Stephanie Elliot is the author of the new YA novel Sad Perfect, which centers around a little-known eating disorder called ARFID (Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder). Pea is the 16-year-old protagonist who struggles with ARFID and undergoes a beautifully told and achingly felt struggle toward recovery. Grab your copy today and follow along with Pea as she falls in love and finds a strength she never knew she had.
Let’s begin with the obvious. ARFID is very rare and not really explored in YA. What inspired you to write a novel about it?
The inspiration behind writing a novel about ARFID is simple. My daughter had the disorder, but we didn’t know she had it until she was diagnosed at the age of 15. When she went into a 20-week intense outpatient therapy program, I started writing. It turned into a story based on what she was going through.
Do you put people that you know in real life into your books? Do you ever write yourself into your characters?
My main character Pea in Sad Perfect is strongly based on my daughter, who had ARFID, so the answer to this is yes. The boy Ben in the story started out as a real boy that my daughter met on a river, but after that first chapter, everything about that boy is fiction. In other books I have written (I’ve self-published three women’s fiction), I have taken incidents from my life, most definitely, and maybe some personality traits, but not my whole self.
What made you want to be an author? Was it something you always planned on becoming, or did you fall into it?
I do think I always dreamed of being an author, so this is definitely a dream come true! I took Creative Writing in high school two years in a row. I majored in Journalism. I kept journals since I was seven or eight years old. I wrote poems. In high school I wrote short stories. I was always writing.
Book titles are notoriously hard to come up with. What’s the story behind how you found Sad Perfect’s?
I love this question, and I love this answer! The title Sad Perfect existed well before I knew I was even going to write a young adult novel. Our family was in group therapy, and we were instructed to draw a picture of how we perceived our child. I drew my daughter’s face and put a bright red X over her mouth because she wouldn’t eat. I put a blindfold over her eyes because she didn’t see how pretty she was. And I wrote the words: Sad Perfect. That’s what I thought of her during this very hard time in our family’s life. She was so very sad, yet to me she was perfect. I still have that picture in a box. About a month or so later, I started writing, and then it clicked. The title of this book would be Sad Perfect.
If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would that book be?
Oh my gosh, this is so very hard. Does this mean, what is my most favorite book, or what is one book I would read over and over again? I’m trying to think of a book that made my heart ache because it was so beautiful, but then I’m thinking, “Why do I want to read a book that would make me cry over and over again?” I would want to read a happy book over and over again… You know which one I would pick: Go Dog Go… “Do you like my hat!” Dr. Seuss… Anything by Dr. Seuss makes me happy!
Given what you now know, what advice would you give to people struggling with ARFID or other eating disorders?
My advice has always been to not stop seeking help for your eating disorder. We kept searching for help for almost 15 years. There is help available, and if you’re not getting the right treatment, continue to seek help until you feel you are in an environment in which you feel safe and comfortable and you know you are getting the right help that you need by professionals that know what they are doing. Especially when it comes to ARFID, because treatment varies with this disorder, and doctors need to learn how to properly treat patients.
Finally, do you have any advice for young, aspiring writers?
I’m so excited for young, aspiring writers! You have so much time ahead of you to write! What I have always kept inside of my head was insight shared by another writer: that getting published takes Time, Persistence, and Talent. It doesn’t happen overnight. If you’ve got these three things, it will happen for you. The main thing is to not give up. And if you want to be published, and if you believe in yourself, and if you have the talent, it can happen for you! Also, surround yourself with people who love to write. They will lift you up when you get the rejections. Everyone gets the rejections. Embrace the rejections because that’s the first step to getting published! The first rejection means you’re that much closer to getting published! Just ask J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, or any other famous author about their first rejection.