I’m sure it’s true that if you spend enough time with a writer, you’ll eventually show up in their work. When I look back on my own small body of work, I see reflections of so many people in my life, so many of their stories, and our stories. It’s such a gratifying and wonderful thing to be able to capture moments in this way, and to be reminded of them as I look back on the things I’ve written. In Ripple Effects, one of my favorite scenes shows Danny and Sarah sitting in bed, each with a pair of binoculars, watching a spider spin a web on the wall across the room. The inspiration for that goofy little scene came from doing exactly that with my, then, eleven-year-old daughter. It was one of those parenting moments that seemed small and insignificant at the time, but continues to reveal its enormous gift, as I look up from my life and realize that my daughter is now fifteen and no longer that little girl who’s into bugs. She’s still endlessly entertaining and amazing, but that tiny moment remains more precious to me than all the gold in the world.
Of all of my books, Aftereffects most baldly tells these stories. It was the most arduous book to write—probably because of how close it hit to home, and therefore, how high the bar was set for me to get it right. And in exactly the same way, it was the most gratifying.
I tend to write the stories I need to tell, rather than the stories that are the most commercial at the time. I realize that puts me not exactly in vogue, but I also think there are a lot of us out there who want to see our experiences reflected in real ways. Life isn’t always pretty, is it? But it’s beautiful. And it’s inspiring. And I think if we can let go of what we think it’s supposed to be like and just realize that we’re all a little fragile, a little damaged, a little vulnerable, maybe we’ll be able to be gentler with ourselves and with each other. Maybe we can be as amazed as Danny and as open as Jamie and as tender as Keir. Maybe we can be as brave as Sarah and as ballsy as Mel and as compassionate as Selene. Maybe we can love each other up a little more today. Sound good?
I remember clearly the day I met them. I was driving to work on the 101 freeway and listening to a song on the radio. It triggered a musing that lasted for most of the rest of my drive (which was long, for those of you who are familiar with Bay area traffic!), and if I’m being honest, for the better part of the next three years.
It is from this musing that I first ‘met’ Danny and Sarah. They seemed to take on a life of their own in such a natural and organic way that, although they are completely fictional, they and their circle have always felt very three-dimensional to me. They are all imperfect people, but their imperfections are what I love. Their imperfections make them real. I might see Danny at a gas station or in the produce section of the grocery store. Sarah might be in the grocery store too, but I’d probably find her in the breakfast isle, as she shares my penchant for cereal as breakfast, lunch or dinner. They are not perfect, but they are perfect together.
For a long time, I resisted writing them down because I loved to create and re-create their story in fine detail, and with impunity for any liberties I took. But, as I often hear authors say, eventually, these characters demanded to be written down – to be let out. Writing them, to me, means letting them go – giving them away to you, the reader. It means letting you fill in their gaps, extend their experiences, imagine new scenarios and conversations. In your mind, you get to decide what they look like and how their voices sound. And you get to change and improve them so that their story is perfect for you.
I think I’m finally ready for you to do that. So go for it! I don’t mind. Really...
Sound Effects, Jamie and Mel’s story, was sort of an accidental one. Over the course of writing Ripple Effects, I absolutely fell in love with this couple. I couldn’t not write their story. But I had two challenges: First, I had to go back 12 years because by the time we meet them in Ripple Effects, they are long married and have two kids. Thus, 2004.
My first inclination was to write Sound Effects in such a way that it could take place any time. That meant no texting, no iPhones, no markers of any kind that would tie the story to a certain time.
But as I began researching the music industry, I realized that 2004 was an incredibly interesting year for music. The iTunes Music Store (now just iTunes) was dragging the music industry kicking and screaming into the digital age of downloadable singles. Its profound impact on the industry cannot be overstated. It was also the year that 360-contracts were taking hold. These were recording contracts that aimed to make up for the revenue lost by a sharp decline in album sales by charging back to the artist every conceivable cost. They were really a nightmare for artists then, and remain so today. And finally, 2004 was the year that MySpace was officially launched. Few may recall that music industry veterans created MySpace as a way to connect artists directly with fans. It became much more than that, but its influence on the music industry was significant.
So how could I not take advantage of this incredibly interesting time in music history? I had to. But it is worth noting that Sound Effects is not a novel about the music industry in 2004. It is a romance novel, first and foremost. And thus, the character arcs take precedence over everything else. I loved the scenes that pertained to the record industry, but the real essence for me was how the events of the book shaped each character’s growth, and their growth as a couple.
The second challenge was that Jamie is Irish. Curse my wild imagination while dreaming up Ripple Effects, and curse my inherent loyalty to an idea once it pops into my head!
For more experienced writers, his Irishness would be no problem. For me–I’m going to be honest here–it was intimidating. And yet, after listening to and reading countless interviews of native Irish speakers, Jamie’s voice came easily–maybe more easily than any character I’ve ever written. He’s a honey, for sure. Did I take liberties? Absolutely. And any inaccuracies are completely on me. But I wanted to make Jamie as authentic as possible, and also give him a voice that was distinct.
Now, let’s not forget Mel. She was a little easier for me because we share a great love of music and an absolute lack of talent for creating it. And like Mel, I’m a sucker for a good sale. But Mel is a strong heroine with her own vulnerabilities that I think many of us would relate to. I certainly did. And because of that, she will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Finally, I want to say this: as an author, you have a crossover point with every character you create that resonates (or stings, as it may be) with something very real in your own life. That’s what makes a character feel real, rather than cartoonish. This book has many of those points for me. But as wonderfully enjoyable and cathartic as it has been to write Sound Effects, sharing it with others just multiplies the effect. And I’m grateful beyond words for the opportunity to do so.
So, once again, I thank you for welcoming these characters into your lives. Reading is something we do because we want to, and it is my joy and my honor that you have allowed me me a part of your ‘me time.’ I don’t take that gift lightly.
As Jamie would say, you’re magic.