What can you tell us about your new release, After December?
It’s the final version of the first book I ever wrote. I grew up with these characters. Tony’s suicide is a combination of three deaths that happened when I was in college, only one of which was intentional. I worked with whether to let it be an overdose or make it a suicide and finally chose the latter because there’s a specific kind of grief for the people left behind. So it’s told from Brian’s perspective as he’s working through the earliest days of his grief. The book takes place in just six days, the first six days after Tony died, and the intensity of the experience is surreal. There’s a lot of drinking, a lot of fighting, and some regret and guilt. But there’s also redemption and hope as there must necessarily be when you’re only 22 and you have your whole life ahead of you, as Brian does.
What or who inspired you to become an author?
I have wanted to be a writer since I can remember. I’d trace it back to seventh grade English class in California, and my teacher, Mrs. Sutherland who I honored by using her last name for After December’s “Kacie” character. I loved all the V.C. Andrews books that were popular in the late 80s. Reading like it was my job and missing my Virginia friends turned into writing my first novel in four spiral notebooks. More recently, my best bud Jodie Cain Smith was publishing her first novel when we met and she pushed and pulled me through the five years it’s taken to bring After December to print.
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, Three Two One by JA Huss, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, The Hottest State by Ethan Hawke
All five of those books left me breathless in different ways. They may not be “the best” I’ve ever read, I earned an MA reading classics like Huckleberry Finn and learning from geniuses like Walker Percy and Clive Edgerton. But those five left me breathless and that’s what I want my books to do.
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
I am the host of a literary talk show. We have a radio show on makethepointradio.com every Saturday at 9 a.m. called Write On SC and we talk about the craft and we talk about South Carolina authors. I’d love to have an author whose books have been made into films, like Cassandra Clare. I’d want to know what that process felt like. I’d also like to have an author who had a book banned, like Nic Stone, and learn what that experience was like. Maybe have someone who’s sold a million copies, like Margaret Atwood, and learn what that was like.
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
I like hearing the voices in my head. When my characters are telling me their stories, when they’re standing over my shoulder making sure I get it right, I love the high of creating that new thing, getting it down, and trying to get it as accurate as possible. My favorites came out of NaNoWriMo where I was forced to write 2000 words a day on a single project and just got to revel in those characters’ voices and the experiences they were having.
What is a typical day like for you?
I walk every morning at 8 a.m. with my publisher and friend, Alexa. Then I work from 9 until 4 on a variety of projects. If I’m teaching, I have class at scheduled times, otherwise I’m creating new content. Sometimes videos, sometimes blogs, sometimes new work for the upcoming Before Pittsburgh, a follow up to After December. I work six days a week, including Saturday, and writer at least 2000 words a day, though not always on the same project.
What scene in After December was your favorite to write?
I love Friday night with Kacie and Brian at her sister’s house. Kacie is angry with Tony and we get that take on the week’s experience that we haven’t seen yet. The sadness has soaked them all to this point and Friday night, Kacie lets her anger out and it’s refreshing and honest and a little heartbreaking. But it’s also where we see the strength of their bond, Kacie and Brian’s, and start to understand a little bit better how they love each other.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
True to my cheesy teenage roots, my motto comes from a Hillary Duff flick (A Cinderella Story):
Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.
It’s painted on the wall in my office and reminds me to give it a shot, whatever it is, because failure isn’t fatal.
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