Jo Knowles: Like many of your readers, I was on the edge of my seat reading “Just One Day,” wondering if Allyson would find Willem. So when I got to the end of the book, I was like, “BUT BUT BUT… WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?????” Did you always know there would be a follow up? And if so, did you know what the point of view would be?
Gayle Forman: There was about a week when I thought “Just One Day” would be a standalone (with the same ending, BTW!), but then I was in the shower—do you have breakthroughs in the shower?
Jo: YES. In the shower, when I’m on a run, and when I’m driving. Sometimes I deliberately plant a problem in my brain and then let go and let my subconscious work on it. I LOVE those aha! moments.
Gayle: Me too. I should shower more. So, in the shower I realized if Allyson and Willem’s story was two intertwined books, it would be a much more complicated and ambitious project. Not only did I have to know both points of view before starting, I had to know the outlines of both plots, and both characters, down to the details of back stories as I wrote the first book.
Jo: That sounds extremely challenging.
Gayle: It was. Far more technically challenging than “Where She Went,” the companion to “If I Stay,” which I did not know I’d write until well after “If I Stay” was finished. I imagine this is more in line with your progression between “Jumping Off Swings” and “Living With Jackie Chan” as there are two books and four years between them. I know your fans kept asking: “What happened to Josh?” helping to prompt “Living With Jackie Chan.” But was there an aha! moment when you realized Josh’s story wasn’t over?
Jo: Definitely. It came when I went to watch my husband and son test for their next belts in karate. I had already been thinking about the possibility of writing Josh’s story, but I wasn’t sure what kind of character his uncle would be, or what that year might be like. I was sitting in a cold folding chair waiting for things to start when in bounds their karate teacher, Chip. He was full of life and had this incredible sweet, positive energy and it just clicked: That’s Josh’s uncle! Once I had an idea of the type of person he was, everything began to fall into place and allowed me to move straight into Josh’s head.
Gayle: I just loved how you switched from the four points of view (tethered to the same plot) in “Swings” to the one point of view in “Jackie Chan.” I loved getting to know Josh so well (and meeting Larry and Stella), but also feeling the ghosts of the characters left behind, which felt true to the giant crater Josh had to fill that year.
Jo: Thanks! That was really fun for me too. Writing the very last scene felt so satisfying. It was like I came full circle right along with Josh.
What kind of process did you go through to switch voices? Was it a challenge to write from Willem’s point of view?
Gayle: Willem’s voice was a struggle but that was because he was Dutch. (Note to self: Don’t write books from POV of other nationalities!) I found myself strung up on trying to find the line between cultural credibility and creating the characters I wanted. But the voice came easy. I find guys easy. What about you? Do you prefer writing from the male or female perspective?
Jo: I don’t know if I prefer to write from the male POV, although when I was writing “Jumping Off Swings,” the boys’ voices came to me the most clearly.
Gayle: It shows! Your boys are so real and distinctive. If you read me a Josh or a Caleb passage, I’d know it was a male POV. You really nail it. What’s your favorite part about writing from different perspectives, be it within the same book or across different books?
Jo: I’ve always been interested in coming at a story from different angles, trying to explore how we all experience the same event a little differently, depending on what personal baggage we bring along.
Gayle: YES! That’s the whole appeal of writing the duets. That you get to see how perspective changes everything, which I think holds true in real life, too. I think with our duets you could easily read them separately, but you get a much deeper story reading them together.
Jo: Totally! Someone could read “Just One Year” without having read “Just One Day,” but since I read “Just One Day,” I felt like I had a special inside story. I knew how CLOSE Willem was sometimes, and that added a whole layer of depth and suspense for me. But I imagine someone reading “Just One Year” without “Just One Day” getting a layer of mystery around Lulu. So either way, the reader wins! I think “Living With Jackie Chan” is more of a companion than a sequel for the same reason. The story can stand alone, but I’ve heard from readers who read “Jumping Off Swings” and liked how they got to see glimpses of the characters from the original story.
One of the repeated phrases from “Jackie Chan” that has translated a lot in my own life is the idea of “being true.” Even though the phrase comes from “What is a true karate man?” it’s really about how to be “true” in daily life. It’s been a guide to me in my writing as well. Did you find this was true for you with “double happiness?”
Gayle: I think the phrase that resonates from “Just One Year” is something I sort of live by: “The truth and its opposite are flip sides of the same coin.” Which is a handy way of looking at duet novels, too, flip sides of the same coin, not to mention the truth and its opposite, both of which, paradoxically, can be true.
Jo: Oh, I love that! I think that’s just right.
Be sure to pick up Jo Knowles’ “Jumping Off Swings” and “Living With Jackie Chan,” in addition to Gayle Forman’s “Just One Day” and “Just One Year.”