Survivor’s Guilt and Letting Go: Chatting with ‘The Lucky Ones’ Author Liz Lawson

Quarantine has been an interesting time, my friends. I find myself not gravitating towards new reads I’ve been sent, but instead looking through and thinking, “Huh, that’s been sitting there awhile (years). I should probably finally read that.” But something about a purple covered book that was sent to me a few months ago stuck out to me. I remembered that it was coming out in April and thought that I should read that and be able to talk about it in time for release.

That book was The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson and I really cannot express to you all how happy I am that that was the first book that I read when all of this started. The story follows May as she navigates (or I suppose fails to navigate) life nearly one year after tragedy changed her entire life; tragedy that she never fully processed or has been able to move on from in any way, both big or small. It was a story I wouldn’t normally read, but a story I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to discover.

What Liz Lawson does with her story is give us the full emotional spectrum in a way that is neither forced nor trite. I was unable to put it down and needed to know if the characters were going to be okay, what the resolution would be. It was written so beautifully that you almost didn’t want it to end and your heart sort of sank and soared all at once by the end; sank because it was over, soared because it was the perfect ending.

Here, we talk to Liz Lawson about the writing process, the research, and bringing The Lucky Ones to life.

Congratulations! The Lucky Ones is finally available! How does it feel?

Well, if I’m going to be brutally honest, a little bittersweet! I’m so excited that my book is out there in the world, but I would have loved to be able to celebrate it with the people I love. That said, I know that I’ll be able to sometime soon, and at that point I think the excitement will be there even more than right now 😉

0-2This is being released during a very tense time around the world. Does that change any of your feelings toward the release?

Ha! Well, I sort of answered this above. Yeah, to be honest, a little, although I am really trying my best not to let it bum me out too much. I know publishing a book is a huge accomplishment, no matter what, but I would have preferred it to be under different circumstances, of course.
The Lucky Ones has difficult subject matter. What sort of research went into this?

A lot. And it was intense (as you might imagine). I read several non-fiction books about school shootings, particularly COLUMBINE, as well as many books and articles about PTSD and the other mental health issues touched on in the novel. I also watched tons of interviews from survivors, and read things like AMA Reddit feeds (verified, of course) from people who had gone through shootings. And, I watched video footage of the shooters themselves, which was my absolute least favorite part of all my research. It was haunting.
What made you want to tell this story? What was the catalyst?

I grew up and graduated from high school right when Columbine happened, and that changed the entire landscape of our country, forever. I started writing this book for all the kids who are faced with this reality, day in and out. I wrote it for the kids who have lived through the shootings that are mentioned above and the many other shootings that aren’t, and for those who fear that they might endure a similar fate someday. For those who have made their way through painful, heartbreaking times and managed to find their way through to the other side. I wanted to show them that there is hope.
One of the things that I’ve been mentioning to people is that you don’t understand right away what happened prior to the events of the book. It’s not until about 60 or so pages in that you learn that this is the aftermath of a school shooting. Why did you decide to wait to say it instead of right away?

Oh yes you said that on Instagram, and I thought it was so interesting! That really wasn’t a conscious choice at all, although I think looking back it makes sense, given what I was trying to do. I really didn’t want the book to sensationalize the shooting aspect of the story AT ALL—it was extremely important to me that it didn’t—so I think while writing I focused much more on the PTSD and survivor’s guilt that people would have after any big life tragedy. Without even trying, I think I managed to do that, especially in the beginning of the story!
I think an important aspect of this story is May’s survivor’s guilt. I feel as though that sort of thing is almost glossed over when talking to survivors. It almost seems as if they want to keep any negative feelings out of the narrative. What made you want to say, “Okay, May’s central driving force will be her guilt in surviving when her brother didn’t”?

May’s brother’s death was there from the beginning. I wanted to explore how it would affect you if your sibling not only died in a tragic, awful way, but how it would pull on you to have survived that same event. And, without giving away anything, I also wanted to incorporate the pain of not knowing why you were the only one to survive.

The duality of how May and Zach become outcasts in result of the shooting is interesting. She becomes an outcast because she pushes everyone away, but Zach becomes an outcast because everyone pushes him away. Was that duality a conscious decision?

You know what, I hadn’t thought about that until you just mentioned it now! I think that’s fascinating—how writers make these choices that are, many times, unconscious, and readers are the ones who point out aspects of the book to us. It’s so so cool.
Did May and Zach always find themselves romantically entangled in each draft?

Yes! Actually, originally, for a very brief moment, I had the romance playing a much more central role in the story, almost a retelling of Romeo & Juliet. But, after I started writing further into the story, that disappeared. I strongly dislike when media tells stories in which one person is healed entirely by a new romance; I find that trope outdated and, honestly, a little problematic, so once I realized what the story was, I knew I had to really pull back on their romantic relationship in order for the book not to go in that direction.

(Note: This is, by far, our favorite answer because that trope is literally so annoying.)
One of the more disturbing parts of the story was what May discovered in the letters from the kid who killed her brother. It added another layer both to her guilt and why she survived. What was writing that part like for you?

Hard. That whole subplot was the hardest part about the book, I think. Particularly a scene toward the end, which I won’t go into detail about here to avoid spoilers!
What do you hope readers take away from The Lucky Ones?

THE LUCKY ONES is a story of pain and fear and loss, but also one of hope. And I truly believe that we need stories of hope in this world, stories where people go through some shit but manage to come out on the other side. Someone recently described reading THE LUCKY ONES as a cathartic experience, and that’s exactly what I’ve always hoped that readers would get from the read.
What was the writing process like as a whole for this book?

It was really hard at times. The research I had to do was rough and emotionally draining at times. I found it necessary to give myself a break every once in a while to watch some silly TV (THE OFFICE, etc) or read something light hearted to break up the darkness of my research and writing.

Now, let’s get to a couple of fun questions. If The Lucky Ones was being adapted, who would you want to see cast?

Oo love this question. I could see Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) as May. She has that edgy, sad, angry thing necessary to play the character well. And maybe Nick Robinson (Love, Simon) as Zach. He has those sad eyes.

What was the last good book you read?

I just finished an ARC of THE COUSINS by Karen McManus which is excellent and out in December! I’m currently reading YOU’RE NEXT by Kylie Schhachte, and it’s fantastic – like early season Veronica Mars!
What book are you looking forward to this year?

There are so many great 2020 debuts – I fear some of them might be pushed, but we shall see. Right now, I’m looking forward to Dante Medema’s THE TRUTH PROJECT, currently slated for October 13! It’s a novel in verse, and it’s fantastic.
What books that just came out, other than your book, would you like to shine a light on during this time?

I highy recommend a couple other April 7th YA releases – The Best Laid Plans by Cameron Lund and The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park. They’re both fun rom-coms and are really engrossing reads!

 

We want to thank Liz Lawson so much for giving us the opportunity to shine a light on her absolutely incredible book of heartache, loss, isolation, but ultimately, of hope, transition, and finding a way to move forward after tragedy.

THE LUCKY ONES is out now and can be purchased on Amazon or from your favorite local bookstore (who could also use your help during this trying time!). We can’t wait to see what this wonderful writer does next!

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