Monday, June 5, 2023

Q&A with Kate Glasheen




Kate Glasheen is the author and illustrator of the new young adult graphic novel Constellations. They live in Philadelphia.


Q: What inspired you to create Constellations, and how did you create your character Claire?


A: So I spent time in rehab myself; the first stint was as a teen and the second at the age of 32. The camaraderie, deception, and heartbreak in those walls made for some of the most powerful moments I’d ever been a part of. The people were complicated but the brutality was simple; the stakes were so high, and it was just all so poignant.


I wanted to make a story about that, both to share the experience with folks who haven’t had it themselves and to offer a different version of it to those who have. It was more about that than it was Claire at first, but as the project continued, it became harder and harder to talk about why Claire was in rehab without dragging my own baggage onto the pages.


I also grew up in Troy, New York, in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I’m trans, and I struggle with it, in no small part because of how it was to grow up that way.


So eventually there was a tipping point when I went from writing about Claire to writing about both of us. Making this book has been crucial in processing a lot of my own mess.


And not that I’m where I need to be yet, but the act of even starting felt too overwhelming to deal with all at once so Claire acted as my stunt double for this reckoning of self that could be filed under “accidental.” Close enough to the source to access the moments and thoughts and emotions behind the story, but just enough distance to give me some breathing room.


Q: Did you work on the book's text first or the illustrations first--or both simultaneously?


A: I usually work simultaneously because I love the game that breaks out when sketches lob a serve to words which return it back to the sketches, and this keeps up. It’s an awesome feeling when the two mediums are harmonizing like that, alive and kinetic, and definitely my absolute favorite part of the process of making comics.


However, the personal nature of this book, the sensitivity of the subject matter, and the gravity of working with Holiday House, my biggest publisher yet, had me so nervous and self-conscious about every step of way that my process became much more reserved.


I worked very much in stages on this one. Script moved to thumbnails moved to sketches, moved to pencils moved to inks moved to watercolors. Each stage would present new ideas and opportunities for revisions that Della, my editor extraordinaire, and I would jump on, but it the different tasks were much more regimented than my usual process.

Q: As you mentioned, the book is set in 1980s Troy, New York--how important is setting to you in your work?


Setting isn’t necessarily crucial to every story, but I think it is crucial for a story to achieve a certain richness. A narrative can be fantastic on its own, but to me, it’s those little world-building details– the slang they invented for the characters in Willow, or the way Space Station V was built to generate its own gravity in 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example–that really elevates it. That kind of stuff just kills me.


I liken it to video games like Shenmue or Majora’s Mask. Games that programmed all these non-player character’s lives to have their own unique, full day rather than just existing solely for and when the player character activates them. Knowing there were populations humming along completely independently of the player shifted the medium from a list of tasks you’re fulfilling to a world you’re participating in.


With Constellations’ setting in particular, it’s a much more understated world than most of my examples in that it’s not fantastical, but that doesn’t mean it felt any less important. And specifically because of that lack of the fantastic, I really felt that balancing act playing out between letting the setting do the work it needed to without it forcing it to behave out of character, or feel really ham-fisted.


From the narrative’s standpoint, the setting was contextually important because documenting the time and place are such a big part of the specific kind of friction Claire runs up against, and a big part of the experience that I think younger folks may not know about that I wish they did.


From a personal standpoint, Troy was where I was born, and grew up, and will always be home no matter where I’m physically living. Both sides of my family have been there for generations. I love it dearly and I get back as much as I can.


I feel my roots there in an almost physical sense, a real connectivity to the landscape, a puzzle piece snapping into place when I get into town. But I also collected a lot of damages growing up the way I did, when I did, as I imagine most kids like me did in similar settings.


So, it was important to the book to get the world right, but it was important to me to do the world justice. I had to talk about what sucked about growing up here, but also honor and showcase what was amazing, because Troy is a unique place that makes unique people and my time growing up there is sacred to me.


Q: The School Library Journal review of the book called it “A tale of gender identity and recovery that will resonate with readers and leave them ­thinking long after the final page.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope readers will take away from the book?


A: I’m floored by that one. Truly.


I felt like if I could translate to readers even 10 percent of what it’s like to grow up trans before the words were in the mainstream to say so (or even know so), or 10 percent of what it’s like to be a kid in recovery, what gets you there, and what leaving means, then I would feel like this book was a success.


Simultaneously, I’ve been at comics for almost 20 years now and the very short version is that I’ve taken a lot more licks than I’ve had successes.


The past five years or so had gotten particularly tough and I could tell I was approaching a limit on what I had left to give without any amount of affirmation, be it less financial stress, or some level of spiritual sustenance through some degree of critical acknowledgement, or acceptance.


I was finding my ability to keep trying wasn’t bottomless, and my inability to procure what I needed to keep going was heartbreaking for me.


So to hear that, from School Library Journal no less, to hear that such a respected outfit feels I achieved what I hoped I did, that I did it skillfully? It’s a remarkable feeling and it’s one that I’ve been after for a long, long time.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m coming out the other side of a tattoo apprenticeship! I’m getting my start with that in Soho, NYC and I’m actually working on a Constellations flash sheet with Holiday House for some temporary tattoos for readers to snag at book tour events.


As far as comic stuff, I don’t have specifics I can share yet, but I do have a few projects simmering in the ol’ brain case. My next YA project is currently shaping up to be a fantasy graphic novel by way of social commentary. I also have a couple of younger reader graphic novels that I keep circling back to. Stay tuned for a better answer to this question.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: At the height of my block-stacking prowess, in one very specific mode of one very specific iteration of Tetris (Tetris Effect), for roughly one month of my life, I was 317th in the world. You should see me pack a car, only 316 people can do it better.


Thanks so much for chatting with me, Deborah!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment