Sweet Sixteener Marisa Reichardt recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Jackie Lea Sommers about her YA contemporary debut novel, TRUEST (September 1, 2015 from HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books).
Jackie Lea Sommers lives and loves and writes in Minnesota, where the people are nice and the o’s are long. Like West, Jackie grew up in a small town with few secrets, but now she makes her home in the Twin Cities, where she lives more anonymously with all her book boyfriends. She is the 2013 winner of the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult Writing. TRUEST is her first novel.
Silas Hart has seriously shaken up Westlin Beck’s small-town life. Brand new to town, Silas is different than the guys in Green Lake. He’s curious, poetic, philosophical, maddening– and really, really cute. But Silas has a sister– and she has a secret. And West has a boyfriend. And life in Green Lake is about to change forever.
Truest is a stunning, addictive debut. Romantic, fun, tender, and satisfying, it asks as many questions as it answers.
Marisa: Congratulations on your wonderful debut. As you know, I devoured TRUEST. I loved this book! Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for TRUEST? Did you have a feeling this book was “The One” when you were writing it?
Jackie: In January 2012, I read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, and I loved the characters so much that I decided to scrap the novel I was writing and start over by creating a character that would be my new favorite person. That’s Silas Hart, one of the main characters of TRUEST. I started writing the novel without anything but Silas in my right hand and his sister’s illness in my left. And, you know what, I did have a feeling this would be my debut novel. I had spent the four years prior working on another novel, but right away, I had so much energy around TRUEST and thought, “This is it.”
Marisa: In keeping with one of the themes of TRUEST, on your road to publication, what has felt like a dream and what has felt like reality?
Jackie: To be honest, I think everything has felt very real—sometimes maybe too real. I’ve felt the entire spectrum of emotions—elation, devastation, and a lot of panic. Anxiety disorders and the writing process don’t always play nicely. That said, reality can be a fearsome, wonderful thing. I have loved getting to know my beloved editor at HarperCollins, living out my dream of publishing my stories, and meeting so many amazing people in the creative community. I have felt a little too keenly the sting of critique and the furious bite of panic. I am learning and growing.
Marisa: In TRUEST, Silas and West contemplate the idea of valuing brokenness just for the fixing. If you were to apply that same concept to your editing process for TRUEST, how would you say you found the value of brokenness in the fixing?
Jackie: This is an incredible question, wow! I see this concept played out in my writing life the same way I imagine a mountain-climber feels: there is so much joy and reward in finally getting a chapter or a scene just right. Just as the mountain-climber would rather climb the mountain than wish the mountain never existed, I also find delight in the conquering. I’m really glad you asked this question—my answer is exactly what I needed to remind myself of as I begin (major!) revisions to my second novel this very weekend. I will hold on to my answer and let it power me through.
Marisa: TRUEST hits the trifecta in asking, answering, and leaving questions for readers. In your mind, what is the ideal takeaway for a reader of your book?
I hope TRUEST meets readers wherever they are at, whatever that looks like. Ultimately, I’d love for readers to learn trust—that rescue is happening in the world, even when it actually looks like things are falling apart. Hope. And the value of uncertainty, which is a major theme in my own life. I like what West’s mentor Gordon says in the book: “Faith and uncertainty are accomplices.”
Lightning Round Questions:
Planner or pantser?
Extreme pantser. My ideas die sad deaths when I plot.
How many manuscripts in the drawer?
I wrote one other novel before TRUEST. (And wow, am I ever glad no one has to read it!)
Captain Kirk or Captain von Trapp?
Always, always my love Captain von Trapp. My sister and I say, “The mountains are magnificent, Georg” to each other in ridiculous voices all the time.
What were you reading at sixteen?
My favorite books at the time were WONDER by Rachel Vail, I AM THE CHEESE by Robert Cormier, THE ARIZONA KID by Ron Koertge, BABY SISTER by Marilyn Sachs, and Z IS FOR ZACHARIAH by Robert O’Brien. I still love them all.
If you could pick a theme song for TRUEST, what would it be?
“Try Again” by Keane
What is one piece of writing advice for aspiring authors?
Show up. I’m convinced that great writing is more the result of showing up and working hard than of talent and inspiration.
About the Interviewer:
Marisa Reichardt is a SoCal native and high school writing instructor. She has a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California and dual undergraduate degrees in literature and creative writing from UC San Diego. She spent her college years shucking oysters, waiting tables, and peddling swimwear. She has spent her post-grad years writing, tutoring, and teaching. She currently lives in Los Angeles and can usually be found huddled over her laptop in coffeehouses or swimming in the ocean.
In her YA contemporary debut, UNDERWATER (January 12, 2016 from FSG/Macmillan), the aftermath of a deadly high school shooting leaves 17-year-old Morgan an agoraphobic trapped in the apartment she shares with her mother and brother; when surfer boy Evan moves in next door, she has to face the life she’s been missing.