Frequently Asked Questions
Did you really take a road trip like Amy & Roger's?
Longer answer, with the story of the trip:
I have always loved road trips. When I first got my license, growing up in Connecticut, I'd find myself getting the urge to go beyond the borders of my town, to see what I could find in the next town or two over, if for no other reason than it was there and I hadn't been yet. I went to college in California, and so my first cross-country road trip was the reverse of Amy and Roger's journey—a trip from Connecticut to California to get my car from coast to coast. That trip was my first taste of just how fun an extended road trip could be, and just how big and beautiful and unknown to me most of America was. Five years later, as I was moving back East, I needed to get the car across the country again. And this was the time I began thinking of how a road trip might encompass more than just a physical journey. That maybe it could tell the story of an emotional journey as well.
I wrote the first draft of Amy & Roger's Epic Detour based on these first two road trip experiences, but with the knowledge that I wanted these characters to go places that I hadn't yet been—Graceland, Kentucky, Colorado. There were a lot of holes in that first draft, since I knew I couldn't write about a place until I'd experienced it. So I turned in the first draft to my editor, flew to Los Angeles, rented a car, and started to trace the path I'd written about in the book. I told the rental company I would have the car for ten days—two weeks, max.
I was on the road for a month. (And the rental car got very expensive.) Because that's the thing about road trips—even when you think you know where you're going, the journey has a way of changing on you. I ended up taking detours, side trips, and eventually tossing out my own original itinerary. I ate lots of NuWay when I visited my grandmother in Wichita, found I liked Memphis so much I ended up staying for a while and listening to the Blues, and then I met up with an old friend in South Carolina, eating the best barbeque I've ever had. Much to my shock, I was forced to get off the road early when it started snowing in Colorado (even though it was May and it was not supposed to snow in May, in my understanding). Obviously, a lot of what made it into the final version of the book was because of what I encountered on this road trip—like NuWay, the Brown Hotel (which I discovered in Louisville), and especially the Loneliest Road in America. Just like Amy and Roger, I headed out of Yosemite going the opposite direction that most people drive, and ended up on the Loneliest Road by accident. It was terrifying while I was driving it—I was totally alone, getting spotty cell service, and had no idea how to change a tire—but after I'd found civilization again, I knew immediately that what I'd just experienced had to go in the book.
I loved taking the research road trip across the country. It was everything I'd hoped it would be—that is, a real road trip, filled with unexpected events and places, great road food and, of course, lots of music. I made mixes as I drove, trying to incorporate songs that reflected in some way where I was in the country. A lot of the songs that I listened to ended up in Roger's playlists. And the pictures in the book are pictures I took while on my trip. You can see some pictures from this trip in the Trips section and check out my playlists here. There's also extra road-trip bonus content in the US paperback version of the book.
How did you get started as a writer?
It was a long road but as Leonard says in A&R, it's the journey that's the important part. I've been writing since I was little, and have always been a voracious reader. When I was in high school, I started writing short plays for our original works festival, but I had no interest in being a writer. I was set on becoming an actress. Like Amy in A&R, I was a total theater geek in high school. I even went to college in Los Angeles so that I would be able to audition while in school, and in no time, be discovered and become a movie star. Funny how that didn't quite work out!
I took off my junior year of college, and ended up working in the Children's Department of Vroman's Bookstore, a wonderful place. I fell in love with YA literature, and soon, started trying to write my own. My first attempt was terrible (AWFUL. It's in a drawer somewhere. It's 500 pages, and that's only the first half of it. Nobody will ever see it, and the world will be a better place for it.) But I kept on writing, and soon changed my focus from acting to writing, and added an English major.
When I graduated, I spent a year working on my writing, and then was accepted into The New School's MFA Writing for Children program. I moved back to NYC, and soon got an internship, and then a job, as an editorial assistant at Scholastic. While I was in school, and working, I continued to write. And when I sold Amy & Roger, I decided to write full-time.
So like I said, a long journey. And proof that you never know what's going to end up changing your life. I took a part-time job that utterly changed the course of mine.
Is Roger based on a real person? And if so, can I have his number?
I wish! Unfortunately, Roger is not based on any real person. But I tried to come up with the best person to be with Amy in that car…someone who would nudge her gently to open up, someone with demons of his own, and someone who was genuinely kind, at a time when she was very much in need of some kindness.
Are all the place in A&R real?
Yes…for the most part. There are some exceptions. You won’t find Raven Rock on a map, but I based it closely on Eagle Rock, the town where Occidental College, my alma mater, is located. Same thing with Stanwich, Connecticut…but you’ll find a strong resemblance between that and my hometown in CT.
The only other place I invented is Hummingbird Valley, Kentucky. But all the rest of the places (and burger joints!) are real and there for the visiting.
Where can I find the music that’s on Roger’s playlists?
Will there be a sequel to Amy & Roger? I want to know what happens
As of now, I have no plans to write a sequel. I think I left them in a good, hopeful place. But you might get a glimpse of them in Second Chance Summer, if you look closely…
I wrote you an email! Why haven’t you written me back?!
I’m really behind on emails and real-mail. I will get to your message eventually, I PROMISE. But the best way to get in touch with me – and get a quick response – is Twitter.
Second Chance Summer
Junior Library Guild Selection
Amy & Roger's Epic Detour
An ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Readers
News & Appearances
Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, and Ann Brashares
In conversation with Entertainment Weekly's Breia Brissey
92nd Street Y
Sunday, May 4th
92nd Street at Lexington
SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE
The fabulous Jenny Han and I are hitting the road this spring!
Book Passage, San Francisco CA
King's English - with SARA ZARR!
Salt Lake City, UT
Changing Hands Bookstore
Once Upon A Time Bookstore
TEEN AUTHOR FESTIVAL!
Saturday, March 22nd
42nd Street NYPL
A conversation with
Moderated by Melissa Walker