By Amanda Festa
I devoured Lauren Morrill’s debut young adult novel Meant to Be in one sitting. I was visiting my college roommate in Florida for her birthday and had a day to myself to soak up as much sunshine as I could before heading back to snowy Boston. Meant to Be was one of my friend’s birthday gifts, so I leafed through it while stretched out on a lounge chair poolside. As I started reading, I quickly became swept up by the London setting, the relatable characters, and the intelligent and witty story of young love. I could not put the book down, only breaking to hydrate and reapply sunscreen. I finished early that evening, just as my roommate returned from work. When she asked me what I did all day, I held up the book, pumping it in the air with accomplishment and pride, insisting through bloodshot eyes and stiff limbs that she read it right away.
I have always been a fan of the YA genre and what it can do for teenage and adult readers alike. Morrill’s book does it tenfold, providing a fun escape while at the same time delivering emotional depth and a thoughtful insight into adolescence. You relate to her protagonist, Julia, in all her insecurity and misplaced infatuation, and root for Jason, the misunderstood jokester, whose admiration for Julia is obvious to everyone but her. Jason is one of my new favorite YA characters, giving Peeta Mellark a run for his money.
But ultimately, what I enjoyed most about Meant to Be was its fresh take on love – a wake up call for a generation who idealize Bella and Edward’s obsessive codependence. As Julia’s best friend advises her: “Do something, even if it’s not the magical, wonderful thing you had in mind. Don’t sit around for one more second pining away for some fantasy that might never come along.”
I recently had the opportunity to ask Morrill some questions about her fabulous debut, the magic of London, and what inspires her to write YA Fiction.
Amanda Festa: How big a role does place play in the novel? It seems as if London almost becomes a character in itself. Was this intentional? Do you think it would have been a different story had it taken place elsewhere?
Lauren Morrill: London is meant to be a character in the novel. In fact, I often think of London as Julia’s true MTB! The scenery and the setting are a lot like Julia: romantic, but also sort of serious and intense. It certainly could have been set in another city, but I think the charm and romance of London are a little bit more subtle and make the connection to Julia stronger.
AF: Do you have a personal connection to the city? Did you visit London while researching the novel?
LM: I have always loved the idea ofLondon, but believe it or not, I’ve never been! My husband and I visited Scotland for our honeymoon, and we were planning to take a train down to London, but the 2007 terrorist attack on the Glasgow airport and the car bombs found all over London kept us from going. I still hope to make it over sometime, though!
My research for Meant to Be included some serious time spent on Google Maps, clicking through street view to get a sense of the scenery. I also watched a lot of shaky tourist videos on YouTube and paged through endless guidebooks. I think I did about as well as I could, considering instead of a plane ticket, I had an internet connection.
AF: Meant to Be seems to offer a very modern and realistic take on young romance. The moral of the story appears to be an important one for girls of the Twilight generation, namely that “meant to be” isn’t necessarily a cut and dry romanticized notion. On a scale from Bella to Katniss, where do you think your novel fits in the spectrum of YA love stories? What would you like teenage girls to take away from the novel?
LM: What I really love about Julia is that even though she’s completely swept away by the notion of romance and destiny, she doesn’t let that get in the way of her other passions: school, books, swimming, her family, and her best friend Phoebe. I like that Julia can float between that totally wistful place while still remaining total driven and self-sufficient. That’s the characteristic that I hope teens will see and want to emulate. You don’t have to give up any of yourself for love.
AF: Meant to Be is amazing and was your first novel published. What is your writing process like? Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
LM: I work from a really detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline to keep me on track. I need to know where the story is going and what the purpose is of each and every scene, otherwise I wind up wandering in the wilderness for 50 pages and want to quit! The best writing advice I ever received was from fellow YA author, Lauren Oliver, who says you should never develop any habits when it comes to your writing (what music you need, what snacks, which cushion on your couch, which café, etc). You should be ready to write anywhere and at any time. That’s really helped me push through those writer’s block moments. Just never stop writing. Not ever.
AF: I too am a huge fan of young adult writing. As an author, what draws you to the YA genre?
LM: I really think those feelings of youth are universal, whether you experienced them in the city or in the country, wealthy or poor, 100 years ago or yesterday. The excitement of firsts, the feelings of alienation, the joy of close friends, the big wide unknown of the future – those are things we can relate to, and my goal as a writer is to try and find stories that readers can connect to. I think I also came of age when the first big boom of YA was happening. I devoured The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High. I loved Judy Blume and Carolyn B. Cooney. I think that as a writer, I enjoy going back to that place for myself and trying to live up to the talent of the heroes I grew up reading.
AF: Those were my favorites growing up, too! Do you have an all-time favorite book and/or writer?
LM: Judy Blume’s Just As Long As We’re Together is the book that made me want to be a writer. Growing up, most of the books I’d read up to that point where action, adventure, or historical, so to stumble upon a book starring a character who seemed just like me was a revelation. Stephanie’s parents were divorced, just like mine. She had a little brother, just like I did. She had great friends and major crushes and worried about her looks and fitting in at school … just like I did. When I realized that books could be like that, stories about people just like me, I started thinking about being a writer.
These days I love authors like Gayle Forman, Stephanie Perkins, and Sarah Dessen for telling modern stories full of heart.
AF: I read on your website that you enjoy road trips. Representing Literary Traveler, I have to ask, where would your dream road trip take you?
LM: I feel like I’ve traveled all over the East Coast in my little Prius, so I’d really like to take a drive down the west coast, starting in Seattle and working my way down to Portland, the Redwoods, wine country, San Francisco, LA, and down to San Diego. I lived in California when I was very small, but I haven’t been back since, so I’d love to be a beach bum for a few weeks.
AF: At Literary Traveler we are working on a segment called “One True Sentence” — based on Ernest Hemingway’s quote that “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” Is there one particular sentence or quotation that you carry with you or find inspiration in?
LM: “The best way to figure out who you are is to get to that place where you don’t have to be anything else.”
I saw that quote in a Bongo Jeans ad in Seventeen Magazine when I was a freshman in high school, and I cut it out and put it on my bulletin board, then took it with me to college. That little scrap is now hanging out in my office where I write, and now it reminds me to always remember why I write and who I’m writing for.
AF: That is such a great story. Thank you so much for sharing with us! I am very much looking forward to your second novel Being Sloane Jacobs and reading more from you in the future.