Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.
This is the tenth post in the series. The author is Lisa Burstein and the book is Again.
Me: Lisa, please tell my readers about your book in your own words.
Lisa: I've written before about my experience being sexually assaulted by my ex-boyfriend when I was seventeen years old. You can see a post about that here. But response is about something else. This is not about me, or the boy who raped me, this is about the boy who watched.
The boy who saw what was happening right in front of him and left.
The boy I considered a friend who saw me being assaulted and chose to do nothing.
The boy who made me wonder what he did with his guilt.
It was this boy who made me want to write Carter as a character who does the same thing. In Again, Carter witnesses a sexual assault about to occur at his fraternity during his freshman year, but does nothing to stop it. He leaves. He doesn't know the girl his brothers are going to assault, but the guilt he feels is immense, intense and cripples him for years after.
How would you react in a similar situation? How would I have reacted?
If you have a friend who you see needs help; you help, right?
Or is it more complicated than that when it involves sexual assault, especially when you are a guy? When maybe it seems easier to stay out of it, or ignore it.
I’ve thought about this a lot.
For years I've wondered how my friend felt after walking away from me that night.
What he did with what must have been the gnawing feeling in his gut as he walked away? If he could go back would he have done things differently?
With Carter and Again, I've fictionally given him a second chance.
Additionally, I’ve always wanted to write about someone who truly rewrites their life. Who sees no other option but to literally go back in time. I think that wish is something we all have sometimes. It was enlightening to travel to that place with Kate. I got the idea for Again from my own feelings about turning 30.
Who was I? What had the choices I'd made turned me into? What the hell was I doing with my life?
Kate in Again feels like her whole life has been a series of bad decisions. The only way to fix them is to go back and make new ones.
I found this idea so appealing. If I had the option to go back to college and make different decisions knowing what I know now, would I make better ones?
Me: Many of my readers might not be familiar with the genre NA, or New Adult. It's fairly new on the scene, and might not be all that well understood. Will you please bring us all up to speed?
Lisa: New Adult is a genre that has come about in the last couple of years. It consists of characters that are not Young Adult, but not Adults yet either. Usually it includes characters that are between 19-25. In Again, I wanted to combine this genre with the contemporary romance genre so I decided to make my protagonist a 29 year old who pretends to be 19. She is "acting" like a new adult even though she should be an adult.
Me: As I began to read, I noticed that the structure of the book had a lot in common with the romance genre, in that the love interest is right there in the first scene, clearly setting up the goal of what's important here. This is not an insult, or even a judgment in any way. Clearly, if it's a type of romance, it's a very modern take on the genre. Maybe you could tell us in your own words how you think they are similar, how you think they are different.
Lisa: New Adult is different from a typical contemporary romance in the fact that new adults are not only dealing with their romantic relationships but also with trying to figure out their place in the world, who they really are, without the safety net of parents. You are over eighteen and out on your own. In Again specifically, Kate at 29 is completely unhappy in her place in the world and who she is. This is why she goes back and tries to live her life over "again" by pretending to be 19.
Me: I was interested in the fact that your main character struggled with alcoholism. Probably because I’m an alcoholic with 25 years of recovery. At first she tried to go it alone. She mentioned rehab, and mentioned AA once. I know you wanted us to see her struggle, but I wonder if there’s a reason why she didn’t use the AA program as her life resolved itself. Did you feel that the target audience would not be open to 12-step programs, or not see them in a positive light? Or is it just something that is foreign to you as the author as well? Was any research involved in capturing the feelings of an alcoholic (which, by the way, I think you did well)?
Lisa: I have struggled with alcohol abuse as well. I have gone for treatment, but never AA or rehab. I guess I saw Kate as someone who would try to fix herself before she asked for help. It was about who she was as a person. She is extremely immature for her age and believes she has control over something that in many ways is uncontrollable-- alcoholism. I am certainly not against anything that helps a person deal with their issues. I wanted to write a book about someone who thinks she can go it alone and realizes her addictions are stronger than she knows.
Me: Based on your original description of why you wrote this book… well, many things come to mind. That it’s brave. That I can understand how our struggles to understand the behavior of others can turn into novels. But my question is this. We’re all people at some level. All human no matter how badly we behave. And yet not everyone who commits an act like this feels deep remorse. Which do you think is worse? To feel there are people in the world who are inherently “bad”? Or to know that basically decent people can do terrible things?
Lisa: I think it’s far worse to see people as inherently bad. It was why I wrote Carter the way I did. I think everyone has to have at least some good in them, some part of them that feels guilt for doing anything that hurts someone else. I might have rose-colored glasses on here, but I guess making Carter someone who felt the impact of what he did so deeply, helped me come to terms with what my friend did to me. He might not have struggled with it the same way Carter did, but working through that guilt with Carter allowed me to finally forgive my friend.
Me: You made a reference to sexual attraction as being “another kind of addiction,” but it didn’t seem to come up again, at least not so clearly. This is a book that very much concerns itself with sex. How much do you think sex and love can become confused, or used addictively, in people of this age? And how much of that felt important in the writing of this book?
Lisa: I think in your twenties sex and love are sometimes the same thing. I think both women and men can become caught up in that aspect of a relationship where it becomes all that matters. How they define themselves, how they wield power, how they feel. Before Kate meets Carter it is one of the main ways she defines herself, as a sexual being. That is not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, but throughout the book she learns that sex can mean more than just sex.
Me: In my older books, I have some adult material, some brief sex that is described in a relatively detailed way. And all of my books include some level of what people call “language.” And I’m surprised by how much grief I get about it in user reviews. There are people who write that they never would have read a book if they had known it contained “swearing.” As the author of a book with a fair amount of sex and language, do you get negative feedback from some readers? Or is this a difference in our two audiences?
Lisa: I usually don’t get grief for this. I think in romance and New Adult specifically people expect a certain level of language and sex. I have a Young Adult book titled Dear Cassie that has over 200 mentions of the F word. Perhaps we have different audiences. ;)
Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.
Lisa: What do you hope readers get from Again?
I hope they find that any mistake you make isn’t too big to forgive yourself, once you come to a place to accept that forgiveness.
Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She is the author of Pretty Amy, The Next Forever, Dear Cassie, Sneaking Candy and The Possibility of Us. As well as a contributor to the essay collection, Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors On Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself. Again is her self-publishing debut. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats.