Excerpt from Anthing But Ordinary.
Bryce followed him along the fairway, ducking behind a long row of pines, hearing the shouts and laughter of golfers tinkling from the green. Finally they reached a slope covered in rocks.
Greg scaled down the slope with ease and waited for Bryce at the dusty bottom, sandstone surrounding them on both sides. “You’re never gonna guess where this goes.”
The deep V of rocks went on for some time. Bryce watched her footing as they went, the sandstone dust staining the red of her boots. Suddenly the sun’s glare wasn’t so strong.
She looked up. Thick metal slats crisscrossed above them, holding up a groaning metal bridge. Trees rose up where the rocks ended, and Bryce watched their roots twisting toward the steel strips, close in color to the rust caked on the large circular bolts. The sharp, sweet messages of birds to one another leaped around her in sparkling clarity, dotting the air, mingling with the shadows that swirled around the lines of the bridge like ribbons.
“It’s a riverbed,” Greg said, his chest lifting and falling under the triangle of sweat at his collar. “Or at least, it was.”
Bryce smiled, remembering all the places Greg had led her. She had grown to trust the peaceful expression on his face when he was looking for just the right place, like he was fixing something that was broken. She’d follow his figure even as he wriggled through holes in electric fences, so they could find what he deemed a perfect spot in some farmer’s field. Once he found it, there was no fanfare; he would just sit down and pull grass out of the earth as he wondered aloud whether aliens existed. She always thought they were going to get caught trespassing, but they never did.
Bryce noticed tracks running across the bridge. “Do trains still run on this?”
“Never saw one before,” Greg said, making his way toward Bryce. He stood with his shoulder almost touching hers, his arms crossed. “But it’s been a long time since I’ve been out here.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere,” Bryce breathed, enjoying the dappled light on the sharp rocks, the way the bridge and the trees seemed to support each other. “Feels like I’ve spent my life in a hospital bed. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.”
“Funny,” Greg said, chucking a rock down the empty riverbed as if skipping it. “You’re always trying to get out of that hospital, while I always had trouble getting in.”
Bryce raised her eyebrows in surprise as Greg told her how he almost got arrested trying to sneak into her hospital room after hours when they were seventeen.
“When you first got there your room was on the first floor, near the ICU. So when they tried to boot me one night when visiting hours were over, I climbed back in the window.”
Bryce laughed. “Did it work?”
Greg grinned up at the bridge above them, remembering. “Yeah, no,” he drawled. “It was the wrong window and the guy in there started screaming.”
“I wish I could have seen that,” Bryce laughed, her heart flooding. They climbed up to the edge of the riverbed, where the rocks met dry grass. They sat down beside each other, splaying out their feet.
Greg reached out to touch her cheek. “It was somethin’,” he said.
“Greg.” Bryce leaned away. “We can’t.”
He looked down. “I know, it’s just . . .” Then he looked up, his eyes meeting hers. “What if we could?” He ran his hands over the grass, thinking.
Bryce opened her mouth, then closed it, losing her words in his deep blue eyes and long lashes. We should, she thought. She felt whole here, with him. She wanted to be in his world of riverbeds and old bridges.
He turned toward Bryce, putting a hand on her shoulder. Her thoughts stopped. She didn’t move a muscle. He was breathing through his nose, his lips turning up at the corners. His eyes found hers, then traveled down her face to her lips, then back up to her eyes.
“I missed you so much,” he said, his voice almost a whisper, and his mouth connected with hers.
Bryce didn’t pull away. Her blood coursed hotly through her veins, matching the heat outside so that her skin blended into the wet air, the sun-soaked rocks.
Greg put his hands on her waist, tucking them under her shirt to find her bare skin. His lips made a path to her jaw, her ear, her neck. A sound rumbled at the edge of their hearing, growing in intensity as Bryce wrapped her arms around his back.
Suddenly it ripped past them, taking over all their senses, pulling them apart.
