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A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

Eric Lindstrom

In A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL, teenaged Mel is struggling to move on from her grief at the death of her older brother when she develops bipoloar disorder.

Through her part time job in an old people's home and with unexpected new friends, Mel begins to understand her illness and to discover who she really is.

This is a warm and engaging story with real heart that fans of John Green and Jennifer Niven will love.

ERIC LINDSTROM's debut novel, Not if I See You First, was a critical success and here he talks to us about A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL.

Q: You work in the gaming industry; do you still enjoy playing computer games? Any favourites, if so?

A: I like story-driven games, of course. And zombies. So I love The Last Of Us, and the Fall Out series, and I still play Left 4 Dead. I have other favorites with no zombies going back years, but I don't have as much time as I used to for video games now that I'm spending so much time writing. But yes, I still jump in now and then.

Q: What made you decide to write for teenagers?

A: There are so many ways I can answer, but the simplest is to say I just write the stories I want to write and they come out YA. I don't sit back and wonder things like, "What would a teenager be interested in?" or, "What would a teenager think or say?"

Nothing I write is anything I wouldn't think about today. Many lifestyle details between teenagers and adults differ, like high school versus full-time jobs, paying rent in an apartment instead of living with family, etc, but stories aren't about those things. They're about emotions and decisions and consequences and struggles, and teenagers feel hope and grief and joy and disappointment and triumph as much as adults do, even more so.

Besides, I used to be a teenager - a very introverted one, spending most of my free time learning to program my computer and writing short stories - so that's more direct access than needing to, say, invent a whole world of covert operations I've never lived in to write an adult spy novel.

Q: Both your first book, Not If I See You First, and your new title, A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, explore one's sense of self. Is that what draws you to writing for this age group?

A: I think the challenge of discovering one's true self, and the subsequent process of acceptance and further self-improvement, is fundamental to the human condition. It's one of the things that makes young adult life particularly interesting, because of its newness, but I believe it continues throughout life so it would be a theme I'd tap in adult novels too if I were to write any.

Q: Your lead characters in both books have some kind of barrier that makes them interact differently with their world - in Not If I See You First, Parker is blind and in this book, Mel has bipolar disorder. Why have you done this?

A: Fiction is about conflict and dealing with barriers, and readers enjoy stories where they can identify with the characters while experiencing different, often extreme circumstances and events.

When I start writing any fiction, my earliest thoughts are about what the main character's barriers will be, and I want to make them formidable. For Not If I See You First, Parker's primary barrier wasn't being blind; I didn't think of blindness as an obstacle. Initially I wanted her to have particular difficulty trusting others. After that, thinking about how to build that barrier, I realized how I personally would have a hard time trusting people if I couldn't see their faces. That's when Parker became blind.

In A Tragic Kind Of Wonderful, I decided Mel's barrier would be a fear of being abandoned if people knew what was in her head. Then I decided that what she was hiding would take more than one form, but the main one would be mental illness. She knew that if you're hiding something you did wrong in your past, it's possible to be forgiven and forgotten if it comes out, but mental illness is different in that it changes how many people look at you like nothing else can.

Q: How much research did you need to do into these areas in order to understand your characters before you could start writing about them?

A: Because I want my stories to be authentic, I do a lot of research on any area where I feel I need better understanding, especially on topics where mishandling can harm real people or groups, directly or by perpetuating stereotypes or misapprehensions. I talk to people and do a lot of web research, particularly reading blogs written by those who write from personal experience.

I could not have written either Not If I See You First or A Tragic Kind Of Wonderful twenty years ago because without the internet I wouldn't have been able to find enough different first-person accounts of being blind or having bipolar disorder to internalize these experiences enough to feel I could write about them properly.

Q: You include a lot of factual information in A Tragic Kind of Wonderful about bipolar disorder; why did you decide to the story needed this?

A: The background information about bipolar disorder in A Tragic Kind Of Wonderful is a form of world building. When you tell a story that includes elements most readers aren't familiar with (or perhaps no one is, if you're writing a fantasy and making everything up), you first design the world - meaning, you frame for yourself as the author what will support the story - and then you build the world in readers' minds by artfully introducing and explaining what's likely to be unfamiliar.

It's not hard to imagine a book where no info is given about bipolar disorder that lets readers sink or swim entirely on their own, but I wanted to help readers understand Mel, so that meant doing some world building.

Q: How did you decide on the settings for this story?

