Interview with Dallas Woodburn, Author of The Best Week That Never Happened

Dallas Woodburn is a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and plays. Her debut YA novel, The Best Week That Never Happened, is forthcoming from Month9Books in April 2020. Her collection of short stories Woman, Running Late, in a Dress was published in 2018 by Yellow Flag Press and won the Cypress & Pine Short Fiction Award. A 2014 Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University, Dallas also won the international Glass Woman Prize and is a four-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize. Her short stories have appeared in ZYZZYVA, The Nashville Review, The Fourth River, Superstition Review, Louisiana Literature, Monkeybicycle, Cicada, North Dakota Quarterly, and many other journals, as well as American Fiction 13: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging American Writers. Her nonfiction has been published in Family Circle, Writer’s Digest, The Writer, The Los Angeles Times, Modern Loss, and more than two dozen Chicken Soup for the Soul series books. Her plays have been produced in New York City, Los Angeles, South Lake Tahoe, and Maryland.

Dallas Woodburn

The Best Week That Never Happened

For fans of Everything Everything and The Love That Split the World comes a breathtaking new love story about living each day as if it were your last…

After her parents’ bitter divorce, family vacations to the Big Island in Hawaii ceased. But across the miles, eighteen-year-old Tegan Rossi remains connected to local Kai Kapule, her best friend from childhood. Now, Tegan finds herself alone and confused about how she got to the Big Island. With no wallet, no cell phone, purse, or plane ticket, Tegan struggles to piece together what happened. She must have come to surprise-visit Kai. Right?

As the teens grow even closer, Tegan pushes aside her worries and gets swept away in the vacation of her dreams. But each morning, Tegan startles awake from nightmares that become more difficult to ignore. Something is eerily amiss. Why is there a strange gap in her memory? Why can’t she reach her parents or friends from home? And what’s with the mysterious hourglass tattoo over her heart? Kai promises to help Tegan figure out what is going on. But the answers they find only lead to more questions. As the week unfolds, Tegan will experience the magic of first love, the hope of second chances, and the bittersweet joy and grief of being human.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

It’s funny, but looking back it’s difficult for me to remember a time before I loved to write! I learned to read at an early age, and I gobbled up books. I believe I had an advantage of sorts because my dad is a writer—I often saw him working at the kitchen table. So I was always aware that the books I read and loved didn’t just appear like magic on the shelves; someone out there, a real live breathing person, actually wrote them. I knew that was what I wanted to do, too! Like many kids, I made up stories of my own, and I was compelled to write my stories down. And I am very fortunate that my parents and teachers were incredibly encouraging of my love of writing, so I felt supported and excited from the very beginning.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?

I published my first book, There’s a Huge Pimple on My Nose, when I was in fifth grade. I applied for and received a small grant from my elementary school to publish and sell a collection of my short stories and poems, with the idea of using the profits to repay my grant, so my school could offer an extra one the following year. My first printing, done at a local copy shop, was modest: twenty-five staple-bound forty-page books. Actually, they were more like thick pamphlets, but no matter—to me, they were the most beautiful books I had ever laid eyes upon. J.K. Rowling couldn’t have been more proud of her first Harry Potter edition.

My fellow students and teachers acted as if Pimple was at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. The first twenty-five copies promptly sold in a couple of days, and I went back to the print shop and ordered more, which soon sold out as well. Can you imagine what a turbo-boost this was to a fifth-grader’s self-esteem?

I was pursuing my dream, but I wasn’t pursuing it alone—my family and friends and teachers were right there with me. My little book eventually garnered rave reviews in national magazines; book signings at bookstores and festivals; radio and TV interviews; and sold thousands of copies, enough for me to repay multiple school grants.

What is your work schedule like when you are writing?

