The Quiet Part Out Loud
by Deborah Crossland
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
(June 27, 2023)
Interview by Anna Roins

 For fans of You’ve Reached Sam and A Heart in a Body in the World, this searing and heart-rending teen novel follows an ex-couple as they struggle to reunite in the wake of a devastating earthquake.

High school sweethearts Mia Clementine and Alfie Thanasis had a plan to escape their town for college in the east. But when Alfie got offered a scholarship to the University of San Francisco the same week the entire town found out about Mia’s mom’s affair with their church’s pastor, Mia’s world imploded, and she pushed everyone away…including Alfie.

When Mia and Alfie’s paths cross for the briefest of moments, Mia realizes she never should have let him go and Alfie’s suppressed memories and feelings boil to the surface. But their reunion is cut short when a massive earthquake rocks San Francisco, leaving them to stumble desperately across the rubble in search of the ex they still love before the city crumbles—taking one, or both, of them with it.

 AUTHORLINK: What inspired you to write the book?

“I became obsessed with this idea that two people, who loved each other intensely… couldn’t get out of their own way long enough to be happy.”

CROSSLAND: During the pandemic, the only time I got into my car was to take my daughter to work, and I always listened to random playlists. Every time I drove, it seemed a song called “If the World Was Ending” by JP Saxe and Julia Michaels was playing. It’s about a couple who’d broken up and were living completely separate lives. After a small earthquake, they ask each other that if a major disaster struck, would they spend their last days together. I became obsessed with this idea that two people, who loved each other intensely enough to want to share their last moments on earth together, couldn’t get out of their own way long enough to be happy.

At the same time, I was writing my dissertation for my Ph.D. in mythological studies with an emphasis in depth psychology, so I was reading a lot about C. G. Jung’s shadow archetype theory.

And the song reminded me of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice where Orpheus journeys all the way into the underworld to retrieve his love.

Somehow all of it became enmeshed and Mia, one of the main characters was born. Because I wouldn’t stop talking about the premise, my critique partner dared me to put my dissertation aside and write what we were calling “the earthquake book,” and I did.

“I am a huge plotter from major points in the hero’s journey down to scene breakdowns!”

AUTHORLINK: How interesting! Did you plot out the story first, even the ending, before you fleshed it out or did you discover the story as you went along?

CROSSLAND: I am a huge plotter from major points in the hero’s journey down to scene breakdowns! The one thing I vacillated on was how the book would end. I knew how the story should end, but I really wanted it be different, so I told myself I would deal with it when it was time. But about halfway through the first draft, I knew the original ending was the right one, so I wrote it that way.

During revisions, I fleshed out some of the subplots and even added an almost romance between two of the supporting characters, but most of the story stayed faithful to the original plot.

AUTHORLINK: What makes a successful Young Readers book, in your opinion? A novel that touches upon current issues the youth of today are going through, such as social media peer pressure, mental health, or finding a moral compass, or a story that is uplifting, feel-good, and encouraging? Or both?

“I like to think a book is successful when it finds a reader who resonates with the story.”

CROSSLAND: I think it depends on how we define successful. Of course, selling a lot of copies or hitting bestseller lists would be considered successful, but I like to think a book is successful when it finds a reader who resonates with the story. The thing I’m most excited about that rings success is seeing my book pop up in libraries across the nation. The idea of a librarian somewhere in a town far away from me deciding to stock a copy or two of the book I wrote sends me over the moon!

AUTHORLINK: To be sure! Can you imagine this story into a movie? Have you been made any offers? Who can you see playing Mia and Alfie?

CROSSLAND: I definitely saw the movie in my head as I wrote the story! I do have a film agent and would absolutely love to see Mia and Alfie come to life on “the big screen,” but with the writer’s strike happening, I think it will be a while before anything in that department happens. I haven’t fan-casted the story, but my Greek husband likes to tease that we need to go to Greece to hold open casting calls—I think he just wants the trip!

AUTHORLINK: I think he’s onto something! Is it difficult writing from the perspective of a teenager? Did you do any research when writing this book? If so, can you share your process with us?

CROSSLAND: There’s nothing like the teen years. Everything is so big and dramatic because there are so many new feelings and freedoms and conflicts, and I remember a lot of it. I tried to draw on my own memories, but luckily, I work with teens and they are more than happy to tell me when my characters start sounding like an old woman (ahem).

I actually experienced the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake firsthand. I worked on Nob Hill in San Francisco, and I was there when it happened. The shaking actually knocked me down! I used a lot of my memories of that night to craft Mia’s experiences. As I was plotting the story, I was cleaning out my grandpa’s house and came across a magazine that chronicled a variety of people’s experiences of the Loma Prieta quake, and I used little details from that, too. I think the one research tool I used that surprises most people is that Mia’s journey is based on the same one Leopold Bloom uses in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

AUTHORLINK: That’s fascinating, thank you for sharing that with us. Fans of Greek myth will enjoy the parallels to Orpheus and Eurydice, though the links are largely thematic. Was it easy to interlace the themes?

CROSSLAND: One of the things my cohort really dug into at school was trying to reimagine traditional myths from the women’s point of view. Most of them don’t have agency in their own stories! Even Medusa’s story didn’t exist until someone needed an explanation on why Gorgons didn’t have bodies, and then her story became Perseus’! No one asked if Eurydice wanted to leave the underworld or if she even wanted to marry Orpheus. We all assume she did because Orpheus decides he insta-loves her and, therefore, she insta-loves him, too.

I wanted to explore the feminine qualities of the story and give agency to her, which is how Mia was born. Most of my writing uses the archetypes of myth and not the culturally-defined versions of the characters we’ve developed over the years because I believe that’s what readers are responding to.

