Into YA with Nikki Barthelmess

Today, the wonderful Nikki Barthelmess is here to chat about her new novel, The Quiet You Carry, which comes out on March 5. If you haven't heard about the The Quiet You Carry, I recommend you check out my review of it to provide a little context for the interview. 
1. In the unfolding of Victoria’s story, you expertly point out points in the foster system where its flaws and procedural issues lead to it being just as hard and ruthless as it’s portrayed in movies and television, but you also humanize it beautifully, showing the good intentions beneath the struggle. Was it important for you to show the softer side of the system with Connie’s evolution and the relationships between the foster sisters? Is there a change to the system that you think would allow people like Connie to make her realizations sooner and make transitions like Victoria’s less traumatic?
I think, in general, most people aren’t all good or all bad. Even those we consider villains, tend to see themselves as doing the right thing, or at least trying to. So, in that regard, even though I would hope I wouldn’t act the way Connie does when she first meets Victoria, I understand why she is the way she is, if that makes sense. In the same vein, it seems from Victoria’s perspective that her case worker is being negligent or doesn’t care about what happens to her. But from Mindy’s perspective, she’s doing the best she can, juggling the impossible caseload of foster kids she has to work with. 
As far as changing the system to make entering and experiencing foster care less traumatic for kids like Victoria and her foster sisters, I could take all day answering that question. But for starters, I think it’s important for people working in child welfare to remember how much the kids who are in their care have already suffered, and for them to treat these kids with kindness, dignity, and respect. 


2. Though your story differs from Victoria’s, you have talked about being in the foster system yourself. When did you decide you wanted to write a book about a girl in foster care? Did you ever have a hard time with the subject matter being so personal?
When I first started writing fiction, I had no desire to write a story about someone in foster care. I thought if I wanted to do that, maybe I’d write a memoir someday. But then I started to learn about how important it is for people from marginalized communities to see themselves represented in fiction. For many years I had noticed there being a lot of stigma and misconceptions surrounding people who grew up in foster care, and I wanted to do something about that. 
I think the reason I didn’t want to write a story about a foster kid, initially, was that I knew it would be really hard for me. Writing this book forced me to sit with some pretty traumatic memories. As you mentioned, Victoria’s story isn’t based on mine, but there are similarities. Victoria’s emotions, from feeling abused and abandoned to wanting to protect her abuser as well as being ashamed of things that weren’t her fault, are all feelings I had. At times, it was painful reliving those. 


3. As a debut author, you’re still close to the time you spent querying. What was that process like for you? Do you have any advice for currently querying writers?
I realize now that the rejection that comes with querying is a good thing— it means the agent isn’t the best fit for your work, and you want your agent to love your writing since they’ll have to read it so much and may even spend years helping you revise and trying to sell it. Finding an agent, for me, didn’t take as long as did to find the right fit for a publisher, as the first book I wrote didn’t make it past the submission stage. So even when you get an agent to work with you, there can still be more rejection to come! 
My advice for querying writers is to get your writing as good as it can be, through working with critique partners and revising. After that, you should spend as much time as you possibly can researching agents and trying to find one that would be the best fit for you and you writing. That way, you’re only querying agents who are likely to give you a chance, and you’re not wasting either of your time. Remember, this process may take a while but if you want to be an author, try to get used to it, because finding an agent is only the beginning.


4. Your author bio also mentions that you are a journalist as well as a novelist. Are you equally drawn to both? Do you think your journalism background helped prepare you to write the novel, or do you feel they’re separate entities?
I have been a journalist since graduating from college in 2011, but I am transitioning to focusing mostly on my fiction, at least for now. Although they are completely different jobs, I do think my journalism background helped me become an author because I was used to working with an editor and taking constructive criticism. And I’ve had to work on deadline before, so I know how to write even when I’m not feeling inspired to do so. 


5. The Quiet You Carry debuts in less than a week. For readers who will likely be anxious for more of your work, are there any projects you can talk about that are lined up for the future? 
I’m working on something that hasn’t been announced yet, but it will be soon. So stay tuned! 

You can find Nikki online on Twitter (@nikkigrey_), Instagram (@nikkibarthelmess), and her website, nikkibarthelmess.com.

Books by this Author...
The Quiet You Carry: Review Here

Links of Interest:
On The Come Uo: Review Here
You Asked For Perfect: Review Here
The Art Losing: Review Here
Starfish: Review Here


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