Heather Demetrios And Emery Lord Interview Each Other About Their Smash Hit Novels, Romance, And The Power Of Friends
Nobody can call Heather Demetrios or Emery Lord the new women on the YA block anymore. Both writers had massive successes with their young adult debut novels last year, but neither is resting on one smash hit. Demetrios quickly followed up her debut Something Real with last fall's Exquisite Captive, and then she wasted no time in the new year publishing February's exceptional I'll Meet You There and setting up her Exquisite Captive sequel Blood Passage for this fall. For everyone at home keeping count, that's four books in two years.
Emery Lord dominated conversation in young adult lit last year with her on-the-road story of two best friends, one of whom happens to be a country superstar, in Open Road Summer . So all eyes are on her release this month, the swoony romance in The Start of Me and You — and trust me, it lives up to the hype.
Both Lord and Demetrios are often discussed in the same breath, having made huge waves with their debut YA books and then hitting everyone with a sophomore novel before anyone could even think of making a one-hit wonder remark. Both women write remarkably real characters and relationships, people that feel like the friends and family you know. So it makes complete sense that Lord and Demetrios would want to interview each other, about their books, about their writing careers, about relationships, and about the bonds of friendship. Oh, and of course, what Hogwarts houses they should be sorted into.
Emery Lord: Hi Heather! I'm so glad we're doing this! I've read and loved your books, so I'm excited to talk more about some of the threads I think we both tug at as writers. (I would also like to talk about how prolific you are because HOW? Nevermind, don't answer that. I'm going to assume you have a time-turner. Tell McGonagall I said what's up.)
So, our first books — Something Real and Open Road Summer — both feature a young girl existing in the media/public eye and the struggles that come with that. What sparked that examination of the inner workings of celebrity for you?
Heather Demetrios: Emery! First, it is downright uncanny how often people talk about our books in the same breath. I'm so excited to chat and find out what makes you tick.
So — Something Real and Open Road Summer. They're kind of besties at this point, right? Chloe from SR and Reagan and Lilah from ORS would totally hit it off, so I have high hopes for us. By the way, McGonagall sends her regards. As to your question about the inner working of celebrity: I'm originally from Los Angeles, so celeb culture has always been a part of my life. You can't really live there and not breathe in that star-obsessed air. I wanted to write about the dark side of fame because we live in an increasingly unhealthy culture of celebrity, especially with "reality" TV (I use these quotes on purpose) and social media. Everybody wants their 15 minutes. I wanted to get my readers thinking about what we give up when we get those 15 minutes. I think something important and intangible gets taken away when the cameras are on you like they are for Chloe and her family. It's that idea that some cultures have, where if someone takes a picture of you, they're taking a part of your soul.
I was watching these kids on reality TV — like the "John and Kate Plus Eight" kids or the Duggars — and thinking: They aren't of an age to really consent to what's happening to them. They don't have a choice to save what's being taken away. In hanging out with Chloe and discovering what her family's reality show was doing to her, I hope readers will begin to question what we as a society consider entertainment. It's not the Coliseum, but it's scary enough.
Now, I've got a question for you about this thread of stardom we've both tugged on. As an author, you're now in the public eye. Obviously you're not a country superstar like Reagan (yet), but having now survived your debut year and written about a young celebrity, how do you keep yourself grounded? Reagan's got a best friend and a supportive family and these things seem to anchor her. How do you balance being Emery Lord, Author and being the Emery Lord your family and friends know and love? (Side note: I want your name — it's absolutely gorgeous and unique. I'm sneaking in an extra question: Where does the name Emery come from?)
Emery: I guess I would have to say that I love writing so much, but I'm trying try to live in a way that, if writing wasn't a part of it, my life would still feel full and good to me. If I'm being brutally honest with myself, it's easy to let my other roles (wife, friend, daughter, sister, aunt, volunteer, dog mom, even just "self") dip particularly when I'm on deadline, and I'm on deadline pretty often. So I'm making an effort to be intentional about "clocking out": no "just one more" paragraph, no e-mail, no Twitter.