“A train!” Greg called over the roar and squeak of wheels over the track, and they lifted their eyes toward the metal blur.
When it had passed, Bryce and Greg looked at each other. In the sudden silence, she remembered herself.
© Alloy Entertainment 2012
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||Q: How has your Kansas upbringing influenced your writing?
A: Writing about Kansas was my only writing until I wrote this book. I started keeping a regular journal when I was 8 or 9. I imagine a lot of the entries would speak to anyone who grew up in Kansas, not because they are particularly well-written, but because they are stuff like “Church was boring today, but we got to go to Old Country Buffet afterwards,” and “Dad is making me get up before school to shoot free throws so I can get a basketball scholarship.”
Life in Kansas is slow—your options are either to adjust to it, or make it seem more important than it really is. I chose the latter, and documenting my life through writing was part of that. But then I left for the first time to go to college in Minnesota, and even then all my stories were about running around Lawrence, riding bikes along the railroad tracks, sitting on the big, old porches on Kentucky Street. I wrote what I knew. I remember coming back after my freshman year and working at the Applebee’s in Topeka. It was the most depressing summer of my life, but I also filled up three fat notebooks. Back at school, I got a few stories published and they all took place at Applebee’s, or sweaty afternoons trying to ride my bike down Wanamaker Road, or the Radisson in downtown and, my favorite, a spot way down the Kansas River where you can climb on the underpass of a bridge carrying Highway 10.
When I started working in Minnesota, I only came home once a year, and started noticing how beautiful the big sky in Kansas is, and the Flint Hills in any weather, any season. This book, Anything But Ordinary, takes place in Nashville, but every time I wrote about the outdoors (which turned out to be a lot) I thought of a Kansas summer at my grandparents' house in the tiny town of Wakefield, near Manhattan. The wet heat, the yellow grass, the songs of bugs. All Kansas.
Q: Are you influenced by any other Kansas authors?
A: My mom used to read Laura Ingalls Wilder aloud to us before we went to bed. I used to stare at the illustration on the cover of Little House on the Prairie—it was a little girl surrounded by all this wheat—and think how cool it was to know what it was like to live back then. That’s probably why I started writing in a journal, honestly. I thought someone would want to know what it would be like to live my life. I was a presumptuous child.
Also, my friend Adam Burnett, who I met through Helen Hocker Theater when I was 14, is now a successful playwright in New York. We used to have these little writing workshops, and I was always blown away by the sophistication of his writing. I would devour every author he recommended to me, and ask to read drafts of his plays. Thanks to Jo Huseman, the director at Helen Hocker, he got to put his work on stage from the very beginning. It was magic. I think everyone in Topeka who came to see his plays knew he was doing what he was supposed to do in life. I saw pretty quickly the reason behind his success: he wrote and wrote and wrote. Even as a high school student he wouldn’t come out to things as because he was writing. His example taught me that you get out of your writing what you put into it, and just because you’re not the most experienced or well-read (or a teenager) doesn’t mean your work isn’t good. Your work is worth something because you decide it’s worth something.
Q: How did you get your start as a writer?
A: There are the journals, as I’ve mentioned, and they came about because I wasn’t allowed to watch TV that much. I was allowed to read as much as I wanted, though, so I went to the library and checked out the maximum number of books you could check out a time (15) and I read all of them in the two week check-out period. I did this every two weeks from when I was 8 to 18. Assuming that there was no such thing as a professional reader, a writer was the next best thing.
And, because of all the reading, I became conditioned to organize my thoughts like a writer. When growing up forced me to discover the void between fiction and real life, I wrote about this void. I was too used to writing not to. And then the void between life and fiction became deeper and deeper as I learned more about the world in college, but that made writing and reading all the more meaningful to me. For every real human tragedy or triumph, there are millions of contained, beautifully futile attempts to figure what they mean. My experience is hardly fraught with all the peril of human tragedy, but I like to turn my life into stories as an attempt to make what I know as meaningful and beautiful as fiction.
