I have been a supercrazymegafan of Lauren Strasnick’s work since I first read her novel Nothing Like You in I think 2009. Lauren has this amazing writing superpower that is instructive and inspiring, namely the ability to create full, intense, dynamic scenes with the fewest of strokes. (As in, she’s spare and careful with her words, something I still aspire to be.) Her novels are tense, her characters are flawed–exactly the kind of books I would’ve devoured when I was 13.
Her newest, Then You Were Gone is possibly her darkest to date. And yet, it’s also a fantastic examination of friendship, and the kind of obsessed you can get with someone only in your teens. Here’s a description:
Two years ago, Adrienne’s best friend, Dakota, walked out of her life. One week ago, she left Adrienne a desperate, muffled voicemail. Adrienne never called back.
Now Dakota is missing, and all that remains is a string of broken hearts, a flurry of rumors, and a suicide note.
Adrienne can’t stop obsessing over what might have happened if she’d answered Dakota’s call. And she’s growing more convinced each day that Dakota is still alive.
Maybe finding and saving Dakota is the only way Adrienne can save herself.
Or maybe it’s too late for them both.
Lauren was kind enough to talk to me about Her and Me and You back in 2011, and I
stalked snagged her again to celebrate this release. Here’s what she had to say:
TEM: There’s so much suspense in THEN YOU WERE GONE—partly in finding out what, exactly, happened to Dakota, but also in watching Adrienne unravel through the book. Do you have some amazing writerly trick for sustaining this kind of suspense on two levels?
LS: Um, no. When I started writing this book I was dead-set on discovering some sort of secret to crafting the perfect mystery, so I got a bunch of crime novels from the library in addition to a few How-To books, none of which ended up being very helpful. In the end, I just sort of clung to the advice of a TV writer friend who told me: “Write two stories. One false, one true.” So that’s what I did. Or tried to do.
TEM: Back in 2011, we talked on my blog about your earlier books, and you said that you really like writing destructive behavior. I feel like that happened in spades in THEN YOU WERE GONE; do you want to talk about what that was like for you this time around?
LS: Adrienne’s preoccupation with Dakota’s lifestyle – the drinking and promiscuity – I relate. I spent a ton of time in my teens and early twenties obsessing over girls who seemed much more daring and dark than I was. What lives behind the bad girl’s glossy sheen? I needed to know! So I wrote a book about it.
TEM: Aside from a lot of drinking and cussing and even teenage sex, there are even heavier issues in THEN YOU WERE GONE, especially near the end. Without spoiling anything, was it scary for you to take these on? Why do you think it’s important for YA books to include heavier matters?
LS: Oh gosh, scary? No. I’ve never said to myself, “I’d like to tackle this particular issue,” when writing a book. I just write what feels appropriate for the characters and the story. I don’t even think what I’m writing is particularly bold or racy – I just feel as if I’m mimicking life.
TEM: Adrienne’s platonic infatuation with Dakota (and everyone else’s infatuation with Dakota) is so achingly real. Did you ever have a Dakota in your life? Or were you ever her to someone else?
LS: Oh, absolutely! I touched on this a bit earlier, but yes, there have been dozens of Dakotas in my life, both fictional and real. A few years ago I watched all four season of Battlestar Galactica on DVD and developed an insane obsession with the enigmatic BG character, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (more here: http://www.laurenstrasnick.com/2010/09/21/so-say-we-all/). I walked around in a daze for months feeling hugely inadequate – why wasn’t I a promiscuous drunk? No joke. I am dazzled by destructiveness! Less so in recent years, but still. It’s nutso.
TEM: About Dakota’s band, you say “They make pretty, moody music. Music that makes me want to screw everyone, then stab myself in the heart.” I have a few bands I feel like this about, for sure (2:54 is one). What are yours? And what did you listen to while writing THEN YOU WERE GONE?
LS: I made a Dakota Webb Tribute Mix which can be found here: http://www.laurenstrasnick.com/mixtape/. I envisioned Dakota’s stage persona as sort of a cross between Karen O (front-woman for Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star.
As for stab/screw bands? Led Zeppelin, Leonard Cohen, Springsteen, Jeff Buckley, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, Fiona Apple, Melanie, Paul Simon, Elton John, old Aerosmith, Prince, Van Morrison – I could go on!
TEM: The “Oh-I-Can’t-Choose-Between-Two-Guys” thing has become pretty common in YA, but you pull it off so fabulously here, in a very realistic way. Can you just talk about Lee and Julian as characters, and Adrienne’s relationship with each of them?
LS: I shall try! Lee: Lee is good – truly good. He adores Adrienne. I suspect readers will be angry with Adrienne for the way she treats Lee. And Julian: Adrienne sees Julian as an extension of Dakota. At least initially. And Julian sees the same in Adrienne. And… I’m afraid if I say more I’ll spoil the fun!
TEM: Kate too is a fantastic foil for Dakota. I feel like every girl in high school needs a friend like Kate, but sometimes it’s hard to find, and especially maintain. Rather than asking a specific question about either of them, I’d love to hear your observations on friendship in general, especially during high school.
LS: Oh man, I feel strongly about this topic and I’m not sure I can muster up a smart response! I’ll say this: Friendship is huge for me. I’m good at it. There have been losses, of course, friend break ups, people I’ve lost touch with – but overall, I’ve done well in this department. I value the people in my life. They make me happy. I feel loved. I love loving them. I think friendship is massively undervalued.
TEM: THEN YOU WERE GONE takes place in LA, and you live in LA: any of your favorite haunts show up here?
LS: You know, it’s funny – the characters in this book spend loads of time in music venues around town – and I’m very particular about live shows. I mostly hate them – the crowds, the noise, etc. Though for some reason, I’ve spent tons of time in clubs. I blame ex-boyfriends! The two venues that factor heavily into the book – The Echo & The Smell – I know quite well. Though I can’t say they’re favorites.
Well, Lauren Strasnick, you are definitely one of MY favorites!
If you would like to learn more about Lauren and her books, visit http://www.laurenstrasnick.com/