And as for the name Emery, it was actually a popular man's name in the early 1900s! I think it's starting to become more popular for girls, though! I even saw it as a character name recently. Bring it back, world! ;)
OK, next up! Your books have such a strong sense of place! In I'll Meet You There, the town of Creek View rang so true, and the Paradise was such a wonderful focus point. How do you decide on, research, and form setting?
Heather: Oh, man, I totally hear what you're saying about being intentional about how you balance your life. I like your idea of clocking out. With writing, it's so easy to become a workaholic.
OK: setting. It's not surprising to me that my books often have settings that become characters themselves because I'm a total travel junkie. Place is super important for me personally. I'm very affected by my surroundings: creatively, emotionally, spiritually. What's funny to me is that even though I've been to so many places, Creek View is based on towns I drove by again and again growing up in California. I'm from LA, but then we moved to Fresno in Central Cali and so we often made that drive down the 99 to visit my family in LA. In many ways, I start with place when I begin a new book because place has such inherent emotional resonance and does double duty by reflecting your characters' internal lives.
I'm very affected by my surroundings: creatively, emotionally, spiritually. —Heather Demetrios
I have two works in progress right now: one is set in a fictional Gotham kind of city and one is set in New Orleans. In both cases, those settings are shaping the plot, the characters that come to me, the tone, the emotional through lines. I research setting by traveling, naturally! I'm planning to rent an apartment in New Orleans for a month or so (in the French Quarter) as soon as I get a chance; I've been there, but I want to really spend time there and work on the book. My next book, Blood Passage, comes out in September and I traveled to Morocco for that one. I also collage, just like Skyler in I'll Meet You There. I worked on the book with Rita Williams Garcia, who is one of my mentors, and she suggested I do that. I made one of the creek that really informed one of the (ahem) kissing scenes.
This is a nice segue to ROMANCE! I fell so hard (So. Hard) for Max in The Start of Me and You. You're so good at the tension that makes romance so much fun to read. When you sat down to write this book, did you have specific goals for the romance or did it just happen organically? Also: MAX. Did I mention Max???
Emery: Well, thanks! I'd say that Paige and Max's voices were fairly organic. But once I had them down as individuals, my goal became to fully commit to the awkward realism of some high school relationships. I wanted to write a genuine friendship that slowly, fumblingly becomes something more, taking a while to realize there's a glimmer there, then circling each other, talking more to your friends than to that person. And, as fun as it is to write couples whose differences clash to make sparks, I wanted to see two people who relaxed into their true selves easily — almost helplessly — when together.
As I'm shaping relationship dynamics, another goal is always: How can I show what the characters are getting from each other that they lacked before? In Paige's case, she's struggling to define who she is after a life-altering event. And Max Watson may not be suave or alpha male, but he sure as hell knows who he is. For Max, he finds a person who speaks his language, who is introverted but social, witty but never in a way that is unkind, who is interested in different things than he is but with the same fervor. I find that goal usually plays out organically if I've developed my voices/characters with enough dimension.
As fun as it is to write couples whose differences clash to make sparks, I wanted to see two people who relaxed into their true selves easily — almost helplessly — when together. —Emery Lord
So speaking of voices, I'll Meet You There has TWO incredible narrative voices. Was that your original plan — to have both voices present? Or did you realize at a certain point that Josh's POV would add a vital, interesting piece to this story? How did you shape each voice and finesse such distinction between them?
Heather: Once I nailed down what the story was, it became very clear from the beginning that I needed both Josh and Sky's voices in order to fully tell their story. Their voices, like yours, came organically. I was shocked that I was able to slip into Josh's skin so easily. What helped most with him were the interviews I did with Marines and soldiers who had deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq. There's a certain way they look at the world and there's often an interesting balance between deep insight and salty language. That dichotomy has always fascinated me, especially with Marines. One minute it's eff-this, eff-that and the next is a startling observation about the world. Gets me every time.
