I was fortunate enough to run across Johanna Randle (@RandleJohanna) during #IndieApril on Twitter. She shared a link to her YA novel, The Inevitable Fate of E & J. First, I thought the cover was lovely and evocative, so I clicked the link. A YA story about past lives? That sounded unique and fun. I read a sample of the first page and was hooked! I really enjoyed the premise, the characters, and the writing. Luckily, there will be more of this fascinating past lives concept for E & J. Yay!
SJ: Past lives don't show up too often in fiction. How did you come up with this great idea for a YA novel?
JR: When I was a teenager, I loved to read all things supernatural and paranormal. But I only ever found one book about past lives – Gallows Hill by Lois Duncan. I fell in love with the concept immediately, and I didn’t understand why there weren’t more similar books out there. Then, at sixteen, I met my now husband and we would talk about the possibility of having past lives together. I’ve been thinking about my book since then!
SJ: It's mentioned in the book that the characters have had multiple past lives. What led you to choose the time periods you did for those lives?
JR: I chose the periods that appeal to me. I remember hearing a song from the 1940s and my first thought was “I miss that time.” It was an odd thought to have considering I never actually lived it. But I love almost everything about that era, the music, the fashion, the vehicles, etc. The time period for book 2 is the 1920s, which I chose because it’s an interesting era to learn about. The last book’s time period is a secret, but it’s also one of my favorite eras for so many reasons.
SJ: I love that your characters are nice and respectful, but also feel like real teens. Was it a conscious decision or just what came naturally to the characters?
JR: This was actually a conscious decision for a couple of reasons. Jimmy is already nice and respectful because he was partially raised by his grandparents who imparted these characteristics in him. Elizabeth is a people pleaser and doesn’t like anyone mad at her. But, there’s more to it. I wanted to convey that both Elizabeth’s and Jimmy’s personalities were affected by their past lives. Emily and James were born in a time when children were taught to be respectful and societies’ definition of “proper.” As a result, this influenced how Elizabeth and Jimmy acted. In book 2, their personalities will change drastically again because of Eleanor and Johnnie, their other past lives. Elizabeth will become irresponsible and selfish. Jimmy will become angry and impatient.
SJ: Was there a scene that was easier (or harder) to write than the others?
JR: The most difficult scene to write was the opening scene of the first chapter. I re-wrote it so many times, and I still worry it’s not captivating enough to pull readers in. Also, most of the scenes in the middle of the book were the hardest for me to write. I knew how I wanted the book to begin and end. I struggled to come up with chapters that moved the story along slowly but without boring readers. The exception to this was the lake scene where Jimmy remembers why he and Elizabeth had once been good friends, and Elizabeth remembers what it’s like to let go and have fun. That was one of my favorites to write. I also had so much fun writing the party scene where Jimmy reconnects with Elizabeth. I loved how Jimmy came across as charming and confident, even though inside he was the exact opposite.
SJ: How long did it take to write the book?
JR: I hand wrote the first draft in 2014 in my car during my lunch break. It only took me a month to complete the first draft. I didn’t touch it again until a year later. Then another year. And then another two years until I really decided I needed to get this book out into the world. I guess you could say my characters were haunting me as much as they were being haunted. However, I recently found a document in my archive folder from 2012 where I’d started this novel. It was only one chapter, but still, it technically took me 7 years.
SJ: For a series like this, it seems like you must be a plotter. Is that true?
JR: For the most part, yes, I am a plotter. Like I said, I knew all along how I wanted to start the book and end it. I wanted the two main characters to dislike each other in the beginning, but to have been the best of friends in the past. I love relationships that progress in this way. I also knew I wanted to rip them apart in the end because of their curse. I planned the past lives time frames as well, and I already know how the final book will end. The events in between are not plotted yet, which is probably why I struggle to write the middle chapters. I’m also not entirely sure how I want the second book to end so I am having writer’s block. I also changed the middle of book 1 from past lives to just ghosts haunting them and back to past lives. Yet, the beginning and end never changed.
SJ: How many books do you have planned for the series?
JR: There will be three full-length novels and three novellas featuring the past lives. I haven’t yet decided if I want to release each novella separately, or as one book with three short stories. My original plan was to release the Emily and James novella shortly after book 1 was released and follow the same format for each book. Unfortunately, I think because it took me so long with so many versions of book 1, I sort of lost my passion for Emily and James. The first version actually had flashback chapters of their past lives within the book, so I spent a lot of time with these characters. I need to re-energize myself and get back to drafting their story.
I also wrote a dystopian novel where the two main characters were prophesied to be together and change their little world, and I have been debating reworking this to be another iteration of E & J. Though, I’m not sure I will follow through with that idea because of how I plan to end the third novel.
SJ: I'm a fan of dual POV books. Did you find it easier to get into the head of one character or the other?
JR: I’m also a huge fan of dual POV books. In fact, four of my other WIPs unrelated to this series are dual POVs, and I didn’t even mean to do that. It just fit the storyline. Surprisingly, I found it easier to get into Jimmy’s head, even though he’s nothing like me. His chapters just flowed easily and I love his interactions with his friends and grandparents. Elizabeth was a bit harder because I wanted to give her something to make her unique but not too far-fetched. Once I settled on the fact that she’s a people pleaser and wants to do something unconventional after college, it was easier to get into her head.
SJ: Who are some of your favorite YA authors?
JR: For the past few years, I’ve been reading mostly YA books. I love how character-driven they all are. Kasie West is at the top of my list because she writes such swoon-worthy characters and sweet love stories. Cassandra Clare’s books are amazing. My favorite books of her Shadowhunter series are the Infernal Devices. I normally despise love triangles, but she really did it well. Kiera Cass wrote a love triangle well too in The Selection series. Adriana Mather’s book How to Hang a Witch and her sequel were so, so good. There are not enough ghost love stories! I’m also a huge fan of Jenny Han’s series To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Peter Kavinsky is one of the best-written book boyfriends. I’m also finding wonderful YA indie authors, yourself included. I could go on and on.
SJ: Are you on track to have book 2 out later this year? I'm looking forward to reading it!
JR: I am not as far along as I would like in book 2. My original plan was to have it drafted by June, but I’m not even halfway yet. I’m giving myself a new goal of finishing it in June and July to be ready for beta readers and editing by August. That should give me enough time to publish by the end of October. I was able to write the first draft of book 1 in a month, so I know I can do it again!