The Next Best Thing Q+A

The Next Best Thing is coming out tomorrow and, you guys, I'm feeling some kinda way about it.

Writing is a strange and wonderful career, and spending my time arranging 26 letters a thousand different ways until they become 300 pages of a novel is both an exciting and somewhat disturbing phenomenon. It's also unnerving to publish things I made up in my head and hope other people like said arrangement. But I do it, sanity be hanged, because I just can't help myself. So cheers to all you writers out there and cheers to us for being just crazy enough to think our words matter.

I get tons of questions from friends, family, and social media peeps alike about my books, as many authors do. What's it about? How long did it take you to write? Why young adult? Is there anything about you in there? Anything about me? So now seems like a pretty good time to answer the most common questions I get about my work. Read on for a fun little Q+A about The Next Best Thing, plus a few tidbits about the series as a whole.

(And don't forget to pick up your copy tomorrow!)

What's The Next Best Thing about?

The Next Best Thing is a story about grieving the loss of someone you love and grappling with the guilt about all the whys and hows and what-ifs. It's a story about how faith doesn't have to be perfect to be powerful and, most of all, how there is always, always hope for better things.

Why did you write a sequel (to The Best Kept Secret)?

Partially because (despite how pompous this sounds) people kept asking me to. I hadn't planned on it at all. In fact, I was ready to move on to other projects, but the more readers talked about it the more I started thinking writing a sequel would be a good idea. I know the ending of The Best Kept Secret was (purposefully) ambiguous and heartbreaking, and that left lots of people looking for a tidier ending to Emma's story. So, after a few weeks of mulling it over, The Next Best Thing was almost entirely mapped out in my head...and once it was there, I had to write it down.

Where did the title come from?

I won't give away what it means because you'll find that in the book, but my dear friend, Jennifer, is responsible for the title. In small group one night, I was asking for prayer about the book and how to proceed and we all started joking about how I was still calling it The Sequel. They knew I was having trouble coming up with a title. So Jennifer, in a sudden stroke of brilliance, suddenly said, "You should call it The Next Best Thing!" The phrase comes from something our mutual friend Mary Beth's mother says about moving forward when you aren't sure what to do next. It was the perfect choice.

How long did it take you to write the second book?

I started tinkering around with it in the fall of 2015, but really got started writing around this time last year. It took me about 4 solid months altogether—with breaks here and there in between—to write the initial draft.

Why did you decide to self-publish this time?

I wrote a whole blog post about that here.

Is there anything about you (or anyone you know) in your books?

I think I've answered this somewhere on the blog, too (Maybe in the FAQ? I can't remember...) but yes and no. Emma is so much like me. She's tall and she has a strong faith and she went to Georgia Southern. She also grew up in a small town. But, unlike Emma, I've never had to face the loss of someone so close to me the grief is all-consuming. I try to write what I know because that's what is 1) most authentic and 2) usually most well-written. I'm not saying writers can't create stories totally unlike their own because they do all the time and so many do it well...but within all good narratives is a piece of the author. A part of her or him that comes through in the characters and the story itself. I didn't try to make Emma like me, but she turned out that way because I wrote her. I'd certainly like to have more of her strength in terms of navigating the emotional mess of intimate relationships.

There are also pieces of dialogue or even scenes (like Emma's Valentine's Day date in The Next Best Thing) that are almost exact replicas from my own life. But no one in my books is a representative of anyone I know in real life.

Why did you write young/new adult novels?

Because I'm a 31-year old teenager? I don't know, really. I've heard it said before that while the body grows older, even people in their senior years still feel much like they did when they were eighteen. And the years I spent in college at GSU were probably the most formative of my life. I loved them, and I remember them in so much detail it can bring on waves of nostalgia that last for days. I connect with that age because it was such a happy time in my life, so perhaps I'm hoping to revisit it somehow.

Of course, I could just be making this all up. I'm not 100% sure.

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