A: Like with Not If I See You First, I set A Tragic Kind Of Wonderful on the California coast, the former unspecified, and the latter just south of San Francisco, mainly because it's an area I know well. Deciding on spending most of the time in the characters' homes, at Mel's workplace, and on the beach, etc, came naturally as story points required.

Q: Why did you give Mel a part time job in an old people's home?

A: It's a part of my writing process that I design a lot of elements up front, set things in motion, and see how things go and build on what I write.

In A Tragic Kind Of Wonderful, the Silver Sands Suites where Mel works took on a lot of meaning, but it started because I wanted Mel to have frequent access to a close family friend, not a relative, who was a psychiatrist no longer in practice. This was to give her convenient short interactions about her mental health without the formality and appointment restrictions of speaking with her regular doctor.

Once I decided that this character, Dr. Jordan, would be a neighbor of Mel's grandmother, and that I wanted Mel to have frequent casual access to him - eg, not even need to walk down the street and knock on his door - it came from there that he was in the same retirement home as her grandmother, which Mel would visit frequently, and ultimately come to work for. The rest of how Mel's job supports the story came naturally after that.

Q: What was your favourite moment to write about?

A: It's hard to say what parts of my stories I enjoy writing about the most because of how I feel while writing. If something I wrote makes many readers cry, or even just feel like crying, believe me, I literally cried while writing it.

I enjoy fiction - books, movies, plays, all of it - because of the emotions it makes me feel, and not just the happy ones. When my main character is crying and heartbroken, so am I, and that's what I'm in this for...but do I enjoy it? No way. I feel terrible at those times, just like the character does.

But the lows amplify the highs (and vice versa) and it's all part of the whole. I do enjoy writing the happy moments a lot, but I find writing the sad moments just as rewarding. And because they all play important roles in the ultimate taste of the soup, so to speak, I have to say that the whole is my favorite, not any one ingredient. I know that sounds like a cop out, but it's how I truly feel.

Q: Would you ever want to return to Mel's story and to follow up on her and David, or do you feel her story is told?

A: No one's story is ever over, but there are other stories waiting their turn and would get upset if Mel or Parker got to go again before they got a turn.

I have many other characters bottled up inside putting pressure on me to tell their stories, but we'll see. After a few more books, a voice from the past might get loud enough to come to the front of the line again...

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My process is kind of like inventing characters, settings, barriers, an instigating conflict, and then running improv sessions; so I can't say what I'm writing next till I get further along and find out myself. But it's YA. I have a hard time imagining writing anything else.

Q: What kind of YA literature do you find particularly inspiring, and do you have some top YA recommendations?

A: I like stories where the characters are especially interesting - which to me usually means they are somewhat larger-than-life, or in unusually challenging circumstances, but real in that they have behave believably and have flaws. And I like those flaws to be the kinds of things we see in those around us all the time, not character defects artificially maintained for the writer's convenience; eg, having a character be clueless for comedic effect in ways that wouldn't be sustainable in real life. I also particularly enjoy reading about characters who make tough choices that I think I wouldn't be brave enough to make.

Q: Can you give us some tips for young writers?

A: Reading books and thinking about why they were written the way they were is important. Reading books about how to write is good. Taking classes can be good, too. But the most important thing is to write, and write a lot.

We learn by doing, and redoing, and doing again. If you're not writing now because you don't know what to write, or how to do it, then you might not actually want to write. Maybe you want to be a famous author, which isn't the same as being a writer.

If you truly want to write, you're already writing now, and the question is how to become a better writer. Writers start off writing badly, and the more they write, and think about technique, the better they get.

If you want to be a writer but haven't written anything yet that wasn't a school assignment, sit down today and write a story, just a few pages long, about anything. About sitting next to someone you don't know in the cafeteria. About what happens to an orange after it's bought by from a market. Anything. When you reach THE END, do you want to make changes to make the story better? Or write a different story now that you know what it's like? Then do it.

Olympic swimmers do laps, a lot of them, every day. Writers write. So write, or go find what you really do want to do. Don't just wonder what to do or how to do it. Do it. That will unlock the rest

Q: What would be your favourite way to spend a free day?

A: What makes a free day wonderful to me is that I have no plans for anything to do that day, so I also don't make plans myself; I just go where the day takes me. If it's not writing, I read, work on online puzzlehunts, fold origami, hike, play video games, and sometimes binge watch TV.

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