When I saw that Ava Dellaira was going to be signing at The Grove, I put the date on the calendar, but I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. As the date for closer, it was looking better and better. And then when the day arrived, I was making an entire day out of it.
I ended up having to stop by MGRB to pick up some signed pretties that I had ordered. I was lucky enough to catch LeAnna while she was walking out. We chatted for a minute before she left for lunch.
After a brief stop in the back room, I headed up to The Grove. Traffic was easy, so I was up there shortly after I left MGRB. I ended up being able to catch the next showing of Divergent and when the movie was over, I went to B&N.
They were selling Love Letters to the Dead behind the counter, so I went there and bought a copy and a copy of Perks of Being a Wallflower. It turns out they were doing wristbands [which I didn’t know], but I was still able to get one of the preferred bands for members.
On my way to camp out in the event area, I ran into Lita. We chatted for a minute [and she confirmed some excellent news that I can’t share yet] before I went to claim the front row.
Lita came out just after 7 and introduced Stephen first. He came up and talked about how he met Ava. [I didn’t get this, I was having technical difficulties.]
He introduced her by saying that once upon a time, Judy Blume or SE Hinton or Rainbow Rowell were walking to their first events wondering if there was going to be people in attendance. Somewhere there was a group of people who got to be in their first audience. He said that we were going to be able to say that we were the first group of people who ever got to see Ava.
She talked about The Grove being the bookstore she went to when she needed to work on the first draft. She would walk around the YA section and look at all of the titles. And now she was here, with a gorgeous cover and it was an exciting moment.
Ava talked about the synopsis of the book and then read a bit of the book.
After the reading was done, Ava and Stephen sat at the table and started the conversation portion. Stephen said that he only had a few questions to ask and then they were going to open it up to the audience.
S: You were there for Perks the whole time. Am I a great boss or a really great boss?
A: You were amazing.
S: When did you come up with the idea for the book?
A: I got it right after I started working for you. I showed you some of the ideas and you told me that I should write a novel. When I was sitting at a light and I thought “love letters to the dead” then the idea of it being an epistolary novel. The rest came from there.
S: Why did Kurt Cobain figure so prominently?
A: He was an important person in my life. I went from listening to Mariah Carey to Kurt. I needed something forceful to get me through. But I think he’s in the book so much because Laurel’s sister loved him.
S: How much of you is in the book?
A: There are some things. My sister can attest to the fairy games that we used to play.
S: What do you hope readers will come away with?
A: Laurel writes something at the end “that our lives matter” and I hope that’s the simplest thing.
You’re sitting there writer to writer, but that wasn’t always the case. When did you decide that you needed to show him something?
A: As soon as I got the courage. It felt so right, so I showed him a few pieces along the way. I didn’t show him all of it until I had an agent.
S:How many writers do we have here? Something I always like to tell people is that you need to write down all of your ideas. Establish something with the writers guild to protect yourself and then start working on it.
Is there something that you think links the people the letters are written to?
A: It is a bit of an eclectic group. All of them bring some sort of emotion out. They all connect with Laurel and her life in some way. The most obscure is Alan Lane who does the voice of Mister Ed. She reaches out to him to talk about her aunt who loves the show.
What is the most difficult part about releasing a novel?
There are a lot of people who helped me. Stephen helped me. I had an amazing editor. As it’s being released, it’s vulnerable, but amazing. I was sort of struggling with the emotions that Laurel was while editing and cutting things.
As a debut author, what sort of advice can you give to those of us who are trying to reach that status?
A: Write what you really connect to. Turn off the outside world. Not against the things that inspire you, but the things that you think will sell. Pick something that you want to live with over many drafts.
Were there any discoveries that you made about yourself while writing?
A: Yes. A lot about working through grief.
When Hollywood comes after you to option this, will you follow your mentor’s path and keep it?
A: I would probably write it, but I’m no director.
Have you ever written anything else in the format in letters? Maybe as a child?
A: No. I haven’t. And Stephen’s book was a big inspiration.
Can you talk about connecting the dots between the letters and the story?
A: The connections came while getting to know Laurel. I didn’t start out with a list of people that I wanted to work into the book. When she wrote to River Phoenix, I saw the first time she watched Stand by Me.
How did you keep from your grown woman’s voice from breaking through?
S: Ava is very immature.
A: My teenage voice is very close to the surface. I couldn’t have written this when I was 15. I was able to look back.
Writing a book is a very personal thing. Is it a hard thing to expose this piece of yourself to the world?
A: Yes. It’s scary, but if even one person can connect to it, then it’s exactly what I wanted.
How long into the four year process did the agent and editor come in?
A: I worked on the book for about a year alone before I started letting friends read it. Then it was about 9 months after that that I found an agent. We worked on it for a few months before I got an editor.
Who was your favorite person that Laurel wrote to?
A: Kurt Cobain was one that Laurel connected to and he meant a lot to me. River Phoenix and Judy Garland as well.
Is it hard to have people correct the things you’ve written?
A: Yes. I think the first reaction would be to be protective. But I would try to have those moments in private.
After that, Lita said it was time to line up. I was sitting on the first chair in the front row, so I was first in line. As everyone was getting together to line up row by row, Stephen waved me over to the table. I put my books out and congratulated Ava on her launch. Stephen commented on the spelling of my name. Lita came over and told them that I was one of her favorite bloggers and that I fought traffic to get there. Stephen laughed and said that he was wondering what I was doing, that I looked like I was really into it, but I never looked up. I said that I was typing up what was going on.
I thanked them again and then started the drive home. Love Letters to the Dead is a very unique story. The way it unfolds and the use of the letter writing makes for an interesting journey.