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Interview: November 6, 2018

A poignant novel about a girl trying to save her home from foreclosure by selling her father's most prized possession, Jessica Brody's latest contemporary romance THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOST THINGS came out in October. When Ali Collins her estranged father passes away and leaves her his 1968 Firebird convertible, Ali knows she won’t keep it. It reminds her too much of all her father’s unfulfilled promises and a buyer is offering enough money for her to save her childhood home from foreclosure, but Ali has no idea how to drive a stick shift. But her ex-boyfriend, Nico, does. The road trip gets off to a horrible start, but when Nico starts collecting items from the strangers they meet along the way, Ali starts to sense that these objects aren’t random. Somehow they seem to be leading her to an unknown truth about her father. A truth that will finally prove to Ali that some things --- even broken things --- are worth saving. Teen Board member Becky N. talked to Jessica about her new release, from its gorgeous Pacific Northwest settings to the romance and even her next projects. Read on to learn more about her lovely book and writing process.


Teenreads.com: What inspired you to write THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOST THINGS?

Jessica Brody: I recently found a box of some of my old stuff from high school and in it was stacks and stacks of printed emails between me and my high school boyfriend. Apparently, I kept every single one AND felt the need to print them??? Anyway, in reading back through, I was surprised to see how deep our connection seemed to be. It made me start to think about a) where is he now? and b) where do those feelings go after the relationship is over? And that’s when I realized that I’d written tons of novels about people getting into a relationship but I’d never written a novel about what happens after a relationship is over. That realization eventually turned into THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOST THINGS.

TRC: Have you visited all the places mentioned in THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOST THINGS? Some of the locations are significant in furthering the plot, like Glass Beach and Brookings, Oregon. Did you plan the plot around the locations or did the locations and plot just happen to work together?

JB: Yes! Soon after I realized I wanted to write a book about two exes who get stuck on a road trip together (AWKWARD!) came the challenge of figuring out: Where does that road trip take place? My editor and I were discussing my ideas for the book and she said she’d always wanted take a road trip up the California and Oregon coast, from San Francisco to Seattle. I’d never taken that trip either so I decided it was the perfect setting for the book and the perfect excuse to take a research trip! My husband and I drove the very route Ali and Nico take in the book…including even the unexpected road closure outside of Fort Bragg (in fact, that’s what inspired that scene!) And it was sitting on Glass Beach where I came up with the scene that actually happens there in the book. So yes, some of the scenes were inspired by the actual locations in which they take place and some scenes I just knew I really wanted to write and I had to place them a bit more randomly. Regardless it was a super fun road trip and now I have this book to commemorate it with. Although, confession --- I sometimes confuse fact and fiction and have to ask my husband: “Wait, did that happen to us or Ali and Nico?” 

TRC: There’s a band that plays an important role in Ali’s life called Fear Epidemic. Are there any bands/musicians that are as meaningful to you as Fear Epidemic is to Ali’s dad? Where did the inspiration for Fear Epidemic’s song lyrics come from?

JB: Fear Epidemic was an experiment for me. I was a teenager in the era of grunge and post-grunge rock but I was not a fan. Those genres never appealed to me. I’ve always preferred lighter, more “poppy” music. (Like Ali in the book!) When I set out to write THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOST THINGS, I knew I wanted a big part of the story to center around a fictional band and I felt like a grunge band would just fit the plot better. So I challenged myself to “fall in love with” grunge and post-grunge music in the process of writing this book. For a few months, I immersed myself with nothing but Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and others. It was hard, but eventually --- like Ali does in the book --- I came to appreciate the music. I don’t think I’ll ever claim it as a favorite, but I wanted to go through a similar experience to Ali, finding something to love about that music, which as you know, in the book, is symbolic of finding something to love about her father.

