Meredith Russo: No, I Won’t Tell You What Happens After the Book Ends

Meredith Russo: No, I Won’t Tell You What Happens After the Book Ends

Of all the questions I’ve been asked concerning If I Was Your Girl, the most common by far is this: What happens after it’s over? This is only natural, I think, because I chose to end the story on a precipice – as Amanda prepares for one of the most important conversations of her life. Sometimes I shrug and say I don’t know, which is as true as anything since what an author imagines for a character and what lands on the page are often very different. Sometimes I give people a range of possibilities, like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. I’m done answering at all though, and here’s why: I left these blank spaces in the story for the same reason I love fanfiction.

Stories are at their strongest when they trust and harness the imagination of the audience, and explanation is the death of imagination. Look at Grant and Amanda’s shared love, Star Wars. Do we need to know what the Clone Wars are when Leia mentions that Obi-Wan served in them with her father? Do we need to know the names and traits of every species in the Mos Eisley cantina? Do we need to know exactly why Vader needs a respirator? No, and the refusal of the first three movies to answer these questions in detail is a huge part of what made them so magical. These empty spaces are the handholds you, the lovely audience, use to claim ownership of the world in the story.

And you do own it, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The moment you started reading you created a version of Lambertville and the people therein that is absolutely, perfectly, yours. There’s this idea that the true, real part of a story is only precisely what the author said, that these words and these alone are the only thing that matters, when the real secret, the real miracle, is that your interpretation of the information you’re given – your ideas for what happens in the unspoken gaps – are exactly as important as the information itself.

How many dates do Grant and Amanda go on that I never tell you about directly? A lot. What happens on them? I couldn’t tell you. It’s been more than a year since I handed in the final manuscript and I only remember writing one other date scene that got scrapped. What’s Parker’s home life like? Bee’s? Layla’s? How did Amanda’s parents meet? What specific mental illness does Grant’s mom have? How did Chloe and Bee meet? Has Amanda’s dad dated? What kind of music does Grant like? How did Layla, Anna, and Chloe become friends? Chloe, Amanda, Grant, and Bee are all given sexual orientations, but what about everyone else? Are all of them straight? Are any of them aromantic or asexual? Are they all cisgender? Are they all neurotypical? You might assume I know the answers to these questions, and I suppose I could answer a few, but the best I could do for most is shrug. Interesting as they might have been, these are questions I didn’t have the time, word count, or, possibly, the desire to answer, but they’re still important.

I left empty spaces in If I Was Your Girl for a lot of reasons, some of which I already listed, but mostly I left them for you. The feelings and ideas you take away from my work are almost certainly different from my own interpretations and intentions, but they’re no less valid for it. Your answers to the questions and blank spaces in my work are bound to differ from mine, often because I have no answer at all, and that’s amazing. Talk about that. Write these things down and share them, please, and tell me about them! Give yourself answers instead of waiting around, because at the end of the day your guess is as good as mine.

When you’re ready to share your work you can find me on Twitter arguing that, no really, Hamilton and Burr are very much in love with each other.