Female readers of young adult fiction have lifted Stephanie Perkins onto the list of New York Times Bestsellers, an appearance on “The Today Show” and other notoriety most young authors would covet. For Perkins, that meteoric success triggered a crippling bout of depression.
“I freaked out. I freaked out bigtime,” she said. “My self-confidence was so small, it felt like a mistake. I felt like a fraud. I was being sent on tours for the first time and didn’t know how to do any of that, and it was very overwhelming for an introvert.”
That darkness in her life is only partly responsible, she said, for her creative turn -- from three swooning romance novels to her new book, There’s Someone Inside Your House. The ominous title, alone, tells you where she’s coming from.
“It was born out of this dark period and wanting to consume dark things,” she said. “I’ve always loved horror, and I have a really, really dark side. I love that it’s a genre that’s not respected and other people hate, and that only makes me love it more.”
Listeners versed in the author’s romance writing might be stunned by the graphic elements in Perkins’s new book. Perkins wanted to mimic the tone and terror of ‘90s slasher films such as Wes Craven’s “Scream.”
“I love that sense of humor about them, that meta-ness,” she said. “Slashers always traditionally have some element of romance. There’s always a boyfriend-girlfriend situation. There’s always sex. It really wasn’t that far from what I was already writing. It just had a lot of death on top of it.”
Perkins grew up in Phoenix and, after college, moved to Western North Carolina with her husband 13 years ago. She went to work as a librarian -- a job she calls the second greatest in the world -- but felt this relentless call. She needed to write.
“For a year, I would work my shift at the library, come home, nap for a couple hours. My husband would come home from work, pour coffee down my throat. I would go upstairs and work til the sun came up,” she said. “And I’d go to bed, sleep for about two hours, get up, go to work and start it all over again. I just knew I needed to treat it like a real job, and if I did that, it would become one.”
Perkins drew on her experiences as socially out-of-step teen to shape her first three novels, and she found early success. But the clouds of depression that first hovered over her as a teenager only darkened. Between writing her second and third books, she suffered severe weight loss and heart issues and even for a short time lost her sense of smell.
“A lot of the thing I was personally wrestling with was shame and guilt over feeling so bad about something so wonderful and that so many authors would love to happen to them,” she said. “Each negative emotion was compounding on the last.”
Supportive family and strong therapy helped. Perkins also avoided writing for a long while, instead focusing on editing friends’ work. Even as she tiptoed back into her romance writing, she began exploring the call of horror.
Perkins won’t say much about her writing on her horizon, other than to reveal an adult book is in her future. In all likelihood, she said, so is another bout of depression.
“The important thing to remember is I’ll come out of that again, too,” she said.