The Fear Epidemic lyrics came from a few places actually. Before I became an author, I had a very short-lived and highly unsuccessful “career” as a singer/songwriter (if you can even call it a career, which I certainly wouldn’t!) Some of the Fear Epidemic lyrics in the book came from my old book of song lyrics that I had written back in my singer/songwriter days (updated a bit, of course!) and one of the songs --- “Nearly a Saint” --- was actually “loaned” to me by a fellow author and good friend, Len Vlahos. He was in a punk band in the 80s and still writes amazing music. I went to him for help when creating my fictional band, Fear Epidemic, and he offered to lend me some of his lyrics for the book. When I told him I was writing a story about a girl whose father is constantly in and out of her life, he showed me the lyrics for "Nearly a Saint." I read the line, “Run away, hide away, sneak away, there’s got to be a better way to face each day” and instantly got chills. They were just too perfect not to use. 

TRC: Is there anyone in real life who inspired Nico? Do you have any exes that you’d be willing to roadtrip with?

JB: Haha! Nico is probably an amalgamation of many exes from my past. Probably not a specific one. He definitely gets his good natured “helper” personality (and his love of black coffee) from my husband though! And I’m actually still friends with many exes, so yeah, I’d probably road trip with one of them…or maybe a few! Oh God…a road trip with multiple exes in the car??? I think I’m getting an idea for a sequel…

TRC: The message of THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOST THINGS is about forgiveness. Is this advice you would have liked to give a younger you?

JB: I think we can all stand to forgive someone from our past, even if it’s ourselves. That would be a good message for my younger self (and maybe my current self???) Don’t be so hard on yourself, Jessica. People make mistakes. It’s okay. 

TRC: I’ve also read and enjoyed THE CHAOS OF STANDING STILL, another one of your books. In both books, the main character has an adventure that changes her outlook on life. Have you had any adventures like this, or do you crave a similarly fantastical event happening to you?

JB: Thank you!!! I don’t think I’ve ever had an adventure that was quite as metaphorical or life-altering as THE CHAOS OF STANDING STILL and THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOST THINGS. But I teach novel writing to authors and one of the things I teach is that “every novel you write should be the story of the most important thing to ever happen to that character.” Meaning, novels should be life changing, at least to the character. Otherwise what’s the point of that particular story? So I try to make sure my novels follow that rule and are as outlook-changing as possible. 

TRC: THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOST THINGS is not a small book, being over 400 pages long. How did you tackle writing it? 

JB: Haha. I think my editor would have liked it to be shorter! We did struggle with length with this one and I did end up cutting a LOT in the process. Mostly more flashbacks about Nico and Ali’s relationship. But now, looking back, I see they were good cuts. Most of the stuff I cut was in some way represented in another scene. I’d never written a road trip book before this one and I quickly discovered how complicated it is to write and plot. When you have a journey that has to take you literally from A to B, there’s a fine balancing act between making sure the reader is getting enough of the journey to feel like they went on the road trip with the characters but not enough where they actually feel like they’re trapped in a car for hours on end with an ex. ;) 

TRC: Nico and Ali meet an author during their travels, one with many ideas being generated all the time that don’t make it into further drafts. Was that author inspired by your own writing process?

JB: How very shrewd of you! Haha. Actually, yes!!!!

Emily Sweeney wasn’t actually added to the story until a much later stage of the book, after my editor and I had done several revisions on the novel. This book probably required more revisions than any of my other books (see answer above about the fine balancing act!) So I put in Emily Sweeney (an author whose book is due in two weeks and she hasn’t started writing it yet!) as sort of a joke for my editor. It was a little nod to the writing process of this particular novel, how far past the deadline it was and how that was affecting my psyche. 

TRC: Can you tell us what you are working on now?

JB: YES YES YES!!!! So in March 2019 I have something very new and different and exciting coming out called SKY WITHOUT STARS. It’s the first installment in a trilogy that is a sci-fi retelling of LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo! I call it “Les Mis in space!” I’m co-writing the series with a good friend named Joanne Rendell and we are currently working on book 2 in the series, BETWEEN BURNING WORLDS, which will be released March 2020! I can’t wait for you all to read the series!!!