You know an author did their job when you want to protect a character from all the evils of their world, right? Tyler in NOT AFTER EVERYTHING — a debut from Michelle Levy — is one of those characters who I connected with immediately — his voice was so vivid — and I so badly want to save from his grief and awful home life. His life is pretty bleak, friends. But there are bright spots — his loyal pup, an old friend, and an after school job that brings him all kinds of light. I was so engaged with Tyler’s story throughout and since I finished, he’s been on my mind. This is why I’m so happy to chat with Michelle about her writing, musicals, and more about Tyler. Enjoy!
Michelle, thanks SO much for answering these questions for Rather Be Reading. I was hooked on Not After Everything from the very first page and I’m so excited to be talking to you about your debut novel today.
Suicide, abuse, etc. There are so many tough circumstances throughout Not After Everything. I wanted to kidnap Tyler and take him far, far away from his pain. What was more difficult to write about, and how did you cope whenever you had to step away from the story?
Michelle: The abuse scenes and the scenes where Tyler’s depression is getting the better of him were definitely the hardest scenes to write. I sort of become the character while I’m writing, like how a method actor becomes the character, so those scenes really got to me. But unlike a method actor, at the end of the day, I can shut it off. I allowed myself to feel all the things Tyler was feeling as I typed, but I was able let it go the second I stepped away from the computer. And then I tried to watch something fun just to make sure those feelings didn’t creep back in. I find that CW and MTV shows are most helpful with these things.
I love the makeshift family Tyler finds with Jordyn and her family. And the safe place of the photography studio. I adored his relationship with Jordyn’s stepdad most because all this kid desperately needed was someone to be nice to him and there it was. What was your favorite part about writing these supporting characters?
Michelle: I love Henry and Dr. Dave the most! I knew Tyler needed a positive adult figure in his life or he was going to go down a very dark path. I always knew Dr. Dave would be this for Tyler, but I didn’t expect Henry. I also knew Jordyn and Tyler would have to work together, but, again, I never expected that Jordyn’s stepdad would be the boss. Henry was a very happy surprise for me. And those happy surprises are the best. It’s almost like the characters are writing the story and I’m just along for the ride.
I recently read Jessica Verdi’s What You Left Behind (which was a fantastic yet difficult book about Ryder, a senior in high school who is a young father) and reading them so closely together, I wished he and Tyler were friends. I think they could have really helped each other through the shitty times without hiding behind this “everything is going to be okay” facade. Are there any other characters from other books that you think would have made a good friend for Tyler?
Michelle: Ooh, great question! First things first . . . *adds What You Left Behind to TBR pile* Okay, now what was the question? Oh, right. I think Tyler could be friends with Ezra Faulkner from The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider. They have quite a bit in common. And probably Adam from Gayle Forman’s Where She Went. I could see them hanging out.
From your website I noticed you are a musical theater fan (me too!!), which musical/song, songs, etc. do you think sum up Not After Everything?
Michelle: OMG I love this question!!! “No One is Alone” from Into the Woods!
Sometimes people leave you,
Halfway through the wood.
Others may deceive you.
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone.
Without getting spoilery (although I wish we could), did you always know how you were going to end Tyler’s story?
Michelle: Always. I knew it absolutely had to end that way or it wouldn’t feel right.
Eee! Are you intrigued yet? Please read this one; I want to discuss it with someone pronto!
Great news: The lovely people at Penguin/Dial have offered up a finished copy of MORE THAN ANYTHING by the wonderful Michelle Levy for one of you. This giveaway is open to those in the United States and Canada. Good luck!