Interview || What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi
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?
What You Left Behind was one of my most anticipated (and highly rated) book of 2015. To say that I was excited for an interview opportunity with Jessica Verdi was an understatement. But enough with that, let's delve into the interview!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It took me a little longer than a lot of other authors I know. I was around 27, and pursuing an acting career, when I started writing, sort of out of the blue. I found it much more creatively rewarding than the constant cycle of auditions in New York City. So I decided to apply to grad school for creative writing to learn more about the craft and the industry.
How long did it take you to write What You Left Behind?
It took me about a year to get a really solid draft of the book done.
Where did you get the idea for this book?
This book was inspired by a newspaper article my husband sent me about a teen girl with cancer who was pregnant and whose parents didn’t allow her to abort her pregnancy in order to continue her cancer treatments. She died shortly after giving birth, and her boyfriend raised the baby.
What do you do when you're not writing?
I have a full time job as a romance novel editor. I also like to watch TV, go see theatre, and hang out with my friends.
What does your family think of your writing?
They’ve all been very supporting and encouraging!
What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in creating your books?
Probably how the writing experience changes so much with each book. Each story is its own beast, with its own set of challenges, so there’s definitely no sense of “Oh yeah, I know the formula for writing a book.”
Who's your favorite character in your book?
I love them all, but if I had to choose one, I’d go with Ryden. I’ve been in his head so long, he’s like my friend.
Why choose a male narrator?
The “single teen dad” issue really interested me, because it does happen in real but we don’t hear much about it. So Ryden was born from that question of what would it be like for a seventeen-year-old boy in this situation.
How did you come up with the book title?
I’m not really sure—it just came to me one day! I like this title a lot, because the thing Meg “left behind” can refer to different things throughout the book.
Is there anything you would like to change in What You Left Behind?
One of the hardest things as a writer is to figure out when a book is truly finished. More often than not, it never feels done, and you can keep going, changing things forever. You eventually have to just say, “Enough.” But because of that, you never really feel the book is perfect, and there are often plenty of things you’d change. But you have to not think about that stuff, and just be happy with the book you’ve created, as is.
Is there any story behind the cover of your book?
I had absolutely nothing to do with the cover design, but I love it! It was designed by Jeanine Henderson, and really encompasses both the setting and mood of the book. I love that he’s standing on a lakeshore, not an ocean shore (you can see land across the water), because the lake near Ryden’s house is one of the central settings of the book.
Can you describe your writing process?
I usually start writing with only a few plot points in mind, and see where the story takes me. Then, when I’m about halfway through (or so), I’ll stop to make an index card outline and try to structure the rest of the book in a more organized way.
Do you have writing inspirations? Who are they?
One of my biggest inspirations and favorite authors is Ned Vizzini, author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story.
What's next for you?
I have a few projects in the works, and some of them are a departure from my usual genre of contemporary YA. I’m working on a YA fantasy with another author, and an adult romance which I hope to publish under a pen name.
You can check out my review here. Don't forget to read it!
You can check out my review here. Don't forget to read it!
About the author:Jessica Verdi is a young adult author who writes envelope-pushing stories about not-so-pretty real-life issues, but always with a positive spin.
Though she’s always been a bookworm (her childhood was basically defined by the philosophy that working your way through giant stacks of library books is far superior to playing outside), she remained convinced throughout high school and college that the stage—rather than the page—was meant to be her creative outlet. After nearly ten years pounding the NYC pavement auditioning for musicals (and sometimes actually getting cast in them), she got an idea for a novel. That novel was an adult magical realism story, and while it will never see the light of day—nope, don’t ask—it was the book that started her love affair with writing. Now she can’t imagine doing anything else.
Jess received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School and works as an editor at a romance novel publisher. She loves all animals, from the cute and cuddly to the large and freakish, has been a vegetarian for most of her life, is a little too obsessed with TV shows about vampires, and has an amazing group of writer friends who keep her sane.
Jess lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and dog.