If I could pick one book that came out in 2016 that I wanted everyone to read, it might be The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen. I knew Konen would be an author to watch after reading her debut, The After Girls. The Last Time We Were Us is Konen’s second novel and makes good on that promise. It’s a smart, sexy story about first love, expectations, memories, and a whole lot more. Today Leah is here to talk a bit about her writing and the book.
Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?
Leah Konen (LK): I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, but I only really started to take it seriously in college, where I took a YA writing class that got me started on my first novel, which I finished after moving to New York. Once I was in NYC, I met so many other writers that I started to see it not just as a wild dream but as something that could maybe happen one day—I’ve never looked back!
MP: What was the inspiration for The Last Time We Were Us?
LK: I was sitting at my mom’s house in North Carolina and remembering a lot of childhood games my friends and I used to play. The wheels started turning, and I decided I wanted to write a story about two childhood friends who were torn apart but find a way to come together again. I was also very inspired by my college days in North Carolina. While it was a wonderful place in many ways, there were certain elements of southern and frat culture, especially around gender roles, that made me uncomfortable as I got older. I wanted to explore both the wonderful and problematic elements of the South.
MP: Liz has to make a lot of hard choices in this story (friendship or popularity, Jason or Innis to name two). Did you always know what decisions Liz would ultimately make? How much of the plot did you know when you first began working on this novel?
LK: I knew a lot! It’s the only time that the whole plot has come to me in a flash. Liz wasn’t the easiest character to write, as I often found myself disagreeing with some of her choices and motivations, but watching her grow and take ownership of her life and her role in society was really awesome for me as a writer.
MP: Liz is a really interesting narrator. She knows who she is and she tries to stay true to what she believes throughout the novel. But she also is often swayed by the expectations of her friends and family. How did you balance Liz’s certainty in some areas of her life with the uncertainty she begins to feel in other areas with Jason’s return?
LK: I’m in my thirties, and I’m not perfect, and I certainly wasn’t perfect in high school. I wanted to explore a girl who had a strong moral compass but didn’t always know how to go about following it. I wanted to watch someone make mistakes and still be able to find some redemption and peace in the end. I think many of us are constantly balancing right and wrong, our own desires and those of others, so I thought it only natural that Liz would, as well.
MP: This story has a few moving parts including romance, mystery, and a really surprising twist at the end. As a writer how did you go about pacing this story and balancing the different elements of the narrative?
LK: Scrivener (the app) and Save the Cat (the screenwriting book). IMHO, two of the most important tools for any writer.
MP: I was really happy with the way feminism played into this story and how sex positive it is. Did you always know that these would themes would be a part of the story and of Liz’s character?
LK: Absolutely! While I don’t believe YA should be steeped in heavy moral lessons, I do think it should at least put some good in the world. Feminism is very important to me, and so it’s important that any book I write be heavy on the girl power, while being realistic about the unique issues girls and women face.
MP: Were any locations in The Last Time We Were Us inspired by real locations you have visited?
LK: Bonneville is an amalgamation of different places I experienced in North Carolina, as well as one very gorgeous park I came across while biking in San Francisco. Hint hint: it’s the place that Liz and Jason used to bike to as kids.
MP: When Liz begins to reminisce about her childhood friendship with Jason, she digs some old photographs out of a hidden memory box. Did you ever have a similar box of mementos? What’s one childhood photograph (or just memory) that you find yourself returning to fondly now that you are older?
LK: I definitely have that box. My favorite is my sister and I, about 3 and 7 years old, sitting in matching pint-sized rocking chairs, my sister holding a fake microphone and belting her heart out.
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
LK: Yes. It’s called The Romantics, and it follows a lovesick guy, Gael, on his misadventures as he tries to find the girl for him. Also, it’s narrated by Love, herself. It comes out November 1, but you can pre-order it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01IDGS3FQ/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1!
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
LK: Yes. Just keep on writing, and keep on reading. Don’t read only in your genre of choice—instead, read everything you can get your hands on. I believe that reading voraciously is the best thing you can possibly do to improve your writing.
Thanks again to Leah for this fantastic interview.
You can also check out my review of The Last Time We Were Us.