Some of you may remember that in early summer I won the chance to chat with Val Emmich, author of The Reminders, from Little, Brown. I was lucky enough to be able to include a few of the women from my book club (@pnwbookworm, @trissinalovesbooks, @thepagesinbetween), and through a series of scheduling snafus and hilariously trying to figure out how to group Skype (at the last minute of course!) we successfully connected!
I took notes, but by no means is this a detailed transcription of what we discussed. Any errors are mine, and mine alone. And rather than type out an interview style article, I wanted to rather relay our chat in snapshots and impressions, because let’s be honest, my note taking skills aren’t that accurate.
As I recap, please be aware that there could be spoilers in this conversation. Please stop reading if you are planning on reading the book, as I would hate to ruin the experience for you. That said, be sure to check out my Instagram page for a Reminders related giveaway!
Outside of signing events and meeting authors at conference, this was my first actual one on one interaction with an author, and I am so glad it was with Val.
First, let me start by saying, we ended up talking on Skype for over an hour and a half! And, honestly, I think we probably could have gone on longer. It didn’t hurt that we all, author included, adored his book. But beyond that, Val is such a genuine person that it felt natural and easy to talk to him.
Obviously we talked about the book. We talked about the characters, and his process and everything in between! To give you an idea of how kind he is, he asked us questions about ourselves, wanting to include us in a conversation, and not just focus on his book or himself.
If you need a reminder, HERE is my review of the book.
To begin, we jumped right into how this book came to life.
The Reminders is actually the third book he wrote. He had gone through the writing, and querying and attempted selling of the first novels with no luck. After going through some artistic soul-searching, similar to what Joan’s dad goes through, (and an incident with his daughter, but we’ll get to that) he sat down and began writing a short story. This short story was about a girl named Joan and her rare memory disorder. From there the story grew.
He talked a bit about how in his first two books he was trying to write what he thought would sell. When the idea for Joan came, and he started writing, he changed his tactics and started to write something that he would want to read. He wanted it to be joyful and pleasant. To do that, he simply worked against our trained assumptions to assume the worst.
I found the way he wove these assumptions into the story in such a subtle way to be brilliant. There were multiple moments when my heart sank, only to be buoyed up by an unexpected turn in the story. These aren’t dramatic plot twists, or predictable outcomes, and yet the impact of being wrong works so beautifully. Hearing this insight after reading the book is amazing. Not just as a reader, but also as an aspiring writer.
We spent a lot of time talking about music. Music, as you know, plays a huge part of this book. Joan is trying to win a song writing contest, her dad has a music studio and Gavin and her dad were in a band in their college days. So, it is probably not surprising to learn that Val is a musician.
The music in the novel developed organically, the story coming to life as he wrote. This is an example of the adage, “Write what you know”. There are a lot of his own struggles brought to life in the novel. The struggle of being an artist, of living in New Jersey and not New York, of deciding to stay in art or change careers, and then there’s the struggle of being a parent. This honesty makes the novel so relatable. The characters and their struggles feel more real.
Even though the details of the music came organically, there was a moment when he realized he would have to write a song that would be good enough to actually enter and possibly win a contest. The experience he’s had as a musician and song writer really helped with this, and he said it was a lot of fun to write and create a song that has both Gavin and Joan in it.
Everyone always asks, where do ideas come from. Sometimes this is a tricky question for an author. But in this case, Val knew.
He talks about this moment on his YouTube channel, and elaborated with us. He was shopping in a Home Depot (sound familiar?) and his daughter fell out of the cart. After the terror of the accident calmed down, and everything turned out to be okay with his daughter, a special came on TV discussing memory and these rare disorders. An “AHA” moment transpired.
Some of the questions we asked were about details of the book. How did he track all the details of Joan’s memory? This is one of my favorite things in the book, how Joan remembers things so vividly and specifically. Val confessed to not having a great memory, so he printed calendars and filled them out with things that Joan experienced. It became a way for him to write, but it also ended up being a way for him to connect with the character.
How did he pick the age? His wife is a teacher. She teaches 4-6th grade gifted kids, and he spent some time observing them. From there it became a matter of figuring out what was too old (pre-teen) or what was too young for Joan. Her age had to be realistic to achieve certain details in the plot, but also to be able to think and rationalize like a child. He knew it was right when he landed on ten.
Where did the details for the characters come from? The characteristics for all the characters are an amalgamation of different people. Mostly these are unknown, so we won’t be revealing secrets here. But, like with anything, he watched people he knew, people he didn’t and the characters began to come to life. No matter how they started, or who provided the inspiration, it was fun to add personality and give them dimension.
The idea of music being intertwined with memory fit together fluidly. As a society we remember music. It makes sense, that for someone like Joan, where memory is such a vivid part of her life, that music would be a relatable way to showcase that importance.
Writing about such a specific memory problem was also a challenge. In some ways, he said it was easy, and in others it was difficult. The calendars he created helped him visualize her reality. He read books on people who actually have this condition so that he could understand it. The details about her clothing came from this research. While he didn’t come across that specific detail in an account, other details sparked the idea. Memories are so vivid for these people, that a shirt can pull them into the past. They often keep journals, which Joan does as well.
And finally, we talked about book tours.
Many publishers aren’t sending authors out on book tours, especially new authors. But since he already had a network and a fan base, he set up a tour anyway, or an exchange of sorts. He played music in exchange for a book discussion. I think given the nature of the book, this sounds perfect! These tour events also ended up being more personal and intimate than a traditional book store event. They were in people’s homes and so it prompted more intimate discussion and interaction. Again, if you’ve read the book, I think you agree, it sounds like a perfect setting!
One awesome detail: the drawings are his but the handwriting in those pictures are from his ten year old niece! How cool is that?!
Val has already started writing his next project, and should have an announcement coming soon! I for one, cannot wait to hear what is next.
If you’re interested in winning a copy of the soundtrack for the book, hop on over to my Instagram page for details!!!
Please visit his YouTube channel HERE
You can buy your copy of The Reminders HERE
Thank you so much Little, Brown and Val Emmich for giving us the chance to spend time getting to know you and your book!!! It was an experience we won’t forget.