Author Jessica Verdi is here at The Hiding Spot to answer a few questions about herself and her debut novel, My Life After Now! Read on to find out more about the challenges of writing this story about HIV-positive Lucy and the search for the perfect title!
Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?
The hardest scenes to write were the dark, sad, heavily emotional ones – maybe because I’m a generally optimistic person, and it was sometimes tricky to get into that headspace. The scene where Lucy first gets her HIV-positive diagnosis was particularly challenging, because she goes through about a zillion emotions, but I didn’t want the narrative to sound like it was rambling. And one of the emotions she hits on is a feeling of extreme bleakness, which I knew I needed to portray in a way that was appropriately bleak but not flat or boring.Overall, though, the plot of the story came to me pretty easily – way more easily than any of my subsequent projects. Once I knew who my character was, I knew what her journey was supposed to be.
Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?
The title was actually originally On the Plus Side, but my editor felt strongly (and rightfully so) that it called pregnancy to mind, which this book is obviously not about. Since I am terrible at coming up with titles, I left the renaming in the hands of my capable editorial team, and I love what they came up with. The title My Life After Now really leaves you asking that question of, after so much goes wrong, what now? I think it’s perfect for the book.
What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general?
Ned Vizzini (author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story) is an idol of mine. He does so effortlessly and flawlessly what I aim to do in my own work – he tells real stories about serious, edgy issues, but infuses them with lightness and humor.I also absolutely adore Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I think that’s pretty much a perfect book.I also have to thank Stephanie Meyer. Even though I don’t write about vampires, or fantasy at all really (at least not yet), the fact that she had never written a novel before Twilight and was relatively inexperienced yet still found a place in the literary world was very inspiring to me. I only started writing a few years ago, but knowing that there were people out there who hadn’t been writing their whole lives and who hadn’t gone to school for creative writing yet had still found success really helped me to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could do it too.
What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?
It took me a while to figure out that writing was what I really wanted to be doing, so I’ve had many different jobs over the years. I was an actor for ten years, auditioning in New York and every once in a while getting cast in plays and musicals. I’ve also been a bartender, a New York City tour guide, a dog groomer, a landmarks preservationist, and a theater ticket seller. My years as a performer definitely helped me write My Life After Now, because my main character, Lucy, is an actor and the star of her high school drama club. Because I know so much about that world, it really helped me create the theatrical setting of the book.
If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?
I love the word “wonderful.” It’s just so… wonderful, haha. It immediately brings to mind joy and awe and happiness and fun and beauty. I think people don’t use it enough.
My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?
Books for sure. I have a few go-to books that I’ve read a hundred thousand times but that always make me feel better during a down day. Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me? is one of them. I also love film and television, so when I need to escape from reality I’ll put on The Vampire Diaries or Gilmore Girls or the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice. Those are some wonderful (see, there’s that word again!) worlds to get lost in for a little while.