We all gravitate to the essence of what makes us human beyond our cultural expressions, so that’s what I try to access in my characters.

AUTHORLINK: And you’ve achieved this beautifully. You recently stated, “Book banning drives the idea that one group is more important or powerful than another and leaves people, especially adolescents, with a narrow outlook of the world that doesn’t match reality.” and “Removing a book that mirrors a child’s lived experience is exactly the opposite of protecting them. It erases them from existence.” 11 April 2023, PW. Can you discuss this?

CROSSLAND: My dissertation focused on the sibling archetype and why teens especially need horizontal relationships. I define horizontal relationships as those that share experiences without authority over each other—that’s reserved for vertical relationships. A non-authoritative relationship can extend beyond people. We can include social media and books, too.

Science has proven that when we read, our brains react the same way the characters do, which allows us as readers to learn and grow from the same lessons as the characters experience in books. We know that reading increases empathy because we feel outside ourselves and into other people’s lived experiences, and that also goes for our own experiences. Teens are experiencing the world in ways that are completely new to them with expanded autonomy and a shift from wanting approval from family to primarily wanting it from friends, and all of this leads to questions about identity and beliefs.

Books can be a safe place to explore and provide language for things a teen might not yet be able to accomplish on their own. Taking away stories prevents all people, especially adolescents, from becoming better and more authentic humans, and then everyone suffers.

AUTHORLINK: That is so interesting. How long did it take you to write The Quiet Part Out Loud? How many drafts did you write? Who was your first reader?

CROSSLAND: I wrote The Quiet Part Out Loud in a few months, which is not typical for me. I did spend quite a bit of time on the plot before I started drafting, though, so my first draft was fairly complete. My first draft was read by my two amazing critique partners, Dante Medema and Eliza Turrill, who provide very different but equally necessary feedback. Dante is the plot queen and can sniff out a plot hole a mile away, and Eliza is genius at feeling into a story and predicting how readers might react, and I couldn’t write without them!

AUTHORLINK: How lucky you are! Tell us a bit about the publishing process? Did you find your agent first or reach publishers directly?

CROSSLAND: I started querying soon after finishing my first draft, and I had friends screaming at me “We don’t do that, you need to let it rest!” And of course, they are right, but I had a feeling about this book.

I knew that because of the way I structured it, and my choice of a 2nd person past point of view would alienate some readers, but I felt very strongly that it would find its audience. I knew that I would probably have to query very widely, and I did.

“I queried 75 agents! …I was just about to stop querying…but then I came across Mollie Glick’s name….”

I queried 75 agents! I came close a few times to signing and even received an offer from a very nice small press, but I wanted something different. I was just about to stop querying and launch myself into a world of “they were right, I should’ve waited” pity, but then I came across Mollie Glick’s name on Publisher’s Weekly. I decided I would make her my last query. She is such a dream agent, and I thought for sure I would never hear from her, so it would be a fun farewell to my passion project. Well, a day or two later, Mollie emailed me that she wanted the manuscript and that she would read it that weekend. After I picked myself up from the floor, I sent it to her, and I signed with her about a couple of weeks later. And here we are!

AUTHORLINK: Wow! That’s amazing. Bravo! How do you react to constructive criticism? Do you take it on the chin or tend to lie in bed with the curtains drawn like some writers?

CROSSLAND: I like to think my time as a high school teacher and a mother to two teens gave me pretty thick skin, but publishing proved I was mistaken! Over the years, I’ve developed the ability to realize that criticism of my writing isn’t personal, however, and that there is a choice between writing for oneself and writing for public consumption.

We all have to make decisions on whether or not we want to save a darling or have a publishing deal. That said, I have a completed manuscript that will probably be shelved forever because it is a darling, and changing it would damage the purpose of the story. I wrote that one for my kids, and if the rest of the world never sees it, then that’s okay. That’s a choice I made and am at peace with it. As for the rest of it, my chin is ready!

AUTHORLINK: Ha ha ha! What a beautiful gift to your children. What were the challenges or roadblocks you faced in writing this book?

CROSSLAND: As I said before, I knew I would polarize some with Alfie’s point of view. I even wrote in a meta-joke about it in the book because as an English teacher, I’ve spent years telling my students second person is the devil and must be avoided at all costs! I also knew that Mia might not be received as a sympathetic character because she is driven by her desire to get away from everything that has wounded her in her past and she isn’t someone who deals with her emotions in a public way. It’s challenging to write a character in the first person who isn’t aware of her feelings, let alone deal with them.

AUTHORLINK: Bold writer! We understand you are currently working on a Psyche and Eros-inspired story. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Like the mythic inspiration of The Quiet Part Out Loud, this new story deals with the archetypal undertones of Psyche and Eros as well as the lack of agency most people read into Psyche’s ordeal. I had a professor in my myth program named Elizabeth Nelson who wrote a fantastic book on the myth. She points out that everyone remembers that Psyche carries a lantern when she searches out Eros’ identity, but no one remembers she also carried a knife.

That little tidbit implanted itself into my psyche—pun necessary—and I’m using this new story to explore why. It’s still in the drafting stage, though, so who knows what it will be when it’s all grown up!

AUTHORLINK: Amazing! Well, Deborah, thank you for sharing your time with us today. We wish you every success for The Quiet Part Out Loud and looking forward to reading your next book!

 Crossland: Thank you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Crossland has a PhD in mythological studies with an emphasis in depth psychology. She teaches English and mythology at San Joaquin County Delta College in Stockton, Calif.

 Her debut YA novel, The Quiet Part Out Loud, a contemporary retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth with a feminist bent, is due out in June from Simon & Schuster. Here, Crossland reflects on why book bans hinder teens most of all by denying access to stories that reflect their shifting identities and the issues they face.

You can find out more about Deborah Crossland here.