An exclusive interview with Filipino debut author, Katrina Martin — I am thrilled to have a locally published author on the blog for Wikathon! I, unfortunately, missed the launch event of At Home with Crazy (though I’m grateful to Milflores Publishing for the generous invite!). Thankfully, we now have an opportunity to learn more about this book and its author together. So, read on!
(Last Updated: August 30, 2022)
More on Katrina Martin’s Debut Novel
Ever since I read Ghost of a Feeling by Celestine Trinidad (another locally published title), I’ve been eager to consume more stories that tackle mental health through the lens of contemporary Filipino culture. I just feel that these stories are more important than ever — especially in the wake of an unprecedented global pandemic. So, when Milflores Publishing brought Katrina’s debut book to my attention, I was very eager to get my hands on it.
When I picked up my copy of At Home with Crazy, I dived into it with no expectations, just a ton of curiosity. And I am forever glad about it because I had such a good time! As mentioned in my review, this debut novel is honest, brave, and deliberately provocative. Readers are surely bound to feel a wide range of emotions as the story progresses.
With that said, what can readers look forward to in At Home with Crazy?
- Young aspiring filmmaker with a healthy penchant for zombies 🎬
- Filipino family moving to Manila for a fresh start 💐
- A careful, nuanced, and honest portrayal of mental illness within Philippine context 🌞
- Awkward interactions blossoming into beautiful, heartwarming friendships 💖
by Katrina Martin
A powerful story about family, friendship, and… zombies!
Cayt is obsessed with zombies, whether they’re in the great filmmaker Harriette Swarog’s movies or in the short film she’s making for school. But there’s one zombie she’d like to get away from—her mother.
When they move to Manila, Cayt tries to be normal by keeping mum about Mom. Soon she has bigger problems than her new friends finding out about her mom’s… eccentricities. Mom’s mood swings are worsening and driving Cayt, her Dad, and little sister up the wall. Will Cayt ever get to have a normal life, or is she bound to transform into a zombie herself?
Author Interview with Katrina Martin
What is your pastry and beverage combination of choice?
SHEALEA: Hi, Katrina! Congratulations on publishing your debut novel! I am so excited to have you on the blog today. Thank you for taking the time to virtually sit down with us for an interview.
KATRINA MARTIN: Thanks so much for having me and for reading my novel! Really appreciate this opportunity to connect with you (even virtually).
SHEALEA: Let’s kick things off with something fun. Imagine that we’re doing this interview in a beautiful café. What pastry and beverage combination would you order from the menu?
KATRINA MARTIN: I wanna try Panaderya Toyo’s Moka Bulkan and would probably pair it with hot tea or just a glass of water.
What are three quick tidbits about yourself that most of your readers might not know yet?
KATRINA MARTIN: I’m a proud cheapskate. I don’t drink coffee, but I need 7-8 hours of sleep a day to function. And my childhood dreams included becoming either a librarian or a magician.
Are there any media that you’ve been avidly consuming lately? Can you share a few titles with us?
KATRINA MARTIN: I recently finished Sandman and Never Have I Ever (Season 3) on Netflix. I’m also currently listening to Anxious People by Fredrik Backman on Audible (I know, I’m so late) and reading Rizal in Saga: A Life for Student Fans by Nick Joaquin.
How are you feeling now that you are officially a published author?
SHEALEA: How would you describe your experience so far?
KATRINA MARTIN: Weirdly enough, I kind of feel the same as when I wasn’t published yet. I thought getting published would change my life — like I could split my personal history between pre-publication and post. But that hasn’t been the case. I still feel like I have so much to learn and improve on. I’m also still trying to find that elusive balance between my personal commitments, work, and my creative pursuits.
However, I’m really grateful that the book is out and that it has resonated with some people. That’s my favorite part — when readers tell me how much they could relate to the story and the characters.
Getting published also came with some responsibilities that I didn’t expect and am not really the best at, like promoting my book on social media or speaking in public. But it’s been fun because these gave me more opportunities to interact with people who share the same love for literature.
Can you tell us more about your debut novel, At Home with Crazy? What first inspired it?
KATRINA MARTIN: This actually started as an exercise for a Creative Writing for Young Adults class I was taking for my MA. Our professor asked us to think of a problem or situation that young Filipinos were facing and that we could write about. At the time, someone close to me told me they didn’t want to live anymore. That left me feeling absolutely dumbfounded as to how to respond or help. So I thought I could figure it out by writing about it.
