Books serve readers in so many ways: by providing escape, by inspiring imagination and creativity, by offering a framework for processing our own real-life experiences. My parents got divorced when I was two weeks old, or two months old (my mom can’t remember). Growing up with an absent parent, one I knew in name only, made it especially difficult to process what had happened. As far as I was concerned, nothing had happened. I had never known my family to be any different, so what was the big deal? That’s where books come in. They help us process and understand our lives in ways that seem closed off to us. They give us vocabulary and narrative frameworks that we can apply to our own situation.
HELLO, FUTURE ME tells the story of eleven-year-old June, a girl who tries to stop her parents’ divorce using her super planning skills, magic and a little help from her future self. My challenge with this story was to conjure up all the raw honesty I had never processed regarding my own situation, while adding light, humor, fantasy and sparkly magic. Rather than mirroring my own experience, the story became a way for me to explore how a break-up could go, if you infused it with imagination, kindness, empathy and hope. I wanted to be aspirational, while at the same time staying real and facing issues head-on.
“Sometimes, life stinks and there’s nothing we can do about it. But we keep going. And, hopefully, the stuff that seemed so terrible at first will start to feel a little less terrible over time..”— June Day, from HELLO, FUTURE ME
The novel isn’t autobiographical, but it did allow me to explore a side of my past I had previously ignored. Writing, for me, is always a process of self-discovery. I want to uncover and develop my hidden wells of emotion, hurt, love and loss, but with added touches of magic.
Crafting a cast of characters.
One of the most intriguing parts of writing is creating a brand new world full of rich, fully-developed characters. Even the people we only see on the page a few times need to feel real and rounded, and it’s a fun challenge to select just the right details.
Some of my favorite moments in the book involve June’s dad, a rough and tough biker/handyman with ALL the emotions. I loved writing the scenes where he and June are working on Honey Pie, his bike, and having tearful, breathless heart-to-hearts. And the moments where he breaks down, despite trying so hard to keep it together, and June is there for him with patience and a kind word.
June’s best friend, Calvin, was also super fun to write. The novel is written in first person from June’s perspective, but the reader still gets clued in pretty early on to Calvin’s secret crush…on June…his best friend…and his hilariously awkward attempts to reveal all. There’s one scene in particular that I won’t spoil, but let’s just say that Calvin’s attempt at using magic to woo June does NOT go well.
Another favorite side character may be kind of surprising: It’s June herself! Past and Future June, that is. When June’s dad gets her a second-hand laptop for her birthday, she’s thrilled, until she starts getting IM’s claiming to be from her future self. Future June is snarky, rude and so totally annoying! She treats present-day June like a baby and warns her NOT to interfere with her parents’ relationship, no matter what. Things get even more surreal when June meets her past self, giving her the opportunity to reevaluate her nostalgic view of her parents’ love story and ask, Where did things go wrong?
Writing the different versions of June proved to be an especially fun challenge. It allowed me to explore how we change and grow, how the stories we tell ourselves don’t always line up with reality and how, sometimes, making mistakes is the only way to move forward.
Imagining a brand new world.
June lives in the imaginary town of Tanglewood Crossing, somewhere near the border between Arkansas and Oklahoma. Tanglewood claims to be the Bigfoot sighting capital of the world, and its quirky downtown features a hodgepodge of colorful shops, many with a Bigfoot theme. You can stop in The Friendly Bean for Merline’s famous scones, where you might see June and Calvin in the back booth plotting yet another elaborate scheme…with glitter…lots of glitter. If you’re feeling adventurous, join a group of tourists on one of the daily Bigfoot tours. The bright yellow bus features a giant foot on top, and you can buy hats or fanny packs to match!
In such an unexpected locale, it’s no real surprise when a new shop pops up, seemingly overnight.
This place looked like a magic shop and a fantasy unicorn tea party had gotten into a fight, and they’d both won.–June from HELLO, FUTURE ME describing The Shop of Last Resort
Creating Tanglewood Crossing was definitely aspirational. I love exploring new places, especially tiny downtowns with old shops tucked away in dark corners. With Tanglewood, I was inspired by childhood trips to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, my love of colorful buildings and my desire to spend hours upon hours in coffee shops, the more unusual the better.
Don’t miss The Story Behind: Part 2!
In Part 2 of The Story Behind: Hello, Future Me, I’ll talk process. How did the story move from a proposal to the final draft? Hope you can join me!
KIM VENTRELLA is the author of THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), HELLO, FUTURE ME (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.