Posted by The YA Book Traveler , Sunday, August 30, 2015 4:07 PM
Jessica Verdi, the author of My Life After Now and The Summer I Wasn’t Me, returns with a heartbreaking and poignant novel of grief and guilt that reads like Nicholas Sparks for teens.
It’s all Ryden’s fault. If he hadn’t gotten Meg pregnant, she would have never stopped her chemo treatments and would still be alive. Instead he’s failing fatherhood one dirty diaper at a time. And it’s not like he’s had time to grieve while struggling to care for their infant daughter, start his senior year, and earn the soccer scholarship he needs to go to college.
The one person who makes Ryden feel like his old self is Joni. She’s fun and energetic—and doesn’t know he has a baby. But the more time they spend together, the harder it becomes to keep his two worlds separate. Finding one of Meg’s journals only stirs up old emotions. Ryden’s convinced Meg left other notebooks for him to find, some message to help his new life make sense. But how is he going to have a future if he can’t let go of the past?
“Ryden’s story is a moving illustration of how sometimes you have to let go of the life you planned to embrace the life you’ve been given. A strong, character-driven story that teen readers will love.”—Carrie Arcos, National Book Award Finalist for Out of Reach
About the Author:Jessica Verdi lives in Brooklyn, NY, and received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. She loves seltzer, Tabasco sauce, TV, vegetarian soup, flip-flops, and her dog. Visit her at www.jessicaverdi.com and follow her on Twitter @jessverdi.
Thanks for having me on your blog, Sarah!
Questions about the book:
1. What was the inspiration behind What You Left Behind? Did you know someone who died of cancer?
The idea for What You Left Behind was sparked by an article my husband sent me about a teenage girl who had cancer and was pregnant, and wasn't allowed to make her own decision of whether she wanted to abort her pregnancy and continue her cancer treatments, or stop the cancer treatments and have the baby. Her parents chose for her (they chose stop cancer treatments and have the baby) and she died a couple days after giving birth, leaving the baby to be raised by her boyfriend. This isn't exactly what happens in the book, but the issue of choice is one that is very important to me, so I wanted to write about that. And of course I was completely interested in the single teen dad grieving the loss of his girlfriend story. I do know people who have died of cancer, and my husband is also a cancer survivor, so it’s a subject that’s never too far away in my daily life.
2. Why did you decide to write a book from a male point of view? Was it difficult?
I actually started drafting the book as a dual narrator (Ryden and Meg) story, while Meg was still alive. About 75 pages in, I realized that wasn’t the way to go at all (it would have been about a billion pages long, haha), and that this story should really be told by Ryden, and begin in the middle of his journey. I actually found writing from a boy’s POV easier than writing from a girl’s. I think, because he's a boy and I'm not, I may have subconsciously felt more freedom to just take his character wherever it needed to go, because, since we were already so different, there was no element of "me" clinging to him. No "Well, I would or wouldn't do that," etc.
3. What was the most challenging aspect when it came to writing this book?
There were a lot of challenging issues in writing this book, from figuring out where it should start (as I mentioned above) to dealing with all the heavy emotional elements of grief and guilt and helplessness. But I’m glad I stuck with it.
4. What was the most fun part of writing this book?
I love the mother/son relationship in this book, and so writing the scenes where Ryden’s mother is present was lots of fun.
5. What message do you want readers to walk away with?
I’m not sure I have any “message” at all, in that sense, other than to keep going, keep trying your best, take the hard stuff one day at a time, and remember to take joy in the good stuff.
Questions about writing:
1. What does your daily writing schedule look like?
Because I have a full time job as a Senior Editor at a romance novel publisher, I don’t have much time to write during the week. So I try to set aside Saturdays and Sundays as writing time. It’s hard to have to work seven days a week and essentially not have a weekend, but I’d go crazy if I didn’t have time set aside to write, so I make it work. I have to write at home—I find myself too easily distracted when I try to write in public. My brain tends to be freshest in the morning, so I start early and write write write until I’m fried. If I start in the afternoon, I’m usually less productive.
2. How do you plan out your books?
I usually use index cards to outline—I write each plot point, both big and small, whatever comes to mind, on a card, and then arrange them into an order that, when written out, would sort of resemble a book.
3. What is it like working alongside of the publisher?
I love it. It’s so encouraging to be working with people who love your book as much as you do, and who are working tirelessly to get it out into the world. Every step, from the developmental editing to the copy editing to the design and the marketing and so many other things, would be completely overwhelming (and maybe even impossible) without the help and support of the publisher.
4. Why did you become an author?
I became an author because I love telling stories. I was an actor for a long time before I started writing, and it was frustrating because I always had to wait to get cast in something in order to be able to do my art. But with writing, you can do it on your own terms—no permission necessary. It’s an incredibly inspiring and freeing feeling.
5. Do you have any news for your next project you can share?
Nothing official that I can share just yet, but I will say I’m working on books in two new genres—one is a fantasy YA co-written with an author friend, and one is an adult book that I’ll be writing under a pen name.
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