Isabel Bandeira is the author of the Ever After series. She’s here today to talk about the third book in the series, Practically Ever After, super planner MC Grace, and wrapping her first trilogy. (Don’t worry, the books all read as standalones so no risk of spoilers for Bookishly Ever After here!)
Miss Print (MP): Practically Ever After is the final book in your Ever After series. Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration for and focus of Grace’s story?
Isabel Bandeira (IB): I know the primary focus for readers of my books is the romance, but all three books start from a premise where the romance is secondary to the character learning to embrace their strengths (and flaws) and use them to chart their own happily ever afters in every aspect of their lives. Like Phoebe and Em, Grace’s journey is about learning that she’s more than her lists and plans, that she is more than the labels she projects onto herself, and that perception is definitely *not* reality.
In the last two books, all we saw was the perfect facade she projected to the world– perfect clothes, perfect grades, glitterati status, upper middle class family, perfect girlfriend– and this was a chance to let readers see things from her point of view, flaws and all. The downside of starting the story with a “perfect” life and relationship, though, is that us evil writers (and life) need to shake things up to make things interesting. The last part of senior year in high school is hard– not because of classes or homework since most of that is winding down, but because it’s right on the edge of a turning point in your life: everything is about to change. I wanted to reflect the excitement, fear, and bittersweet nature of that experience in Grace’s story. Change makes us grow, and Grace learning to deal with her perfect plans falling apart was how I was going to help her grow through her story.
MP: Practically Ever After focuses on Grace and her girlfriend, Leia–a character we don’t see as much of in the other novels in the series. What were some of your favorite details to share about Leia as readers get the chance to properly meet her?
IB: Leia is sunshine. She’s Grace’s balance, the one person who can tone down the Queen of plans and perfection while also bringing out Grace’s inner dork. While Grace is about fitting in–salon-perfect blonde highlights and gliteratti-approved clothes, Leia’s unnatural hair colors shift through the story (and the prequel story) and she spends most of the book in her school uniform or grubby gardening clothes. Like Grace, she’s smart, but unlike Grace, she doesn’t show it off. One thing readers may notice both in earlier books and the beginning of Practically is that she’s skilled at stepping aside to let others shine and is too good at making allowances for others, so a big part of her journey in PEA is to learn to stand up for herself.
A Leia primer: unlike the rest of the group, she goes to a private school on the outskirts of Lambertfield. She loves working with kids and wants to be a teacher, she loves to garden, and just barely tolerates her mom’s love of antiques. She and Grace met through model UN (and, back then, she had long red hair that made her look like Ariel from The Little Mermaid) and she’s the type of person who will drop everything to help you out.
MP: What was it like writing the final book in a series? Did you know where you wanted all of the characters to end up when you started writing this series? Did anything change between then and now?
IB: Yes, I had to provide synopses for all 3 books as a part of my contract with Spencer Hill Press, so I knew where the books and characters were going to go from the very beginning. What changed in the actual books from my synopses were mostly details, such as side characters, character names, or certain aspects of execution, like timing and adding shadows and color to really flesh out the story. I was going through a few changes in my life at the time of drafting and revising the book, so some of my own personal stresses at the time– including being in my own period of career change–helped me to better empathize with Grace’s situation and better capture the feelings I had wanted to convey.
MP: We’ve talked in previous interviews about how you balance your career as a mechanical engineer with being an author and other creative pursuits–a balance that Grace herself is trying to find as she decides what comes after high school. What was it like tapping into your own experiences for this story? What’s one thing you wish you could tell yourself when you were in Grace’s shoes?
IB: It was wonderful being able to show Grace falling in love with engineering, like I did the first time I realized it was more than just engines and boring machines, and showing her deep in the spark of a new idea. It was also wonderful to dance again (vicariously) through Grace, since I had to give up ballet and contemporary because of problems with my feet and legs. Those moments where she was one with a design or with the music were magical to write. There’s this false perception in society that STEM and arts don’t intersect and I wanted a character who loved both because I want other girls who love science and art, math and dance to know that we exist and thrive and are needed.
For Grace: I’d tell past me and her that you can be practical and still find your own niche in the world. I had always seen Mechanical Engineering from the limited lens of what I knew– either machines or power/thermodynamics, like what my dad did for a living. What I didn’t see was how my love of art and design and creativity could fit into that space and how the human body is the most amazing machine ever. I’d tell her that we contain multitudes and those multitudes are what make us strong and unique. Instead of sacrificing what makes us special, we can learn how to combine them into the right future career for ourselves. And I’d tell her that sometimes the best things happen when life decides to veer you (slightly) off your plans.
MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project? What’s the first thing you did when you finished work on Practically Ever After?
IB: I rested and slept! The last few rounds of revision took a lot out of me and I needed a break from writing to recharge my mental batteries. 2017-2019 involved a ton of career changes (engineering-wise) and family illnesses. Combined with the stresses of writing, revision, and promo, I had to spend some time after I turned in my manuscript not trying to do or be *everything*, and that included writing. I am currently in the middle of a YA contemporary set in Portugal and pulling from my experiences as a third culture kid (hyphen-Americans, first gens… whatever we’re called this month…). I love it, but I’ve taken this time to pause, step back, and let my body and brain recover.
It’s so easy to get caught up in this whirl of book/writer social media where you feel like you’re not a good writer if you don’t have a book deal or you aren’t always writing or having a book or two or three out a year or promoting or engaging with readers or spending every weekend signing at a table in a Barnes and Noble or flying out to book festivals or… or… or… And it’s easy to think you’re never good enough, not enough sales or readers or likes on the latest tweet/insta post, not part of the right clique of authors, not loud enough on social media, not good enough to be invited to panels or maybe invited to the wrong ones or invited to too many and you don’t want to miss out, and the moment you get a really nice review, someone is out there to remind you that you suck or you don’t write “real books” because they’re for kids or have people kissing or are happy or are commercial. And even with your publisher and readers and friends are awesome, it happens. So, sometimes we need to step back, breathe, and remember why we started: because we love books.
I’ve learned that my best work comes when I write out of joy and for myself. I took this time between finishing PEA and now to examine my motivations and just fall in love with writing for the sake of writing. I broke ties with my former agent who represented the Ever After novels mid last year and I have a few books sitting and ready to query, but I’m waiting to finish the Portugal one first. I’m really excited about this one because it’s close to my heart, so wish me luck!
Thanks again to Isabel for taking the time to answer my questions!
You can also check out my review of Practically Ever After.