Debut author Ingrid Sundberg wrote a beautiful book called “All We Left Behind,” which follows the story of a shy teen girl and her relationship with the popular jock and all the problems that come with falling in love. This book takes on some heavy topics head on and Sundberg completely makes it work! Make sure to buy the book when it’s released on December 1st. I would like to thank Ingrid for taking time out of her busy schedule to my questions. She’s really awesome! :)
1. In “All We Left Behind” the protagonist Marion is the shy and reserved one while her friend Lilith is extremely forward and outgoing. Which one do you think you identify with more?
I definitely identify with Marion more than Lilith. I’m the quiet introspective type. I tend to be reserved, especially when I meet people for the first time. This probably comes as a surprise since I have bright purple hair. But the truth is, I dye my hair bright colors so people will
come talk to me, because I’m too shy to go talk to them.
2. Did you know guys like Kurt when you were in high school? The ones who seem to be perfect and popular but really have their own set of insecurities and demons? Did that influence you when writing this character?
I think the veneer of perfection and popularity is common in most high schools. The truth is we’re all vulnerable and scared and we create an
armor to give the illusion that we have our shit together. As a writer, I try to look under that armor to see who my characters really are. Sometimes there are multiple layers of armor, and I have to be patient and vulnerable myself to get my characters to open up to me.
3. The book tackles tough issues such as drug abuse and sexual assault, what message do you hope “All We Left Behind” will send to teens who read it?
I hate the idea of sending a message to anyone. My hope is that the book is honest and it resonates with the reader. I wrote this book because I wanted to explore the awkwardness and vulnerability of a real high school relationship, one where the characters have to face the true meaning of intimacy. Romantic relationships tread a complex space that is often unspoken and hard to articulate. I wanted to write a book that explored that space. The beauty of writing a book is that every reader will bring his or her own life experience and perspective to the novel, and thus each reader will take away something different. I don’t have a message for my reader, but if the story is honest and resonates with them, then the reader will find their own meaning in it.
4. How did the idea for the novel first come about?
The character of Marion has been with me for over ten years. She was at the center of a screenplay I wrote in college (and re-wrote several times). Then I rewrote that screenplay as a novel, which I eventually threw out completely. Marion has haunted me for years. She had a story to tell, but it took me a long time to gain the writing chops to do her story justice. She feels the world sensually, and the things that scare her have not been easy to articulate. It’s been a long journey of learning how to give her silence words.
5. Your blog has a lot of really helpful posts about the entire writing process. What is your advice to anybody who wants to be a writer but doesn’t know how to get started?
Writing is about inertia and momentum. It’s really not hard once you actually start. It’s showing up and putting the pen to the page that’s the
hard part. I like the 2 minute rule. Make a promise to sit down and write for two minutes every day. Two minutes is nothing. But you’ll find it only takes two minutes to get started, and then you end up writing for 15 to 20 minutes, maybe even an hour or longer.
6. If you had to make a playlist inspired by the book, (either what you listened to while writing or songs you think are just fitting) what are five songs that you’d include?
Kurt is a musician and he’s really influenced by the music his mother used to play. Three songs that really capture his relationship with his mom are:
Pink Moon by Nick Drake (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXnfhnCoOyo)- This is the type of song I see Kurt playing with his mom.
Drifting by Andy McKee. Watch this YouTube video and you’ll be mesmerized by the physical way Andy Mckee plays the guitar. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfF4QLO-L_4).
This is how I imagine Kurt’s mom playing her instrument. There’s a little bit of genius and escape in the way she plays.
Silver Wings by Merle Haggard. I love this one for the lyrics and the mood.
I especially like this cover from the movie Country Strong:
As for Marion, she isn’t a musician, so the songs I picked for her are about capturing the internal sadness and longing she feels. The songs that make me think of her are:
Trampled Rose by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHoRKb8hajg) – Alison’s voice in this song is haunting and full of so much delicate yearning.
Sad Song by Fredo Viola (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRqjZtr6JaE) –
This is the quiet theme song I see playing behind all of Marion’s scenes.
Brave by Sara Bareilles (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUQsqBqxoR4) –
This is the song I want to sing to Marion, to help her find her voice and be brave.
7. What were your favorite books growing up and what are your favorites now?
Three really influential books when I was growing up were:
1) Art and Lies by Jeanette Winterson.
This is an adult book. I don’t think I fully understood it when I read it in high school. But I’d never read prose like it before. I couldn’t get enough of her voice.
2) Forever by Judy Blume.
I loved how honest and candid Judy Blume was with her reader. I wanted to read about sex in books, and it was nice to find a book where sex was not shrouded in shame or secrecy.
3) Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, which is a picture book. I’ve been living my life by the lessons taught in this book.
These days I find I’m really drawn to lyrical books with emotional impact.
Three of my favorites books now are:
1) Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
2) Small Damages by Beth Kephart
3) I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.
8. What was the most difficult part of writing this book and why?
I never thought I’d write a book from a male point of view. In fact, I told myself I’d never do it because I was afraid the voice would be inauthentic. It was a big artistic risk when I decided to write half of this novel from Kurt’s perspective. I spent a lot of time trying to find Kurt’s voice and make it honest. It’s something I struggled with from the first draft to the final draft. Thankfully, I had a lot of beta readers help me identify when his voice was real, and when my intrusive “author Ingrid voice” was coming in and taking over. I care deeply about this character, so I really hope I did him justice.