Last week, at a local bookstore, I saw Ann Napolitano, author of the recent release, Dear Edward, speak about the book and her writing process. As Ann introduced the plot of Dear Edward, she spoke about a news story that she became infatuated with. Back in 2010, a flight from South Africa to London crashed and there was only one survivor: a 9 year old dutch boy. He was found still strapped into his plane seat about a half mile away from the rest of the wreckage. Everyone else died including his parents and brother. It was huge news at the time but not many people remember it now.
At the time, this boy’s story was shared across not only news, but all platforms of social media. The crash occurred at a time when social media was really taking off, and instead of just seeing the “news” side of this story, the public also saw the personal side- the boy’s story.
As Ann, a mother of two boys, read through the posts and stories about the boy she wondered how this little boy was going to be able to navigate the world without his parents and his brother. What was life going to look like for him?
After telling the story of this plane crash and how this boy affected her, Ann shared something that she tells students when teaching fiction writing, and that is to pay attention to your obsessions. What is it that always draws your attention? What kind of art are you pulled to? What kind of books make you feel the need to read them?
If you pay attention to these obsessions, you find what is meaningful to you. Often these themes make you uncomfortable. Ann felt uncomfortable about her need to know more about this boy who survived the plane crash. She knew she would have to write her way through to process this.
Ann spent eight years writing Dear Edward. She spoke about spending these eight years creating a world with enough love in it for Edward.
Edward’s story is told in dual narratives; the plane ride and Edward’s life after the plane crash. Ann said that some readers referred to the plane chapters as flashbacks but she actually sees them as both existing together, happening at the same time. This makes sense to me because when something so big happens in your life, it’s not linear. It’s not an open and closed chapter, with a nice, neat ending. It is always happening, and you are learning to live alongside it.
When asked about her writing style, Ann describes herself as an intuitive writer. She describes her writing using this quote: It’s “Like driving home on a foggy night, you can only see as far as your headlights, but you can see far enough to get you home”