YEM Author Interview: Christine Webb chats about why she chose to focus on writing about mental illness in her book The Art of Insanity

Christine Webb is the author of The Art of Insanity. The Art of Insanity follows Natalie Cordova, a high school senior who is putting up a front and hiding her mental illness from her classmates. the book explores the stigma surrounding mental illness as well as being a high school senior. YEM was able to speak with Christine about What kind of research went into the mental aspect of the book, What inspired The Art of Insanity, and if mental illness is something she knew she wanted to write about for a while.

Young Entertainment Mag: When did you realize you wanted to be an author?

Christine Webb: In seventh grade, my English teacher said it was her dream for a student to grow up, write a book, and dedicate a book to her. I thought, “I’ll do that. How hard can it be?” Spoiler alert: it was a lot more difficult than I thought! But I think that was the first time I decided I would be an author someday.

YEM: Your book The Art of Insanity focuses on mental illness, why did you choose to focus on writing about mental illness in this book?

Christine: I have struggled with mental health issues myself, and I was discouraged by the numerous books that presented mental illness in a somewhat hopeless light. I wanted to write a book where someone could struggle with mental illness but still be okay and find a way to live a productive, fulfilling life. I wanted to offer hope to people who are struggling. I also wanted to offer a look at what it’s like to have a mental illness for those who may not have experienced it.

YEM: What kind of research went into the mental aspect of this book?

Christine: I drew on my own life experience as well as the life experiences of people in my community who have struggled with mental illnesses. There was also a lot of internet research. For the character of Ella, I based her character on research as well as my experience with multiple students who have had autism.

YEM: What inspired The Art of Insanity?

Christine: My own struggles with mental health inspired this book. So I guess something good came from those struggles.

YEM: Being a teacher, do you have conversations about your books with your students?

Christine: I have conversations with my students about all sorts of books, and occasionally we talk about mine. I don’t assign my own books, but I do put them in the library for students to read if they’d like to. I usually wait for them to ask me questions about it rather than ask them to read it. I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to read the book simply because their teacher wrote it.

YEM: What was your writing process for The Art of Insanity like?

Christine: There was a LOT of revision. I wrote the first draft in something like 6-9 months, but then I entered a mentorship competition (Pitch Wars) and was selected for a mentorship with an established author. My mentor, Katherine Fleet, was a HUGE help in getting the book to where it is today. I also went through a lot of revision with my agent and editor, and I was happy that we all shared a similar vision for what we wanted this book to become.

As for my writing process on an average day, you’ll usually find me drinking tea, eating pretzels, and listening to classical music. That’s how I write best.

YEM: What do you hope your readers take away from reading your books?

Christine: The takeaway really depends on the book. Specifically for The Art of Insanity, I hope that readers who have struggled with mental illness take away a sense of hope that life can still be okay even when they are struggling. For readers who have not struggled with mental illness, I hope they can take away a fresh perspective on how to help some of their friends/family members who may struggle.

YEM: What is the best part of writing for a young adult audience in your opinion?

Christine: The best part for me is when someone really connects with my book and says, “This helped me understand _________ so much better.” For this book, I’ve had people say they understand bipolar disorder better because of reading it, I’ve had people say they understand how to be a better support because of reading it, and basically I just really feel accomplished when someone learns something useful through the story I’ve written.

YEM: Is mental illness something you knew you wanted to write about for a while?

Christine: No. I was actually writing another book (turns out that book was terrible – let’s not talk about it), and this book idea sort of grabbed me. I mostly started writing it as a way to process some of my own feelings about mental illness, and it turned into a full book that ended up getting published. Yay!

YEM: What is something you learned about yourself through writing The Art of Insanity?

Christine: This will sound weird, but I learned that I’m not as good of a writer as I thought I was. I had no idea how much I needed to learn about characterization, plot, the publishing industry as a whole, etc. I thought I was prepared to write a book when I started writing this one, but I had a long road to get the book to where it is today. I’m so thankful for the patient people who helped me learn the things I needed to learn in order to make this book effective.

YEM: Who is an author that inspires you?

Christine: Meg Cabot inspires me because she’s written across so many age levels and tends to knock it out of the park no matter what. I also think her writing is funny and relatable, and I shoot for my writing to be like that too.

YEM: What is in your future in terms of writing?

Christine: I have another book coming out from Peachtree Teen in 2024, and I’m in revision for that right now. I also have another couple manuscripts on deck, so I hope they sell soon! I don’t know how much commercial success I’ll encounter with my writing, but I know that it’s very difficult to picture my future without writing in it. I so appreciate all the readers who take the time to read what I’ve written. I still feel humbled every time someone tells me they read my book. Books are long – you had to dedicate a lot of time to reading that! As long as I have readers, I’ll keep writing. And even if I don’t have readers, I’ll probably keep writing anyway.

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