Q&A With Kyleigh Leddy
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Q&A With Kyleigh Leddy
Today I’m doing a Q&A with Kyleigh Leddy the author of her memoir “The Perfect Other: A Memoir of My Sister.” Kyleigh’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Cut, Parents as well as other publications.
Q: So Kyleigh what made you want to write a novel about your sister Kait now?
A: In 2019, I won The New York Times Modern Love College Essay Contest as a senior in college. In the essay, “Years Ago, My Sister Disappeared. I see Her Whenever I want,” I explore how technology has affected the way we grieve, making it harder to let go (if it’s possible for the process of letting go to be any harder than it already is). When we have Facebook reminding us of birthdays, Instagram profiles capturing smiles, and phone numbers we can still text, it’s difficult to understand that someone we love is truly gone. While the piece delves into this concept on a more abstract, intellectual level, it is also a deeply personal exploration of my unique relationship with my sister. I hope that by writing about my sister, I am honoring her life and providing comfort for others who have been through similar struggles and loss.
Q: When did you realize you had to write a novel about your sister and her struggle with schizophrenia?
A: While my original NYT piece discussed grief, I didn’t initially write about suicide or mental illness because I was afraid of stigma. Later, when the essay was released and readers were flooding my email thanking me for my honesty, I realized just how much this fear and mis-placed shame gets in the way of open conversations about severe mental illness in our culture. I was worried about protecting my family’s privacy and my sister’s legacy, but I also felt passionately that this was a message I needed to hear when I was growing up. I hope that Kait’s story can open up a few minds, increasing empathy, and allowing people to recognize that they’re not alone and there is no reason to suffer in silence.
Q: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to write, especially wanting to write a memoir as you did?
A: I think memoirs can be tricky, so I would first advise a writer to be sure they are comfortable being vulnerable on such a large-scale and okay with the potential of being misunderstood. It’s incredibly disheartening to put your heart and soul on the page and then be met with vitriol online, but in my opinion, it’s absolutely worth it for the people who do get your work. I would encourage building a thick skin and a healthy support network before embarking on such a personal project. At the end of the day, it’s your name on the cover and your story between the pages, so make sure you’re happy with it and try to resist pressure from outside sources. It won’t matter if it sells, if it doesn’t reflect who you are and what you stand for.
However, I am also the first person to say that a writer should go for it (!!!). If you love to write and feel you have something to say, you have to follow that creative impulse and trust the process. There are so many writing contests and literary magazines you can try (Poets & Writers has great resources for specific outlets accepting submissions), and if you don’t go for it now, you’ll never know if you could have created something great, so submit, submit, submit! Before I write every day, I read something old I love or something new that excites me, and it reminds me why I was drawn to this work in the first place. It keeps me grounded in the love for it. Whenever I feel discouraged, I think of my favorite writers and feel gratitude that they didn’t let the difficulty of the industry stop them from creating and sharing in that connection.
Q: You’ve had essays appear in The New York Times as well as other publications. That’s very impressive. What advice do you give anyone who would want to write something for a famous publication like The New York Times?
A: I would first read as much material from the publication as possible, learning their specific style, word count, typical topics, etc. But I also think you have to take some calculated risks and write what feels the most honest and true to you. When I was preparing an essay for the Modern Love contest, I remember reading a statistical breakdown of the subjects that are most often picked up by the column. Grief was represented less than 1% of the time, so I tried writing about two other topics that felt more traditional/relatable for college students.
One version I wrote was about dating long-distance and the role of technology in that, and another was about being a girl in college dealing with body dysmorphia. While these essays were fine, they lacked the emotional punch of the one I ended up submitting about my sister, because they weren’t the subjects that excited me the most. Readers are great bull-shit detectors, and we can intuit when a writer truly believes in their subject or not. For me, the story I needed to tell most urgently at that time was my sister’s.
So, my advice is to write about what truly scares, fascinates, or excites you. We all have those interests, stories, passions that we feel the need to discuss with our closest friends. Write about those. Your enthusiasm and authenticity will come through. Don’t manufacture what you think people want to hear. Instead, make the reader care about what you care about.
Q: Are you writing another novel now? If so is it another non-fiction memoir or are you trying your hand at fiction this time?
A: I actually just submitted a manuscript to my agent for a second book! It’s fiction but still dives into the similar subjects of family, grief, love, memory, trauma, mental health, and neuroscience. Writing fiction has been such a wonderful break after working on “The Perfect Other” for years. Fingers crossed!