My work schedule has changed a great deal the past couple of years, because I became a mom and am home full-time with my toddler daughter—so I have much less writing time than I used to have! However, I still try to make at least a little time to write every single day. It helps me stay in the story, so even when I am not sitting down at the keyboard, my mind still wanders around in my story, figuring out plot snarls and getting to know my characters better. When I’m writing a novel, I generally have a vague sense of where the story is headed, but it might change a great deal as I go along. Writing a novel seems to me like swimming across a giant body of water—I can barely make out the shoreline on the other side. All I can do is keep swimming, keep writing, and try not to focus on how much farther I still need to go.

Can you describe The Best Week That Never Happened in 3 words?

Love. Mystery. Magic.

What was the inspiration for the story?

While it is hard to pinpoint exactly where ideas come from, I began writing this novel shortly after one of my dear friends, Celine, was killed in a car accident at the age of 26. I didn’t realize it while I was writing the first draft, but looking back on the book now, it is clear that I was working through a lot of my own grief and pain as I explored the fictional ordeals of my characters.

Additionally, the book takes place on the Big Island of Hawaii, a place that holds a special importance in my heart. I grew up in a small Southern California beach town and my extended family traveled to Hawaii often, up until my grandma died when I was five. We scattered her ashes in the ocean and, ever since I was a little girl, when I thought of Heaven I always imagined my grandmother in Hawaii. The Big Island is the place I feel closest to her. So that was definitely in the back of my subconscious when birthing this book. Also, my friend Celine and I had always talked about going to Hawaii together, but we never made it. However she did spend a week in Hawaii with her family right before she died. 

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing The Best Week That Never Happened?

When I began writing, I had an image for an important scene at the end of the book, and I knew the central idea, but everything else was a mystery. It was exciting to discover the story as I went along, almost as if I was reading the pages as I wrote them. I also found the confines of the structure to be helpful—the book takes place over the course of a week, unfolding from Monday to Sunday, and I had never before written a novel with such a tight timeline. It was a fun challenge!

The story begins when the protagonist, Tegan Rossi, wakes up in the lava tubes on the Big Island of Hawaii with no memory of how she got there from her Pennsylvania hometown. Her best friend, Kai Kapule, is thrilled that she finally kept her promise to come visit—Tegan doesn’t tell him the part about losing her memory—and, as the week progresses, the two of them grow even closer. It is the vacation of Tegan’s dreams… except she can’t escape a niggling uneasiness in the back of her mind. When her memory does ultimately return, it changes everything. 

Originally, when I began writing The Best Week That Never Happened, I actually thought it would end differently than it does. When I got to the ending, it surprised me. But I believe it is the way the book was meant to end. Robert Frost famously said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” That was certainly true for this book!

Do you have a favorite character in TBWTNH? If so, who? And what makes them so special?

It is tough to pick a favorite character—I love them all, and they all feel so real to me! I wish I could go back and spend more time with them. Maybe I should write a sequel. J If I had to choose, I would say that my favorite character is Kai. He is so kind, steady, funny and sweet. He is based on my husband—multiple readers have commented that Kai is the “ideal guy.” I’m very lucky! Writing the romance between Kai and Tegan was like getting to revisit the beginning of our relationship all over again.

What do you hope your readers take away from this book?

I hope that my book is an escape and a solace for readers during these stressful times during a global pandemic. I also hope that the story inspires people to live each day to the fullest, appreciate the little beautiful things in life, and love with brave full-heartedness.

What was the highlight of writing this book?

I finished the first draft of the book in a big burst—I spent a whole day in my own personal writing retreat, typing nonstop. I wish I could fully describe the magic of that day. It was like getting a “second wind” and sprinting the last mile of a marathon. It was like when you are reading a book you love, and you speed through the final pages because you are so excited to find out what happens. I knew what was going to happen—I was writing it, after all—but at the same time there was still this miraculous sense of discovery.

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

I’m currently working on the first draft of my next YA novel, which is similar to The Best Week That Never Happened in that it is realistic fiction with a touch of fantasy and romance. I also recently launched a podcast called Overflowing Bookshelves where I interview an author every week. It’s been such a fun endeavor! You can listen to episodes at www.anchor.fm/dallas-woodburn or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

Dallas Woodburn : Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Podcast

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