Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.
Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.
Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.
My Thoughts on GOLDEN and an interview with author Jessi Kirby:
As a writer, I’m always fascinated by the mechanics of creating a novel. Did the author write it linearly? How much did they know before they wrote the first draft? Etc. GOLDEN was endlessly fascinating because there’s a story-within-a-story that takes place ten years prior to the main action, lines of poetry, and a setting that feels so real you want to visit. There’s mystery and loss and enviable almost-kissing scenes that made my stomach flutter. And here’s the thing, I’m not normally a fluttering kind of reader, so GOLDEN had a profound affect on me. The kind where I know I want to make a reader have that exact reaction to one of my scenes.
Anyone who knows me also knows that I don’t write or read solely contemporary. Not because it isn’t brilliant and daring, but because I want magic and monsters, lots of them! GOLDEN is a contemporary novel, but Jessi weaves a kind of magic through every scene. I believe that the books readers connect to are the books that speak to them on some base level. Or the reader has a shared experience with parts of the novel, whether it be a character, setting, or event. I remember while reading IN HONOR, on a road trip through California, I was crying my eyes out sitting on the edge of the bathtub in some seedy motel in the middle of the night while my friends slept. (ETA: We also were driving a black Chevy Impala. Supernatural fans unite!) And again, I don’t usually get emotional over books or movies. It’s fiction. It’s not real. And while the stories are often good, they’re nothing like real life. Why the emotional reaction to these books? Because Jessi’s stories make me feel in my heart meats.
I had the pleasure of asking Jessi a few questions about GOLDEN. I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.
GOLDEN is told through old diary entries from ten years prior, and from Parker’s viewpoint in the present. I remember it was a baby idea at the YA with Altitude workshop. From a writer’s perspective, how did you write both story lines (eg: completely separate, together as you went along, etc)?
Oh, the journal entries. Writing them was the absolute hardest part of writing this story! When I first sat down to draft, I began with Parker’s story in the present like you said, figuring I’d just weave Julianna’s entries in as I went. Turned out that didn’t work for a few reasons, the first one being that it proved too difficult to switch between Parker and Julianna’s voices that way. They kept just kind of blending into one another, and of course I wanted them to be distinct. Secondly, so much of the story is Parker reacting to Julianna’s journal. In a way, each entry that she reads precipitates some small action on Parker’s part. Once I realized that, I went back to the drawing board and wrote all of Julianna’s entries up front, then worked Parker’s storyline around them. Much outlining, and many, many color-coded post-its were used in this process.
All of the settings in GOLDEN more or less exist in the real world. Why did you rename them? (To protect the
guilty, I mean, innocent?)
Haha! I *wish* I had some tantalizing reason for renaming the setting in GOLDEN, but I can sum that one up in two words: geography and copyedits. When I wrote IN HONOR, I used all real settings, which proved to be quite a challenge when it came down to copyedits, where Honor and Rusty’s choice of route didn’t make sense on a map, the timing was off, etc. GOLDEN is definitely set in my hometown of Mammoth Lakes, CA, and all of the places I referenced in it are real, but I did mess with the geography of it a little bit for fiction’s sake, so to avoid any questions about that part, I changed the names. And then. There was one old party spot referenced in it–The Grove. Yeah, that name I changed for a different reason–didn’t think I was gonna win points with the youngins’ up there by revealing what I’m sure is still a place they all go.
The romantic tension between Parker and Trevor is divine! I imagine you cackling as you wrote those scenes, knowing the intended effect they would have on your readers. What kind of advice would you give to aspiring authors on how to write a delicious almost-kiss scene?
Cackling? That seems kind of sinister! I’d say it’s more like grinning like a maniac. In the middle of a public place, in most cases. As far as writing an almost-kiss scene, I think we’ve all been there at least once, and it’s a moment that’s so full of possibility, where you’re just a breath away from a moment that lives up to all you think it’ll be, or something less. The trick is to stay there in that sweet spot of possibility.
Robert Frost and his poetry plays a key role in the novel, both literally (Parker is Parker Frost, a possible descendent of Robert Frost’s and the daughter of a struggling poet) and metaphorically (the line about taking “the road less traveled” is a leit-motif for the entire novel). How far along in your writing process did you know that Robert Frost would be so integral to the novel?
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to weave in Frost and his beautiful poetry, but I wasn’t quite sure how to do that outside of Parker being related and using a few quotes. It wasn’t until I was revising that I had the idea to begin each chapter with either a line or title from one of his poems. And then came the fun part, which was sifting through his work to find the ones that fit each chapter just right. Every time I found one, it felt like kismet, so to speak.
“Love, tragedy, and mystery converge in this compelling novel from “an author to watch” (Booklist)” What can we eagerly anticipate from you next?
Ooh, I’m excited about this one! Right now I’m working on another contemp–way more of a love story than I’ve done thus far. It’s about a girl whose first love dies tragically (seems to be a running theme), and his parents donate his organs. The girl decides, as part of her healing process, to write to the recipients. All of them end up responding but the one she considers most important–the one who ended up with her boyfriend’s heart. She can’t let it go, so she goes outside of the guidelines and finds him, promising herself that she only wants to know and see in person who he is. But when she comes face to face with him, rules go out the window, and everything changes. It’s a story of love lost then found, of hope and healing, and of what’s really contained in the heart. And god willing, it’ll be out in summer of 2015!
Thank you so much, Jessi, for chatting with me about GOLDEN. Your next novel sounds amazing!
And, finally, I loved her use of poetry quotes throughout. They were perfectly married to the chapters they began. (As she says, “kismet”.) A class assignment had every senior in english write with the line: “Tell me, what it is you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver in mind. So, tell me … .