Laura Taylor Namey is the New York Times bestselling author of Reese’s Book Club pick A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, The Library of Lost Things, When We Were Them, and two forthcoming titles. A proud Cuban-American, she can be found hunting for vintage treasures and wishing she was in London or Paris. She lives in San Diego with her husband and two children.
Can you give us a brief description of When We Were Them?
When We Were Them is my first friendship-centered YA novel and it can be summed up like this. Three high school seniors, one ten-year-old friendship, and one act of betrayal told in two timelines.
I have two teens and there is nothing more important to them than their friends. I also remember my high school “ride-or-die” friends so fondly. I wanted to explore such a relationship that became so close and intuitive and symbiotic that nothing could tear it apart. And then I posit a world and a series of events and losses that threaten to do just that. As When We Were Them is largely a coming of age novel, I wanted these characters to have to regroup before they can move forward into all those next steps high school seniors are facing. Will everything these friends have been be strong enough to withstand everything they’ve become? This is what WWWT unpacks.
Where is the book set? What motivated this choice? What do you think is important when choosing a setting?
My book is set in my hometown beach community of Crown Point. This is a tiny pocket of San Diego, and such a wonderful place to grow up. I think setting should be treated like another character in any story. it should inspire memory and emotion. Its haunts and features and weather and sand or snow or mountains should insert themselves and weave through the story arc as much as any plot point. Some features of Crown Point are so important to my story line, they’re almost sentient.
How has your background influenced your writing? To what extent does your own life influence your writing?
As a first generation Cuban-American, I love to include my culture in all of my stories. Whether it’s food or ideals, customs and language, the rich heritage I come from is extremely important to me. it’s an extension of my own memory and emotion. And I feel that’s something unique and personal that I can stamp onto every page I write. My Reese’s Book Club selection, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow is definitely the most autobiographical piece I’ve done, so much so, that my Cuban family relatives are still taking bets on which characters they inspired!
Can you take us through the process of writing a book? What do you do first?
Typically, my books starts with a person. A character going through a unique situation with a unique goal and problem. I never start with plot alone, as for me, plot is what happens to a character to bring them through a certain emotional arc. So I find the right person first. Then, I put the whole thing on a mental potter’s wheel and start culling and adding, building and sculpting. I create a diverse cast, and maybe a love story. I set my story in a place that’s eerie or beautiful or exciting. Then I always create a cache of story objects and haunts and character traits that move along with the plot and help expand resonance and emotion.
What was the most challenging part of writing your latest book?
Since I’m juggling three manuscripts in different stages right now, I’ll speak about When We Were Them. That story is told in two timelines: a present timeline which spans one week leading up until graduation. And a past timeline covering all four years of high school with flashbacks that extend into early childhood. Sometimes information is given in one timeline, and answered or expounded on in the other. And managing all of that was very, very difficult. It took a rewrite and a lot of revision to get it just the way my editor and I felt it should be.
How did you come up with the title?
I wanted a title that was a little haunting and lyrical, which matches the tone of the prose. I also wanted the title to suggest that what is most important about this book is not the present timeline so much as the past, and all of the tiny details and events that lead the characters to the place they are right before graduation.
What other books and authors have inspired you?
I love Sabaa Tahir, and Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Elizabeth Acevedoa whole lot. My favorite book from childhood is Anne of Green Gables.
Which of your books are you most proud of?
I’m more proud of my journey as a whole than any one title. Each book has taught me something that allows me to keep hoping and striving.