Fingerprints of You
A YA LITERARY NOVEL
Lemon Williams was raised buried in the shadow of her free-spirited mother, Stella, and consequently her childhood was spent on the move – dodging disasters and mastering the art of packing up apartments, of being the new kid, and of leaving the past behind.
But when Lemon begins her senior year at another new school, she realizes she’s taken an inescapable part of their last life with them: She’s pregnant. In an attempt to fill in the gaps of her history and to avoid repeating Stella’s mistakes, she decides she must set things right by going in search of the father she’s never met. So as new life grows inside her, Lemon boards a Greyhound bus and heads west to San Francisco in hopes of freeing herself from her childhood mishaps and discovering the true meaning of family.
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The Making of: A Behind the Scenes Q&A
Q: HOW DID FINGERPRINTS OF YOU FIRST BEGIN?
A: I’ve never found the confidence to begin a day writing by saying, “Today I will start a novel!” – it just doesn’t happen that way for me. So each of my novels (I’m currently writing my third) has begun as a short story. The stories that are populated by characters I can’t stop thinking about and plots and settings that haunt me, those are the stories that become novels. When I first discovered Lemon and Stella I was sitting at a coffee shop in San Francisco and noticed two women, a woman and a girl really, crossing the street, and just like that, Stella and Lemon arrived in my imagination in typical fashion of their characters: they were mysterious but vivid, complicated but strong-willed and clear in their convictions, and they were one-hundred percent relentless about making sure I didn’t forget them. It was a terrible time to find a new set of characters – I was in the middle of working on a different novel – but there they were, and I just couldn’t leave them alone. So I wrote what became chapter one and two as a short story. And when I wasn’t satisfied with where I left them, I wrote another story… and another. By the time I hit the hundred-page mark, it was clear my story had become the beginning of a novel.
Q: THE SETTING OF THE NOVEL IS SPLIT BETWEEN WEST VIRGINIA AND SAN FRANCISCO – HAVE YOU LIVED IN THOSE PLACES, OR DID THE BOOK REQUIRE A GREAT DEAL OF RESEARCH?
A: The answer is actually yes to both – I’ve lived in some of the settings, and I also did a lot of research. I grew up in a small town in southern Virginia much like the opening location of Fingerprints of You, but no, I’ve never lived in West Virginia, though I do have friends that live there, and I’m close enough to Morgantown to visit as often as I like. San Francisco was my home for three years, and in a way the novel is a love letter to the city and to that time in my life, the person I was then. I struggle with this actually – what is more difficult, to write from a setting you know like the back of your hand, or to write a setting you must imagine and create? Facts of reality can be extremely restrictive and limiting – that’s why I write fiction. So although I’ve lived in some of the places I use as the backdrop for Lemon’s story, each page is infused by my imagination. You’re reading Lemon’s version of SF and West Virginia, and every detail is filtered by her character and her opinions. And research…I researched quite a bit and tried my best to balance fact with fiction, but inevitably the cities in the book are not completely representative of the actual places; they’re shaped by the characters that live in them and by my imagination.
Q: WITHOUT GIVING AWAY ANY SPOILERS, HOW MUCH OF THE NOVEL IS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL?
A: In John Green’s most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars, which is brilliant, by the way, he reminds the reader at the beginning of the book that the story is fiction – he confronts the question of autobiographical influence by stating that neither novels nor readers benefit from attempting to discover what facts may be hiding inside a story. Trying to do so, he says, attacks the very idea that imagined stories can matter. I love that. And I agree – there is nothing to be gained by insinuating fiction is not as equally important or authentic as works based on autobiographical experiences. But I also understand that readers wonder about an author’s life and about the practice of mining personal details for literature. So here goes…
Yes, the emotional aspects of the book, of any work I write, are autobiographical – I don’t think the novel would be any good if the emotional roots were fictionalized. Like Lemon, I’ve experienced both loss and love, I have a deep curiosity about the influence of our parents and the continually changing definition of the “Modern American Family,” and I’ve always had a strong wanderlust. Seeing live music, road tripping cross-country, and reading are by far some of my favorite ways to spend my time. But the book is a work fiction.
Q: DO YOU PLAN TO WRITE A SEQUEL?
A: I don’t, not now at least. When I wrote the original story that became Fingerprints of You, I wasn’t satisfied with where I left the characters; I knew their story was larger than what I had given them, and that haunted me, which is why I kept writing. But I’m content with where the novel ends, and as curious as I am as to what happens next, I also have a sense of confidence that I told the story I was supposed to tell – they’re on their own now. Of course I may feel differently eventually, but for now I think it’s time to turn them lose and let them go.