DIE FOR YOU: The Story behind the Story

September 14, 2016 Leave your thoughts

In less than two months, Die for You, my 4th novel for teens will be out in the world. To have published four novels is kind of amazing when you consider there was about thirty years between my first rejection letter and my first sale. People ask me if it gets easier after the first book. If there’s a formula to it and once you have that down, then it’s simple to write the next one.

It’s easier to stick thumbtacks in my eyeballs than write a new novel.

No, there is no formula. And no it doesn’t get easier because you always, as a writer, want to get better.  The only thing I know for certain is that every book is different. Every story comes in its own way and its own time. Die for You is a perfect example of that.

Nothing about this book happened in the normal way. First of all, I usually see books in words…or at least that’s where I start. With words.
With a character who begins to ramble in my head.
Who tells me about something she wants. Something she can’t get or is afraid she doesn’t deserve.
With her voice comes an image of who she is and then slowly the blurred background of her life begins to come into focus.

But this book came to me in an image.

Even more unusual, it came to me in one, sharply-clear moment. That never happens to me. Usually an idea forms so slowly over a period of days or weeks and I can’t pinpoint a moment when it began. With this book, I can.

It was July 2nd, 2014. I was at our cabin in the mountains, hoping for some inspiration. I’d been working for months on two separate novels and both I had to abandon because the stories just weren’t working. I was beginning to think I would never write another novel.

And then an image flashed in my head.  A picture so real I felt like I was there.

A campfire at night. Out in the Arizona desert with the moon overhead and a group of friends sitting on blankets around the orange flames. Seven of them. Three couples and Jace. I knew his name. Knew he had a story to tell of why he was there…why he was alone.

There were two other couples who were together but not committed.

And then there was Dillon and Emma.

Dillon had a log behind him as a backrest and Emma sat in the vee of his spread legs. I saw the shine of his black hair in the firelight and the kind of features that marked him as handsome at a time when other boys were awkward. And Emma—she’s pretty enough. Maybe shy with her face down or maybe just safe in Dillon’s arms. There’s something fragile about her.  Or maybe it’s just that Dillon seems so strong. So certain.

The talk around the fire turns to the future. To graduation and the separate paths their lives will take. And then Dillon says he and Emma will never be apart. That he would rather die than lose her.

Emma feels his arms tighten around her and thinks it’s romantic. Sweet. She loves Dillon, too. But she doesn’t see the whiteness of his jaw. The look in his eyes that is part fear and part something else. Something not right.

Jace sees it.

At that point, I ran for my notebook and I actually sketched the scene out with stick people because that’s the limit of my abilities. But I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget. The scene felt so alive to me.

And then I began to write.

Slowly the story unfolded—this perfect couple, perfectly in love. And then Emma’s chance to study abroad and Dillon’s words suddenly not just words. He really can’t let her go. He would never hurt her—he loves her too much—but what if he were to hurt himself?  

At that point, I knew that this idea had been living somewhere in my brain for over twenty years. That’s how long it had been since I’d asked a woman why she’d ended up with her husband and she shocked me by saying he’d threatened to kill himself if she ever left. And she believed him. 

Die for You led me to a lot of research about relationship abuse. And not just physical abuse—emotional abuse. Guilt and manipulation. Obsession and jealousy.

The kind of abuse that can look like love.

That first scene I saw so clearly never made it into the book. That’s the crazy thing about writing. The other couples around the fire disappeared like the smoke. But Emma stayed. Dillon stayed. And Jace.

And that’s the story I’m unbelievably happy I get to introduce to the world on November 8th. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t typical. But I hope you’ll love it as much as I do.

A Gift with Pre-Order is in the works! Check back for details in the next few weeks.

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