Finding new authors to love is exciting for avid readers. Jan Von Schleh’s debut novel will be released on June 12 and can easily become your next favorite. But Not Forever is a YA novel that includes time travel, strong characters, forbidden love, and friendships that literally stretch through time.
I got a chance to sit down with Jan to talk about how this book came to be, what her writing process was like, and whether we are going to get to see any more of these endearing characters.
Jan, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. I don’t want to give away the ending, but you share early on that there is time travel involved. Have you always been interested in time travel?
I have, ever since I devoured A Wrinkle In Time when I was about ten. I must have read it a dozen times over the next couple years. I don’t think anyone could read that book at that age and not believe in time travel. It’s just a concept today, but who knows how it will play out in the future? Who living in 1895 would have imagined flying through the sky in a metal tube? Or rocketing men to the moon? We are progressing by leaps and bounds. Time travel just might be a reality someday for a generation of people who will think of it as casually as we now think of the internet and cell phones.
And how much research did you do in order to be able to discuss all that scientific lingo?
Laughing. I must admit I didn’t do too much. The truth is, I made most of it up, except for some important sounding words that came from a friend who does do research on the concept of time travel. That’s the fun of fiction – a made-up story, with made-up characters, uttering made-up words, all of which you try your hardest to make believable. I hope I succeeded!
How did you pick the location for the book? Do you have a connection to Washington State? And why did you pick 1895?
Well, that’s a story that isn’t made up! I’m from Seattle and grew up with parents who used to take their five kids hiking around in the mountains outside the city. Monte Cristo is an actual ghost-town, an abandoned gold-mining operation in the Cascade Mountains. The place used to freak me out! There were still old shacks where long-dead miners used to live. There were still mines with the entrances boarded up. There was an old, empty, broken down hotel. That creepy place stayed with me my entire life – and I used it for the setting of the book. I picked the year 1895 because that general decade was when the town was hopping and there was still a lot of hope from big East Coast investors, like John D. Rockefeller, that the mines would produce a ton of gold.
Once you decided on 1895, did you have to do a lot of research on that time period?
I researched clothes, mostly. Hats, shoes, boots, women’s dresses, and the clothes a miner, or a maid, or the richest man in town would wear. I also watched a lot of the first years of Downton Abby, which took place in a different country entirely, but it was the Victorian era and high-born men and women in America copied the stuffy English style of speech, clothes, houses, and decorations. Whatever was popular in Victorian Britain became all the rage in the United States.
Are the kids in the book based on anyone in your life? Did you grow up with a similar set of close friends and family?
Yes, I grew up with a passel of brothers and cousins and friends. Just like Sonnet, I had a twin brother, although I didn’t have a sister, just brothers. I had best friends, as close and in sync as Sonnet is with her cousin, Lia.
You have some very interesting names throughout the book. How did you choose those?
Emma was my great-grandmother’s name. She was a Swedish immigrant who would have been a girl in 1895 and I have always loved that name. The name, Sonnet, just came to me. I wanted something like Scarlett or Charlotte, but more unusual. Honestly, I have never heard of anyone named Sonnet, but it’s nice, don’t you think? After coming up with those names, and because there are a lot of characters, I tried to make groupings of people have related names in some way so it would be easier in the beginning of the story to understand who’s who. Sonnet’s twin brother is Evan and her sister is Jules. They all have an “e” in their names. Half-Filipina sisters, Niki and Lia, both have an “i” in their names. I wanted Swedish immigrant, Tor, to have a strong one-syllable Swedish name. His ancestor is called Rapp, which is also a one-syllable name and an old surname from Scandinavia meaning quick or prompt or a soldier’s name. I thought it was unusual and fresh and related to his love of music.
There’s a pretty significant twist at the end of the book, that I honestly never saw coming. I promise I won’t give it away, but can you share whether you had that in mind all along or did it come to you later?
By the first one-third of the book, I knew I had to tie everything together at the end and have a reason for all of this to have happened. It worked well to know the ending, as it gave me a pathway to get there. Finishing up the last chapter with a reckoning for Emma, however, didn’t come to me until the very end of the book.
What was your writing process like? Did you write every day? Did you storyboard it first or just write organically?
I had never written a book before or had any lessons in literary writing. This story idea had come out of the blue and was so powerful, it sat me right down at my laptop in attempt to catch all the emotions and ideas coming out of my head. When I realized this might just be something – I ordered some “how to write” books and hunkered down to read. It was then I discovered the writing processes called “pantser” (by the seat of your pants) and “plotter”. I decided I better try to at least make a stab at plotting, so I got on Excel and plotted out chapters and a short paragraph of what I thought might be in them. The story changed here and there as I wrote, but the spreadsheet did keep me on track towards an eventual end and was a godsend because I was essentially writing two stories. I did write every day, where and when I could. I was literally possessed. Sonnet McKay and Emma Sweetwine had taken over my life.
And a little birdie told me that you are now working on a sequel to this. Can you give us any hints on what might be in that? Will we see all the same characters again?
Yes! I’m in the process of writing it now. I had let a few people read the But Not Forever manuscript and several had said to me, “I just love Maxwell! Why can’t he get the girl?” It was then that I knew I had to take this circa 1895 Native American carriage driver and write a second book about him. Thankfully, I thought of this in time and was able to set a bit of it up in the first book. Maxwell’s story starts a year after the first story ends and takes readers on another emotional roller-coaster. They are both stand-alone books, but readers of But Not Forever will really get this new one. It will be published in summer, 2019.
Jan, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. I’m really looking forward to seeing But Not Forever in bookstores and online on June 12th. And until then, people can check out your website at www.janvonschleh.com.