19-year-old Emma Richard, a sophomore, sits dressed in yoga pants and a comfortable sweater with her hair down. She’s wearing her signature glasses as she stares intently at her MacBook reading over some portion of her writing. She had been sipping Coca-Cola from one of those old fashioned Coke bottles, and as I arrive covered in snow and more than my fair share of minutes late, she answers my quick “hello” with an enthused, “Hi!”—her poorly hidden anticipation and excitement bubbling over as I sit down and apologize for being so late. Sitting as we are in McDaniel Hall’s basement lounge, she beams as I pull out my laptop and jumps right in about her novel. The 2014 McBlizzard rages outside, the metal basement door doing little to keep out the chill.
Q: When did you start writing?
Emma: I first started writing really young. I had a second grade teacher who was just like… “just make art” she gave us this project at the end of the year where we would write our own story.
Q: And when did you start writing “Goodnight”?
Emma: I guess, just an afternoon in my room. I’m going to have that moment for the rest of my life. Because every time I write I always see that moment, I’m never going to lose that love for it, because I’ve had it since I was young.
My first draft was in seventh grade. I finished a three hundred-word draft by the middle of eighth grade; I wrote it on one of those really chunky IBM laptops.
This is my sixth draft. And I’ve written each draft in different stages of my life. It’s about adding facets about different stages in my life.
Q: What type of novel is it—I mean what genre?
Emma: It’s a science fiction, though I say sci-fi because that’s the biggest quality it has… it has a little bit of everything for everyone. It can touch just about anyone that reads it.
Q: How about we start with the title? Why “Goodnight”?
Emma: I came up with “Goodnight” because falling asleep is like going home for someone who has depression. It’s comfortable and it makes you feel better.
The main character works with amnesia, finding the missing pieces of her life. As a reader, you struggle with her because you don’t get all the pieces either, you get them when she does.
The general story is sci-fi based around the study of memory. Where memories are physical, you can download, erase them, or save them.
Q: So, with regards to ‘delete-able’ memory, it’s a little bit like the movie, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”?
Emma: Yeah, sort of, a similar idea. It takes place in 2020—everything is a streamline version of technology today. You start off through the eyes of a guy and he doesn’t know where he is. Think about when you wake up in the morning and you don’t know where you are for those first few seconds—the last memory he has is of dying. He thinks he’s dead, and so he’s trying to come to terms with it, trying to understand it.
Then he sees the face of his best friend. He manages to pull himself out of this stupor, he’s alive and he’s hooked up to all these machines that are beyond his knowledge and he’s told that he was crushed in an accident and now he’s half cyborg.
He’s fractured, and then he’s faced with what does it mean to be human? He’s charged with taking care of his best friend, who doesn’t know what’s going on, and doesn’t remember anything about the accident as it happened.
Q: Well, how do you develop characters? What’s your process?
Emma: It starts out really meticulous. I get four pieces of poster board, put their name in the middle and put their basic traits in a web around them and then I start to ask how they would act in certain situations. I try to get as specific as I can—it’s like getting to know a person…
Besides once you hit a certain point, once you get into the story, they write themselves, they really do. There came a point where I was just writing along and it kind of just came to be.
The most important thing for me is, as a reader, you’re never going to know all the pieces until ideally the end. I want pieces of them to be revealed a bit at a time, just like when you’re getting to know a person.
Q: What about yourself? Some authors make their main characters the best possible versions of themselves, would you say you’ve done the same?
Emma: My main character, while me, is made of different portions of myself.
I put negative qualities in her, to show people that no one is perfect; there is always an opportunity to grow. This particular work is so close to me that I couldn’t see her as real without being flawed.
Q: So what’s you’re purpose? What do you want to happen with this—do you have an editor?
Emma: I don’t have an editor. My purpose right now: I want five people to read it, from different age groups. I’ve had a 13-year-old read it, my dad’s read it, I want someone my own age to read it, and someone older to read it.
Q: And you’re overall goal, I guess, in writing this? What’s most important about it to you?
Emma: I think the most important thing about this story for me is that it’s a reflection of how I’ve grown over the years. The main character is a metaphor for myself. We all have qualities that we want to work on but aren’t able to. Through this character and book, I’ve been able to focus on specific qualities, things I don’t like about myself.
Reading has taught me that I’m not alone in the universe, that there are people that can help you through things, fictional and not. Going through that I realized that I wanted my characters to touch other people like other people have touched me.
We all focus on different things, different parts of humanity. If I touch one person in the way I’ve been touched I’ll consider myself successful. I mean, jeez ,crying over Dumbledore, I mean come on!
