By Anne Calingacion
Last weekend, the authors of the contemporary young adult trilogy Burn for Burn held a book signing tour to promote their latest books here in Manila! What makes this collaboration even more amazing is that Jenny Han, author of the bestselling young adult novel To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and the maker of #TeamPeterKavinsky, and Siobhan Vivian, author of The Last Boy and Girl in the World are actual real life besties!
During the Manila International Bookfair, Chalk sat down with the uber-talented duo to talk about their new books, the upcoming movie adaptations of their works, their Philippine experience, and their message to their Filipino fans. Sounds interesting so far? They also share some insights for aspiring writers. Read on to know more!
Is this your first time here in the Philippines?
Jenny: It’s my second time. I did a tour here three and a half years ago. It’s Siobhan’s first time.
Tell us about your book collaboration, the Burn for Burn trilogy.
Siobhan: It’s a story about three girls who are not actually friends that come together to take revenge on the people who have done them wrong. It is an unlikely alliance that somehow gives them the strength to take back a little bit of what’s taken from them.
How did you two come up with this story about revenge and friendship?
Jenny: There are some actual, real-life experiences in the book.
Siobhan: We got to talking about things that happened to us in high school that we never forgot or forgave. We asked ourselves: “If we could go back to those moments, would we remember them differently? Would we be able to move on easily if we had the chance to stick up to ourselves?”
What are the inspirations behind your new books?
Siobhan: For The Last Boy & Girl In The World, there was a flood that happened near where I live now in Pennsylvania. I had the idea of everyone leaving that place at once, similar to the end of high school where everybody kind of packs up and leaves to go on different directions, but on a grander scale. It was interesting for me to explore the dynamic of knowing that you're seeing somebody for the last time and how this changes the way you approach them or how you put yourself out there.
The main character Keeley is probably the closest thing to writing about myself. She’s definitely a bit of a clown: she doesn’t take herself seriously and is not used to boys noticing her. This way, she gets the boy who she’s always has a crush on from far away. Everytime he looks at her, she feels that things are about to change in a big way. She’s kind of distracting herself with challenges by throwing herself head on into a relationship with the boy who she’s been in love with forever.
Jenny: Like Lara Jean, I also wrote love letters when I was younger so that really came from my personal experiences. I would define Lara Jean as someone who has a vivid inner life, a homebody who enjoys spending time with family, baking, and contently hanging out in her own comfortable space. I wanted to write a character who's happy with where she's at, someone that didn’t have aspirations of being the girl with a boyfriend, or the girl with all the cool friends.
How was the creative process in writing your new releases?
Siobhan: It took place in a very different time, in the early 1900s. I didn’t want to write a historic novel so I tried to layer the event with a more contemporary setting, inserting a version of myself into that narrative.
Jenny: It first started with this idea of what kind of girl would do that, someone who was really thinking about her whole life and family, focusing all the action in the home because that’s where she likes to be. When she and Peter (Kavinsky) started their fake relationship, she was out in the world more.
Have you experienced writer's block? How did you overcome such struggles?
Jenny: All the time. I never think of it as a "writer’s block," simply that writing is difficult at times. It’s more like: “It is what it is.”
Siobhan: I would say the same thing. Writer’s block usually comes from the fact that I haven’t figured out enough stuff yet, and the only way to figure out more stuff is to keep on going.
What are your tips for aspiring writers?
Jenny: My advice is to keep some sort of a journal to write down your observations, your thoughts, and your feelings because it’s important to hone your voice. I think that’s what sets you apart. I don’t think any story is ever going to be fresh or brand new. It’s really how you look at the story and what you bring to it in your own voice that gives that feeling.
Siobhan: If you do want to write, don’t give up on an idea when it gets hard. Don’t get distracted by the shiny new ideas; you really want to learn about what it takes to be a writer by pushing through and telling a story from start to finish.
Let’s talk about the movie adaptation of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before: the casting, the difference between the book and the film, and your fave book-to-movie adaptation.
Jenny: It was fun going to the set to meet them and see how they brought the characters to life. When it comes to the changes, the book and the movie are usually different. This is usually for a good reason because there are things that you can do in the book that you can’t do in the movies and vice-versa. Since the movie is the visual medium, you have to see the action. In the book, it could be really interior. That was the challenge of making this book come to life because she is such an interior character and a lot of it are in her own head. The way that the sisters interact and how she and Peter have a really good chemistry are, to me, are hardest parts of the story.
My favorite scene would be–I don’t want to give anything that’s too big–but I guess there’s a romantic scene in the book that you will see in the movie that I think looks beautiful and sweet. I did see a clip of it and I was really happy with it.
What do you want to say to your Filipino readers?
Jenny: I’m so happy to be back! Thank you so much for supporting the books and for being so passionate and excited. I’m really happy to be here and to see you guys!
Siobhan: Thank you for the warm welcome! I can see why you are so proud about this country. I’m so happy to be here!
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