Q: What was your writing background before writing Anything But Ordinary? How did you get connected with Alloy Entertainment?
A: I really started putting my work out there my freshman year of college, when I got admitted to Macalester’s sketch comedy group. With them, I wrote and directed three or four sketches a year. When I got good responses from the sketches and from my stories in Creative Writing classes, I submitted to Chanter, Macalester’s literary magazine. Those were my first published stories. I also started reviewing movies for the Macalester newspaper, too, and kept a blog. The summer before I was a senior, using the reviews and blog posts as writing samples, I got an internship at the Minneapolis branch of The Onion. I wrote feature articles for The AV Club and little blurbs about events in the area.
That coming year, my senior thesis was a piece of fictionalized memoir about my time on a competitive middle school basketball team. Right after I turned that in, a friend of a friend saw my blog and was kind enough to pass on the email address of one of the editors at Alloy. I sent in a section of the memoir piece and they sent me back a list of ideas to see if I was a good fit. They said, “Pick one of these ideas for a book and write the first chapter.” So I stayed up all night one night and wrote it, and the rest is history. As in, they hired me a few months later after I graduated, and then I sort of starved for a year in New York while I wrote the first half of Anything But Ordinary. They paid me a small stipend, but not enough to live on, so I worked two jobs in Brooklyn while the editors and I went back and forth on draft after draft of the novel. They were patient with me, thank god, because I hadn’t written a novel before. The book wasn’t ready to be sold to major publishers until June of the next year. When it was ready, Alloy essentially acted as my agent and shopped the book around for me. Thank my lucky stars, it sold within a couple months to Disney Hyperion.
Q: Can you talk a little about the process of writing a book that will be made into movie? How has that affected your writing process?
Haha. Not at all. The movie was never a sure thing. The idea for the novel, however, came from a screenplay by Charlie Craig (Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries). Back when I started, Anything But Ordinary was a script Alloy had bought from Southpaw Entertainment, thinking it might be a better novel than a movie. My editor told me to read the script once, and once only, and never look at it again. So I did. It’s still in some dusty corner of my computer, and as I remember it, my novel differs from the script tremendously. Then, all of the sudden, when the book was already in galley form (a rough paperback copy for proofreading) I got a call from my editor. They wanted last minute edits throughout the entire book to match the script. “Just in case,” they said. So I made the edits, and haven’t heard anything since. You never know, though! I’d like to think the novel is pretty cinematic, anyway, so it would be really fun to see the story in film form.
Q: What do you hope readers get from your writing?
A: I hope they identify with the main character, Bryce. She is strong, flawed, vulnerable, reflective, emotional, and dedicated to her family. And even If they don’t see themselves in her, I hope they can see her in their minds’ eye, walking around the halls of their high school.
I also hope they get a strong sense of place, and I’m not saying this just because this is a project about Kansas. I think a lot of Young Adult fiction is caught up in the emotions of main characters (which is understandable for the turbulent psyches of teenagers) so that the setting falls by the wayside. Or even if it isn’t, the worlds surrounding these characters are fantastical enough to keep readers entertained all the way out of reality. I want my readers to feel different: grounded in the middle of the country, seeing the story fold out of beauty that already exists. Because at the end of the day, you have to close the book and keep living where you are, especially if you’re a teenager, so I hope I can help them enjoy it. Maybe the book won’t succeed at that, and maybe they’ll just look up from the pages and seek out another form of escape, but I’m hoping at least one or two people take a walk or a ride after they read it. One or two and I’ll be happy.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Write, write, write. I have no definite plans. My editor at Alloy and I want to work together the next chance we get, but that all depends on what kind of book the company thinks I can write, and what kind of book the YA market is clamoring for. In the meantime, I hope to write some short stories for adults, work with a sketch comedy group here in the Twin Cities, and have the best summer ever. Most summers are the best summer ever.
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