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>> A day of loss, and finding hope

A day of loss, and finding hope
26/04/2018

A day of loss, and finding hope


From the author of If I Stay comes I HAVE LOST MY WAY, a novel about identity, loss and hope that follows three teenagers who are trying to find where they belong.

The story is told over the course of a single day from three different perspectives; Freya - a singer who has lost her voice; Harun, whose family has planned an arranged marriage for him; and Nathaniel, who is newly arrived in New York City after a family tragedy.

Flashbacks to their earlier lives give us glimpses into their past during the course of the day as they each discover friendship, and a way forward.

We asked award-winning author and journalist GAYLE FORMAN to tell us more about I HAVE LOST MY WAY.


Q: You have described I Have Lost My Way as the hardest book you have ever written. Why was it such a difficult book to write?

A: The hardest part of this book was starting it. I went through some weird kind of crisis/writers' block and spent several years trying to start a new YA project. I think there are now seven half-written (or in some cases, finished), dead manuscripts on my hard drive. I crashed and burned on them all and was starting to think I wouldn't write again. The phrase that kept going through my head was, "I have lost my way" and after a few months, someone else was whispering it into my ear. A young woman who had lost her way, and her voice. That was Freya. The book grew from there.

It would've been great if once I had the idea, it was easy, but the book turned out to be more technically challenging than anything I have ever written. We follow three characters - Freya, Harun and Nathaniel - in a present-tense narrative and flashbacks, which meant constructing six character arcs, with realistic emotional pacing. That part was really tough.


Q: You follow the events over a course of a day - was this difficult to both chart and to have enough time to build the emotional heart of the novel?

A: YES. But I love playing with time. IF I STAY and WHERE SHE WENT both take place over one day. JUST ONE DAY and JUST ONE YEAR both have pivotal sections that take place over one day. The condensed time frame is very appealing to me. But it's a technical challenge because you literally have no time to waste.


Q: Why did you want to write it this way, and how did they each develop?

A: Freya came to me with the spark of the idea and Harun came fast on her heels. Of all the characters, he was the one I knew the most immediately and the most completely, right from the get-go, which is ironic because as a gay Pakistani-American Muslim male, he would seem to be the most different from me.

I never specifically chose to write three characters but I knew it had to be different characters, each one lost in their own way, and through many, many revisions I went deeper and understood why each was lost and how the way out of their loss lay in inhabiting the one another's. And, as it happened, it was by inhabiting their loss that I got myself out of my funk.


Q: Do you have a favourite of the characters?

A: That's tough. I love and identify with all three of these characters more than I have any other character. Freya is the one who got the ball rolling and so much of her story is taken from me and my daughters (my youngest is Ethiopian; my two girls share a deep love and a deep rivalry). Nathaniel breaks my heart and I just want to tuck him into bed and take care of him. But I think Harun is my favorite. I just identify with him so deeply.

One of the fun things about the book was how in early reads, friends would come back and say to me: “I loved the characters but I liked so-and-so best.” They said it kind of as a critique, like maybe this was a problem. Which it might've been if every reader didn't have a different character they identified with. I took that as a good sign. I'm eager to hear who readers like best.


Q: Each character is coping with difficult and sensitive issues: Harun in accepting his sexuality; Freya, the loss of her father and difficulties with her sister; while Nathaniel's father has mental health issues. Were there areas that you needed to research before you felt able to write about how your characters handled their circumstances?

A: The thing I knew immediately was the emotional experience of the characters. What I had to research was the day-to-day experience. Specifically with Freya and Harun.

With Freya, I did a deep dive into the world of Internet celebrity and how fame builds in social media and how personas are manipulated. And also how music is recorded now. It's changed a lot since my punk rock husband went into the studio to cut an album.

And Harun, being Pakistani and Muslim and gay, I had to a lot of check ins with friends and even an Imam to make sure I wasn't misinterpreting the Quran quotes I included.


Q: What did you discover about the music industry and how it builds its young stars?

A: This was most illuminating. Obviously, I had certain ideas in my head from the whole Kesha/Dr. Luke story that informed the character of Hayden Booth (who was SUCH fun to write, even though he's despicable). And I knew about Justin Bieber's rise, from YouTube sensation to pop god. But oddly enough, it was a book fair that provided the a-ha moment.

I was in Rio for the book fair and met some YouTube celebrities-turned-authors there and began to understand that world, how huge it is, but also, how challenging it can be to transcend Internet fame to the sort of fame Freya (and her mother and Hayden) aspires to. I have a love-hate relationship with social media but this part deepened my understanding.


Q: Each of the characters is making life-defining decisions through this novel. Is this what draws you to writing for this age group?

A: I write about young people but I don't write young stories. Which is to say I'm always drawing on what is going on with (adult) me when I write a book. But for the most part, it's young people who tell the story. Since I've written an adult novel (or, as I like to say, a novel starring adults because plenty of adults read YA and vice versa), I have been forced to think more about WHY it's young people who tell my stories.

Partly it's because they are not me so I have the liberation of that distance. But partly it's because young people are given permission to feel their emotions. I think there's this idea that as you “mature” your feelings become less intensely felt. I think that's completely BS. They maybe become less intensely communicated but we all feel things deeply and young people don't have to hide from that. When you write from that age/voice/head space, there's a purity and immediacy to the emotionality that is very appealing to me as both a writer and a reader.


Q: Are you interested in following up these characters in another novel?

A: I have thought about what happens to these three but it's a jump in time ten years down the road so if I do pursue it, there's time. No immediate plans for a sequel.


Q: Having finished this book, did you find it any easier starting your next book? What you are writing now?

A: The upside of crashing and burning on so many projects is that some of them are viable and so I am toying with finishing one, even though it's a drastic change from what I normally do. I'm also working on other writing projects that experiment with different forms of storytelling. Needless to say, I have a lot of stories to tell in the coming years...


Q: What are your top tips for young writers who are finding it difficult to continue in their writing?

A: Well, I used to have a rather high and mighty spiel about writers' block not being real. How writers' block was just your story's way of telling you that you'd gone down a wrong road. But now that I spent three years writing, writing, writing and feeling like every story was wrong, I'm a little less judgey. I think it does hold true that sometimes you need to step away from a project (often a walk, or a shower, oddly, can unstick something). But I also think it's good to show your work to readers, even if you think it's horrible. I don't think I would've finished this novel had I not shown it to my friend Anna. I was convinced it was TOTAL CRAP but Anna took to the characters straight away, saw something there and that gave me the motivation to keep going. I guess it all boils down to this: keep going.


Q: Where is your favourite place to write and what is your favourite escape from writing?

A: My favorite place to write - and this is so awful - is in my bed. In winter, when it's cold, I will bring my laptop upstairs and get a tray going with coffee and snacks and snuggle under the duvey and write. It's messy. And bad for the back. But it's so cozy.

My favorite place to escape from writing is the pool. I love swimming after a long day of writing. It completely clears my head. The pool is my happy place.
 
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