11:00 am EDT, February 25, 2015

Kate Axelrod discusses her book ‘The Law of Loving Others’

Kate Axerod, author of The Law of Loving Others, joins us to discuss her book and the importance of talking about mental health issues.

The Law of Loving Others is about a girl named Emma who comes home for school on a holiday break, only to discover something her parents had kept a secret her entire life: her mother has schizophrenia. As Emma’s life goes sideways, she must decide how she will handle the situation and what it means to love someone with schizophrenia. Read our review.

Interview with Kate Axelrod

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Tell us five random facts about yourself.

I have a cat named Cooper.
I’m 4’11” and 3/4.
I’m a really picky eater — basically always love eating off a kids menu — plain pasta and chicken fingers are my favorite.
I have a really good memory for useless knowledge.
There are lots of great writers in my family (check them out: Marian Thurm, Sam Axelrod, Ellen Umansky).

What inspired you to write The Law of Loving Others?

I worked in homeless services after college and there was an older woman I met, who was very kind and quiet and lived on the street. She had schizophrenia, and a lot of paranoid delusions about her life, which ultimately prevented her for feeling safe enough to live in an apartment. She was a really lovely, smart, maternal woman, and I began to think about the fact that schizophrenia could affect anybody. This woman could’ve been my mother or my grandmother. And that was sort the seed of the novel.

Have you ever known anyone with schizophrenia, or did you have to do a lot of research on the disorder?

I don’t really know anyone in my personal life who has schizophrenia, but as a social worker I’ve engaged with lots of people who have been diagnosed with the illness. I didn’t do research, per se, but learned a lot about the illness through my work.

How important do you think it is for YA novels to tackle subjects like mental illness?

I think it’s really important for YA books (and all books for that matter) to cover a diverse array of experiences, and to not shy away from things that are messy or ugly or complicated. But some of my favorite books are about more ordinary, quotidian things too, and I don’t think those are any less valuable.

Emma doesn’t always make the best decisions, but it’s hard to fault her for that because of everything she’s going through. Was it difficult to portray your main character with so many flaws, or did that realistic portrayal make it easier?

I think the latter — It wasn’t that difficult because I felt like any other sort of portrayal would’ve been too simplistic and dishonest.

The end of the book isn’t clean cut, and Emma is still questioning a lot of things in her life. Do you know where she’ll go from here, or do you prefer thinking about it in such an open-ended way?

In my head, I like to imagine that Emma will be healthy and work through these issues. I didn’t have any specific plan for her in mind, but I wanted her anxiety about schizophrenia to be just that — anxiety, and not necessarily an actual prediction about her future. I wanted to leave the ending open because it seemed truer to the story that way. At her age, there was no way for her to truly know how things would turn out. And I think there is a tendency to want to have a neat, wrapped up ending, but it’s not always authentic or realistic.

What is easier to write, the first line or the last line?

For me, the last line was definitely easier. I wrote it very early on in the process, way before I was close to the ending of the book. I generally struggle with first lines. It’s so important for them to be compelling, and that’s often difficult for me.

What one YA novel do you wish you had when you were a teen?

That’s a really good question. I’m not sure I know the answer, but I just read a YA novel that I loved, called Lovely Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara.

What are you working on now?

I’m in the really, really, really early stages of something! I would love to write a novel-in-stories. So I’ve been rereading some of my favorites.

What advice would you give to your readers who are going through a similar situation?

That’s a good question. I think, I would say, take care of yourself. Go to therapy. Talk to people in your life who are grounded, who love you and can help you. To quote Emma’s grandmother: “You can’t punish yourself for someone else’s pain. You have to learn to separate, to draw boundaries.”

The Law of Loving Others by Kate Axelrod is available now. You can purchase it on Amazon or IndieBound, or add it to your Goodreads list for future reading.

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