Interviews Bill Konigsberg Builds 'The Bridge' to A Better Option Acclaimed author Bill Konigsberg crafts a complete narrative exploring depression and suicide in his speculative and moving novel about two struggling teens. By Michael Collina stop mute max volume 00:00 16:32 repeat Update Required To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin. Note: Text has been edited and may not match audio exactly. Michael Collina: Hi, this is your Audible editor Michael Collina. Today I'll be speaking with the best-selling author Bill Konigsberg, a prolific LGBTQIA+ and YA author. Today, we're talking about his latest story, The Bridge, which is an incredibly moving and insightful novel about depression, suicide, and mental health. Welcome, Bill.Bill Konigsberg: Thank you so much. It's really nice to talk to you.MC: This story begins with two teenagers on the George Washington Bridge, Aaron and Tilly. They're strangers to each other, but they find themselves contemplating a jump from the same place at the same time. There's a unique framing device at play here too. Once you set the scene and introduce Aaron and Tilly, we get four what-if situations. They're not quite retellings, but more an exploration of consequences and actions. What inspired this format?BK: Well, I was looking for a way to get to the heart of something that's, to me, a very dangerous moment with depressive thinking. Because I am somebody who has suffered from depression and I wanted to get at this, at that lie that we tell ourselves in certain moments that our lives don't matter. “It wouldn't matter if I jumped or if I didn't.” What I was trying to do is get every possible scenario so that we could see just how different the world was in each of the four.The only way to do that was through this kind of unique way of telling a story. At first, I tried to tell them all at the same time and go back and forth. That turned into a big mess, so it's just four stories in a row.MC: It was a moving format and, like I said, really unique, something I hadn't heard before too often. It was a fascinating way just to tell the story and draw you in and get you connected to the characters.BK: Thank you so much. I'm glad that it worked for you. It's certainly new to me.MC: And framing device aside, it also feels a little bit like a departure from your previous work. I know a lot of your previous work is focused on themes of LGBTQIA-plus identity first. But with this story, it felt like mental health and depression and suicide awareness were at the forefront. The queer themes took a back seat. What was the reason for that?BK: Having written five books that focused on those LGBTQIA-plus themes, I've said a lot of what I needed to say. I always feel—and some of my books are about this—like we are many different things. I'm not a label. I'm a person. I was really looking for, “What else do I have to share? What else do I have to discuss?” My struggles with mental health are something that I haven't been out about in the same way as I have with my sexual orientation. This has in some ways been like another coming out. It feels very strange to me to be talking to people about the things that happen in my brain. But here we are.Those lyrics were written by me when I was 17 years old... with my music partner and best friend at the time, Rhonda Ross, who is the daughter of Diana Ross.MC: Well, thank you for inviting us into your brain and letting us see that side and get that story and sense of yourself.BK: Thank you. Somebody asked me recently, why didn't I... the Trevor Project has come out with many statistics that show that LGBTQIA+ people are so much more prone to suicide. “Why didn't I make that more of a part of the story?” I said, "I think that story has been written." What I really wanted to get at is the story of a kid who doesn't attempt suicide because he is gay, but he attempts suicide and he is gay, which means something, because it's about how my sexual orientation, at least, colors almost everything about my life. It isn't as if it's ignored. It's just not the main issue.MC: Definitely. Actually, since you mentioned the Trevor Project, were there any other organizations that you worked closely with when writing this or preparing to write the story?BK: I did a lot of research that involved talking with grief counselors and also talking with people who struggled with various mental health issues, including mania, because we touch on hypomania in the book a couple of times. But not until after. The one organization that we have been working with since is an organization called To Write Love on Her Arms. They're a wonderful organization and they're partnering with us to get this book out into the world and to get the message of the organization out there.MC: That's great.BK: They're terrific. I've worked with Trevor in the past. I'm a fan. When I wrote one of my books, The Porcupine of Truth, I actually did a benefit tour for the Trevor Project.MC: That's fantastic. The Bridge was performed by one single narrator, Marin Ireland. Was it a conscious choice of yours to only have one performer for this story? Or did that just fall into place?BK: It was something that we talked about at the very beginning. I think we were all at a loss about, "Well, how will this story best be told?" Rather quickly, we came to the idea of two things. One is that this story would be best told by a woman's voice. It felt very natural to me. When Marin's name came up, I was like, "Yes, please." But yeah, I think that what we needed was an actress who could do things with her voice so that we get the sense of these different characters without trying to sound exactly like them. Does that make sense? Do you know what I mean by that?MC: Yeah, that definitely does make sense. I think she accomplished that beautifully. There were also those moments where she went into song a little bit with Aaron's character as a songwriter. I thought that was such a nice extra element that you can't get in print. You can't ever get that experience reading a page in a book.BK: Yeah. By the way, there's a story about that. Those lyrics were written by me when I was 17 years old. Those are my songs. I wrote them with my music partner and best friend at the time, Rhonda Ross, who is the daughter of Diana Ross.MC: That's so cool.BK: We used to perform those songs and it was really a kick to hear Marin singing my teenage songs.MC: I love that so much. That's such a cool fact about you and a nice origin story for those songs, because that was one of my favorite parts of this story, among many other things, just getting that extra little element.BK: Well, I have to say, I sadly relate so well to Aaron and his desire to be shiny and to be admired and praised. It's a character flaw of mine, all these years later. I was trying to delve into that a little bit.MC: Do you normally take an active role in the production and the choosing of the narrators for your audiobooks?BK: You know, as I have progressed in my career, I've gotten more and more of a role in that, which is delightful. It's been really fun to interact with the talent and to talk with them. They always have so many questions about my intentions. Of course, in this case, the music was a big question. I had to send them tapes of me singing my songs, which was embarrassing.The more we talk