“I daydream too much.”
Manic Depressive Dream Girl (Maudlin House Press, 2015)
What’s your chapbook about?
It tells the story of a couple having to navigate both their relationship and the titular character’s bipolar disorder. I think it’s primarily about mental illness, at least that was my intent, but it’s also about love and maturing out of idealistic notions of romantic relationships.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one story that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The shorter sections in between all the stories, the parts tying it all together, were originally a short story with the same name as the chapbook. I was writing from a prompt that came from a book called The Gender of Death. The bit that inspired me was “art, literature, and conventional thought almost regularly personify death as a woman: beautiful or ugly, old or young, motherly, seductive, or dangerous.” I remember it flowing onto the page fairly easily, which really excited me because I’d sort of been blocked before the idea came to me.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook.
It was chaotic, because I was experiencing the personal chaos that is mania at the time I decided to write a chapbook. It started with the more organized and productive hypomania where I had goals and an outline and so many ideas, then became a mess as the episode progressed. It took longer than I expected to finish because of all that. I definitely wrote it out of order, as the words came to me. But I did write all of the girl’s perspective first, probably because it was easier.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
I decided on the arrangement before writing most of it. I followed the progression of the story told by the original short piece, and chose what to focus on from each section in more expanded pieces. The title is a joke I and many others have made before, a riff on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. I always thought if movie characters like that were real people, they’d likely be diagnosed with something.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I was lucky enough to be able to collaborate with one of my best friends on the cover image. I knew I wanted it to be more abstract, and I’ve always been obsessed with images of neurons. So we came up with the idea to have neurons that represented the two main characters, and my brilliant friend Virginia Atkins produced something beautiful from that idea. I’m so glad Maudlin House loved it too. I am very happy with how the design ended up as well, which they were responsible for.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been trying to dip my toe in the narrative non-fiction pool a little. I haven’t had a short story idea in a while, but I am continuing to work on the YA novel that originally birthed the characters in my chapbook (they’re the novel protagonist’s parents).
What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?
Go for it. Why not?
What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?
The last book I read that I absolutely wanted to read forever was Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah. But the answer isn’t quite applicable because I couldn’t have put it down if I tried.
Why the chapbook? What made it the right format for your work?
I confess I only learned what a chapbook was a short while before deciding I could write one. It was part manic hubris, part the desire to flesh out that original short I had written. I just wanted to spend more time with those characters. I still want to spend time with them.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
I would love to be in an all-girl rock band. Not in front though, maybe as the drummer.
What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?
A realistic one, I hope. One where people can see themselves or loved ones and gain better understanding of the issues it touches on.
Which story in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
Probably “Animal Models” or “Sinusoid”, because they are the ones closest to my actual experience. The fictionalized elements in those stories aren’t as important as the experiences and feelings explored in them.
Which story is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
The first one, for sure. It’s called “Before” and is about all the girls who came before “the one.” It’s much lighter than the rest.
What was the final story you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?
I wrote the last story last. It came at a weird time: I’d driven myself even crazier trying to complete everything and finally realized I needed the meds that I’d stopped taking long before after all. So I went to a mental health crisis unit, got back on my Abilify, and immediately felt more capable of finishing. I wrote parts of it in that unit. And when I got home and finally, finally wrote the last line I felt relieved, but also very scared about putting it out in the world.
What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?
Me, Trying to Get My Life Together
What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?
I write a lot about sad girls, or misunderstood girls. A ton about mental illness. And I’ve made a conscious decision as I’ve gotten older to write more about black girls and what it’s like to inhabit the world as a black girl. This is all pretty clear in my chapbook.
Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?
After reading “Animal Models,” a friend recommended Binary Star by Sarah Gerard to me, and I adored it. I only hoped to be able to write a “damaged” main character that well.
Who do you most hope will read your chapbook (either an individual or a particular group of people)?
Any guy who is waiting on a manic pixie dream girl, probably.
What inspires you? What gets you to the page?
I daydream too much. And I like thinking about people and how we work. Same reasons I got into neuroscience. Also I like making things up.
Naadeyah Haseeb is a writer from Raleigh, North Carolina who loves to pretend. Her work has appeared in The Butter, Literary Orphans, and Quaint Magazine. Find her on Twitter @sothisisnaddy.
from “Animal Models”:
The mutant mice we use are bred for depression—only you don’t call it depression because you can’t ask a mouse how it feels. Talk instead of observable behavior. Subject the animal to repeated unavoidable shock. Give it no control over this. Then watch how it reacts when it’s allowed to escape. It’s learned helplessness when it doesn’t even bother. Measure the declines in cognitive function and reaction to rewarding stimuli. Write up the paper about the gene or family of genes possibly responsible for the pathophysiology of these depressive-like behaviors. Trash everything when it all sounds wrong. Skip lab, then class, then therapy, and consider never returning. Forget you don’t believe in God and realize life is his gross experiment. When it’s done he’ll play with your brain.