Francesca Zappia answers questions about “Made You Up,” stigmas and bullying
December 20, 2015
“If nothing’s real, then what does it matter?” he said. “You live here. Doesn’t that make it real enough?”
–Francesca Zappia, “Made You Up”
I am absolutely obsessed with “Made You Up” by Fancesca Zappia, and I have absolutely no qualms about shouting my love of Alex and Miles to the universe. When I reviewed “Made You Up” in June, I applauded the striking rawness of the novel and its accurate portrayal of Schizophrenia’s effect on relationships. Over the past few months, I’ve developed an even greater appreciation of Zappia’s positive message about opening up to loved ones — no matter how scary the possibility of judgement is — as the shit hit the fan in my own life.
Prior to my hiatus, I had the opportunity to interview Zappia — who goes by the nickname Chessie — about bullying and stigmatization of psychiatric disorders.
Dana: If I remember correctly, you once said that you wrote the bulk of “Made You Up” during high school. Did you draw upon your own high school experiences when writing the book? Was yours anything like that of your characters?
Chessie: That is correct! I did write a lot of Made You Up in high school. The physical layout of the high school–East Shoal — in the book is a mashup of my high school and middle school. Alex’s English teacher is a combination of my senior English teacher and several other figures. Her chemistry teacher was my chemistry teacher. Like Alex, I took a lot of AP classes and didn’t always do so well in them, especially AP Calculus. Unlike Alex, my principal was a really cool guy, no scoreboards ever fell on anyone, and there were no snakes. Drama, urban legends, and stories about the teachers abounded.
Dana: There are two big reasons — and many little ones — why I love “Made You Up.” The first is how accurately you portrayed Schizophrenia and its effect not just one person but all of their family and friends. The second is how you chose not to make Schizophrenia Alex’s defining feature as a character. What factors went into your decision to write a book about a character with Schizophrenia and develop the plot the way you did?
Chessie: The big reason I chose to write about schizophrenia was because it interested me, and it interested me a lot because of the way I had always seen it portrayed in the media — as the defining trait of a villain or a threat. People with schizophrenia were dangerous and needed to be locked away. This is, of course, not true at all. Schizophrenia can be scary, yes, for both the people who have it and their family and friends. But that doesn’t mean we should be terrified and wary of the people who suffer from it.
Like you said, schizophrenia isn’t Alex’s defining trait as a character. I know this is technically an “issues” book, but it was never about the schizophrenia while I was writing it. It was about Alex. I also thought it might be easier for a reader who has never had an experience with schizophrenia to see it in the context of the everyday life of a teenager, and how it affects that person and the people around them.
Basically, if I were going to pick up a book about schizophrenia, this is the kind of book I’d want to read. That’s why I made the plot the way it is, and focused more on Alex overall as a person and how and when she recognizes that she needs help than on her schizophrenia specifically.
Dana: More often than not, I see the media show an entirely different (and inaccurate) version of Schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders, and media is the only form of exposure to psychiatric disorders most teenagers — as well as adults — will ever have. What’s your take on this?
Chessie: It’s sad and true. The problem I mentioned before is that mental illnesses are still being used as character motivation for bad guys, but there’s also maybe a more harmful version of poor mental illness representation, and I’ve been seeing it more and more especially in YA books. The characters are either healed by love or decide somewhere along the way that their medicine is what’s causing all the problems. This is not a healthy outlook for anyone, but especially teenagers, to have while they are dealing with a serious issue like this. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but it only takes a little common sense. If you had the flu, you wouldn’t stop taking your medicine. You wouldn’t expect love to cure a broken leg. We need to realize that our brains are part of our bodies just like any organ or bone or muscle, and we should take care of them accordingly.
Dana: “Made You Up” features many themes and issues that all teens can relate to, such as the desire to “fit in” and be “normal.” Alex, Miles and the rest of the gang are the “freaks” and “weirdos” of their school, but they find true friendship in each other. What’s your advice for teens who feel like they don’t belong?
Chessie: My advice is to find the other people who feel like they don’t belong. They’re out there, I promise, and they make some of the best and longest-lasting friends. “Fitting in” doesn’t necessarily mean “doing what everyone else does”, and “being normal” is just “being whoever you are, because that’s normal for you.” High school is hard, even sometimes for the people who make it look easy. I remember only two things about high school: being really tired and stressed out all the time, and hanging out with the people who are still my very best friends.
Dana: Alex and Miles, in particular, are treated horribly by their peers because of the things that make them different, Alex’s Schizophrenia and offbeat attitude and Miles’s German accent and aloofness, for example. Bullying has been and continues to be a big problem in schools. What do you think it takes to stop bullying and build a more understanding school environment?
Chessie: To me, bullying, like anything, is a complex problem with a lot of factors. There isn’t one quick and fast answer for why bullies bully. Sometimes they’re jealous, sometimes insecure, sometimes annoyed, sometimes intolerant. I think a big reason they do it is because they learned it from their parents or older siblings. And in larger schools with big class sizes, it can be difficult or even impossible for teachers to notice and stop bullying. I don’t know that I have a good solution for this. Our society as a whole needs to be opened up to more experiences and become more accepting of different kinds of people, and maybe that can be helped a little in schools, but it’s definitely a larger issue.
Dana: What is one thing you want readers to take away from “Made You Up”?
Chessie: Someone will always be willing to help you. Whoever that is — parent, friend, teacher, doctor. If you look for them, they’ll be there.
Dana: On a lighter note, how would Alex, Miles and the gang recommend dealing with a bully? I imagine Alex would say something snarky, and Miles would have a mischievous plan in mind.
Chessie: Haha yes, I think Alex would say fight with words, not actions, because the right words will always shut someone down faster than a black eye. Ironically, Miles — the great lover of words — would say save your speech and instead destroy the thing they care most about. While Alex generally can see the good in people even when they’re being awful to her, Miles doesn’t have the time or patience for bullies and prefers to hit them fast and hard before they can even think about retaliating.
Generally, I think Alex’s approach is preferred all around, though Miles’s is a little more spectacular.
Whew! Wasn’t that an amazing interview? I cannot express how happy I am that Chessie took the time to read my email and take the time to do this interview. If you haven’t done so already, check out my review for more info about “Made You Up” and get your hands on a copy asap.
About Francesca Zappia
Francesca Zappia lives in central Indiana and majors in computer science at the University of Indianapolis. She spends most of her time writing, drawing her characters, and reading. Made You Up is her debut novel.