Abigail Vona has generated her fair share of controversy lately in the NYC gossip columns, though more for speculation about her personal life than for her new memoir Bad Girl: Confessions of a Teenage Delinquent. We wanted to give the 19-year-old author the chance to discuss the book and her experiences at the controversial Peninsula Village facility, which Bad Girl chronicles. Vona’s parents committed her to the “wilderness boot camp” at age 15 for “behavior modification” after she delved too deeply into the world of drugs, booze and boys for their liking.
Bad Girl has received advance praise from the likes of Jay McInerney, who said of the book, “This is not just a Girl, Interrupted, this is a girl, wild, trapped, defiant, broken, reformed, and ultimately redeemed.”
Her memoir and, we believe, this interview prove that she is a ballsy, intelligent young woman with a lot to say.
RRM: Despite the thorough examination of your time at Peninsula Village required to write Bad Girl does it feel like it actually happened, like an actual part of your life? What does it take to survive such helplessness?
AV: My life has been a strange one. I was never sheltered but the year I spent at Peninsula Village was surreal, even for someone like me. Sometimes I wonder how I got through it. The Village’s program was a struggle but I made out okay and learned some very valuable lessons. Not trying to sound cliché but whatever doesn’t kill or permanently scar you makes you that much stronger of a person. I’m a lot more put together and less flawed then I was then.
RRM: As an adult, how is it possible to reconcile what those people did to you when you were just a little girl? How can you not want to hurt these people?
AV: When I first arrived at the Village I wished all the staff would die. At that point in my life I wanted a lot of people dead. I was a bitter little 15-year-old. However, in the course of my stay at the Village, my perception of life and even the staff members changed drastically. I realized that the staff members were just doing their job and were actually looking out for my best interest. Every now and again, someone who is real and cares about you might piss you off. True friends or loved ones aren’t afraid to give reality checks or to put you in your place when you are out of line. It is hard for some people who don’t like being redirected, such as myself, but in the end everyone needs some advice now and then.
RRM: Have you forgiven your parents? Can they justify doing this to their daughter?
AV: Yes, they have justified sending me there. And, they tell themselves they have done the right thing and aren’t the ones to blame for anything. Though, I have come to the conclusion that my parents are imperfect. They are imperfect just like everyone else. I am glad that I have come to a point in my life that I can acknowledge that they yes, they have hurt me and now I can also realize that they have their own problems. Thank God I have stopped pouting and wishing I lived with another family. I have noticed a vicious cycle within my family and every other family I have come into contact. Parents complain about their parents – blaming them for every problem that they have had to face in life even after their parents are dead and [buried]. Then they turn around and make the same mistakes their parents made with their own children. People like playing the victim, even when they are the ones victimizing. No one wants to admit they are wrong and take responsibility for their own lives. I don’t want to be that type of person, at least not anymore. So, even though boot camp might have been the harder route for me, I know that I had a part to play and I wasn’t the perfect child either.
RRM: It’s obvious, even without the interspersed Psychological Evaluation notes, that your father was not much of one. Do you think The Village was simply an easy choice for a man who couldn’t deal with the responsibility of raising his own child? How could your mother let this happen?
AV: Neither of my parents could really handle the responsibility of raising me. It wasn’t entirely their fault; it was a combination of things. It was hard enough with my sister who has always been a constant drain on them so by the time I came around they were not only a dysfunctional family but also one who was tired and worn out. Throw me into the picture, only causes more difficulties and drama some of which was due to their circumstances, some of which was due to my behavioral issues.
RRM: Was it a hard thing to write something personal that you knew would be read by people you know? Did the knowledge that your writing would be public censor your output whatsoever?
AV: I got freaked out when my friends sneaked a peak at the book. I don’t want anyone I hangout with or have any close contact with read it. I know that it sounds funny and will never work out like that, but that’s the way I feel and feelings are irrational or at least most of mine are.
RRM: You are going to Art School — are their other medias you’d like to work with professionally besides literature?
AV: I love to create art in all different types of mediums. I love to do things that have never been done before. Some of the things I make are kind of weird, but beautiful in their own way. I especially like to work with stained glass. I know it sounds like something that your grandmother does with all the trace on patterns that they make into little colored panels of flowers and puppy dogs but the way I do stain glass is a lot different then granny. I make funky lamps incorporating mirrors – sometimes, even vanities with lamps and abstract panels installed on the sides. Nothing I do looks common or normal. I also love any kind of dancing. My specialty is belly dancing and I even have an outfit to wear when I perform in public!