For Sky, it was a matter of seeing the world as she does — with the eyes of an artist, specifically, a collage artist. Her sections were easier because they're more like my own voice, but with Josh, I had to look at his sections as prose poems. The whole book was a labor of love, Josh especially. For me, it comes down to knowing your character inside and out, getting into the trenches with them and staying there until the bombs stop falling.
Now, let's talk friendship. You are so, so good at crafting relationships between girls that are true to life. Some of my favorite parts of The Start of Me and You are when Paige is hanging with her besties. I have two BFFs and you totally brought me back to high school and how we supported one another and the complicated dynamics when you have a group. (Side note: in Something Real, one of my protagonist's BFF's name is Tessa, too!). Which relationship is more important to you when writing: the romance or the friendships? Or do they have equal value? In YA, both are key, I think.
Emery: Romance and friendships (and family dynamics!) have equal value to me in terms of how much I invest in developing them. In the books I've written so far, the romance tends to be the relationship that is new or changing for the MC. So that can feel more dynamic? But the friendships are the strongholds, and that's how high school was for me: my girlfriends were my every day, my foundation. (I actually started dating my now-husband in high school, but it was still all about my friends!) Dating people was fun or heartbreaking or even serious, but my friends are one of the great love stories of my life. So whether or not anyone thinks my fictional couples wind up together, I hope it's clear that my girlfriends are in it for the long haul.
Dating people was fun or heartbreaking or even serious, but my friends are one of the great love stories of my life. —Emery Lord
On a similar topic, you've got some wonderful secondary characters in your books! Chris and Dylan and Marge! A small army of siblings and friends in Something Real! How do you develop secondary characters? Do they come to you pretty well-formed or do you draw them out based on supporting the MC throughout their arc?
Heather: Yes to girlfriends being in it for the long haul! My friends were super-important in my high school life, too. I don't know what I would have done without them. Probably shriveled up and died.
My secondary characters often come to me much more nuanced and developed than my protagonist initially does. Protos take a lot of excavation for me. I love the way you break down your books. I get a sense that you've got a wonderful cohesive whole, with everything in its right place. For me, I sort of stumble through it during the first draft and the themes and the way the secondary characters aid the proto rise to the surface. So, the book schools me, not the other way around.
In I'll Meet You There, it was so cool to see the way Dylan and Josh lead Sky to realizing some important things about herself, and how her relationship with Chris grounds her in the pursuit of her dreams. Marge is there to help pick up the pieces and be the support Sky lacks at home. I often find my secondary characters are my favorites. I adore Benny from Something Real and, even though he's evil, Malek from Exquisite Captive. I just love boys, I guess!
OK now, the Lightning Round!
Emery's Questions for Heather!
Most important writing snack: Chocolate
If you could meet one literary character in person, it would be: Dumbledore
What's your patronus?: A lynx
You could trade brains with another writer for one day. Whose WIP would you want to get a look at/have their brain troubleshooting yours for 24 hours?: Sarah J. Maas
I'm always interested in what other kind of art writers connect with. Do you have a favorite film or painting? Favorite film is Love Actually and favorite painting is a tie between Starry Night and Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair and Picasso's Woman Ironing.
Heather’s questions for Emery!
Favorite poet: Warsan Shire
Favorite dog breed: Rescue mutts (I have a spaniel-ish & beagle-y boys ;) )
Favorite writing ritual: My playlists
The book you wish you'd written: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
What house you'd be sorted into: OK, I just took a quiz (for the first time!), and it said Gryffindor. But I would have said Ravenclaw! P.S.: I'm sitting here in a coffee shop with two writer friends and now we're ALL taking Hogwarts House quizzes instead of writing. Oops! Typical.
Images: Courtesy of Macmillan and Bloomsbury, Giphy