One of the books that has impacted me the most this year is The Way I Used To Be. Maybe it’s because I am a survivor of sexual assault that I related to the character so much – but regardless it’s a book that changed the way I looked at myself. It changed my perspective on the things that happened to me, the aftermath, and the things that I still struggle with.
It changed me. And that’s what any great book does.
We talked with the author, Amber Smith. It truly was an honor. If you haven’t picked up the book – you should now. Here’s the interview –
The Way I Used to Be is a powerful debut novel. What inspired the story?
Thank you so much! I had wanted to write about abuse and sexual violence for a long time. When I began writing this book, it was a way of simply trying to work through my own thoughts and emotions surrounding this topic, to take my feelings of frustration, confusion, anger, and fear and turn them into something constructive. Sexual violence is a lived reality for so many young people, yet there’s still so much silence surrounding this issue. From the perspective of my main character, Eden, I saw a chance to explore what that silence means and feels like.
You write the story – covering all 4 years of high school. This is a unique way to tell the story, but a powerful way. How do you think that setting the timeline up this way impacted the story?
I wanted the story to encompass all four years of high school so that I could use the element of time to show just how deep and lasting the wounds of violence can be. By dividing the book into four years, I wanted the reader to be able to see the person Eden was before she was raped, in order to better understand how and why she evolves into the person she becomes by the end of the book. In reality, recovery from trauma and violation is a long and complicated journey; I wanted to show what this process can sometimes look like when, as we see in Eden’s case, the person doesn’t have the support they need. What I hoped to reveal along the way is how difficult it can be to stand up to abuse, why speaking out is not always as simple or easy as some might assume. I don’t think I could have told this part of the story in a more condensed timeframe.
But because each of the four parts of the book only includes a portion of that year, I had to think of each section as a kind of “snapshot” of time. This meant that I had to be pretty selective and deliberate about what exactly I would show happening in the scenes. I tried to keep a balance between what was seen and what was taking place between the lines, so to speak. Since it would have been impossible to actually show everything that would’ve happened in Eden’s life across a span of four years, it helped me to think of the various elements of the book as threads that could be picked up and woven back into the story, even after a break in time. The hope being that there’s enough there for the reader to be able to make those leaps across time with me.
What was the hardest part of writing the story?
It’s interesting; I’ve been asked by several readers whether it was the sexual assault scenes that were the hardest part of writing this story. But it was actually the aftermath, the emotional turmoil and the fractured relationships that were more difficult for me to write about, emotionally. There were also some logistical elements of the book that were “tricky” to write, but by far the most challenging part was the emotional journey of the story.
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
I hope readers come away with some new thoughts about what it means to be a survivor, and the importance of having compassion—both for others and for ourselves. And, perhaps, most of all, I also hope this book says something about self-worth: the importance of finding your voice and speaking your truth, standing up to abuse in all its forms.
What writing advice do you have for those that want to be a writer?
Other than the usual—read and write as much as possible—I don’t have much practical writing advice, I’m afraid. I think one of the most important things is to simply listen to your own inner voice, to write the stories you feel in your heart, and to do it in an honest way.
What can we expect next from you?
I’m working on another contemporary YA right now, slated for publication in the summer of 2017. This book deals with domestic violence, telling the story of three siblings as they cope with the death of their abusive father at the hands of their mother.