Wednesday, 17 February 2016


Karen Fortunati is a writer of contemporary, realistic YA. The subject of her  first book, The Weight of Zero, is mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, and it explores the shame, stigma and anxiety that often complicate the management of this chronic condition. 
Her path to writing and publication was a long and indirect one. She graduated from the University of Scranton with an accounting degree  and then got a law degree from Georgetown. After working as a lawyer for many years, she found herself growing interested and then fascinated with history, specifically the American Revolution. This fascination sparked the idea for a middle grade story so between family, dogs and a return to school (Trinity College for a master’s degree in American Studies), she threw herself into writing.
Thanks Karen for taking out time to answer the questions for this interview. As a clinical psychologist, I am eager to read The Weight of Zero. I hope the book reaches in the hands of people who fight the neurotic demon named Bipolar Disorder. I applaud you for writing a novel on this important topic. 

What was the one thing that made you want to write The Weight of Zero?
The Weight of Zero is a young adult novel about a girl considering suicide. Two factors drove me to this story. The first was a collection of personal experiences – observing family and friends deal with mental health issues and treatment. It’s interesting in that I never realized how much these experiences impacted me until I sat down to write this story. The second factor is my husband. He’s been a child psychiatrist for sixteen years and through him, I’ve learned about different mental illnesses and courses of treatment. For this story, I wanted to lift the veil and explore that process – get into the nitty gritty of medications, group and individual therapy and different types of support. I aimed for a respectful and honest approach because I know that treatment can work. In young adult literature, some portrayals of treatment are negative. My goal was to give a positive perspective so that someone who would have never considered talking to someone about a mental health issue might do so now.

What is the theme of The Weight of Zero?
There is always hope.

Tell the readers more about the protagonist. What does she seek?
Seventeen-year-old Catherine has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has made one suicide attempt. When you meet her, she is convinced that a life with this condition isn’t worth living. She’s planning to overdose and is stockpiling meds to take when her depression (aka “Zero”) returns. But changes in her treatment  - a new doctor who prescribes a new med and a new Intensive Outpatient Program – are making a surprising and positive impact. Brand new relationships start to develop with people Catherine could’ve never imagined. So the main issue then becomes whether Catherine can realize that life with bipolar disorder is worth living.

What research you needed to write The Weight Of Zero? Which are the books that helped you the most?  
I read constantly, scouring the Internet for information, personal accounts and blogs. The International Bipolar Foundation presents excellent webinars and publishes the fantastic bp Magazine. I was incredibly moved by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind. I also found Two Bipolar Chick’s Guide to Survival: Tips for Living With Bipolar Disorder by Wendy K. Williamson and Honora Rose enormously helpful.  My husband, though, was my best resource! Not only did he give technical advice but was also great at editing.

What was the most satisfying moment of your writing career? 
Two moments tie for most satisfying: the first was when my agent, Sara Megibow, offered me representation and the second, learning that The Weight of Zero was going to be published by Delacorte. When I finally got an agent, I had been writing for about six years, mostly on my first full novel, a middle grade manuscript that had gotten soundly rejected. So when Sara’s email arrived offering representation, I remember staring at it, stunned that it had actually happened, that an agent wanted to take me on. When you get rejected so many times, it feels like that day is never going to come.

If you have to make a movie trailer of your writing career, what the trailer will look like?
This is a hard question…hmmmm. I guess it would be something like Julie and Julia. I loved how that movie showed what publication rejection feels like – when you invest years into writing and it seems to never pan out and then suddenly (six years for me), it does.

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  1. Kirthida, this interview as really interesting. I am going read this book. I was especially interested as my book,DANGLE, also deals with overcoming demons from within.

    1. Hi Sutapa, Weight of Zero is a book I will highly recommend as it is one of the best books I have read about a protagonist suffering from BPD.