If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.
Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.
You all know by know my ever-increasing love for this book. You can find my review here. I’m so happy to a part of this blog tour (thank you, Macmillan!), and to share with you even more of Heather’s beautiful words. I asked Heather to share with us a little more about her experience while writing I’ll Meet You There. Have some tissues handy.
Take it away, Heather!
The I’ll Meet You There Journey
Writing I’ll Meet You There has been the most intense and fulfilling artistic experience I’ve ever had. When I started working on the book, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’d started with a story about a girl named Skylar who worked at a crappy roadside motel in Central California, not too far from where I went to high school in the Central Valley. I’d spent most of my adolescence driving up and down Highway 99, from Fresno to LA and back. I suppose the landscape had inched its way under my skin after years of staring out the window of my mom’s mini van, listening to my Discman, wishing we could move back to LA, making up stories in my head. Every now and then we’d pass a collection of run down houses around a motel and a derelict gas station and convenience store and I’d wonder how the heck anyone could survive in such a cultural wasteland. Fast forward to summer 2011. I’m now living in Boston and part of an amazing writer’s group. I decide to write a story about a girl who works at one of those motels and lives in one of those towns. I thought the motel would be a cool setting for a YA and the Paradise popped into my head. Originally, I riffed off a local story, when the actress Anne Heche showed up on someone’s doorstep in the Central Valley, on drugs. I created a Lindsay Lohan kind of actress on the run from scandal and Sky was supposed to be hiding her while she recuperated. I also had a version where it wasn’t a starlet, by a hot heir on the run. But here’s where the story gets interesting: the first chapter, which is still the first chapter (revised) of IMYT features this backyard party in honor of a local kid who was a Marine that lost his leg in Afghanistan. I was just writing that party to set the scene and using Josh Mitchell to kind of say, Hey, look how freaking sad this place is. Josh wasn’t a major character at all. Except my writer’s group wanted more of him. He was the thing that stuck out to them in the pages I’d given them. And it was this huge Eureka! moment for me because of course he’s important. Not just to the story, but to me. Both my parents were Marines. My dad has PTSD. I have an uncle who deployed to Iraq three times. I mean, duh.
Tim Wynne-Jones was leading a workshop I was in a while back and he said that our stories leave clues for us, things from our subconscious that are trying to get our attention. I think I secretly wanted to write about Josh, but I was scared. The military is a culture I’ve always distanced myself from for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because I’m an artsy sensitive type and my family’s military history and my personality and interests seemed to always be at odds. Not to mention my dad’s post-war struggles. Yet here my writer’s group was telling me I had to tackle it head on. So, I did. Sort of. I got distracted by a little thing called Something Real and I would go back to IMYT from time to time over the year, uncertain if it was a book I should write. It was just so hard, trying to get into Josh’s head and trying to do him justice. And it was hard trying to write Sky, who is the closest character to me that I’ve ever written. There were too many hard places this book wanted me to go to and, I’ll admit, I was a coward. How could I write this story—how was I worthy of writing this story—when so many people were actually out there, putting their lives on the line? How could I write Sky’s story when so much of me was embedded in her DNA? On the one hand, I felt like a fraud. On the other, I felt raw, exposed. But the book wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d find myself going back to it, again and again. One thing was clear: this book was demanding everything and I wasn’t sure I could give it.
After Something Real sold, I decided to use IMYT in my first semester of grad school. You win, I muttered to it. Josh, of course, gave me a smug smile. Of course we do, he said. I had been accepted into the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and my advisor for that semester was Rita Williams-Garcia. In the six months I worked with Rita I wrote the first draft of the book. Rita pushed me to dig deeper, go further, and advance, advance, advance. She was an excellent drill sergeant. From there, I continued to revise and then Macmillan accepted it as my second book on my two-book deal. Still, I knew it wasn’t ready. All this time I’d been interviewing Marines and soldiers, reading non-fiction about PTSD and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and doing research. It was hard, sad work. I talked to my family members and had to really grapple with what it meant to come from a military family and how that—and my father’s PTSD—was part of my identity.
In terms of craft and working on the book, I began to look at Josh’s sections as stream of consciousness poems. I refined those while at VCFA both with my editor and with A.M. Jenkins and A.S. King, both advisors during my time in school. Conversations with Marines and Soldiers gave me the expressions and sensibility I needed, as well as spending over three years getting to know Josh inside and out. For me, the Josh sections are why I didn’t give up on the book. There were so many times I thought there was no way I could pull it off, but Josh’s mental landscape kept pulling me in. I also loved Sky and wanted to do right by her, to make sure her story was told and to give her a chance to fight for her dreams with the integrity that is such a part of who she is. As they fell in love with each other, I fell in love with them and I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t get their story out into the world.
So, nuts and bolts: it took me two years from concept to acceptance by my publisher and then another year of whittling the novel into what I wanted it to be. I used notecards to help me keep track of the scenes so that I could even out when the Josh sections came in and also make sure Sky was having a good balance of scenes between him, her friends, and her mom. I went through countless drafts, but I would say it was about three major drafts. When I finished the last sentence on the first draft, I burst into tears. I still remember writing it: A little bit closer to the stars, anything seemed possible. And I lost it. I came into the kitchen, sobbing, and my husband was like, “What’s wrong?” and I said, “I finished the book!” He was so confused. “Isn’t that a good thing?” he asked. I nodded, still sobbing. “But… it… was… so… hard.”
I have never been so proud of a book I wrote, nor so gutted by one. I think the greatest gift this novel gave me was the journey of creating it. I’ll be forever grateful to the people who were part of it and to Sky and Josh, for gently (and sometimes not so gently) pushing me to the scary places.
about heather demetrios
When she’s not traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, Heather Demetrios lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home. Heather is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real, which Publisher’s Weekly calls “[An] addictive yet thoughtful debut” about reality TV stardom. She is the author of EXQUISITE CAPTIVE, a smoldering fantasy about jinn in Los Angeles and what Kirkus called in its starred review “an intoxicating, richly realized realm of magic, politics, spirituality and history” (#1 in the DARK CARAVAN CYCLE). She is also the author of the upcoming I’ll Meet You There (Winter 2015). I’ll Meet You There is a love story about a young combat veteran and a girl trapped in their small town, both struggling to escape the war at home. Heather is the founder of Live Your What, an organization dedicated to fostering passion in people of all ages and creating writing opportunities for underserved youth. She is proud to have an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can always find her on Twitter (@HDemetrios), ogling the military dogs she wants to adopt (but can’t because her NYC apartment is way too small). Find out more about Heather and her other books at wwww.heatherdemetrios.com and www.darkcaravancycle.com.
Be sure to check out all of the tour stops! You can find the full schedule here.
Get an exclusive hand-written letter from Josh when you order I’ll Meet You There before Valentine’s Day! Details on Heather’s blog!
Macmillan is giving away one finished copy of I’ll Meet You There! To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter below. All entrants must be at least 13 years or older. The giveaway is open to US/Canada only. Please see the full policy here. Good luck!