By Allison Stalberg Siebens
All of Lynn Slaughter’s books pack an emotional punch. In It Should Have Been You, the young protagonist grapples with survivor’s guilt after the death of her twin. Leisha’s Song takes a look at the tragic fallout from of an abusive childhood. Deadly Setup features a character dealing with the actions of her mother, who is a narcissist. Currently, Slaughter is writing a book that focuses on domestic violence.
We spoke with Slaughter about her books, her sociology background, and how to write mental health stories. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How do your books explore mental illness? What inspired you to write about these conditions?
My young adult novels tend to focus on unhealthy family dynamics and dysfunction, which can contribute to emotional problems and conflicts for young people struggling to grow up. For example, in It Should Have Been You, the protagonist Clara is having a tough time dealing with survivor’s guilt after Moura, her twin, is murdered.
Prior to Moura’s death, Clara was more or less the forgotten child in her family of musicians. Her twin, a piano prodigy, sucked up all of the attention. After Moura’s death, Clara’s mother is so devastated that she can’t even bear to look at Clara because of the resemblance to her late sister, and Clara’s mom ends up being hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Needless to say, all of this has taken a terrible toll on Clara.
In Leisha’s Song, not only does Leisha struggle with her grandfather’s attempt to script her entire adult life for her, but the person responsible for kidnapping her teacher turns out to have serious mental health issues after having been given up for adoption, abandoned by her adoptive parents, and then abused in the foster care system.
Finally, in Deadly Setup, the teenage protagonist’s single parent mother was emotionally neglected as a child and suffers from extreme narcissism. She is unable to provide her daughter with empathy, emotional support, or understanding and acceptance.
I have been inspired both by my own growing up experiences and by the stories young people have shared with me over the years. I spent several years teaching at a performing arts high school and seven summers serving as the counselor at a summer residential program for students gifted in the arts.
I personally experienced a challenging childhood and adolescence. My mother was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and was institutionalized for the first ten years of my life. I was raised by a single parent father who was quite autocratic and not emotionally available. My two older sisters associated losing their mom with my arrival on the scene. It was a fairly grim childhood.
One of the themes in my work is the importance of creating intentional families when your own is unable to provide loving support and acceptance.
You write young adult romantic mystery books. What drew you to those genres?
Actually, I call my books coming-of-age romantic mysteries because characters are growing and maturing in the course of their stories, so the coming-of-age aspect is central.
As to what drew me to romance, I consider myself a hopeless romantic, and I’ve found that romantic attraction is high on most teens’ minds. Those hormones are raging and most teens are interested in romance, but many lack real life romantic experience. Novels that include romance are a great way to vicariously experience something readers long for or wonder about for their own lives.
And I’ve always loved mysteries! Growing up, I devoured Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.
What would you recommend to writers who write about mental illness?
Do your research! When I was writing Sam’s mom in Deadly Setup, for example, I did a lot of reading about narcissism and its causes. Fascinating stuff!
You studied sociology in both undergrad and grad school. How did that influence your books?
What a great question! People have always fascinated me, so sociology was an amazing field I discovered in college. Sociology involves digging deeply into people’s behavior and why people in society behave and think and feel as they do. Studying sociology, I believe, leads to greater empathy and understanding of others who may have had very different experiences from our own.
The desire to understand why people behave as they do has definitely influenced my books. I pay a lot of attention to the backstories of my characters, which have so much to do with how they see the world and react to events.
What do you love most about writing?
I love the opportunity to immerse myself in my characters’ worlds and experiences. My characters become very real to me!
Where can readers follow you online?
I may be the world’s worst social media person, but I do blog regularly on my website which is where you can find lots of information about my books and me: lynnslaughter.com.
After a long career as a professional dancer and dance educator, Lynn Slaughter
earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She writes
coming of age romantic mysteries and is the author of the recently released
Deadly Setup, a Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards silver medalist. She is also the
author of: Leisha’s Song, a 2022 Imadjinn Award winner, a Moonbeam bronze
medalist, Agatha nominee, and Silver Falchion Award winner; While I Danced, an
EPIC finalist; and It Should Have Been You, a Silver Falchion finalist. Her first
mystery for adults, Missed Cue, comes out from Melange Books in the summer of 2023. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where she’s at work on her next novel and
is an active member of Derby Rotten Scoundrels, the Ohio River Valley chapter of
Sisters in Crime.
Allison Stalberg Siebens is an indie author and foster cat mom. She is in the process of getting a Masters in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University.