Like many authors, Tiffany Gholar started writing as a teenager. Having studied both art and creative writing at college, she wanted to work in either publishing or film after graduation in order to do something ‘practical’ with her skills. Not everything went according to plan.
“Writer’s block and a series of bad job markets kept me out of the professional writing arena for a while, and I pursued painting and digital photography in the meantime. I was really surprised that the first book I published was an art book and not a novel. But that was great practice for publishing A Bitter Pill to Swallow. I learned from trial and error in the process of publishing my three art books.”
A Bitter Pill to Swallow follows four very different characters — teenagers Janina and Devante, as well as adults Gail and Dr. Lutkin — as they try to navigate a world filled with pain and heartache. The story takes place in the Harrison School for Exceptional Youth; Janina has been there for years, but Devante arrives after suffering a severe trauma. The foursome’s joint tale is a very moving account of how sometimes people come into our lives and change everything.
Gholar’s experience in publishing her three art books became helpful later on.
“When I returned to fiction writing, so much had changed in publishing. I think those changes are for the better. I knew that whether I got an agent and publishing deal or not, I would get my books out there. I figured that I owed it to my teenage self, and to the teen readers out there who would enjoy the story,” said Gholar.
Gholar’s inspiration for A Bitter Pill to Swallow came from many places: some too spoiler-y to be revealed, some from real life, some influenced by events that happened during her early teens.
“The trauma that Devante experienced was inspired by a tragic incident that happened in Chicago around 1992 when I was still a teenager. When I read about it, I was deeply saddened that something so terrible could happen to kids my age through no fault of their own. It stayed with me and I decided to incorporate it into the plot. The problems that Gail and Dr. Lutkin had with the for-profit hospital company were inspired by things I uncovered in my research. It was definitely one of those ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ scenarios.”
Gholar never consciously struck out to write a novel so heavily influenced by mental illness, though she hopes that it can offer some help or comfort to those going through similar experiences.
“It was never my intent to write a ‘problem novel’ or ‘After School Special’, but I hope that teens who are struggling will find kindred spirits in Janina and Devante and also find understanding adults like Gail and Dr. Lutkin so that they don’t have to feel so alone. Too many books about kids receiving professional help portray interactions with out-of-touch adults who are neither professional nor helpful. I wanted to counter that narrative. There are so many good counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists out there, and wanted to show that in my novel.”
Gholar is very excited to be working with an independent local film director to create a film version of A Bitter Pill to Swallow. Until then, she is happy that A Bitter Pill to Swallow seems to be doing well on its own.
“A Bitter Pill to Swallow is the novel I wish I could have read when I was a teenager. Since it didn’t exist, I had no choice but to write it. I am just beginning to market it but feel very encouraged by the reaction of the students at my old high school where I had my very first public event for it.”