Words on Bathroom Walls author Julia Walton discusses mental health in books

Julia Walton is the author of the award-winning book Words on Bathroom Walls. This year, Words on Bathroom Walls was even made into a movie. See a clip from the movie here. Julia’s newest book is called Just Our Luck. Here, Julia spoke with YEM about the impact her books have made on readers everywhere.

Young Entertainment Mag: Where did your inspiration for Words on Bathroom Walls come from? Why did you decide to write a story about mental illness?

Julia Walton: I was trapped in a job I hated. Frustrated. Angry. Hopeless. Then the whole first chapter poured out of me while I was supposed to be checking insurance policies in my cubicle. I fell so hard into Adam’s voice that I didn’t even understand what I was writing until I’d finished the first chapter. Then I sat back and realized that this was a character with schizophrenia. And that’s where my research began.

I don’t think it was a conscious decision. It just happened this way.

YEM: What kind of research did you do to represent Adam’s schizophrenia as accurately as possible?

Julia: I read about all of the drugs currently being prescribed to treat schizophrenia and used that information to create my fictitious drug ToZaPrex. I read articles online about treatment, handbooks for people wanting to help friends and family with the illness, and articles written by people living with schizophrenia. One of my beta readers had direct personal experience and was able to offer guidance on Adam’s hallucinations.

I also spoke to doctors regarding the clinical trial procedure Adam underwent to make sure the process was close to what someone might expect from an actual clinical trial.

YEM: Words on Bathroom Walls is also funny in many scenes. Do you find humor to be important when facing adversity?

Julia: Sometimes I think humor is the only thing that keeps us going when everything seems hopeless. If you can’t laugh, even a little, then what’s the point of any of this?

YEM: What does it mean to have your book be translated to film?

Julia: I still don’t fully believe this happened. The fact that a group of talented people (director, screenwriter, actors, crew, everyone) took my story and turned it into a visual experience in actual movie theaters is amazing. It’s like something out of someone else’s life. 

I had a T-shirt made through an Etsy shop with the movie poster on it and some day when I have an actual office I’m going to hang the movie poster on the wall.

It means a ton.

There are a lot of superb books that don’t get a movie when they should. I am grateful every single day for this experience.

YEM: Why do you think stories featuring mental health are important in YA novels?

Julia: Every story told is an opportunity to learn more about all the invisible things people carry with them on a daily basis. 

It chips away at the stigma surrounding mental illness. People will stop looking at it with fear, and are more likely to reach for empathy. 

YEM: What is your new book, Just Our Luck, about?

Julia: It’s about a Greek teenager with anxiety (Leo Ermou) whose dad signs him up for a military style self-defense class after he gets into a fight at school. He ends up getting blackmailed by the girl at the front desk ( Evey Paros) when she offers to put him into Hot Yoga teacher training (without telling his Dad)  in exchange for some help getting back at her ex-boyfriend. Leo knits, loves photography, and is just trying to find a way to get through school and get through to his dad.

YEM: Have you experienced your own struggles with mental health? How has that influenced your writing?

Julia: Just Our Luck is an homage to my anxiety. I wrote it as a way of telling my high school self that I’d figure things out eventually. There are also a lot of Greek anecdotes, some yoga memories, and a few things I didn’t realize I was still holding onto…like fear of what other people think.

Writing has definitely been a coping mechanism for me as well. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m feeling until I write about it. Once I see it on paper I can figure out how to untangle the thoughts I don’t understand. Then I can see the story unfold.

YEM: What would you want your readers to take away from your books?

Julia: I want my books to make readers feel less alone.

Connecting with characters in books has always been a comfort to me so being able to offer that comfort to someone else is a privilege.

YEM: What literary inspirations helped you develop your writing style?

Julia: I think a lot of the stories I read as a kid really shaped me as a person and as a writer. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Everything by Roald Dahl, Tamora Pierce, Judy Blume, and Bruce Coville.

Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville is one of my all-time favorites that  I still think about. It is exceptional and not just because I adore dragons. I loved his alien series too.

And Are you there God? It’s me Margaret has a special place in my heart forever.

Read YEM’s review of Words on Bathroom Walls here!