Local artist, author and tattooist Kate Glasheen, who grew up in Troy, N.Y., will discuss their new novel, “Constellations,” about a transgender teenager living on the margins, Saturday, June 3, at Big Blue Marble Bookstore in West Mt. Airy.
The book explores how external factors like religion and class can impact addiction, sobriety and LGBTQ youth. Glasheen has also contributed writing and illustrations for nine other books.
We spoke with Glasheen recently and the following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
When and why did you come to Philly?
In the fall of 2013, I had just graduated from my rehab program and felt I needed a change. Two friends in Philly needed a roommate and extended the invitation, and I took them up on it. I’ve now been in Philly for 10 years, and it’s an awesome city. Kind of a happy medium between Troy and Brooklyn, with bigger city stuff to do – great art scene, great music scene, great food scene – but not as hectic as NYC. It used to be cheap also, though that’s less and less the case each year.
What jobs have you had since you got out of school?
Lots of them, of both the art and day varieties. I’ve delivered pizzas while showing in galleries. I’ve been a dog walker while drawing official Topps trading cards for 'Star Wars.' I’ve storyboarded films, created artwork for video games and have a book that’s currently optioned to become a feature film, but I’ve also been a cashier at Goodwill, Gamestop and even [The Museum of Modern Art’s] Audio Tour desk. It’s been a long road peppered by day jobs to keep me at this. Currently, I’m also getting my start as a tattoo artist. 'Constellations' is my first full-length book as both writer and illustrator.
What is the significance of the title?
Constellations are a motif throughout the book that starts with the glow-in-the-dark stars that kids used to put on their walls and ends with Claire’s therapist using them as a symbol for surviving sobriety once they’re out of rehab. (Claire is the main character.) They bookend the story as both witnesses to the problem and the source of a solution.
Is the book based on your own life?
More than partly, but less than fully. It’s all inspired by, or pulled from, my own life, though Claire’s version covers just a few years in a curated representation of all my 40 years. Some events are lifted almost verbatim from one to the other, while others are spiritual representations.
What inspired you to do the book?
I wanted to work on a story that captured my experiences at rehab and how poignant that particular struggle can be. It was really more about that than Claire at first, but as work continued on the project, it became harder and harder to talk about rehab without talking about why Claire was in rehab, just as it got harder and harder to talk about why Claire was in rehab without digging into why I was in rehab.
Is Claire trans?
“Yes. Claire is trans … Part of the point of this book, and a big part of the experience I wanted to share, was what it was like to be trans in a time before the mainstream even knew what that was, or a kid had access to the information to know that they were. So it’s never specifically stated in the book’s pages, because no one featured had the language to say so at the time.
Who do you most want to read the book, and what impact do you hope it has on readers?
Most of all, I hope kids struggling with any of these issues, or proximity to these issues, find this book and get support from these pages. A close second would be folks who think about addiction or gender in hateful ways – but maybe not irreversibly.
What is the hardest thing you ever had to do?
Come to terms with my trans-ness, which is ongoing. A lot of times it feels like breaking down things I’ve spent my life building, and sometimes undoing things can be a lot harder than starting them. Getting clean was the second hardest, and of course, they’re both related to each other.
Glasheen will discuss their book at 2 p.m., Saturday, June 3, at Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane. For more information, call 215-844-1870 or visit bigbluemarblebooks.com. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com.