Writing Close to the Heart: Joy Interviews Kim Turrisi

Today I have the honor of sitting down, laptop to laptop, with debut author Kim Turrisi, whose YA novel JUST A NORMAL TUESDAY (KCP Loft, an imprint of Kids Can Press, 2017) is based on the suicide of her sister when Kim was just fifteen. JUST A NORMAL TUESDAY is sensitively written and also uplifting, despite its very serious subject matter. It’s the story of sixteen year old Kai, whose life is shattered when her older sister Jen takes her own life, leaving a note for Kai that begins, “If you are reading this, I am already gone.” To quote Kirkus Reviews, “...the timeless themes of love, loss, and moving forward will find a readership among those who are also grieving and need to know they’re not alone.” JUST A NORMAL TUESDAY is a must read for teens and adults alike, and can also be an excellent conversation opener with your teens and pre-teens about difficult topics.

With that said, let’s hear what Kim--who is also the Director of Special Projects for Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators National in LA-- had to say about her book, writing, and her very fascinating career journey to this point!

JOY: Because your inspiration for JUST A NORMAL TUESDAY is so key to the novel, I’m going to jump right in here. Can you tell us about the backstory that led up to your writing this as your debut YA?

KIM: Honestly, it didn’t start as my first book. It evolved into it. I wrote a terrible book that went nowhere. I was floundering. Then, I did what most writers do, go to another writer for a shoulder and an ear. That someone was Aaron Hartzler, a gifted writer and friend. He asked what happened to me when I was 15. So, I told him that my sister committed suicide. He said, “THAT is the book you need to write.” He was correct. After that, I jumped right in. More like a free fall.

JOY: Was the writing process more difficult because of the highly personal nature of the subject matter? Or was it more cathartic? Perhaps a bit of both? How much of your own sister is reflected in JUST A NORMAL TUESDAY’s Jen? Or is it more the emotions and less the specifics of personality?

KIM: Writing is difficult, period. But certainly this was extremely hard for me as well as quite cathartic which I didn’t expect. Some parts were harder than others, like writing the suicide note and the realization that Kai was going to be an only child forever. That was hard to write and read. There are characteristics and mannerisms of my sister but a lot is emotional. Some moments are on the money like the Christmas gifts. I had to use that because it showed that she had a well thought out plan and really did want to take her life. As odd as it might sound, that gave me some modicum of comfort knowing it wasn’t a rash decision. Grief camp was fictionalized but I felt like I went through it with Kai. What I loved about the camp was that the teens work together to find hope and healing.

JOY: You’ve had quite the interesting life and career leading up to your debut YA. Like really interesting! Tell us a bit about that journey.

KIM: I started out in film and television on set as a production assistant. Basically, getting coffee, handing out scripts and keeping the noise down while the actors worked. I worked my way into TV and film development while I wrote scripts at night. When I started working at SCBWI, my love for children’s books grew even more. I won an Emmy for writing a web series and worked on another (The companion piece for Pretty Little Liars). The entire time I was writing a different YA that eventually lead me to JUST A NORMAL TUESDAY. Quite a journey.

JOY: Why YA?

KIM: I love all things YA, always have. I love to read it so it’s not surprising it’s my sweet spot to write. I think teenagers are so complex and interesting.

JOY: Advice for up and coming writers?

KIM: Don’t be afraid. Read as much as humanly possible. It makes you a better writer. Join a critique group or go to conferences and have someone else’s eyes on your work. Listen to constructive criticism. Don’t let all the no’s make you stop writing. Just be prepared for way more no’s than there are yes’s. Never give up.

JOY: What’s coming next for Kim Turrisi?

KIM: I’m working on several things. Whenever I finish a draft of a WIP and send it to my first readers, I always start a new project. I like to stay busy so I don’t stress about the notes that are coming back. I usually have a few things I’m juggling. I’m currently working on a YA series, a stand-alone YA and a novel with a writing partner that’s Adult that I’m very excited about.

JOY: And since you live in LA now but grew up elsewhere, I think it only appropriate that you give us a quick five things you love or learned or never expected about LA!

KIM: I love the weather. I love the food. I’ve learned to be semi-patient in the hideous traffic. I never expected to fall in love and never want to leave California. I love being able to go to the beach and the mountain in the same day with two entirely different climates.

JOY: Thanks so very much, Kim! This has been a pleasure. We all look forward to your next book!

Want to know more about JUST A NORMAL TUESDAY? Click here.

Want to know more about Kim Turrisi? Check out her website here.

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