Meet Kelly Gilbert.
Kelly Loy Gilbert is the author of CONVICTION and PICTURE US IN THE LIGHT. She is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area.
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What to you is the purpose of a ‘broken’ character in YA?
I think all people are broken people—to varying degrees—and I think I’m always so interested in the ways that people are broken because even though so many times people can’t help what happens to them, they can always end up making it worse. And I’m interested I guess in those ways that does and doesn’t happen—I love redemptions stories and stories about communities rallying around someone to lift them up, for instance. But I think also characters should reflect ourselves—we should be able to see ourselves even in the worst ones, because it’s almost always a series of choices that lead people to do awful things and I think we have to let go of the fiction that we’re inherently good people and be willing to imagine ourselves in those situations. I think also brokenness means nuance and complexity, and that’s true of all people, too.
When writing, are there certain points, themes, or motifs you try to always portray in some way?
Stephanie Appell, who’s the lovely YA manager at the famed Parnassus Books, asked a question when I was doing an event there earlier this summer: what is the question your books are always asking? I loved that so much, and I think mine is always the question of how much we owe each other. And what that looks like, how far it needs to go, when do you need to pull back. etc. And I’m always interested in family, in history, in grace.
Right away I was captivated by “It’s hard to turn away from someone after you’ve really seen them. You carry that part of them with you, and it becomes your job to protect it, too” on Picture Us In The Light’s info page. Do you often find people from everyday life inspiring or appearing in your writings – whether they play a minor or major part?
Actually, never! With extremely rare and minor exceptions, I never write about people I know. I think I would be too worried about getting them right and what they’d think, and I’d also feel less freedom in who their character was and what they did.
That said, though, of course small details from people I know and love crop up occasionally—sometimes subconsciously on my part—and sometimes I don’t even realize it’s drawn from real life until someone tells me. I also always name characters after people I love.
How do you tackle the idea of ‘real’ and powerful but gritty factors of humanity in your writing?
I think my process is always just writing and deleting and rewriting and more deleting until my characters start to feel like real people to me. part of that I think is always going to be taking an honest look at their flaws and secrets and vulnerabilities, and also those things they want so badly that they’d be willing to do quite a bit to make it come true for them—I think that’s where things can start to feel gritty. And sometimes intentions are noble, and sometimes they’re not—people are motivated by so many different things. I think that makes characters connect more powerfully with readers, though, too, because when you know the depths they can sink to it means something different to see them rise above that.