Everything is circular. My first post of 2015 was the exclusive Canadian cover reveal of Ingrid Sundberg’s YA novel, All We Left Behind, and here we are at the end of the year with an interview celebrating the book’s release earlier this month.
Since its release, Ingrid’s novel has been featured on a number of “Best of” lists, and with her #shareyoursecrets campaign, raised awareness on the importance for people to share their stories. This is because Ingrid’s gorgeous novel explores how keeping these important things buried, can impact everything and that by telling one person, can be the difference of living or drowning.
ALL WE LEFT BEHIND is an evocative and tantalizing debut novel told in alternating first-person narration. For teen couple Marion and Kurt, every kiss unravels memories they would both rather forget. Marion is haunted by childhood sexual assault, while Kurt can’t save his sister from meth and escape the guilt surrounding the death of his mother. The reader watches the couple struggle to trust one another and discover what it means to be vulnerable. Explosive together and hollow apart, Marion and Kurt may be totally wrong for each other – or more right than they ever thought possible.
Ingrid Sundberg is passionate about stories that look into the shadows of our vulnerability.
She believes reading is a safe place to explore the depths of humanity, what we desire, and the secrets we hide. Ingrid holds an MFA in writing for children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman University. All We Left Behind is her first novel. Find her online at: www.ingridsundberg.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ingridsundberg ǀ @ingridsundberg
Instagram: https://instagram.com/isundberg/ ǀ @isundberg
Mel: Kurt and Marion both wrestle with some deep scars. How do you find your way into these dark places without completely losing perspective? Did you lose perspective? What were some of the questions that emerged for you?
Ingrid: It took me years to really tap into the true heart of this novel. It’s been through so many different forms. It used to be a screenplay, as well as a completely different novel. I think I finally found my way into those dark places when I stopped trying to “say something” or “plot a novel” or worry about what other people thought. Instead I focused on my characters. I asked them to be brave and tell me what happened to them. It was a very round about process. I had to write scene after scene of back story to finally find out the truth. Then I had to figure out how to piece it all into an actual book. It was a big mess of scenes. But that’s also how memory works, we don’t remember what happened to us linearly. One story leads to another, and then another causes us to revise the first story we told, and so on.
Mel: The relationship between Marion and Lilith is quite complex, infused with many questions around truth and sexuality. Perhaps you can speak to this a bit.
Ingrid: I agree that Marion and Lilith’s relationship is complex. It’s one of those friendships that started when they were both young kids, and they’ve grown up together. But suddenly they’re getting older and they’re starting to realize how different they are from one another. And yet there’s this intimacy of time between them.
Friendship dynamics are fascinating to me. Sometimes friends think they know what’s good for each other, for example Lilith thinks she knows what’s good for Marion, but really she has no clue. We often get trapped in our own experience. If something worked for us, we expect it to work for other people, and that’s seldom the case.
Mel: The novel is also infused with poetry. How did the nuances and images emerge and connect for you? Were there some that you eventually felt too heavy handed?
Ingrid: I’m a big fan of letting things grow organically, so the metaphors and motifs created themselves. I also have a tendency to avoid telling the reader what’s going on. Because of that I rely heavily on metaphor and objective correlative to communicate emotion. When an image really resonated with me, I’d try to see if I could thread it through the rest of the novel.
I think the lines that denote if something is heavy handed or not is completely up to the reader. I had readers say something was overused, and others say they wanted more. I just had to go with my own gut, and listen to my editor. Honestly, so much of it is about taste. Some people like subtlety, others like directness. I usually go for subtlety, but was often encouraged by my editor to be more on-the-nose.
Mel: Kurt and Marion have a physical connection and say very little to one another at first. So much is said in the rhythm of our body language and you convey this so well. What were some of the ways you developed this early part of the relationship?
Ingrid: This was part of the magic of this book for me. I was so enthralled by these two kids who would NOT talk to each other. So much was happening internally, and neither felt comfortable voicing their vulnerabilities and fears.
I had to spend a lot of time exploring the world sensually through their skin. I’d ask them what they felt: saw, smelled, touched, tasted. Then I’d try to translate that into emotion through metaphor and word choice. There’s a dreamlike quality to the way they interact, and I kept trying to focus on the feeling, the emotional beats, rather than the plot or what happens in a scene. Their relationship really lives in the negative space – which is empty, it’s air, it’s what’s not said. So I had to get creative in how I describes something that had no shape or color or sound.
Mel: You have a very active blog, providing insights on a number of topics, such as writing life, agents, and creativity. Many creative people have the question around balancing it all. How do you do it?
Ingrid: I’m glad I’ve given you all the illusion that I’ve got it figured out! I feel like I’m always struggling to keep a balance. I think my best advice is keep showing up. Attempt to be consistent. I try to blog once a week. The more I do it, the more inertia I create. Same thing with writing. I’m always more productive when I show up every day and write. Does that mean you have to write every day – no. But for me, when I do, things start feeling more balanced. I think it’s about creating consistent habits and not waiting for when you feel like doing something. Lately I’ve been shooting for: write one hour a day, blog once a week. Minimum. I like rules and deadlines. They help me stay on track.
Mel: What are some of the ways you relax?
Ingrid: I love to read romance novels. The steamier the better. They’re fun and I’m a romantic at heart. I also like to design artwork on my computer. I do silly things like create a book cover for a project I’m working on, or make a pretty “to do list template.”
Thanks so much for Ingrid Sundberg for doing this Q&A and to Simon and Schuster Canada.