Amber Smith on the inspiration behind her new YA novel, The Way I Am Now

"I wanted to show what healing and love and justice can look like through the lens of this relationship, between these two people who each have known their own traumas."

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This post was written by Amber Smith, author of The Way I Am Now.

For me, writing is not just what I do for a living but it’s how I live. It’s how I practice self-care. How I process my life and the world around me. When I go more than a few days without writing, I feel it. I get anxious and depressed, wired and exhausted, all at the same time. Writing is what clears the clutter from my mind and makes me feel like…well, me.

So, I’ve come to trust the creative process through the years. I’ve had to. But writing The Way I Am Now (the sequel to The Way I Used to Be) was such a different experience from any of my other books. Usually, there’s a tiny spark somewhere that ignites the story; a vague idea for a character or a line that sticks in my head, and I build out a story from that kernel of inspiration. But writing this book was almost the opposite.

It had so many fits and starts. Every time I was between books, I would return to this nebulous file on my computer I’d titled “Sequel Ideas.” I knew these characters already, I understood them, their pasts and motivations, their fears and hopes. And in some ways, that made it harder to narrow down what the sequel was supposed to be about. I had a whole bank of knowledge that I was drawing from—both in my mind and in previous drafts of the first book that no one had ever seen—so much more than what was contained in the finished pages of The Way I Used to Be.

I thought for sure the spark had to be in there somewhere.

But it wasn’t.

I kept writing myself in circles until I started paying closer attention to what the readers of The Way I Used to Be were saying. For years, they’d been asking me the same questions over and over: What happens next? Will Eden get justice? Will she ever have a second chance with Josh? I took them to heart and realized those questions, from readers who also knew these characters in their own ways, were my spark…the inspiration I had been chasing for years.

 

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Once I realized this, the book flowed so easily. Anytime I got lost, I returned to those questions, and built the story around answering them.

Together, this duology encompasses about five years of Eden’s life, a young woman who struggles to find strength and justice in the aftermath of a sexual assault that happened when she was fourteen years old. The first book follows Eden through all four years of high school as she learns to embrace her power and find the courage to use her voice. The sequel is about what to do with your voice after you’ve found it. It picks up as Eden is starting college and reconnects with her ex-boyfriend, Josh, the one person she always trusted, even in the darkest moments.

One of the big revelations Eden has in the first book happens at a moment near the end when she realizes: “This thing, it touches everyone.” What happened to her, not only her rape, but the fallout, the years of pain and silence, her secrets, and ultimately, her truth, also impacted those who cared about her the most. I had this line in mind when I decided to write The Way I Am Now from the alternating points of view of both Eden and Josh. I wanted to show what healing and love and justice can look like through the lens of this relationship, between these two people who each have known their own traumas.

What I find so fascinating is the way this whole writing process ended up mirroring a lot of what Eden and Josh learn in The Way I Am Now—it’s about love, letting people in, and trusting that you’re not alone. That’s what it felt like when I finally listened to what readers had been telling me all along. I trusted they knew Eden as well as I did, and they knew what this sequel was supposed to be about.

I dedicated the first book “To You,” to any you who needed Eden’s story, but The Way I Am Now is “For us” because I’ve come to think of it as not just my sequel, but in many ways, ours. Mine and the readers’ collective story. In truth, I couldn’t have written it all by myself.

I know; I tried.

Get your copy of The Way I Am Now by Amber Smith here.

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