Born in a mountain cabin to a punk-rocker mother, Tess Sharpe grew up in rural California. She lives deep in the backwoods with a pack of dogs and a growing colony of feral cats. You can find her on twitter @sharpegirl.
Tess chatted with us about her upcoming young adult romance 6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did), finding inspiration in fanfiction, and writing about the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.
6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did) tells the story of Penny and Tate, two girls who have always clashed but find themselves living together when Penny’s mom becomes a living liver donor to Tate’s. Despite their bickering, Penny and Tate are also deeply drawn to one another (and can't stop nearly kissing). Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
Most of my books come from mashing two concepts on my idea list together. One of those concepts usually has the structure and the other concept has the hook and the story. I don’t really plan it out this way, it just kind of happens!
I’ve always been really influenced by film and fanfic, which is where the two concepts that created this book came from. I’ve always loved the “five times they almost…” fanfic structure and I always wanted to write a novel with this kind of structure. Because I’m usually a thriller writer, originally I think I was playing with a thriller idea, like “Five times someone was almost murdered” or something.
But the more I turned the structure around in my head and as I scrolled through my idea list on my phone, I came across what I called my “cross generational BEACHES” idea: a Romance concept centered around two girls who never got along, but whose paths were always crossing because of their mother’s ride-or-die friendship.
And it was like one of those lightbulb moments. “Oh! These two ideas together make an even better idea!” and thus the book was born.
While the book is a romance, it is also a coming-of-age story with protagonists who have had to grow up way too fast—from parental illness on Tate’s side and the loss of her father on Penny’s. What was the most challenging part of writing this story? The most rewarding?
Writing about Lottie’s neglect of Penny was really hard. Tate is a much more stoic character, her pain is very deep, but it’s more controlled than Penny because Tate has a support system and Penny is in crisis for much of the book because Lottie’s cut her off from therapy. Writing those scenes—and then narrating them later—were very tough. I cried a lot in the studio booth.
Writing this entire book was really rewarding and challenging craft-wise. My last solo-authored book was also about mothers and daughters, but the mother in The Girls I’ve Been is very clearly the bad guy. Lottie and Penny’s relationship is a lot more complicated because Lottie’s neglect of her daughter stems from her own trauma and grief. It’s not an excuse for what she does—but the root of her neglect is trauma and it was challenging to write a character like that. Someone who could do better, who should do better, but keeps being stuck in a cycle that is rooted in real trauma, but by not being able to break that cycle, keeps causing trauma to her loved ones as well.
6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did) features both Penny and Tate’s point-of-views. Why did you choose to structure this work with dual POVs?
I honestly never considered writing it from one POV because while I love solo POV Romances as a reader (they have a special kind of tension), I’ve never written one myself!
I knew I had a big job already with the structure and slow burn and layers of the book, so I didn’t want to give myself a harder job with trying to pull off a solo-POV Romance, too!
Maybe that will be my challenge for 2023: write a solo POV Romance.
Was there any part of the story, as you wrote it, that surprised you?
Yes. I’m a huge planner. I outline, I pre-write, I story-map. I like to know everything!
But there’s an entire sub-plot in this book (a really important one!) that I did not have in my outline. I discovered it while I was writing—the scene just took me there—and this is one of the reasons I love writing: you can plan things down to the minute detail–and I do--but sometimes your subconscious desire to insert “everyone thinks we’re dating but we’re not” tropes into the novel will just rear its (not so) ugly head and you just have to go with it.
Was there anything you read, listened to, or watched while working on this book that influenced its creation?
While I think I did watch Beaches again while I wrote this, I actually studiously avoided reading five times fanfic while I wrote this so that I wouldn’t be influenced! But I’m so basic music-wise as a writer: I listen to songs on repeat (with my headphones on, of course). Or ambient sounds like fires crackling or rain on tin roofs.
What is the best part about writing for young adults?
Everything! Writing for teens is the greatest and most humbling experience. You have to dig deep and be honest because they will not only know when you’re not digging deep, but they’ll tell you! I also think it’s an enormous challenge to write for an audience that is constantly evolving and growing and going through a lot of transitional and transformative experiences.
Have you read anything recently that you really enjoyed? Are there upcoming books that you are excited about?
I just finished Evelyn Skye’s incredible Damsel which is a collaboration with Netflix. I highly recommend everyone picking it up in March, it’s a fantastic, adventurous read. I am also so excited for Miel Moreland’s Something Like Possible and Camryn Garrett’s Friday I’m in Love.