Interview: Morgan Matson – The Unexpected Everything

TUENow that it’s finally starting to feel like summer outside, I’m excited to start gushing about one of my favorite contemporary reads this year, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.

The Unexpected Everything tells the story of Andie, the daughter of a politician whose scandal turns her summer plans completely upside-down. This book has a little bit of everything: friendship, family, romance, and finding yourself through completely unexpected situations. The story is sweet, funny, and unexpected (no pun intended!) and I highly recommend picking it up ASAP.

I was lucky enough to sit down with Morgan Matson during her tour stop in Northern Virginia to chat about The Unexpected Everything, her writing process, and what she’s working on next:

 

I loved The Unexpected Everything. I’d love to hear more about where the idea for the story came from, especially given that we’re in Northern Virginia.

I got the idea here in Virginia. TimeHop told me that it was exactly two years ago today that I got the idea. I was on book tour in Alexandria and Twitter went down for two hours. I think this is the only reason I came up with this idea. I left my phone in the hotel and walked to this chili restaurant that was down the street and I had my notebook and I started writing down ideas. I think it was because I was so close to DC, I started thinking about what if you grew up in the shadow of DC, what if you had a parent who was involved in politics, and I just sort of spun the idea out. Like what would that do to you, if you’d learned you always had to be aware of how you presented yourself and you couldn’t ever say anything without filtering it first? What would that do to your friendships and your relationships?

Do you consider yourself a pantser, plotter, or something in between?

I was on tour last week with Siobhan Vivian and Suzanne Young, and we discovered in the course of our touring together that there’s actually a third option, which is Bill Murray. So you’re either a pantser, a plotter, or Bill Murray. It’s because Siobhan’s a Bill Murray, and it’s basically from Groundhog Day. It means she’s basically stuck in her first five chapters. She just goes over them over and over and over again until something clicks and then she can write the rest of the book.

I’m not that. I’m more of a pantser. I always talk about writing a book like I’m taking a trip. I like to know my eventual destination and the big can’t miss landmarks I’d like to see, but aside from that, I like to keep how I get there open. So I generally know the ending and I know my characters and I kind of know some big plot points. I like to not have any real plan beyond that.

What was your favorite part of writing The Unexpected Everything?

There’s a scavenger hunt scene. I got the idea for it and was like, I really want to write this, but even leading up to it I was unsure, Do I really want to stop the story for 50 pages and tell this thing that happens all in one night? Part of me was trying to talk me out of it; it’s not really necessary, it’s just a fun scene. But when it came down to it, I was like I have to write that scene. I’ve been looking forward to this so much. When I turned in the first draft I said to my editor, “I think you’re probably going to cut this. I just had to do it,” and his response was, “Are you kidding me? That’s the whole crux of the story.”

So that was probably my favorite part. I had so much fun writing that.

What was most challenging?

***SPOILER ALERT***

***SPOILER ALERT***

Skip to the next question if you haven’t read The Unexpected Everything yet!

The scene with Bri and Toby at the end on the bus. We kept on working on that scene. I’m still not 100% sure it’s there, but maybe it would never be there in my mind. I think I just didn’t want to go there; I didn’t want this to happen, so it was resistance on my part. There was so much happening but it weirdly wasn’t happening to the main character. It was important to her but it was conflict that didn’t directly involve her. It was tricky for a lot of reasons but that was definitely the hardest.

Andie spends a lot of time in the spotlight due to her father’s career. Did you have to do any research on what it’s like to be the child of a political figure?

I didn’t. My brother went to college with someone who worked for the Vice President. So I made my brother contact this guy and say, “My sister wants to ask you questions.” And then I never ended up emailing him and my brother was like, “What did you do that for?!”

I think it was that I was pretty far into the story at that point. I sort of didn’t want someone to tell me I was wrong. I live in LA and I’ve known people whose fathers are very well-known actors or directors so I’ve heard that experience and pulled from that a little bit. It was pulling from friend’s experiences who growing up always felt like they had to be super nice and super polite and having everyone have an opinion about their dads, having people think that they know them even though they don’t.

And I was thinking about what’s happening now. On Twitter and Instagram, you’re always presenting a public face in a really weird way that I don’t think we did ten years ago. We’re all always crafting our own image.

If you could have lunch with a character from The Unexpected Everything, who would it be & why?

Oh, that’s a fascinating question. I think it would probably be Clark. That would be fun.

When you were Andie’s age, what were some of your favorite books?

