*Season #SIX (Summer 2019)
How did you come to know Emma?
I tend to get to know my characters through multiple drafts. Writers seem to fall into one of two categories: pantsers and plotters. While I’d love to be more of a plotter someday, I still hold more allegiance to Team Pantser. Which is to say, I dive into a project often before I know my protagonist or what’s going to happen to her all that well. What this means is that early drafts are very much full of discoveries and also that there are many, many drafts to all of my projects.
What do you think is Emma’s most admirable quality?
Emma is true to herself; it’s really what launches her into the story. She could have stayed in her friendship with Becca, which was reliable and offered her a lot of comfort, but she ultimately knew herself better than that. She was willing to put herself out there to discover true connection. Her friendship with Tyler shows the payoff—she finds a way to be open and vulnerable with Tyler in Wyoming, and in return finds a rewarding mutual friendship.
Is there anything you wish she would have changed or done differently in her story?
Well, I think we’d all like to tell our characters, “no, don’t do that!” multiple times in a story. But it wouldn’t be a story without Emma’s mistakes. I’m sure one of her biggest regrets is how she handles things with Becca at the book’s midpoint, but I also think that conflict is one of the things readers can most relate to. So many friendships at that age reach a point of divergence, and it’s really a matter of how gracefully we’re able to navigate our way out of it. Emma’s struggles feel genuine to my memories of that age, especially a friendship lost because I was too much like Becca, whereas my friend, like Emma, was maturing at a faster rate.
What do you think she can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what she went through?
I hope that Emma can offer a mirror to kids who might be struggling with a loved one’s substance abuse. Part of the sibling experience is having someone who knows you well (sometimes too well!) and has been through everything alongside you, so it can be then absolutely bewildering to learn of struggles they might have kept secret. It can be heartbreaking to be so close to someone and see them in trouble. I hope Emma shows kids going through something similar that all of their feelings are valid. You can love someone and be angry and confused with them. There’s room for all of it.
How did you research Emma and the circumstances she found herself in?
A few years before starting Where We Used to Roam, I had drafted a young adult novel that dealt with the opioid epidemic. At the time, it was hard to escape in the news, as it was ravaging New England, where I lived at the time. Though nothing ever came of that novel, I continued to follow the topic. Substance abuse and the opioid epidemic in particular continues to affect so many families in this country. Much of my research came from immersing myself in news articles, especially the excellent coverage in the Boston Globe and Cincinnati Enquirer, my local papers, and reading several books on the topic.
Do you and Emma share any similarities?
Like Emma, I fell in love with bison when I spent a summer in Wyoming, so that comes to mind first. I also grew up with a brother, though in my case he was a younger brother, whereas Emma gets to be the younger sibling in Where We Used to Roam. And finally, I loved art and the creative process as a kid. I took private art lessons and could often be found with my sketchbook, drawing a lot of families and individual fictional people. Back then, drawing was my way of telling myself a story.
What was the hardest scene to write about her?
So much of this book was rewritten at various points that it’s almost easier to answer the opposite question. But I’m always up for a challenge, so I’m really thinking on this one. In some ways, the final scene was the hardest to write. It was impossible to wrap up Emma’s story with a tidy bow. There are elements of her situation that will always be real and messy, and so I tried to honor that. There are no easy answers to what Austin is going through, but Emma’s family is committed to helping him to the best of their ability. In that final scene, my job was to show the progress both she and Austin had made in their understanding of themselves and to capture their new understanding that we’re all works-in-progress.
Who do you think was her biggest supporter and why?
I like to think we all have more cheerleaders than we could ever realize. So many people looked out for Emma’s best interest at various points in the story, even small characters like her art club leader Nisha and Mrs. Grossman (Becca’s mom). But I think she found the most support ultimately with Tyler, who understood her experience from the inside, and was the first person she reached out to when she was in crisis.
Why do you think young people are sometimes more resilient during difficult family struggles than the adults around them?
It’s interesting that you say that, because it’s something that I noticed a lot as a teen librarian, though I think it varies a bit. At the novel’s outset, Emma is a fairly privileged kid and so I think it was hard for her even to fathom the trouble Austin found him in. It was such unfamiliar territory, that she didn’t even know the potential negative outcomes. Whereas with Tyler, we see a kid who is resilient but also realistic; he’s been around the block a few times and doesn’t still carry that naiveté about the world that Emma clings to.
What do you think Emma is doing at the present time?
I like to think that once everyone in her family was vaccinated, Emma, Austin, and her parents flew out to Wyoming at the very first chance this summer to see Tyler and the bison in person. As a more introverted person, Emma might have actually thrived during the pandemic with so much more time at home. I can see her and Tyler FaceTiming as they watched Gilmore Girls together, the physical distance between them erased in many ways by stay-at-home orders.
Interview #86 with Shaun David Hutchinson (Author of The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried)
SEASON #SIX (Summer 2019)
Interview #122 with Tamara Bundy (Author of Pixie Pushes On)
Interview #123 with Lindsay Lackey (Author of All the Impossible Things)
Interview #124 with Tae Keller (Author of When You Trap a Tiger)
Interview #125 with Jamie Sumner (Author of Roll With It)
Interview #126 with Hena Khan (Author of More to the Story)
Interview #127 with Phil Bildner (Author of A High-Five for Glenn Burke)
Interview #128 with Leslie Connor (Author of A Home for Goddesses and Dogs)
Interview#129 with Gillian McDunn (Author of Queen Bee and Me)
Interview #130 with Jody J. Little (Author of Worse Than Weird)
Interview #131 with Jenn Bishop (Author of Things You Can't Say)
Interview #132 with Kaela Noel (Author of Coo)
Interview #133 with Rebecca Stead (Author of The List of Things That Will Not Change)
Interview #134 with Gae Polisner (Author of Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me)
Interview #135 with Emily Blejwas (Author of Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened)
Interview #136 with Joy McCullough (Author of A Field Guide to Getting Lost)
Interview #137 with Kim Baker (Author of the Water Bears)
Interview #138 with Erin Entrada Kelly (Author of We Dream of Space)
SEASON #ELEVEN (Fall/Winter 2021)
SEASON #TWELVE (Winter 2022)