Well it is summer and I’ve been traveling and being terrible about keeping up with the blog. But what I have been doing is reading. Reading books by writers I respect, some I even have the pleasure to know –which is my favourite thing to do, talk about cool people in this rich community of authors and artists..
I started the summer reading Sarah Tomp’s My Best Everything, a story that takes place during Lulu Mendez’s pivotal summer between graduation and college. Lulu is ready to get out of her small town of Dale, Virginia and head off to California where she’s been accepted to college. Lulu has always been a good girl, staying away from the typical distractions of drugs and alcohol and boys, but when her father informs her that there is no money for school, Lulu comes up with a plan–an illegal plan to sell moonshine to raise the money she needs to get to school–and out of town.
Lulu and Mason are pulled together. Mason has a complicated history with moonshine and alcoholism, making him both a likely and dangerous choice. But he does and what starts off as a get rich quick scheme becomes complicated and dangerous. Told is second person point of view, My Best Everything is a summer read that goes a bit deeper, asking you to ponder the reasons why we make decisions and the opportunity for forgiveness–if you are brave enough to believe in fate.
Sarah Tomp is the author of My Best Everything, a YA novel steeped in moonshine, and a picture book, Red, White, and Blue Good-bye. She has a MFA in writing for children and young adults from VCFA. She lives in San Diego with her family where she reads, writes and teaches. Follow her on Twitter: @swtomp You can find Sarah at: www.sarahtomp.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SarahTomp.author
Mel: Lulu’s journey seems to be a sort of “good girl goes bad” scenario. What kinds of questions emerged for you while you were learning about her character? How did you keep it so that we wouldn’t turn against her?
Sarah: You sound as if you didn’t turn against Lulu – which makes me happy, because I wasn’t sure that would be the case! I actually quite love that she is feisty and somewhat selfish. I think too often young women are told to be nice and end up limiting themselves. It was wonderful to write about a character willing to take action, even when it led to messes.
At the beginning of the summer Lulu truly believes she’s a “good girl.” She think good and bad are separated by a very clear line. By the end, she’s not as sure what she knows anymore.
She had much less problem breaking the law than breaking the religious rules she’d been raised to follow. Although Lulu crosses plenty of lines, and every part of the moonshine process is illegal, she doesn’t violate her own moral code. She doesn’t steal, doesn’t kill anyone, and doesn’t even sell any of their product to minors, as far as she knows.
Mel: No I didn’t turn against her. I like that she tried to take control of the mess that she inherited, which wasn’t her fault. Leading to my next question…You clearly had to do a lot of research about stills. What was some of the more interesting things you stumbled upon?
Sarah: I had so much fun with the research!
Even though I found a lot of information online and in books, the lead distiller at Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits was incredibly generous with his time and enthusiasm in answering my questions. Not to mention the taste-tests…
But the most surprising discovery was the importance of yeast. I had no idea yeast was so interesting! It’s crucial to the process. White Labs helped me with that part of the research. (Complete with more taste-tests…)
Historically, some moonshiners had no idea that yeast was part of the recipe. The tiny microorganisms simply hopped into the batch and got things going. Different yeast strains live—and evolve—in every part of the world, including Antarctica. The reason Kentucky whiskey tastes different than that from Tennessee is due to the particular yeast that grows in each place. And different yeast yield different alcohol contents. Some of the bigger distilleries even patent their yeast. Because yeast reproduces quickly, one challenge is keeping it from changing too much.
Mel: Let’s chat about Mason. Given he is the supposed audience of Lulu’s second person narrative, how did his character evolve? Were there things that emerged about him because of the second person p.o.v.?
Sarah: Ah, Mason. Readers seem to love Mason as much as Lulu does. He was a bit of a mystery to me when I first started writing. Lulu and I got to know him together. For a long time I wasn’t even sure where he was!
The thing is, we never truly know everything about anyone else, even the people we love best. I thoroughly enjoyed letting Lulu figure things out about him, even if she was getting it “wrong” some of the time. I wanted it to be clear that Mason was changing over the course of the summer as well—it was important to me that he develop relationships with Lulu’s friends Roni and Bucky, separate from their falling in love.
At one point I had to figure out exactly what Mason and his cousin Seth were doing during the times in between Lulu’s run-ins with Seth. That part of the story didn’t turn up on the page, but I had to know when and how Seth knew about their moonshine business, and what that meant to him. I loved thinking about the relationship between Mason and Seth—and all the ways it was dysfunctional, even though it was based in love.
Mel: I love that. That we need to know two characters story, even if we don’t ever really
read it. By knowing it, you can infuse that into the novel. In that vein, what were some of the surprises that emerged about this story as you were writing it?
Sarah: Writing is always about surprise for me! Even though I try to have a plan when I start, the things I don’t know always end up being the best parts. When I first started writing My Best Everything, it was a simple love story between a girl who was leaving town and a boy who had just come home (from rehab). But it was clear that Lulu felt incredibly guilty about something, and Mason kept talking about moonshine… When I finally realized they were going to make and sell moonshine, so many things were already in place. It was like it was meant to be!
Mel: What is the most interesting thing you’ve ever found in a junk yard?
Sarah: Great question! I’m not nearly the junk-shopper that other people in my family are—but we had summer treasures that we found at the junkyard in Maine. An old metal scooter was a tremendous find—this was way before Razor Scooters were a thing. Its name was “Scooty.”
As an adult, I’ve visited several junkyards with my youngest son—he loves to take things apart and to just wander around the old broken cars. A useful find was a replacement window for an old truck we own. Paying to replace it through an ordinary business probably would have cost more than the truck was worth!