Welcome to the blog tour for Things I’m Seeing Without You by Peter Bognanni. I’m thrilled to be sharing a Q&A with the author of one of the most simultaneously grief-filled-and-laughter-inducing books I’ve ever read:
Where did the idea for Things I’m Seeing Without You come from?
It came from two different places, one personal and one coincidental. The personal thing was that, a few years ago, someone I only knew online committed suicide. I didn’t know her well. She was an acquaintance more than a friend, but when she died, I felt a strange kind of absence that I didn’t quite know how to process. And I didn’t immediately think I would write about it. But a year or so later this idea of digital grief, and how well you really know your online friends, was something I felt compelled to explore. A couple years later, I was in a dentist’s office, looking at a magazine when I saw an article about trying to make a living in the funeral industry. It was written in this very upbeat, entrepreneurial way, and I found it both funny and slightly disturbing. I ultimately tried to combine the real grief of what I had experienced with the more satirical aspects I discovered in that article.
Do you consider yourself a pantser, plotter, or something in between? What was your process while writing Things I’m Seeing Without You?
I certainly was not a plotter for this book. At least, not in the first draft. The initial version of this book was 500 pages and in the third person. The 2nd draft was 330 pages and in first person. So, clearly I’m not really an outline guy. Sometimes it can take me awhile to find the right way into a story. Yet, even though it’s more work, I never feel good going in with a clear outline. I don’t want to lose the ability to surprise myself.
Things I’m Seeing Without You is centered around some pretty heavy topics. What did you find most difficult as you wrote?
So, writing a book about death and grieving was, as you’d imagine, kind of depressing at times. I read more than anyone ever should about funerals. And because most books on this subject have a certain solemn feel, the tone was the hardest thing to get right. I knew I didn’t want this book to be completely serious, but I also didn’t want readers to feel like I might be laughing at grief. In the first draft I had two funeral planners who made offensive death jokes all the time. They were the first to get cut when I started revising. It was a step too far. I think there are unavoidably funny things about the death business, but above all, I never wanted to lose the humanity of the story.
At the same time, there were plenty of moments that made me laugh out loud. What did you enjoy most about telling this story?
The burlesque funeral. How many times do you get to write about aging exotic dancers at a funeral service?
If you could spend a day with a character from Things I’m Seeing Without You, who would it be and why?
This is a hard question. I love my main character, Tess, even though I think she makes it hard at times. But I think I would choose Jonah, the boy who Tess is mourning. As someone who has experience with depression and anxiety, there’s a part of me I recognize in his character. I wish I could take a long walk with him and calmly explain how everything is eventually going to be okay.
Things I’m Seeing Without You is very much a story about grief and learning to somehow move on. What do you hope readers take away from your book?
I know this is a big thing to ask, but I hope it makes readers think about their own mortality in a way that is honest but not terrifying. I also hope they view Jonah’s suicide as a tragedy that could have been avoided. There’s no room left in our society for the stigma surrounding mental illness. It has real consequences on the lives of those who deal with it. It has to go.
I have to ask… if you could have Tess and her dad plan your funeral, what is one crazy thing you would want them to do?
Oh man. So many options. The first thing that comes to mind is that I used to be an ice cream man for about 3 years in high school, and though I no longer work with it professionally, I’m still a big fan. Would it be too weird to have an ice cream themed funeral? I’m imagining my hearse as an ice cream truck, playing the little song and everything.
What were your favorite books when you were a young adult? Did that influence your own writing at all?
The novels of Cynthia Voigt were the first ones to really pull me into a story emotionally. I had mostly been into adventure books before that, but when I read Homecoming, I remember being invested in those characters completely. Nothing else mattered except what was going to happen to them. There were no bells and whistles in that book. No spaceships or end of the world scenarios. Just real people in compelling circumstances. She changed my taste entirely.
About the book:
Seventeen-year-old Tess Fowler has just dropped out of high school. She can barely function after learning of Jonah’s death. Jonah, the boy she’d traded banter with over texts and heartfelt e-mails.
Jonah, the first boy she’d told she loved and the first boy to say it back.
Jonah, the boy whose suicide she never saw coming.
Tess continues to write to Jonah, as a way of processing her grief and confusion. But for now she finds solace in perhaps the unlikeliest of ways: by helping her father with his new alternative funeral business, where his biggest client is . . . a prized racehorse?
As Tess’s involvement in her father’s business grows, both find comfort in the clients they serve and in each other. But love, loss, and life are so much more complicated than Tess ever thought. Especially after she receives a message that turns her life upside down.
Funny, heartbreaking, hopeful, and wondrous, in the vein of Six Feet Under and I’ll Give You the Sun, Things I’m Seeing Without You is a beautiful examination of what it means to love someone, to lose someone, and to love again.
About the Author:
Peter Bognanni is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His debut novel, The House of Tomorrow, won the LA Times award for first fiction and the ALA Alex Award and has been adapted into a feature film. He teaches creative writing at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Enter for a chance to be one (1) of three (3) winners to receive a hardcover copy of Things I’m Seeing Without You by Peter Bognanni. (ARV: $17.99 each).
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NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on September 25, 2017 and 12:00 AM on October 16, 2017. Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about October 18, 2017. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.
Blog Tour Schedule
September 25 – Arctic Books – Author Q&A
September 26 – Fiktshun – Review
September 27 – Adventures of a Book Junkie – Reasons to Read TISWY
September 28 – Here’s to Happy Endings – Author Guest Post
September 29 – BookCrushin – Review
October 2 – The Young Folks – Author Q&A
October 3 – Dazzled by Books – Review
October 4 – In Wonderland – Beyond the Pages
October 5 – YA and Wine – Review & Mood Board
October 6 – Fiction Fare – Author Guest Post
October 9 – Rants & Raves of a Bibliophile – Review & Favorite Quotes
October 10 – Margie’s Must Reads – Author Guest Post
October 11 – Tales of the Ravenous Reader – Author Q&A
October 12 – Once Upon a Twilight – Guess the Story in GIFs
October 13 – Twinning for Books