Yesterday was the official launch date for my friend Amy Meyerson’s debut novel The Bookshop of Yesterdays. It’s always a big day when someone in your writing community launches a book. This photo doesn’t even do justice to how packed Skylight Books was last night.
The book tells the story of a young woman who inherits her uncle’s bookshop in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles and quickly comes to realize that, before his death, he set up a scavenger hunt for her that leads her from book to book. As she follows the clues, she learns the truth about the falling out her uncle had with her mother years before.
The story is a book-nerd’s dream. It totally made me want to own a bookstore. And it got me thinking about how we, as writers, choose what titles to use when our stories reference other books. So today we’re going to pick Amy’s brain a little bit about her experiences writing The Bookshop of Yesterdays.
April: I love the setting of your story. And it’s such fun to read about a character discovering clues in the books her uncle left her. When choosing the books to use, how did you balance what was right for your characters with what you needed to move the story along?
Amy: When I had the initial idea for this book, I knew right away that the novels I selected for the scavenger hunt would make or break it. I wanted to celebrate books I love, books other readers love, too, but they also had to work for the story I was trying to tell. The novels Billy uses in his scavenger hunt have a dual function: within their pages, Billy has highlighted a section of the text and left a corresponding clue that leads Miranda to talk to someone from his past. The highlighted sections help Miranda interpret her interactions with the people she meets from her uncle’s life. For this to work, the selected novels couldn’t feel arbitrary or inconsequential. They needed to resonate with my novel, either narratively or thematically. The only way I could achieve this was by starting with my story, so I plotted out what happened in the past and worked it into a series of stories that people who knew Billy could share with Miranda. Then, I made lists of possible titles that could work as clues, whittling them down to what I thought were the perfect choices for each section. If this sounds challenging, it was!
April: It’s one thing to write a story and another to publish it. What kind of changes did Park Row suggest? Did you have to change any of the titles you originally used?
Amy: The biggest thing I’ve learned through this process is that it’s different for every writer (and probably for every book, too. I’ll let you know once I’ve finished writing the next one!). I’m sure some writers do very little rewriting, but I did a ton of revisions at every step of the process: getting the manuscript ready to send out to agents, reworking with my agent, then revising with Park Row. When I went through my first round of edits with Park Row, I ended up making several shifts in the plot. The challenge of reimagining the plot was that I also had to change the corresponding novels and clues. Many of the books I initially selected didn’t work anymore, so I had to choose new titles. Ultimately, the batch I ended up with worked a lot better, not just for the story but for a book about books. In earlier drafts, I chose books that I loved but that many readers might not have read.
April: The pacing of the scavenger hunt really keeps the story moving. Did you know, before you started writing, how many clues the scavenger hunt would have, or did you just kind of feel it out as you went along?
Amy: I knew that I wanted to have a bunch of clues, but I didn’t have a preset number. So, I really let the story guide the clues. That said, the clues were instrumental in helping me find my way through the novel. This was my first attempt at writing a novel, and writing something so long can quickly become overwhelming. When I write short stories, I like to lay the printed pages out on the floor and look at them all at once. It allows me see the structure of the story. You can’t do that with a 300+ page novel. So, I needed a way to think of the novel in smaller, more digestible chunks. I suppose chapter breaks can accomplish this, but for me, I needed something woven into the fabric of the story. The clues were a really useful device in giving the novel a clear structure.
April: I hear your publisher is doing a real-life scavenger hunt to promote the book. How do we get in on that?
Amy: Yes! I’m so excited about it. Since the novel is set in an indie bookshop, we really wanted to show a little love to independent bookstores when marketing this book. Local bookstores are an essential part of today’s literary community. They are where readers connect and discover new books. My publicist had the awesome idea of running a sweepstakes to celebrate the publication of The Bookshop of Yesterdays, where participants could participate in a virtual scavenger hunt, then enter to win a gift certificate to the independent bookstore of their choice as well as lovely hardback editions of five classic novels mentioned in The Bookshop of Yesterdays.
To enter the sweepstakes scavenger hunt, just go to: www.bookclubbish.com/ScavengerHuntSweeps (see below for more details*)
April: What does your writing routine look like? Do you write every day? Mornings or night?
Amy: As a professor, I’m very fortunate to have the summer and winter breaks to write. When I’m not teaching, I try to write in both the mornings and afternoons. During the semester, I try to get into a schedule where I write every morning, but it can be tough to find time on teaching days or during grading cycles. Some writers institute a daily word count, but I prefer to focus on a time goal. I try to write for 2-3 hours a day, longer in the summer. Sometimes, I can produce 10 pages in that timeframe. Other days, I struggle to get out a page. Because of this fluctuation, I think it’s best to commit to sitting down for a predetermined period of time. This keeps me focused on the process rather than the product.
April: Do you have any superstitions around your writing? Any little rituals you do to get your brain in the space to write?
Amy: No superstitions, but I always like to read before I write. I find reading a great novel really inspires me to sit down and get some work done.
April: What are you working on now?
Amy: I’ve been working on a new novel for the last few months. After several years of living and breathing the characters in The Bookshop of Yesterdays, it’s so fun and refreshing to build a new world. I’m still in the early stages, but it’s another family mystery, this time centered on a historic diamond. So far, it’s a lot of fun to write.
April: Coffee or tea?
Amy: Coffee in the mornings, herbal tea at night.
April: Whiskey or vodka?
Amy: Whiskey. Only brown liquors for me!
April: Hemsworth or Gosling?
Amy: Gosling, definitely.
April: “Sneaked” or “snuck”?
Amy: It’s awkward, but sneaked.
April: Wetsuit or bathrobe?
Amy: Can I add a third option and say bathing suit? I’m a lap swimmer. I find the public pool is the best place to work through story ideas.
More about the real-life scavenger hunt: *NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER. Purchase or acceptance of a product offer does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes opens 06/12/2018 at 12:01 PM EDT and closes 07/03/2018 at 11:59 PM EDT. Enter online at BookClubbish.com/ScavengerHuntSweeps. Open to legal residents of the U.S. and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are over the age of 13. Void where prohibited by law. One (1) prize will be awarded, ARV $218.00 USD. Full details on prize and official rules available at BookClubbish.com/Bookshop-of-yesterdays-sweepstakes. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.
A big thanks to Amy for taking the time. Get your copy of The Bookshop of Yesterdays today.