I’m the newest fan of Jennifer R. Hubbard and her debut YA novel, THE SECRET YEAR. If you’re not familiar with the book, here’s the synopsis on Amazon:
Colt and Julia were secretly together for an entire year, and no one—not even Julia’s boyfriend— knew. They had nothing in common, with Julia in her country club world on Black Mountain and Colt from down on the flats, but it never mattered. Until Julia dies in a car accident, and Colt learns the price of secrecy. He can’t mourn Julia openly, and he’s tormented that he might have played a part in her death. When Julia’s journal ends up in his hands, Colt relives their year together at the same time that he’s desperately trying to forget her. But how do you get over someone who was never yours in the first place?
And the cover:
When I first read the flap copy, I was a little worried. The story sounded terribly tragic and possibly melodramatic. But not so in Jennifer’s capable hands. Instead, it’s an intriguing look at how divisions in society affect people at the personal level. The characters are beautifully drawn. And the fascinating situations had me turning the pages so fast, that I read the book in a single day.
Jennifer has mad writing skills. It’s no coincidence that her blog, writerjenn, focuses on craft.
So I caught up with her to ask her how this exquisite, gritty, heart-felt novel came into being.
When you started writing The Secret Year, did you begin with a character, a premise, a setting, or the plot?
I started with the opening situation: a secret relationship, a sudden death, a notebook left behind. I had Colt’s voice and an inkling of Julia’s personality. I wrote to find out what happened next.
The setting for The Secret Year dovetails into the plot, and the details give the story authenticity. Is the setting based on a real place?
The river is a composite of several rivers and streams I’ve lived near–probably about half a dozen of them. Black Mountain is a composite of several mountains and hills. The town is a composite of real places I’ve visited. Essentially, I put reality in a blender and then scoop out a portion of it and shape it to my needs. I like fictional places because I can pop in any landmark or building that’s necessary to the plot, without worrying about whether it actually exists.
The premise is both melancholy and seemingly predestined. Yet you keep the novel tense. Can you share some of the techniques you used while plotting?
I started with some plot ideas, but certain things changed as I went along or during revision. I mostly think in terms of threads. Example of my thoughts: “Which thread haven’t I picked up in a while? Oh, Black Mountain and Austin–so they should appear in this next scene. And something has to happen. What would naturally happen here? How is the tension growing; how is it playing out?”
SPOILER ALERTS: I knew Colt would get entangled with Syd at some point, but that it wouldn’t work out. As I wrote the first draft, I actually thought he would end up with Kirby at the end, but they both rebelled. Then I thought he would end up with Syd. Of course, you can see how all that turned out!
Thank you, Jennifer, for taking the time to answer my questions.
And everyone … read this book!! And if you’re a writer, check out Jennifer’s blog for helpful discussions on craft.