There were two other events that fueled that initial inspiration. The first was hearing a friend tell a story about her mom, who was living with mental illness, and how she went from being totally embarrassed to fully accepting of it. Hearing her use the word “crazy” with no shame or malice whatsoever was a powerful experience for me because I had been used to people stigmatizing that term. The second was an encounter inside a bus with a young girl who was asking for help for her hospitalized mom. I guess we could say that it’s ideal for parents to be the ones taking care of their children but, at that moment, I was moved by the fact that there were too many instances when that wasn’t the case at all.
If Cayt were to be stranded on a deserted island, what 3 personal items would she take with her?
SHEALEA: Let’s get to know our protagonist a little more. If Cayt were to be stranded on a deserted island, what 3 personal items would she take with her?
KATRINA MARTIN: Her phone, a Swiss knife, and her dad’s lighter.
Can you tell us more about Cayt’s character?
SHEALEA: Now that you’ve discussed your initial inspirations for this book, I think it adds more context to some of the stylistic choices made in the text, such as Cayt self-censoring herself from the word “crazy” for most of the story. Even in her most private thoughts, she avoided it at all costs. And I found that really powerful. Can you tell us more about Cayt’s character? What was it like being inside her head?
KATRINA MARTIN: Cayt was a tough nut for me to crack, actually. I think she not only censored the word “crazy” in her head but generally avoided a lot of these difficult thoughts or emotions as much as she could. She became more quiet and [more] reserved because of what happened to their family and how she was treated at her old school. She was in denial for the most part and, especially before the events in the book’s present, didn’t want to dwell on what was happening in her life because they were so upsetting for her. So she consumed and created a lot of art instead, and that was actually my way of knowing and also showing what was going on in her head.
What was it like to write about such a complicated mother-daughter relationship?
SHEALEA: I was really fascinated by the ups, downs, and instabilities of Cayt’s relationship with her mother. What was it like to write about such a complicated mother-daughter relationship like theirs?
KATRINA MARTIN: Poet Adrienne Rich wrote that “the cathexis between mother and daughter — essential, distorted, misused — is the great unwritten story,” and that there was nothing in the whole spectrum of human nature that could be “more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other.”
I consider my own complex, constantly evolving relationship with my mother the most significant relationship in my life so, naturally, I tapped into that during the writing process. I’d like to think that Cayt’s acceptance of her mother’s influence on her, as well as her determination to carve her own path — a path affected or inspired but neither controlled nor restricted by that influence — mirrors my own coming to terms with the fact that who I am has much to do with who raised me. I approached Cayt and Anna’s relationship as a tribute to both my mom and, weird as it may sound, myself! The process was quite cathartic.
How did you navigate your portrayal of Anna’s bipolar disorder in this book?
SHEALEA: It is later confirmed in the story that Cayt’s mother has bipolar disorder. Given the heavy stigma surrounding mental illnesses, how did you navigate your portrayal of her condition in this book?
KATRINA MARTIN: Since I had made the decision to write about mental illness, I knew it was important that what I produced would be accurate and believable, and that it wouldn’t perpetuate any of the harmful stereotypes associated with people living with mental illness but rather open avenues for wider understanding and acceptance. I spent a lot of time researching for this book – also because it was my thesis!
I pored over scholarly articles, blogs, vlogs, and reddit threads; attended lectures and visited exhibits on the subject; talked with friends who had similar experiences; consulted with counselors and Psychology majors; and actually saw a counselor and psychologists myself. In the process, I think I came to a better understanding of the complex phenomenon that is living with mental illness. I hope that’s something that comes across on the pages of this novel.
SHEALEA: In line with this, when representing mental illnesses in fiction, what advice do you have for authors who wish to do the same?
KATRINA MARTIN: I think it’s important for writers to do the research and really put themselves in the shoes of their characters. As much as possible, we should consult with people who have firsthand experience of whatever it is we’re writing about. Not everybody will want to or have the capacity to write about their experiences so we have the responsibility to give them the opportunity to determine how they want their stories to be told.
When we’re able to properly represent mental illness in our work, this validates the lived experiences of people experiencing mental illness or, in the case of At Home with Crazy, people caring for people with mental illness. This allows them to feel less alone and more seen and understood — which is always a good thing. I think portrayals of mental illness have improved over the years but there’s definitely space for more, especially in works that are created within our local context. So I say go for it!
As an advocate and author, what role can fiction play in the larger discussion of mental health?
SHEALEA: For what felt like the longest time, I’ve been yearning for more mental health stories involving Filipino families, so I was very happy to see it as a central theme in your work. As an advocate and author, what role can fiction play in the larger discussion of mental health?
KATRINA MARTIN: Stories are such a huge influence in our lives. It’s important to have responsible representation of mental illness in all forms of media including fiction because, when done right, what we see/read/hear about mental health and people living with mental illness could help reduce the stigma surrounding illness and treatment and lead to better understanding and support.