There wasn’t the YA wonderfulness that there is now. I read a lot of John Grisham and Stephen King and Judy Blume. I started getting into British chick-lit when I was in high school: Bridget Jones’s Diary and Shopaholic. These books about women in their twenties who were funny. That was my first time seeing a book for adults that was really fun and funny. I feel like that was really important to me.

Increasing diversity is a big topic in the book community right now. Is that something you think about while writing?

Absolutely. As a member of the YA community I really try to be aware of that, but it also has to come from an authentic place. The character of Bri, who’s Indian, was inspired by my two very good friends who are Indian, who I named her sisters after. So it was really having a close friend, being able to hear her experiences and talk to her and feeling like I could responsibly write this character. I didn’t want this to be the only thing about this character; she loves movies and she’s very much her own person. It just felt to me like I have a diverse group of friends and I want Andie to have a diverse group of friends and for that to be representative. I do think it is something you have to do responsibly and it has to come from a character, there has to be a real, authentic person. It’s such a complicated issue. I wanted to do it but I wanted to do it right. I was very happy that I had friends who I could run stuff by and I think it helped me make her a well-rounded, fully formed character.

At BookCon this weekend, I enjoyed seeing the friendship between you, Jenny Han, and Siobhan Vivian. What do you think makes the young adult book community such a welcoming, friendly place?

It’s really so lovely. I feel very lucky to be part of this community. Jenny, Siobhan, and I are a bit of an interesting case because we all met in school before we were published. But next week I’m going off on a writing retreat with six other authors and we do this a couple times a year. I don’t know if it’s a little bit that we’re all scrappy underdogs, especially in the beginning when YA was not given a lot of respect. I don’t know if there’s kind of a banding together feeling a little bit.

I also feel like there’s so much freedom in YA. I love hearing about what my friends are writing. It doesn’t feel like you get put into boxes. I’m friends with people who write across all genres. Maybe in adult publishing there’s a little more of ‘you write this or this or this and these are the people you know.’ But with all the conferences and festivals, there’s so many opportunities to meet other YA writers and to hang out with them and they’re all just awesome. It affords a lot of opportunity to meet people and hang out.

What are some of the books you’ve read lately that have been your favorites or memorable?

I loved Siobhan’s book: The Last Boy and Girl in the World. I thought it was so beautiful and when we were on tour I kept being like “It’s so amazing!” and she was like, “You look like a plant I paid to be in the audience.” And I loved Emery Lord’s When We Collided. I thought it was just stunning. I love her other books but I thought this was the best.

And then there’s a bunch of books I’m looking forward to reading. I’m in the middle of a deadline right now but when I finish my book I want to read John Corey Whaley’s Highly Illogical Behavior. I want to read the new book that just came out, Love & Gelato. I just bought a copy of Mosquitoland. There’s a whole stack I want to make my way through. There’s a bunch I have that I can’t wait to start reading.

Can you give us a hint about what you’re working on now?

I’ve been trying not to say too much. But then I break that and talk about it a lot so my editor’s probably mad at me. I am trying not to say too, too much because I am finishing the first draft and things could change massively. I feel like that happened a little bit with the book I wrote after Amy & Roger. I started talking about it in interviews and then I decided not to publish that book and write Second Chance Summer instead. But we do have a cover so I think this is probably going to happen.

It actually was inspired by Palmer in Unexpected Everything. When I was writing it I kept writing a lot about Palmer’s four older brothers and sisters. I knew so much about them. I knew everything about them and I kept putting facts about them in and my editor kept telling me, “Palmer is the friend of our main character. We don’t need to know everything about the friend of our main character’s older brothers and sisters.” I just kept thinking about what it would be like to grow up in a big family and you’re the youngest. So that’s what the next book is about. It’s about a girl (not Palmer) who’s the youngest of five. She’s the only one still left in the house. It’s her spring before she goes to college. It all takes place over a few days of Spring Break when everyone in her family comes back from a family wedding. There’s family drama and crazy things are happening. I’ve had a lot of fun thinking about the main character and her older siblings and building that up.

Thank you so much to Morgan Matson for a great interview. The Unexpected Everything is in stores now and you should definitely check it out!

Find The Unexpected Everything: Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

Lauren is a 20-year-old student living in Northern Virginia. She loves to read YA books and watch movies. Lauren is passionate about many things, but reading has always been a huge part of her life. Ever since she first learned to read, her parents have always had to pry books out of her hands when it’s time for other commitments. Lauren loves everything from The Hunger Games and Divergent, to Percy Jackson, mysteries like State of the Onion, and other YA books, like The Fault in Our Stars, and is always eager to try a new book, author, or series. She also loves music, public health, Harry Potter, and the Washington Capitals. Follow her on Twitter: @LWengrovitz.