I’m doing a book report and want to know how you decided to write about people who hurt themselves?

Although I’ve never hurt myself, I think I identified with the feelings of guilt and anxiety that most self-injurers describe. I tend to turn those feelings against myself – not by hurting myself physically – but by listening to and believing the critical voices in my head. That, I think, is what the book is really about: the way we all punish ourselves unnecessarily.

Did you have a friend or family member who cut? Did you cut?

The story isn’t autobiographical; it was inspired by a piece I read in the New York Times magazine several years ago. That was the first I’d heard of self-injury. But once I’d started researching the topic, I met and interviewed several people who’d cut themselves.

How much research did you do for Cut?

Writing Cut took three years. I started out doing a lot of research. Then, at the advice of an editor friend, I decided to put all my research material aside and let the story come, not from my notes or my books, but from my imagination. After the book was finished I visited a clinic for girls who self-injure. I was terrified that I’d gotten everything wrong. I was pleased and touched to see that my imaginary characters were surprisingly similar to the real people who shared their stories with me.

More importantly, I was gratified by the girls who read the manuscript and who told me how pleased they were that someone was interested in telling their story.

Why did Callie cut? Why didn’t she talk to anyone?

Callie cut herself because of feelings of guilt and anger that she couldn’t express verbally. She was unable to speak, I think, because she was afraid of being misunderstood and afraid of letting out a secret that could have troubling consequences for the rest of her family.

Is Sea Pines a real place?

Sea Pines is an imaginary place but it is modeled after a facility I visited once to see a friend.

My friend is hurting herself. What should I do?

It may not be easy, especially if your friend has asked you not to tell anyone what she’s doing, but you should turn this problem over to a trusted adult — a teacher, guidance counselor or parent. Cutting can start out as a way to cope with overwhelming feelings, but it can quickly come to dominate a person’s life, driving her away from the support of friends and family. The only way to stop is to get help.

You may also want to direct your friend to, a responsible web site set up specifically to help self-injurers. This can be a good way for someone to start to get help and to get information about how destructive it can be. The founders of this site have written a wonderful book, Bodily Harm.