When our local communities, including traditional authority figures like parents, teachers, employers, and government officials have a richer understanding of mental health, then maybe we’ll see this reflected in the policies they create and the services that are made accessible to the public. When children are exposed to engaging and honest stories about mental health at a young age, they’ll likely be encouraged to develop good health-seeking behaviors and be more accepting of people across the spectrum too.
How did you find the right balance between the serious themes and the fun, lighthearted moments?
SHEALEA: While the book tackles serious themes, there are plenty of fun, lighthearted moments to look forward to as well. How did you find the right balance between the two?
KATRINA MARTIN: I think the choice of characters helped. Although “choice” is a strong word considering they weren’t exactly fully formed when I started but just evolved over time. But from the very beginning, I did see this banter between Cayt and her dad, and I knew that him being a cheapskate could be one source of humor.
I would say though that, while I wanted a lot of lighthearted moments especially because of the serious theme, it was also important for me to make sure that humor would not be an excuse for Cayt to not face her demons. Too often, we use humor to deflect serious conservations, etc. And while we all definitely need humor in our lives, we also need to learn to deal with our problems and issues head-on when the time comes.
What about Cayt’s friendship with Law and Jorgia that you enjoyed writing about most?
SHEALEA: I loved seeing Cayt make new friends in school, and of course, I enjoyed getting to know Law and Jorgia. (I have the softest spot for Law specifically!) What was it about their dynamic that you enjoyed writing most?
KATRINA MARTIN: That’s so cool! I didn’t expect it but a lot of people have been messaging me how they love Law or could relate to him the most.
I really loved writing about the friendship between the three, how they evolved from being very self-conscious and wanting to impress each other or sort of adapting their personalities a bit just to be welcomed by the other — to eventually being so comfortable, trusting one another enough to be vulnerable with them about their secrets and insecurities and weird but lovable quirks. I especially enjoyed writing any scene where they would tease or just be extremely frank with one another. I think that says a lot about the depth of their friendship already. But those moments when they showed up for each other have a special place in my heart. I consider those scenes tributes to my own friends who stayed with me through thick and thin.
What can readers expect from At Home with Crazy?
SHEALEA: What can readers expect from this book? And while we’re at it, could you maybe share one of your favorite passages with us?
KATRINA MARTIN: It’s a story about family, friendship, and mental illness so expect some drama, but also a lot of laughs. And a hopeful ending too.
One of my favorite passages can be found towards the end of the book:
Mom laced her fingers with mine as the movie started. And just like that, I knew that our fates were tied together.
Not necessarily in the sense that if she dipped again, I would too. But that it was exactly because of the events of our past together that I had a deeper appreciation for our present now. That I was who I am and who I will be—not in spite of her—but because of her. And that could actually be good.— At Home With Crazy by Katrina Martin
What’s next for you? Can you tell us about your current WIPs and upcoming projects?
KATRINA MARTIN: I have a couple of short stories for children that I’d like to revise and hopefully publish. One is about a girl spending summer with her aunt who breaks the traditional image of the spinster. Another is a story that explores Ilocano burial traditions from the eyes of a child coming to terms with her grandfather’s death.
I also have a couple of ideas for longer works but they’re still in the very early stages. At Home with Crazy took me the better part of the last 4 years to revise and rewrite. I hope it won’t take as long for the next novel!
Sunflower Spotted: Katrina Martin
Katrina Martin was a fellow at the 3rd Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio Writers Workshop (The Novel) and a finalist in PBBY – Scholastic Asia’s You Write to Me, I’ll Write to You manuscript competition in 2017.
Born and raised in Manila, she completed her BS in Nursing at the University of the Philippines Manila and her MA in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Kat has written professionally for television, film, and the global social sector. At Home with Crazy is her first novel.
Sunflower Spotted is a guest feature where authors, content creators, and creatives are invited to the blog to talk about their work, their personal advocacy, and their lived experiences. Mainly consisting of interviews and spotlights, this series hopes to uplift voices and foster fascinating conversations.
Author Interview Lineup for Wikathon
Check out the rest of the author features here. Or you may refer to the full lineup below:
By the way, the other Wikathon hosts are conducting more interviews on their respective platforms. WIth that, please make sure to follow Kate, Klauds, Spens, Ena, and Zia as well! It’s truly a great time to be a Filipino reader. ☺
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I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 Have you read stories with portrayals of mental illnesses? Share your recommendations below!
🌻 What are your thoughts on the author’s insight on how fiction can play a role in the larger conversation of mental health?
🌻 Have you added At Home with Crazy to your TBR?