Q: So you’ve written a novel, and now you want people to read it, would you be ok with anyone reading it?
Emma: Yes and no. I’d be totally comfortable with having someone I don’t know reading it because it’s an unbiased opinion; but no, because I’d be worried about them stealing it. I have to get past that.
Emma and I wrap up our conversation but not before I’m able to get the book from her. It’s a perk of knowing an author, they like to have their stuff read by people they know and so ladies and gentlemen I have a preview (with her permission) of Emma Richard’s “Goodnight,” right here for you to read. Don’t worry, I don’t give much… just enough to get you hooked.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
The following is private intellectual property.
An excerpt from “Goodnight.”
We had gone far enough together to listen easily in the quiet spaces.
It was hard to relate that word to myself. I was too young for that word, too ready for life to begin for that word; too ready to be alive and to experience the world for that word. There were so many things I’d wanted to do, so many places I’d wanted to go, so many people I wanted to meet. So many things to do and no time to do any of them. Time. Just a moment ago, I’d thought I’d had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted and to be whoever I wanted. Little did I know that everything I’d hoped and dreamed for had now been crushed in a single moment of human cruelty. At first, my mind had refused the dark concept. I’d rejected the thought, the image, the very idea that I was no longer among the living.
Teenagers think they’re indestructible.
It had seemed unimaginable that I could possibly have died. Earlier this week, I’d climbed down from my fifth story window onto the streets below with no mind to if I’d get hurt or not.
But now, I knew I was dead. I knew it with the most curious certainty. It didn’t bring me peace, knowing that I was a part of something so eternal; rather, it made me incredibly sad.
However, this knowledge didn’t mean I didn’t have my doubts; after all, wasn’t death supposed to be all about finding unity and drifting off into the light? Ironically, there was nothing but black in front of me, like I was blind. I was moving hopelessly out into nothingness, feeling less and less as time wore on. Numbness was slowly eating away at me, tearing me apart, filling my veins with a weight that pulled me down, down, further and further into the blackness. I felt limp and cold and inexhaustibly lonely.
Suddenly, I began to see something up ahead. I squinted a little. The only thing I could make out in this endless darkness was a face; a face of which I had once known as well as my own. Grey eyes, soft as blended charcoal, were the only source of light in this painful emptiness. Her mouth was curved upwards faintly. Powerfully.
She was smiling that special half-smile that I knew was only for me.
Are we dead?
I mouthed the words to her; I was unable to speak. The unspoken words hung in the space between us poignantly.
Of course I was. There was just no possibility that I had survived. So I had to be dead, and that was something I had to come to terms with eventually.
But was she? Had I accomplished what I had wanted to and given my life to save hers? I searched her familiar gaze for answers to my many questions. As I did this, her smile unexpectedly began to fade, and her eyes shut slowly. What was wrong? Had I done something that I shouldn’t have?
A great burst of light pierced the darkness, and as it disappeared, I realized she was gone. Gasping, I reached out into the endless blackness, and felt the chill of sorrow clench my heart.
Loneliness inked through my veins as I realized I was once again, completely alone. The darkness devoured everything in its path; including my sanity. I shivered as the icy air danced along my skin, as the cold began to set into my bones. Was this what eternity was going to be like? Was this the afterlife, the heaven, the hell, the long sleep that people had been talking about since the dawn of existence? I didn’t know if I could stand it.
All at once, the strangest, most excruciating pain ripped through me, jolting my heart like an electric shock.
And then I woke up.
A low beeping noise was echoing in my ears. It brought me back to a steady consciousness.
The certainty was gone; replaced instead by dizzying confusion.
I could have sworn that the fall had killed me.
I had been so positive, so affirmed in the fact that my heart had stopped beating, that the pulsing organ had stilled just beneath the fragile skin of my chest. This was wrong. It didn’t feel right. I had been ready to accept my death, to come to terms with the fact that I had died for her. It hadn’t been about all the things I hadn’t accomplished in life anymore, it hadn’t been about all the places I hadn’t gone. It had turned into a slow acceptance because I’d saved her life, and she was so much more than worth it. I took a deep, unsteady breath, feeling the rasp of the air in my tight lungs. It was a strange sensation, almost one I didn’t recognize.
I remembered the whole thing, that whole night of shadowy ends to a twisting maze of alleyways. Somehow I had survived the terror. Not that I deserved to be alive right now, exactly, but I was breathing, and I guessed that I should be somewhat thankful for that.
So if I wasn’t dead, where was I?