Recently, Swanky 17er Lana Popovic sat down with Sixteener Emily Martin to discuss Emily’s new YA contemporary, THE YEAR WE FELL APART (Simon Pulse, 26 Jan. 2016).
Few things come as naturally to Harper as epic mistakes. In the past year she was kicked off the swim team, earned a reputation as Carson High’s easiest hook-up, and officially became the black sheep of her family. But her worst mistake was destroying her relationship with her best friend, Declan.
Now, after two semesters of silence, Declan is home from boarding school for the summer. Everything about him is different—he’s taller, stronger…more handsome. Harper has changed, too, especially in the wake of her mom’s cancer diagnosis.
While Declan wants nothing to do with Harper, he’s still Declan, her Declan, and the only person she wants to talk to about what’s really going on. But he’s also the one person she’s lost the right to seek comfort from.
As their mutual friends and shared histories draw them together again, Harper and Declan must decide which parts of their past are still salvageable, and which parts they’ll have to let go of once and for all.
About the Author:
Emily Martin grew up in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. She attended graduate school in North Carolina, where she fell in love with sweet potato pancakes, deep fried pickles, and the boy who later became her husband. Emily now lives and writes in Boston, Massachusetts. The Year We Fell Apart is her first novel. You can find Emily online at EmilyMartinWrites.com, or follow her on Twitter @ThatEmilyMartin.
Lana: One of the many things I loved about your novel was the constellation of issues it addresses: Harper’s lingering regrets and the self-destructive behavior they trigger, the toxicity of friendships that seem supportive on the surface, the nostalgia of broken first love, and of course the bone-deep terror of potentially losing a parent. Was there a seedling idea that all of these grew from?
Emily: The relationship between Harper and Declan was definitely the starting point for the novel. Specifically I wanted to explore how two people with such a long history and so much love for each other could end up in such a painful place. The plot and themes branched out from there—a big part of Harper and Declan’s shared history was coping with the loss of Declan’s mother when they were fifteen, which informs a lot of Harper’s fears at the start of the story. She is also influenced greatly by her friends, so the dynamic between Harper, Declan, and Cory became central to her story, as was the impact of her new best friend, Sadie.
Lana: Other than Harper, which of the book’s characters was particularly close to your heart, and are any of them drawn from real life? I ask because I found myself so drawn to Cory, who’s funny, incisive, and generally an awesome friend—such a crucial element of the Cory/Harper/Declan friendship triad, even if he isn’t the dreamy love interest. Gwen and Mackenzie are so vividly drawn as well; it’s great to see genuinely nice, pretty, and badass girls who break the “hot ‘n’ mean” mold.
Emily: I definitely have a soft spot for Cory as well. Despite the fact he’s firmly rooted in the friend-zone, he’s pretty much the perfect boy-next-door. He’s always there for Harper, and never hesitates to call her out for her questionable choices. I love her brother, Graham, for similar reasons. Graham is protective of Harper, yet always jumps at the chance to embarrass her in front of her friends. I have an older brother myself, and Graham’s (often annoying) big-brotherly protectiveness was definitely drawn from real life.
Lana: Harper’s mom’s struggle with cancer is a huge component of the book, of course, and so delicately handled. What advice would you give to writers addressing illness in YA fiction?
Emily: The thing I tried to keep in mind was that everyone responds to illness and trauma differently. When I was around Harper’s age, a close family member was battling a long-term illness, and I remember feeling a lot of anger and fear, as Harper does. She has trouble relating to the rest of her family’s optimism, and instead of pulling them closer, she pushes away the people who care most about her. This was difficult to write, and is understandably frustrating to read at times, but it felt true to her character. That’s what was most important to me—discovering each character’s outlook and staying true to that.
Lana: With a book as quietly beautiful and complex as yours, it must have been especially important to have the same vision as your editor. What was the editorial process like for you?
Emily: It was definitely key to have the same vision as my editor, Sara Sargent. She was great about talking through any revision suggestions with me, and giving me room to explore changes in a way that felt right to me. We did several rounds of revision together, cutting some subplots and bulking up others. It definitely took me a few tries to nail certain revisions, but it was really great to feel like my editor “got” the book, and that I could talk openly with her if something wasn’t working out as I planned.
Lana: There’s such a wide array of schedules and habits when it comes to the writing process; how and when do you prefer to write, and do you belong to a critique group?
Emily: When I wrote The Year We Fell Apart, I was working full-time in the environmental field, so I wrote at night and on the weekends. I recently started writing full-time, and find I am usually most focused and productive in the morning. I head to my office with a cup of tea as soon as I’m out of bed, and basically try not to stop until I’ve hit my daily word count goal—however long that may take. I’m not someone who necessarily writes every day, unless I’m under deadline. But when the well is empty, I go outside or read a book or binge on Netflix until the craving to write comes back.
I don’t belong to a critique group, but I do have a couple of critique partners with whom I trade work. My CP’s and I chat fairly often, either to work out plot ideas or to word vomit all our author anxieties. It’s tremendously helpful to have that kind of support system, and I’m so grateful for them!
And the lightning round!
Greatest YA author influence:
Theme song for your book:
“Breathe Me” by Sia
Favorite book when you were Harper’s age:
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Cookies and Cream ice cream. Also Nutella.
Beach or mountain vacation:
Beach—but that’s a close call!
Robot revolution or zombie apocalypse:
About the Interviewer:
Lana Popovic studied psychology and literature at Yale University, holds a J.D. from the Boston University School of Law and an M.A. in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College, and is a literary agent with Chalberg & Sussman. Her debut YA contemporary fantasy, HIBISCUS DAUGHTER, is forthcoming from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins in Fall 2017.