Today, we continue our three-part exclusive interview with I’ll Meet You There author Heather Demetrios. Catch part 1 here if you missed it, and catch part 3 on Friday. Meanwhile, here is part 2:
The setting for I’LL MEET YOU THERE feels a lot like a very quiet, third main character in the book. You have Skylar, you have Josh … and then you have this tiny, dusty town in California’s Central Valley. I’ve driven through plenty of towns like this, and always wondered what kind of people lived there. Tell us about how you settled on this location for the story.
I’m from Los Angeles, but when I went into eighth grade, my mom remarried and we moved to Clovis, CA, which is a suburb of Fresno. Ever since I was thirteen I’ve driven up and down the 99 between LA and Fresno, watching the unchanging scenery out my window. I honestly can’t remember how or why I got the idea to write a story about one of those motels, but as soon as I did, I knew it had to be set in Central CA. In retrospect, I think it’s because, like Sky, I’ve really had to wrestle with growing up in a place that I never felt I’d belonged in. I spent my formative years in the Central Valley and, to be honest, I was dying to get out. I felt so trapped there and, like Sky, longed for the big city and art and culture. By the time I finished this book, I began to accept and appreciate how the places we inhabit leave their mark on us.
We’ve talked a lot about the soldier side of I’LL MEET YOU THERE, but Skylar has her own very real struggles, that I’m sure plenty of readers can relate to. How did Skylar develop as a character?
Skylar is the most autobiographical character I’ve ever written. While her specific struggles are sometimes different from my own and this period of her life far more dramatic than any given period of mine, the feel of Sky’s experiences, how she relates to the world, how she grapples with the fear of losing hold of her dreams—this is all very true to me. The summer before I went to college, I kept expecting the rug to be pulled out from under me. I’d worked so hard to get out of a bad home situation (I lived with my best friends that summer, the very best summer of my life) and to get into the school of my dreams, ready to study theater. And yet…I just kept waiting. It all seemed too good to be true. Luckily for me, I got out.
It was also really important to me to explore poverty. In YA, when we see poverty, it’s usually very urban. A lot of YA characters may have troubled home lives, but the kids usually seem relatively well fed and cared for. This isn’t the case for all teens. I wanted to write about kids outside the picket fence. I was never as poor as Sky, but there were some seriously lean times. We were on food stamps for a short time and got free school lunches, stuff like that. I will never forget the shame, the desire to hide the situation from my peers. I only had one friend who really understood what it was like to eat lots of pasta and potatoes not because of carb addiction but because those were the cheapest things you could buy and they filled you up. I also lost my grandfather in the middle of writing this book and this definitely impacted Sky’s grief over her father. For most of my life, my grandpa had been my major father figure and that was a really hard loss. It definitely connected me to Sky’s grief. Sky’s friendships with Chris and Dylan are my homage to my best friends, Sarah and Missy, who held me together when I couldn’t do it on my own. Marge was an important part of Sky’s journey, too, because there were several really special adults who stepped up when I was in high school and were there for me when my parents couldn’t be. I’ll be forever grateful to them. To me, the adults who look out for kids that aren’t even theirs, they’re the most beautiful people in the world.
While there is so much of me in this book, Sky is really her own person. She’s the kind of girl I wish I could have been in the face of my challenges. She has more compassion and empathy in her little pinkie than I do. She taught me how to weather life’s storms with dignity.
Skylar is an artist, and is always making collages — or describing things in terms of a collage. Describe your own life for us, in terms of a collage.
(FYI, I purposely wrote this down in a scattered, collage-like way)
This is brilliant! My life is:
New York City, I’d make out with you if I could
Jostling subway cars speeding under the center of the universe
Gorgeous architecture like oxygen
Sleeping in Saharan sand, asalaam alaikum
Reading, reading, reading
Making wishes, crossing fingers
Hot coffee in cool cafes
Words in my heart, spilling out of my skin, falling through tapping keys
Secret heart on paper sleeves
Early morning kisses from nine to five husband
Coffee and coffee and coffee (did I mention coffee??)
Long walks with my Shadow, tail wagging, leash pulling
Passport in hand, this town ain’t big enough for the both of us
Music, filling me up, I dance in my head and when no one’s looking
A happy dance when I meet those deadlines
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world
And: there is a field
I’ll meet you there.
Thanks, Heather! Catch part 3 of our Q&A on Friday.