I get asked about the inspiration for ALL OUR YESTERDAYS a lot. Like really a lot. And I usually tell the same story: unable to sleep one night, I ended up watching The Terminator on cable and wondering how the story would be different if the killer robot from the future was actually the good guy (and a non-robotic teenage girl).
But that’s only part of the story. That was the inspiration for the plot, the gun play and car chases and world-ending stakes.
The inspiration for the heart of the story came from another place entirely. It came from this:
These are pictures of me at fourteen and seventeen (I think) from a photo album of pictures from my summer camp days. These jumped out at me when I was going through that album a few years ago, because I don’t have a lot of pictures of myself, especially from when I was a teenager.
And the reason for that is I was convinced I was the most disgustingly, monstrously fat and ugly person on the face of the planet.
That’s not what I see in these pictures. I do see how uncomfortable I was having that camera pointed at me, but I also a girl who, yes, has made some unfortunate fashion choices and isn’t going to be on the cover of Vogue anytime soon, but who is basically just a normal girl. Nothing monstrous.
As I was looking at these pictures, I felt an overwhelming tenderness towards that girl I once was, almost like she was a separate person from me. I wanted her to be able to see herself the way I see her. I wanted to tell her she’s not fat and ugly, and that even if she were, who cares because she’s also smart and funny and kind and a good friend, all of which are more important and all of which she also has trouble seeing.
Loving yourself is hard, especially as a teenager, but it’s so much easier in retrospect. (Probably in another fifteen years I’ll look back on myself as I am now and not be able to believe the things I’m insecure about.) If only I could have extended to myself as a teen that same kindness I do now or given her a glimpse of how cool she really is in my eyes.
And it was that moment that the idea for the dual narrators in ALL OUR YESTERDAYS was born. Em gets the chance to do exactly what I wish I could: tell her younger self everything she wishes she’d known at that age, hug her and assure her she’s so much more important and worthy than she thinks.
To me, the heart of the book and its central love story has nothing to do with either of the very eligible boys.
It’s about a girl learning to love herself.