RRM: So what’s after Bad Girl? Do you plan to do any further memoir writing or writing in any other genre?
AV: I have a lot of other future writing ideas, some of which I have even started to develop on paper. The piece that I am really passionate about is a TV show I’m working on. I’m trying to teach myself how to correctly format my writing by reading the screenplay of Six Feet Under. I have already finished a first draft but it needs a lot of work.
RRM: Does being young and attractive make it easier or more difficult to sell books?
AV: Unfortunately, even in the literary world sex sells but youth and beauty aren’t always a good thing. Even before the release of my, people make a point of saying, “looks helped you get a publishing deal” and the usual string of people who question how you ended up where you are. We are living in a sad superficial world and it’s only going to get worse.
RRM: What kind of stuff did you read in your childhood? Was any of it good?
AV: I read the Outsiders and then the rest of the author’s collection. I also loved Dune and Harry Potter. Weird taste, I know.
RRM: What kind of expectations do you have for Bad Girl? What sort of audience do you feel you’ve written to?
AV: Bad Girl is actually a self-help book in disguise. The twelve steps are incorporated through each chapter starting with negative twelve. The best market for the book is the NA and AA market. The ironic thing is that it’s being marketed to teens and being compared to Prozac Nation. The book I have written is the total opposite of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation. She goes into explicit detail of how she used drugs, too much detail in my opinion. I don’t approve of using yourself as a lab rat to find out how you react to self-medication – it’s too dangerous. I don’t think that drug-use is beneficial unless you have a problem and need to be mediated. I have seen what illegal drugs do to people and it can get really ugly.
If you spend some time with people with brain damage you will loose appreciation for excessive drug use. People who suffer mentally can say some really poignant things, not because they are really smart, but because sometimes simplicity or warped thoughts can give an interesting perspective on things. A normal person on drugs is very similar to some one who is handicapped mentally – sometimes they can be profound but most of the time, unfortunately, they just sound ridiculous.
RRM: Have you done many readings? Are you planning on doing more? What are your thoughts concerning the relationship between writing and oral presentation?
AV: I hate doing oral presentation, I always have. I spent all of high school and college avoiding them and was successful doing so until Rugged Land told me that I had to read aloud. I didn’t like hearing myself read. I do realize that this makes me sound like somewhat of a freak considering I wrote a book and now I refuse to read it aloud! I feel like I’m in that Woody Allen movie where they have the one-fingered pianist and the blind painter only instead I’m the illiterate author. I also have realized that I never learned to read the proper way to read because I’ve always naturally done speed-reading. I taught myself to speed read when I was in first or second grade because I didn’t want to be a slower reader than everyone else. The down side was that when I read aloud, I would skip all the words that I thought were pointless like the, but, so and every other word on the page that gave me trouble.
RRM: Your book is beautiful, the silver embossing on the hard cover rocks. How did you get involved with Rugged Land? Can you give me a little background on the publisher?
AV: I hope everyone will judge my book by its cover. As far as my Rugged Land goes, that is a book in itself and even the short story seems way too long.
RRM: Do you feel institutions such as Peninsula Village serve any practical purpose? What are the alternatives?
AV: I’m definitely pro Peninsula Village. I think they have successfully treated a lot of helpless girls. Even though I wasn’t an extreme case, PV helped me in a lot of ways. Nowadays kids are so crazy and things are getting worse because these crazy kids are becoming messed up parents and producing more children who don’t know what to do or how to behave. Peninsula Village is the last resort for a problem child. If parents want to avoid sending their kids there they should act less like friends and more like parents by putting down rules, restrictions, and limitations. If my parents would have occasionally punished me, I would of learned behavioral lessons and wouldn’t have needed to go to the Village in the first place.
Visit Abigail Vona’s website at BadGirlBook.com.
About the author:
Ryan Robert Mullen is the author of Naughty, Sweet Boy (Word Riot Press) and a columnist at Get Underground. He maintains a website at ryanrobertmullen.net. His previous interview subjects include Steve Almond, Neal Pollack and Zoe Trope.