Kim Green‘s debut novel, hallucination, examines human transformation in its physical, emotional and spiritual forms through the struggles of Morgan—who has known familial discord in her own childhood, that which has stretched into her adult life and marriage. When she is diagnosed with Lupus, her troubles are thrown into sharp relief and the new path she must forge looms unformed, ambiguous and terrifying before her.
Green, a lupus-sufferer herself, draws keen distinctions between health and chronic illness with compassion and strong emotion, never maudlin, but soberingly earth-bound. In hallucination, questions of the loneliness and the personal nature of chronic illness are raised and answered. Through the entanglement of Morgan’s disease—and the “diseased” relationships in her life—with her mental and emotional states, we witness a rebirth. In the end—not tied up neatly with a bow—Morgan’s Lupus changes her fundamentally and she rises from the depths to redefine herself and the ways in which she navigates her world.
Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo: Can you speak to the significance of the title hallucination?
Kim Green: The name comes from a list of possible side-effects on one of the numerous medications I was prescribed during my initial lupus diagnosis. I was mortified to even consider that I was entering a new zone in my life of drugs and side-effects, which really scared me. But in trying to find peace around the things that scared me most, I embraced them and made them a part of my daily lexicon. I also loved the idea that it means seeing things that are not there. And after a lot of long hard-looking at my life, I saw all of the places that I had “hallucinated.” Lastly, just living with lupus is a bonafide hallucination. It’s hard to believe.
MCD: What parts—if any—are autobiographical? How did you choose?
KG: The largest similarity to myself and the character, Morgan, is that we both share the lupus journey and both of us have survived. I, like Morgan, have finally come to a peaceful place after a daunting bout of insecurity and loneliness.
Most of the action and characters are fiction. The other most significant parallel is that Morgan’s journeys are all the places that I have been. I tried to change the cities along Morgan’s journey, but I think the distinct characteristics of each of those locations are so pronounced that they make the story what it is. And we write most effectively about things we know.
MCD: As the disease is prevalent amongst African American women, do you view Lupus as metaphor—some reflection of—or some aspect of the African American woman’s life experience?
KG: I do. I think that African American women carry many spiritual and material burdens that are not carried by other women, based on our history. Our cultural norms are often quite different, although that is trying to change. African American women are very strong and very outspoken and also profoundly emotional. These are traits that we mirror because of the women who raised us. The current quality of life is deeply compromised. We are all too busy and too materialistic and too hung up on “looking good.” I suspect that the psychic burden on women is often overwhelming. You often find that there are a lot of overwhelming things going on in their lives at once and they still manage to work, raise children, keep house etc., often without the help and support that they need. They too-often ignore their health because they have so little support and then they collapse with a “stress-related” condition. And I am very aware that these stressors are attacking all women, which is why the Lupus Foundation is trying to stress that it is all women who are affected, and that now there are men coming into the picture as well.
MCD: Your main character describes Lupus as “almost dying”—this is a powerful idea. Can you elaborate on what you think that means for Morgan, or anyone in similar circumstances?
KG: As the prologue mentions, “almost dying” is a grey area. For one who is in crisis with their health or their emotions, their “almost dying” is not detected, but many times the almost is as powerful as actual death. It is sometimes harder because when you are barely alive, you still must interact in the world when you really wish to disappear. Lupus is an often silent disease and it impacts the body horribly but also the mind. The idea for that prologue came out of a conversation when I mentioned that I had “almost died,” and the person that I spoke to nearly laughed me out of the room. I was devastated to see how unrecognizable my pain had been and how neglected. I also think that for Morgan, who is seeking her mother after she has died, the loss has put her in emotional limbo and she doesn’t know where her heart belongs with the mother or in a heartbroken life.
MCD: Morgan experiences an entanglement between her disease and her mental and spiritual state. How do you think she worked through that and what can we all take away from it, whether we have experienced chronic illness or not?
I think the most powerful part of Morgan’s journey was learning to not seek love from outside herself after she had exhausted all of the other avenues. At the end of the book, Morgan realizes she needs to focus on, love and nurture herself. I think that is such an important message for women to learn. And it seems harder and harder as we go. I think the reason so many women are being stricken with these “stress-related” illnesses is that they are not plugged into their own most basic needs and desires. So often we find it so hard to be authentic. We have all gotten caught up with the “magazine version” of ourselves; a self that is always yearning and hungry to get more, more, more. We have ignored all that inside stuff that makes us truly amazing.
MCD: hallucination is self-published—how did you come to that decision?
KG: I am self-published by choice. I have had agents and book deals in the past for other projects. As an African American woman who has been published, I have been disheartened by the terrible job that mainstream publishing houses do with books written by African Americans. They usually want to dictate the cover design, the content and the marketing efforts—gearing those books only toward African American audiences. Because I feel my story is a woman’s story, and auto-immune diseases strike mostly women, I knew my story was far more universal than it would be perceived by a publisher. On the other hand, I am aware that it will be a very slow-building buzz, but at least I will be in control and I can direct the book and the message to a broader audience without an uninformed corporate executive deciding “who would be interested and who wouldn’t.”
The other thing that I love about self-publishing is that the sky is the limit with how you market and who you align yourself with. You just have to be creative. For example, I don’t think a novel has ever had a theme song and mine does!
I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and not a very corporate one, so this was a natural fit for me. I think going the traditional route is quite difficult and even after getting a “deal.” Many of the books with deals have been “put on hold,” placed on the 2016 calendar or even “killed” altogether. I saw it daily when I was in the music business. There is so much disappointment in traditional publishing whether it is music or books. No wonder artists drink!
Kim Green is an indefatigable writer. Her writing career has included: biography, short fiction, poetry, essays, journalism, commercial writing and advertising copy. Kim was the ghostwriter for Life Is Not a Fairytale (Touchstone), the autobiography of 2004 “American Idol” winner, Fantasia Barrino, which became a Lifetime television movie. The book was listed on both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal’s bestseller lists. Kim’s essay, “In the Absence of Blood” was featured in the anthology, Who’s Your Mama? a collection of writings about mothering. Kim was also a featured author in the African American serial novel, When Butterflies Kiss (Silver Lion Press) and a contributor to Proverbs for the People (Dafina Books). She worked with legendary members of the Last Poets to collaborate on On a Mission: Selected Poems and a History of The Last Poets (Henry Holt).
Kim wrote for the music industry for nearly twenty years. She was the first African American copy director at Sony Music and went on to be a product manager at PolyGram Records. She has interviewed numerous music legends including, Patti Labelle, Al Jarreau, David Byrne, David Lee Roth, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Rickie Lee Jones and Tupac Shakur.
Kim’s work has appeared in Essence, The Source, Mode, American Baby, The Philadelphia Tribune, Paper and internationally, i-D and The Wire, both London-based publications.
Kim’s creative writing studio, WORDS, LLC is based in Atlanta, Georgia.
hallucination is her debut novel. Visit www.hallucinationthenovel.com.