about [depression], the better. But the conversation has to be complete.MC: But I'm sure they were fantastic because the songs themselves were a great addition.BK: Thank you.MC: In your author's note and as you also mentioned, you [shared that you] have experience with depression and suicidal thoughts in your own life and in your past. They're incredibly important conversations and we should be talking about suicide awareness and prevention and mental health awareness in general. But as important as these stories and discussions may be, they can also be triggering for some folks. Did you have a particular audience in mind while writing this or that you really wanted to target with the story?BK: I don't generally write with an audience. I generally write really, really looking for the truth. And after that, I think about those issues that are very important, about things like triggers. This is a question that so many people have. What happens if somebody who is depressed reads this book? Many people have their own opinions about this, but I think the prevailing one, certainly the one that To Write Love on Her Arms has and the one that I have is that the more we talk about it, the better. But that the conversation has to be complete. That means unlike a book or a TV show—like 13 Reasons Why, which is a perfectly lovely book and TV show—that's not a good starting point for a conversation because it makes suicide seem a little bit too sexy. What we really want to do is show all of the things. We want to show the repercussions. We want to show the options and get it out there.MC: That's definitely what you did with that four part what-if type setup that you frame the story with.BK: Good. I'm glad. I mean, I think the fourth story, which is the one where they both decide not to jump, is such an important story, because first of all—you did ask about audience. One thing about writing for teens that matters to me is leaving teens with hope. It would be a deal breaker to not do that. Leaving teens with the sense that there are options and that there is a way for people who feel disconnected to find connection in this world is everything to me.MC: Actually, on that topic, if there's one thing you'd want your listeners of this story to take away, particularly your teen listeners, what would it be?BK: I think, simply put, that there is a reason to stay another day, that there's always some reason. I know in those dark moments, because I've had them, that it can feel completely hopeless. But in fact, it can be as simple as, "I want to stay another day because I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow and I want to know." That sounds simple, but we just need time. It's so important to make the decision to stay.Leaving teens with the sense that there are options and that there is a way for people who feel disconnected to find connection in this world is everything to me.MC: Definitely. Sometimes the simple answer is one of the best out there. It's right there in front of us and it feels like it might be too simple, but it's all you need.BK: I would agree. I know as simple as it is, it can feel very challenging at times. In social media right now we're really banging home that point and trying to get people to talk about their own situations, because there's such a taboo about talking about mental health. Depression can be seen as a weakness when really it's just about the way my neurotransmitters work or don't work.MC: Exactly. Speaking of social media, recently there's been a huge emphasis on the importance of own voices stories. I think it's an important and great conversation to have. But being queer or neurodiverse isn't always something that really can be identified externally. On that topic, I was curious to hear your thoughts on who gets to tell these kinds of stories and what that's been like for you.BK: From the get-go on this, I've been more on the side of certain stories are to be told by people from that group. However, I think that it's complicated. As you said, it's not always clear who is neurodiverse and in what way. One of the amazing things about books [is their] ability to make us understand that in so many ways we're all the same.For me, when I think about queer books for instance, if a writer is able to make me believe that character, I think that's a beautiful thing. I think of André Aciman and I think of—well, no longer Becky Albertalli, but when she identified as heterosexual, I think if people are able to sit in the chair of a character and really make that character feel real, to me, [I say] hop on board. That's how I feel at this point.MC: I would agree with that. The more stories, the more representation the better, as long as the stories are being told [in a way] that queer youth and folks who are neurodiverse and maybe struggling with their mental health see themselves in this content, I think that's a great and beautiful thing.BK: Yeah, I do too. The most important thing are the kids, when we're talking about teen literature. We just need young people to be able to see themselves. So many people have seen themselves, for instance, in the character of Simon. How can we go wrong with a character like that when so many people have been helped?MC: I agree totally. You ended The Bridge with a list of resources for teens and anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts. What went into compiling this list?BK: A lot of talking to people, talking to grief counselors and experts. We wanted to make sure that every kind of person who might read this book would be thought of and remembered. We spent a special amount of time talking about LGBTQIA+ people, because really that is an at-risk group. We focus there, even if it isn't necessarily a big part of the book.MC: And are you working on any new projects right now that you can share with us?BK: Yes. Because writing about suicide was maybe too light, I decided to write about AIDS next time. I'm laughing, even though it's dark. My next book takes place in 1987 in New York City; [it’s about] two teens with the backdrop being the AIDS epidemic. That's directly from my lived experience. I'm writing a fictionalized story about a time that was extraordinarily challenging for me. It's been a dark time to be writing during a pandemic, to be writing about a pandemic, after writing about suicide. But this apparently is the writer that I am today, so that's okay.MC: I think that's great. You're leaning into the feelings of the world right now.BK: That's right. Sometimes we have to lean in.MC: Definitely. That sounds like a fascinating story. I can't wait to hear it once it's ready for the world.BK: Thank you. I can't wait till it's ready. I'm waiting for this book to just jump off the page so that I can... I'll be done in a few months, I hope.MC: Well, thank you for sharing that inside scoop with us. And thank you again for taking the time to talk to us about The Bridge. It's a really important story. It's about depression, suicide awareness, mental health, like we've covered. I think it deserves to be heard by everyone.BK: Thank you. I really do hope that this book finds its way into as many lives as possible. It feels like the immediate feedback I'm getting is that it feels important to people, and that's what I hope for. 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