The I'll Meet You There Journey
Writing I’ll Meet You There has been the most intense and fulfilling artistic experience I’ve ever had. When I started working on the book, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’d started with a story about a girl named Skylar who worked at a crappy roadside motel in Central California, not too far from where I went to high school in the Central Valley. I’d spent most of my adolescence driving up and down Highway 99, from Fresno to LA and back. I suppose the landscape had inched its way under my skin after years of staring out the window of my mom’s mini van, listening to my Discman, wishing we could move back to LA, making up stories in my head. Every now and then we’d pass a collection of run down houses around a motel and a derelict gas station and convenience store and I’d wonder how the heck anyone could survive in such a cultural wasteland. Fast forward to summer 2011. I’m now living in Boston and part of an amazing writer’s group. I decide to write a story about a girl who works at one of those motels and lives in one of those towns. I thought the motel would be a cool setting for a YA and the Paradise popped into my head. Originally, I riffed off a local story, when the actress Anne Heche showed up on someone’s doorstep in the Central Valley, on drugs. I created a Lindsay Lohan kind of actress on the run from scandal and Sky was supposed to be hiding her while she recuperated. I also had a version where it wasn’t a starlet, by a hot heir on the run. But here’s where the story gets interesting: the first chapter, which is still the first chapter (revised) of IMYT features this backyard party in honor of a local kid who was a Marine that lost his leg in Afghanistan. I was just writing that party to set the scene and using Josh Mitchell to kind of say, Hey, look how freaking sad this place is. Josh wasn’t a major character at all. Except my writer’s group wanted more of him. He was the thing that stuck out to them in the pages I’d given them. And it was this huge Eureka! moment for me because of course he’s important. Not just to the story, but to me. Both my parents were Marines. My dad has PTSD. I have an uncle who deployed to Iraq three times. I mean, duh.
Tim Wynne-Jones was leading a workshop I was in a while back and he said that our stories leave clues for us, things from our subconscious that are trying to get our attention. I think I secretly wanted to write about Josh, but I was scared. The military is a culture I’ve always distanced myself from for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because I’m an artsy sensitive type and my family’s military history and my personality and interests seemed to always be at odds. Not to mention my dad’s post-war struggles. Yet here my writer’s group was telling me I had to tackle it head on. So, I did. Sort of. I got distracted by a little thing called Something Real and I would go back to IMYT from time to time over the year, uncertain if it was a book I should write. It was just so hard, trying to get into Josh’s head and trying to do him justice. And it was hard trying to write Sky, who is the closest character to me that I’ve ever written. There were too many hard places this book wanted me to go to and, I’ll admit, I was a coward. How could I write this story—how was I worthy of writing this story—when so many people were actually out there, putting their lives on the line? How could I write Sky’s story when so much of me was embedded in her DNA? On the one hand, I felt like a fraud. On the other, I felt raw, exposed. But the book wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d find myself going back to it, again and again. One thing was clear: this book was demanding everything and I wasn’t sure I could give it.
To learn more about I'll Meet You There, click on the book below.
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