It was the poem that did it. He called it “Frankenstein,” and he showed it to me after he’d broken up with another Tami or Cindi or Debbi—another A-list cheerleader with a lowercase-i name, who probably got off slumming it with what she thought was a bad boy. Grant Scott, he of the home-made tattoos and the mom who may or may not be a stripper and the beat-up old Jeep made from scrap. The i-girls may ride in the Jeep, but they never get to read the poems he writes that are inspired by it. Those he shows to me.

I’m built from junk
Other people’s rejects
I have dents and rust
Which of you dares drive this wreck?

He handed me “Frankenstein” about six weeks ago, as we were sitting there on the (yes, dented) fender of his still-warm Jeep. He’d just broken up with a Brittani. “Do you get the metaphor?” he asked.

“Yeah. It’s totally clear,” I said, handing back the poem. What I really wanted to say was stop dating those imbeciles. Start dating someone like me, someone who dares.

Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is an award-winning American author who writes for young adults. She began her career as a journalist at Seventeen magazine, reporting on young people and social justice issues. Forman is the author of the bestselling novels, If I Stay and Where She Went and the forthcoming pair of books, Just One Day and Just One Year, both of which will be published next year.

Q&A by Pei-Ling Lue

PL: Where did the idea for this story come from?
GF: I had a go-nowhere crush on a guy like Grant Scott in high school and I’d given myself a deadline similar to Mags’s. On the night of the deadline, we bumped into each other and hung out. Of course, nothing happened—he didn’t get together with my friend or anything but the timing seemed meaningful and so I let my deadline lapse. Which was dumb of me.
PL: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
GF: Writing Grant’s poetry was a challenge because I wanted it to seem like the kind of poetry a brooding teenage guy would write—and I knew someone in high school who was very fond of the parentheses thing—but I also wanted it to be bad and simplistic and boneheaded because Grant is kind of a poseur. I know the term high-school poetry can make people cringe, but the thing is, it can be really good. When you come across the poetry of a young person who can really write, you can tell.This isn’t always the case. My high school poetry is terrible. But I’ve seen amazing poems written by teens.
PL: The descriptions of the i-girls in your story are wonderful. Were they inspired by any particular i-girls from your high school?
GF: They’re inspired by a type of girl, the kind who prefers to project a rather empty-headed type of femininity. I actually don’t think many girls are like this, but in my high school, a lot of girls projected this type of persona. I’m not sure why. And the i, with the big bubble on top of it, seemed to encapsulate that kind of girl. I also liked that Mags, whose name is Margaret, could’ve chosen an i-name for herself (Maggie, though it’s not really an i-name, is it?) and purposefully chose the solid nickname of Mags.
PL: “The Deadline” takes place over the course of one day. Was this something you decided before you began writing?
GF: I seem to be drawn to stories that take place in condensed time frames. Both If I Stay and Where She Went take place in a single day, and both Just One Day and Just One Year have pivotal sections that take place in a single day. So I really like exploring the idea that so much can begin to change—which is different from saying so much can change—in one day. I didn’t sit down with the intention of having “The Deadline” take place in a day, but like I said, that seems to be a framework I enjoy playing with.
PL: A lot of teens who grow up in small towns feel the way Mags does. Why did you choose to place “The Deadline” in a small town setting?
GF: I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles and I had the very same feeling that Mags does; that life was too small. I think it’s something a lot of teens feel and it doesn’t really have to do with geography so much as a sense of possibility, or lack thereof. I didn’t specifically set “The Deadline” in a small town. In my mind, it was some kind of exurb, but it’s that small-island feeling—and that wanting to swim beyond it—that I was after.
PL: In your mind, what do you think Grant Scott really feels for Mags?
GF: If I really knew what guys like Grant Scott felt, I would be some kind of Man Guru. Those guys are perennially inscrutable.
PL: What do you see in the future for Grant, Mags and Robin?
GF: I prefer to let readers imagine that. I will say that I think Mags and Robin have a genuine spark, and that Grant is the kind of guy who probably becomes more interested in something once it’s out of reach.
PL: How long did it take you to complete this story?
GF: I wrote a much shorter version of it a few years ago and it took me a few weeks to perfect it. And then I expanded it, which I thought was going to be challenging, but the story kind of naturally unpacked itself. I worked on it over four weeks, while I was revising a novel. It was such a nice relief to write something 5,000 words instead of 100,000 words.
PL: What are you working on now?
GF: I’m working on Just One Year, the companion novel to Just One Day, which comes out in January. Just One Year comes out some time next fall.
PL: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
GF: “Hard writing makes easy reading.” Very helpful when a book is coming painstakingly and you think that it must be utter crap otherwise it wouldn’t be THIS DIFFICULT. Sometimes, the effort is part of what makes the reading effortless.