’s PRINCE OF TIDES was my biggest influence. I read it in my early ’20s and it changed the trajectory of my life.
I’m so pigeon-toed I sometimes kick my own ankles when I run.
I am most at peace when surfing in Montauk in late August at sunset.
I will jump in any pool, anywhere, anytime. I once swam in the Lincoln memorial (ill-advised.)
Describe your novel in five words.
Dark, lyrical, complex, emotional, hopeful.
The First Time She Drowned tackles some heavy topics. Where did the idea for this novel come from?
Oh I think it came from a variety of places. I know a lot of people who had complicated relationships with their parents and who now wished they’d had more books when they were younger that reflected that experience and helped them understand. So I wanted to attempt to do that. I’ve also always been interested in trauma — specifically how it tends to get passed down from one generation to the next, playing out in these very repetitive predictable ways inside families. And I wanted to look at what can happen when mental illness is undiagnosed and untreated within a family — how difficult it can be to determine where the sickness actually lies — who is acting and who is reacting and how fine the line between the two can become.
I think one of the hardest things for kids growing up in an unhealthy family system is that they don’t have a larger world context to know what is appropriate behavior from adults. So they are sort of relying on their feelings to be their guide but they don’t know if their feelings are justified and are often receiving messages that they are not. And compounding that uncertainty, our society tends to tell kids a lot of generalized messages about parents — that ‘all parents love their children,’ that they love their children ‘equally’ that ‘parents are always right,’ which can be very invalidating for a kid whose experience is not that. So I wanted to write about those things and the story came out of that.
What is the writing process like for you?
Very slow, very absorbing and very quiet. I sketch a basic outline and then write the first 100 pages to see how it works. Once I’ve cleaned up those 100 pages I adjust the outline as needed and finish the story. I tend to revise after every 50 pages or so and then I go back through the entire book and revise each chapter at least twenty times to get the language tight. I can easily spend an hour on one sentence only to delete it an hour later. Everything I do, I do in perfect quiet with earplugs and noise cancelling headphones.
What do you hope readers take away from the novel?
That it’s possible to break free from a difficult childhood and go on and be okay. That the world is full of people who will help. I also hope it raises some discussion about how we treat troubled kids in the mental health system.
What one YA novel do you wish you had when you were a teen?
Oh I love so many, but most recently a book called THE SERPENT KING by Jeff Zentner. It is just the most gorgeous, wise, life-affirming book. I not only wish I had it when I was a teen, I wish I had written it.
What are you working on now?
Two books, another YA/adult crossover and an adult book.
If I weren’t a writer I would be: oh gosh, unemployed? I don’t know. I’d probably go back to school and study psychology. Become a therapist. Or maybe I’d go into PR. I love connecting people and championing them. I find that incredible rewarding.
If I could have one supernatural power it would be: probably the ability to deepen our empathy for each other. I’m including myself in that. I think the world could use more empathy, especially lately.
My Hollywood crush is: I don’t watch a lot of movies! All my crushes are writers. Okay, fine… Bradley Cooper. But it’s a very, very small crush. Miniscule.