Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Judy Gregerson's Bad Girls Club Sheds Light on Child Abuse and Parentification

With us today is author Judy Gregerson, whose gripping and shocking novel, Bad Girls Club tells the story of how children are impacted by abuse, neglect, and parentification. You can find my review of Bad Girls Club at http://thebookconnectionccm.blogspot.com/2007/11/bad-girls-club-by-judy-gregerson-book.html

Welcome to The Book Connection, Judy. It is a rare treat to have you here.

Thank you! I’m glad to be here.

Before we get into Bad Girls Club, why don’t you tell our readers a bit about yourself. How long have you been writing? Do you focus on certain genres? What things other than writing do you enjoy?

I’ve written on and off for about 32 years now. I tend to stick with coming of age stories but I am very interested in humor and would like to tackle that some day. Besides writing, I really enjoy marketing and promotion, which is a good thing because you really need to do a lot of that when you have a book out.

You were a child model. Is there anything about that time in your life you would be willing to share?

It was an interesting time. Our modeling agent would call at ten at night and tell us to be in New York City the next morning at seven. So, we’d scramble to get there to do a photo shoot. I didn’t like modeling at all; I found it exhausting and boring. Mostly you just sit there for hours on end while they take pictures, move you around a little bit, tell you to smile, and then take some more pictures. What I did like was the advertising world. I found the whole concept very interesting and eventually went into advertising myself.

You’ve recently returned to school, plus have several other ongoing projects. How do you juggle it all?

Like a crazy woman. I took on some freelance public relations and marketing work recently and it’s become an ongoing project. In between that, I sandwich in my own marketing and I do my college work. It’s kind of like a dance, but some days are very frantic and I want to run away and hide. I slip in some writing now and then.

Let’s talk about Bad Girls Club. What is this story about?

This is the story of a teen living with her mentally ill mother, her abused little sister, and her ineffective and totally clueless dad. The main character, Destiny, has become the mother of the family. She cares for and protects her little sister and she does her best to help her mother “get well”. She takes care of the house and she is determined that she isn’t leaving the house until everything is right again.

I used the term “parentification” in my introduction. I had never heard that term before reading your book. Can you tell us what it means and how it relates to Bad Girls Club?

Parentification is when a child takes on the role of the parent and the parent takes on the role of the child. You see it in families with alcoholic, mentally ill, or drug abusing/using parents. Usually the child who does this role switch is strong, independent, and smart. They see the need for someone to step up and take care of things, so they do it. Sometimes they take care of the younger (or older) siblings as well. Basically, it robs a child of their childhood because they have the responsibility of these family members and their problems. I was a parentified child. I grew up thinking it was my responsibility to take care of everyone and to fix every problem. I cooked, cleaned the house, did laundry, and helped my older sister cope with what was happening at home. I tried to “save” my mother, but I wasn’t able.

I’ll be very honest, I have never be so interested in and horrified by a book as I was with this novel. How were you able to write it without becoming emotionally overwhelmed?

I’m sorry you were so horrified. It wasn’t what I was going for, but I understand that people who have never seen the effects of parentification might be totally horrified at how children are destroyed in homes like this. I didn’t find it overwhelming to write at all, because I knew the emotions and they weren’t horrifying to me. I was used to them. I lived with them all my life. They were like familiar friends, although that might horrify you.

I used to think that a devastating natural disaster in which I lost everything would never come close to what I experienced as a kid and that I’d be prepared because I had already lost everything by the time I was eighteen. That may sound very odd, but when you’ve been traumatized the way I was as a kid, there is not much else in life that is any worse. I’ve had many interesting ups and downs as an adult, but nothing compares to the horror of my childhood.

I will say this though…as I was writing this, I really came to understand what an awful childhood I had. Or I should say that I saw it in a new light. When you give a main character a lot of your own feelings and look at it through their eyes, you see it in new ways. Looking at it from the outside was indeed an interesting perspective.

In the book, Destiny refers to the incident at Crater Lake, but it takes a while for the reader to get the full details about what happened there. How did you know which details to add into the story at which points to build the right amount of suspense for the reader?

Oh boy, that’s a tough one. After a while, you get a feel for tension and suspense in a story. You start to “know” when something is working or is not working. It took me almost 5 years of writing to reach that point. Once I did, I learned to go on my gut. I used myself as a test case. Did I find the tension rising? Was I getting knots in my stomach as I read it?

One reviewer called the revelation at Crater Lake a perfect strip tease. That’s what I was going for. I wanted that thread of the story to be a dance and a teaser that comes at just the right moment and then leaves just soon enough to keep you dangling.

You’ve gotten a lot of great reviews and endorsements for Bad Girls Club from medical and educational professionals. Can you share what these people are saying about your novel?

All those reviews are on my website at http://www.judygregerson.com, but basically what they’re saying is this: if you work with at-risk kids on any level, you must read this. This book fully explains the cycle of abuse and it’s one that all young adults should read. It should be added to the middle and high school curriculums in schools. I’ve been told that it’s a huge contribution to the young adult literary world, that every library should buy multiple copies, and the one thing I hear over and over again is that people have never read a book like this. The one thing they say is that the world seems so familiar even though they’ve never been in a world like that before. I think it’s because I tried to give my characters universal emotions. We have all suffered some kind of loss, some kind of trauma. It’s only a matter of degrees. I tried on hit on what is common to all people in terms of the emotions my characters felt. I just heightened them for the story, if that makes sense.

This sounds like a perfect story for book club discussions. Have you approached various groups to read it? What has the response been?

I have one book club reading it right now. I did promote it to book clubs when it first came out, but I don’t know how many are reading it. I do have discussion questions and also a teacher’s guide for the book, both available on my website.

Where can readers purchase a copy of Bad Girls Club?

Barnes and Noble and Borders have picked it up nationally, so it’s in those stores. There’s always the independent booksellers. If they don’t have it, they can order it. And, of course, Amazon. It has sold very well on Amazon and held on 7 bestseller lists for three months.

What is up next for you? Are there future projects you would like to share with our readers?

I have one book about an underdog that I’m shopping around. I’m working on another book about a girl who is left in a parking lot by her mother when she’s ten. (Notice the consistent theme in my writing?) But I’ve been very busy with college, so writing is on hold for a while.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I just want to say that Bad Girls Club is a book that speaks to anyone who has dealt with a family member who is mentally ill, alcoholic, or a drug abuser. I’ve had emails from teens and adults, so it’s crossing from YA to adult very nicely. Also, I wanted to say that it’s very important to me that young people don’t suffer like I did when I was a kid. I wrote this book to put a spotlight on parentification, to identify it, bring it out of the closet, and help kids find the light.

There are resources on my website at http://www.judygregerson.com. I keep a blog on parentification at http://www.imdumbfounded.blogspot.com. I’m looking to speak to groups who are interested in this subject and I’m also doing school visits, but that is really talking about being an author and about writing books. I’m finishing up my degree in human development so I can work with kids. But my true love is speaking, so I would like to speak more and more about this problem and how kids can be helped.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today, Judy. You’ve written a powerful story that I would highly recommend to anyone I know. I wish you continued success in all you do.

Thank you!

To order Bad Girls Club directly from Amazon.com, just click on the title of this post.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for having me on your blog today! It was great fun.

Cheryl said...

I love having you here too Judy. You wrote a powerful book. It truly moved me.

Best of luck!