When I heard the premise of Michelle’s new book, If I Forget You, I have to admit to jealousy. This is one of those books that makes me wish I’d thought of it. Here’s the blurb:
Avery Hollister is a little more than absentminded. She has trouble remembering faces, names, and dates without her piles of lists and Post-it notes. When she heads off to college it takes her a week to realize the guy she’s crushing on is, in fact, three different guys. With a faulty memory and three men who have no idea she’s mixed them up, Avery doesn’t know how to fix the mess she’s made. But she knows she has to try, even if it means losing a love not even she could forget.
See what I mean? But really, no one could have written it the way Michelle did. I’m happy to welcome her today to tell us about it.
Janci: The thing I loved the most about IF I FORGET YOU was your depiction of Avery’s loneliness. As a person who constantly forgets, she is constantly hurting other people by forgetting them, or things that are important to them. But ultimately she’s the one who hurts the most, because she’s unable to forge real connections with others. That loneliness and pain is what made her most sympathetic and compelling to me as a character. The situation is at once totally unique and touchingly universal–which to me is the goal of all fiction.
How did you go about creating that lonely mood? Why did you decide to write the character that way? You’ve said that this book is the most auto-biographical of all of your novels. Is this aspect of Avery’s character pulling from your life? What is it about loneliness that is so compelling on the page?
Michelle: In all honesty, it was never my goal to set about creating a lonely mood for IF I FORGET YOU. I always begin with character and let the character set the mood. With Avery, her loneliness came from a space deep inside of me. Since I was writing from that space and pulling from my own experiences, my own loneliness seeped into Avery’s character — developed from her own similar, albeit fictional, experiences.
I think humans, in general, are lonely creatures, which is why Avery’s loneliness is most likely something readers will connect with. We all want to be understood and liked and respected, but when a person in our life challenges that understanding and respect, it can create some pretty deep rifts. I have some of my own rifts, which is where Avery’s story came from. I’ve had friends challenge my forgetfulness, treat it lightly, tell me it’s nothing but an excuse. That has given me a sort of complex — one I’ve explored inside and out in IF I FORGET YOU. My forgetfulness is not as bad as Avery’s, but it has come close at times. I thought writing the book would “cure” me of this complex, but it hasn’t. It has, however, helped me understand the other side of the coin, so to speak.
Tam, one of the antagonists in the book, is a character I’ve based on several experiences of mine. She represents a lot of Avery’s negativity and loneliness. She is a selfish, angry character with good intentions that go wrong. She’s far from black or white, which I did on purpose because at some point, Avery has to realize that Tam is not always wrong in her accusations. That has been something I’ve had to face — that my loneliness, my faults, etc., are not something I can blame on anyone else, no matter how horribly others might treat me. It’s a tough lesson to learn, and quite a blow to Avery’s ego, as well as mine.
Avery is not me, but she has a lot of me in her. I hope her experiences can touch other readers, even if they might seem far-fetched. There are people as forgetful as Avery, and even more people who are just as lonely. It’s what we do with those problems that matters. Avery learns that eventually, through an interesting set of twists and turns I’m glad I never had to go through!
Thanks, Michelle! If you want to read more about Michelle’s other work, check out her website.