A.J.: My name is A.J. Walkley, author of such titles as Choice and Queer Greer. Choice is about the decision a high school student must make once she discovers she is pregnant, the plot following both her path to abort the pregnancy, as well as her path to keep her baby in alternative endings. Queer Greer tells the story of a girl in high school coming to terms with her bisexuality after she falls for both a boy and a girl upon moving to a new state and school.
What are you currently working on?
A.J.: I have two projects in the works. Vuto, which I wrote the first draft of during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2011, tells the story of a Malawian woman who bucks tradition and must flee from her husband; a Peace Corps volunteer takes her in, leading to an attack by her husband and his accidental murder; the two women must flee, encountering physical, ethical and cultural struggles along the way.
I just finished the first draft of The Pileup during NaNoWriMo 2012; this book follows the stories of every passenger involved in an eight-car pileup on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles one morning, getting into their backstories as their fates in the massive accident are revealed.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
A.J.: I was driving home one day and saw a car swerve in front of me when I realized the driver was on his cell phone. This got me thinking about what was so important that he had to read a text while driving. I thought it might be interesting to write a book that started with that premise and expanded from there.
What genre does it fall under?
A.J.: Probably just traditional fiction.
What is the one-sentence synopsis for your book?
A.J.: A pileup on the 405 in Los Angeles during morning rush hour reveals the lives of the passengers involved, forever connected by one of the worst accidents in recent history.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
A.J.: I’ve been seeing more and more stories in the media about terrible accidents and injuries caused by texting and driving, so I wanted to incorporate that message into a book in some way. As I wrote it during NaNoWriMo 2012, however, that message became overshadowed by the serious stories each of my characters were dealing with at the time they became involved in the car accident that was caused by a text. Now, it’s not so much a cautionary tale about texting while driving as it is a character-driven story in which that message is only one small factor.
I can imagine that there is a lot of research involved in writing The Pileup. What can you tell us about what the research process has been like and it's obstacles?
A.J.: When writing a NaNoWriMo project, there is no time for research except for what is in your head already. I had years and years of watching terrible car accidents on the news to base my initial draft off of, so that was, in a sense, my "research." As for the ample amount of characters I chose to include, all of their individual accounts of the crash and their back stories just sort of came to me as I was writing, very organically. When I finished the first draft, I was actually surprised by what I had made the characters do and have happen to them. I almost felt like this story came from someone else!
I participated in NaNoWriMo before and one of the few negatives things that I have to say about it is that it took away from my being able to get to know and enjoy my characters like I usually do. Do you think that NaNoWriMo limits what 'could be' in terms of research and character development or is that something which can be easily fixed during the revision process when you have more time to go back and add to the story?
A.J.: For me, I love the NaNoWriMo challenge simply because it forces you to write, write, write and not to worry about editing as you do, which leaves you with a pretty nice sized rough draft at the end of the 30 days. Because of the need to not edit, however, there are tons of details, especially character details, that need to be added and fleshed out in the weeks and months post-challenge. I am sure there are some writers who prefer to get those details down on the first run. In my writing, however, I find the revision process post-first draft to be a fine time to go back to the beginning and get into the nitty-gritty of it all. Oftentimes, it takes me the entirety of the first draft to really get a feel for who I want my characters to be, so this method works really well for me.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
A.J.: I think The Pileup would interest readers who enjoy reading books in which different characters take up varying chapters. I really enjoy writing such stories where each chapter is told from the perspective of a different person, eventually having all of those stories overlap and intertwine down the line.