Twenty Boy Summer: Behind the Scenes

Are you writing a sequel to TWENTY BOY SUMMER?

This is by far the #1 question I hear from readers. I’m thrilled that so many of you loved TBS enough to want to follow the characters into a new adventure! When I wrote TBS, I never intended the story to continue into a second book. I tried to tell the story of Anna, Frankie, and Matt at the most important point of their shared story, and leave the rest to the imagination of the reader. I don’t currently have plans for a sequel, but I may revisit those characters again in the future — you never know! In the mean time, I hope that readers who enjoyed TBS will check out my new novels.

What inspired you to write TWENTY BOY SUMMER? Where did you get the idea?

I was inspired to write Twenty Boy Summer by my work with an organization that supports families whose loved ones have died and donated organs or tissues. Through their programs and events, I met so many teens who’d experienced the death of a sibling or friend, and their stories always stayed with me. When I started working on my first novel, I knew that I wanted to share a little bit of the love, loss, and hope I saw through their eyes.

I chose to do that by telling the story of two best friends struggling after the tragic and sudden death of someone they both loved very much. But I also wanted to show that life goes on, even when we don’t want it to — even when we don’t think it can. So in the book, while Anna and Frankie were trying to put their lives back together after the tragedy of losing Matt, they were also on summer vacation, which meant beaches, boys, makeup, best friend fights, sunsets, toes in the sand, and all of those every day things that keep going on around us, even when our hearts are broken. I just kept thinking about how those two things would come together — tragedy and life, heartbreak and hope, love and loss — and the story grew from there.

What is the symbolism of the ocean and the sea glass in TWENTY BOY SUMMER?

The connection with the ocean is paramount–the unending hugeness of it, and the way it’s just so ancient and unchanged, even through its own tumultuous-ness, even as everything else in our lives collapses and rebuilds, over and over.

The sea glass element grew along with the story, both from my own love of sea glass and because it’s just such a part of the ocean. In the story, Anna had never seen the ocean before her vacation with Frankie, but her friends would bring sea glass home for her in jars every summer after their trip.

For me, the sea glass in Twenty Boy Summer symbolizes both the ocean itself and the hearts of those impacted by the death in the book, shattered after tragedy, never again whole, but transformed over time and the unending ways of the universe into something that’s still beautiful and unique.

Legend says that pieces of sea glass are the tears of a lovesick mermaid who was banished to the bottom of the ocean by King Neptune after she fell in love with a sea captain. Anna relates to this story through her own unrequited, impossible love for Matt, so the sea glass ties into that as well. Readers will probably find other symbolic meanings throughout the story, but I don’t want to give too much away here! 😉

TWENTY BOY SUMMER deals with some heavy issues. How did you get those feelings into words?

I guess I’ve always been better at expressing my feelings through writing, so when it came time to write about the heavy emotions and issues in the book, it felt pretty natural. I’m the type of person who writes to get my feelings out and to work through issues, so during the novel writing process, I try to put myself in the heads and hearts of my characters and let it flow on to the page as if I was writing about my own pain or elation or confusion or whatever emotion I’m trying to convey in the scene.

How much of TWENTY BOY SUMMER is based on your real life?

Not as much as people think! I get this question all the time — often from friends and family who swear they recognize themselves in the characters or hear my voice as their reading Anna’s narrative. When I write about teens, of course I go back to my own teen years, remembering my best friends and first loves and all the crazy stuff that happens at that age. And from those memories, I take the essence, the feelings, the ups and downs, and use them to inspire the characters and their relationships and actions. Did I ever meet boys on summer vacation? Yes. But not exactly like Anna and Frankie. Did I ever lose someone I loved? Yes. But not a sibling or boyfriend. And I think that’s the point of good fiction — not to replay experiences exactly as they were, but to recreate their essence, that one bit of emotion or memory that all of us can remember and connect with. So no, TWENTY BOY SUMMER is not based on my life. It’s about love and loss and friendship and hope. In that way, it’s about *all* of our lives.

Is Zanzibar Bay, California (the setting of TBS) a real place?

Zanzibar Bay is not a real place on the map, but it’s based on memories of real places like it, including Myrtle Beach, SC, Ocean Beach, CA, Santa Cruz, CA, Martha’s Vineyard, MA, Long Beach, Canada, and other ocean beaches and seaside towns on the coasts. I really just wanted to capture the essence of a beach town, with a mix of tourists and locals, and the feeling of being with the ocean. I took the best parts of places I’ve visited throughout my life, stirred them up, and developed the setting for TWENTY BOY SUMMER.

Where can I listen to music by Helicopter Pilot, the girls’ favorite band in TBS?

Helicopter Pilot was a real band based in Buffalo, NY, for which my brother Scott was the drummer. Scott and each of his former band members — Joe, Jay, and Brandon — have cameo appearances as themselves in TBS. They were together for many years until about a month before TBS released, when they decided to go their separate ways musically. So, there isn’t a place for you to see or hear them perform, but I’ll let you know if they ever get back together!

Which character in TWENTY BOY SUMMER do you relate to most?

Definitely Anna. I was a lot like her when I was a teen — really smart and introspective, but shy and not all that confident, especially with boys. I had her quiet sarcasm, too. But I wasn’t as good at managing hyper-outgoing-borderline-obnoxious people like Frankie! Anna was so loyal to their friendship that even as Frankie changed after her brother’s death, Anna never really gave up hope that things could get better. I don’t know if I would have been as patient or as forgiving, but then, there are things about Frankie I relate to as well. The things she does for attention and love, even though they’re not the best choices — I get that, too.

Are you going to make TWENTY BOY SUMMER into a movie?

The process of turning a book into a movie is not something many authors are involved in, funny enough! When Little, Brown bought TWENTY BOY SUMMER, they actually bought the rights to it — meaning they can print and distribute it in English in the US and other countries. They also bought what’s called subsidiary rights — foreign translation, audio book, e-book, film and television, etc. So to make TBS into a movie, a film or entertainment company would need to negotiate with Little, Brown to buy the film option (meaning they are buying the option to make a film, but that doesn’t even mean that they will), and once that happens, there are many more steps involved, including but not limited to finding producers, directors, acting talent, a script writer, funding, and all sorts of legal negotiations. This is a really short explanation of a very long and complicated process with lots of lawyers and paperwork involved, but the bottom line is that as much as I would love to see Anna and Frankie on the big screen, it’s not something I can control. But if it does happen, I promise I’ll blog about it here, probably for like an entire year straight. 🙂