DiversifYA: Erica Chapman

erGuys, I’m so delighted to welcome one of my wonderful CP and fellow YA Misfits to DiversifYA today! Erica Chapman writes deliciously dark YA–thrillers and contemporary–and she’s genuinely one of the loveliest people in the kidlit community!

Aside from blogging at YA Misfits, she also blogs at All The Write Notes and tweets here!

1. How do you identify yourself?

Hmm, Ooo this is a hard thing to do. I have to think about this. *leaves interview to contemplate identity* Okay. I’ll tell you the things I feel I am. I’m a passionate person. A wife. A writer. A sister. A daughter/granddaughter. A friend. Someone who loves music. Someone who loves animals. Someone who loves helping people. And yes, I’m also a heart survivor and advocate.

2. What did it feel like growing up with a heart condition?

It was like everyone else’s I suppose. My story is boring up until you get to the point where I had open heart surgery in 2008. Basically, I was born with a heart valve (aortic) that was damaged and so 4 days after I was born, I had surgery to fix it. I had a fairly happy childhood. I mean, I could go on about my other identities that affected my childhood, but maybe I’ll just have to come back and do another interview ;o) I remember in high school a counselor asked me if I was self conscious of my scar and I was like, nope. I barely notice it was there. Truth is, as a kid, I had no idea I would have to ever have heart surgery, but I’m going to take a guess that my doctors knew it was an inevitability, I was just never told. So my childhood was pretty average. When I had to have surgery in 2008 I was totally surprised. And now that I’ve been told I have to have another one in 10-15 years, I’m okay with that. I know it’s coming. I think it’s easier to know than not know. Ask me about being an adult with a heart condition and it would be a different story.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

There’s both physical and mental challenges. Physically, I’m more tired, I get out of breath easier. If I were to have children (still debating) I would be an at-risk pregnancy. Mentally, it’s hard knowing there’s a ticking time bomb so-to-speak in my heart just waiting to wear out. Sometimes it’s hard to wear the clothes I want cause my scar is so huge and red. But I know it’s a badge of honor, so I try to fight those feelings, but sometimes vanity wins. Wow, this all sounds so depressing. I swear I’m happy!

Also, being a woman with heart disease can be a challenge too. A lot of people think of heart disease as a man’s disease, although that’s changing with Go Red For Women and good advocates out there.

Oh, okay quirks/perks… well, when the swine flu was huge, I was one of the first people to get the shot. Yeah, not much of a perk, eh? Let’s see. I get to meet other heart survivors. We affectionally call each other heart sisters and brothers. I also get to speak about my condition sometimes and I try to educate others who are going through the same thing that it’s not so bad, and what to be prepared for. I know so many brave heart survivors. Some of the most courageous heart survivors I know are kids. They give me hope every day. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of that elite group.

4. What do you wish people knew about being a heart survivor?

It’s not as bad as it sounds. Sometimes when I say I’ve had open heart surgery (or when someone asks about my scar) I get the side nod and sympathetic look. Which is fine! I totally don’t get offended, I mean it’s sweet. But I want to say yes, it’s scary and life changing, but it’s definitely something you can live with. There are so many other things I worry about more than my heart condition. I also want people to know that it’s scary having surgery but if I’m being honest, the worst part of my surgery experience was the three months before it when I knew it was coming. Seriously, it’s crazy what your mind can trick you into believing. The physical pain is doable, it’s controlled by good drugs. The mental part? That takes a little while to heal, and I think you always have some scar tissue from going through something like that.

Being a woman survivor can be harder. I’ve heard stories about women being misdiagnosed because they were a woman and the doctors didn’t believe them when they said something was wrong. Woman tend to take care of everyone around them, and I’ve heard of too many stories of women trying to talk themselves out of the pain they’re experiencing, rationalizing it as something else, like indigestion. One thing I’ve learned having this condition is to listen to my body. If you think something is wrong, don’t ignore it. It may save your life. Whew. That got serious there for a minute.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

Hmm, maybe that we’re weak, sick, that our lives are somehow limited by our conditions. Which can be true for some, but most survivors I know live happy, healthy lives. We may be a tad more paranoid when our hearts beat weird or we get sick, but that’s what cardiologists are for ;o)

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Oh, first, don’t be afraid to do it. Research and talk to people who can give you an honest opinion about your characters. Don’t be afraid to try something new. No one person is one thing. As for specifically those with heart conditions, ask around and keep it simple. Honestly, if you write the character with heart and real emotion that we can all relate to chances are you’ve nailed it.

4 Responses to DiversifYA: Erica Chapman

  1. You are such an amazing person, Erica!! You are so kind and wonderful, and I think you are so strong for having such a great attitude about your heart condition. Your scar is definitely a badge of honor. XOXO

  2. Just want to say wonderful interview, and I love you both!

  3. Erica, you forgot to list being an amazing-all-around-human-being in addition to all the other stuff you listed. Thanks for your heartfelt sharing of such a personal challenge – you inspire us all! And thank you Marieke for giving the floor to such diverse, interesting writers. <3

  4. Thank you so much, Stacey! You are so sweet to say all that <333 Thank you to Marieke for giving me a place to tell my story ;o)