As the book slowly evolved, it became about other things too. Like how Laurel's grief can never be totally her own; living in a small community and being in high school, she has to get through this trauma with all eyes on her. And how we can create our own families when we need to. The cool thing about working on a book for a long time is that you come across a lot of different points of inspiration along the way, and the story grows with your experience.
- "World Spins Madly On" by the Weepies (in my mind, this is the music for the book trailer...even though we never made one!)
- "Cosmic Love" by Florence + The Machine
- "Such Great Heights" by Iron and Wine
- “Breathe Me” by Sia
- "Darklands" by The Jesus and Mary Chain
- "Soul Meets Body" by Death Cab for Cutie
- "The Ghost In You" by The Psychedelic Furs
- "The Scientist" by Coldplay
- "Hometown Glory" by Adele
- "Everything To Me" by Liz Phair
Check out my playlist for The Beginning of After on YouTube.
I would love for readers to be able to draw some hope and strength from this book -- whatever kind they need. It may seem overdramatic to write about a girl who loses her entire family at once. But in a way, that's just an extreme metaphor for any type of game-changing event that can happen to us in life -- the ones that draw a line between "before" and "after". Maybe that's a divorce, or a personal injury, or a changed relationship, or a move to another state. Whatever it is and however "truly crappy" it seems, I believe we can survive it. Maybe we can't see it right away, but it might open up fresh opportunities and bring new and surprising people to us.
I've always wondered what happens to reality TV and documentary film subjects after the cameras go away. Do they live their lives differently, like someone's always watching? Does the way they're portrayed on screen change the way they see themselves in real life? The possibilities of character and story seemed so juicy, I couldn't resist. Then I started thinking about how the rise of blogging and social media has allowed pretty much everyone to make themselves the "stars" of their own documentary. Every time we post a status, a photo, check in at a location...we're building a narrative of our own lives. I think it's scary-easy to share so much of ourselves, to think so obsessively about what we're putting out there for the world to see, that we lose track of who we really are.
I'm also a huge fan of documentary films, perhaps for the same reason why I love writing contemporary YA fiction: sometimes there's nothing more fascinating than real life. One of my favorite documentaries is the "Up" series of films by director Michael Apted. He started by interviewing a group of 7-year-olds in England in 1964, and has checked in on their lives every 7 years, with the most recent being "56 Up." This seemed like a great premise for a novel, and I couldn't resist.
Big time. Here's what inspired the voices, moods, and emotions of this book's characters:
- "Heroes" by David Bowie
- "Raise Your Glass" by the "Glee" Warblers (dorky, I know, but it has to be the "Glee" version)
- "Someone Take the Wheel" by The Replacements
- "Forever Young" by Alphaville
- "Black or White" by Michael Jackson
- "Put the Message in the Box" by World Party
- "Kids in America" by Kim Wilde
- "Freetime" by Kenna
- "Stop and Stare" by OneRepublic
- "Kids" by MGMT
- "Shake It Out" by Florence + the Machine
- "We Are All Made of Stars" by Moby
At this point you could ask: Well, Jen, which is it? Are we heroes, or are we made of stars? We are both, and everything in between.
The simplest answer is, that's where my storytelling heart lives. It's where my writing voice feels the most organic and authentic. But I've considered this question a lot, and I've realized that young adulthood is where the overarching issues of life—love, friendship, family, identity, generally finding one's place in the world—explode gloriously. There's an urgency that's so compelling to me: all literature asks the "big questions," but YA lit REALLY REALLY REALLY wants to know the answers.
With both The Beginning of After and You Look Different in Real Life, I loved writing the romantic storylines. So my upcoming novel What Happens Now is a summer romance, pure and simple (even though romances are never pure and simple, are they?). It’s about what happens when a killer crush actually leads to something, and you have to navigate that intersection of fantasy and reality. It’s about figuring out what love actually is, when you don’t have any good examples in your life to base it on. And it’s got a cute guy who is amazing but not flawless, craveable but problematically complex, because “perfect” boys in YA lit really bug me. This is the "book of my heart," as they say. Look for it June 2016!