I’m really excited today to share an interview with Lillie Vale. Lillie’s debut novel, Small Town Hearts, will be released this Tuesday, March 19th. I can’t wait for more people to read this amazing story, it’s definitely one of my new favorites!!!
So keep reading to hear Lillie Vale and I talk about writing advice, representation, and of course, her new book!
Q: Hi Lillie! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!
A: Hi Cait! Thanks so much for having me on your blog today. I’m so stoked to talk about Small Town Hearts with you.
Everybody else: Hi! I’m Lillie Vale, the author of upper YA contemporary Small Town Hearts. It’s a messy BFF breakup + found family novel taking place in the summer after high school, the last summer 19yo bi baking barista Babe thinks she’ll have before her friends Penny and Chad start college in the fall. She has a somewhat co-dependent relationship with the people she loves, and change has never been a good thing, in her experience, so she’s trying to hold on tight during a time when she has to learn how to let go. Matters are further complicated when her ex-girlfriend Elodie returns to their sleepy Maine village of Oar’s Rest at the same time as a mysterious summer boy shows up to rent Babe’s mom’s cottage on the beach.
Q: Small Town Hearts is your debut novel. As you were working on getting it ready for publication, what part of the process was your favorite? What part did you not enjoy?
A: The edit letter involved a lot of unexpected changes, which of course meant rethinking a lot of things! For one thing, the characters’ ages were all lowered to the late teens, which set in motion a chain reaction that involved configuring new motivations, new relationship dynamics, new emotional circumstances, and even a brand-new character! Small Town Hearts was the first time I actually ripped a book apart, dove into the innards, and attempted to reconstruct from scratch. And it was, well, pretty rough.
In a lot of ways, Small Town Hearts is a totally different book than it was before. And revising took a lot out of me, because I had to not only get to know my beloved characters in a new way, but they didn’t even feel like my characters anymore. This was the hardest part. It took me a while to start thinking of them as “mine” again, and I could only do that once I told myself that these were the same Babe and Levi and Chad and Penny, just younger versions of themselves. It was sort of like writing my own AU fanfic? Kind of a surreal experience, haha! The Small Town Hearts version of them just means I was meeting them a little earlier than expected, but they were no less them. I just needed to remind myself of that and hold on tight to the heart of the story.
And my favorite part? Being done. Knowing that I gave it my all, and that my book is going to meet the world soon and be out of my hands. Trusting in my characters to be okay. Trusting myself, too, for everything that will come next.
Q: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
A: I wish I could credit whoever popularized this saying in the Twitter writing community, but something I’ve been hearing other authors talk about is keeping your eye on your own paper, and oh boy is that true! Every book, every writer, every process goes its own pace. Keep your eyes on your own journey, keep writing, and don’t get too impatient for all the milestones you haven’t reached yet. You’ll get there.
Q: Small Town Hearts takes place in a small beach town, Oar’s Rest, making it the perfect book to read while laying out on the beach. What’s your go-to beach read?
A: This is a really hard question to answer, because whenever I’m at the beach, I’m not reading! When I do actually have the time is when I’m stuck at the airport or on the flight. I’ll read whatever is at the top of my TBR! Last time, it was an Agatha Christie.
Q: The pacing in Small Town Hearts was done so well. What was your process when you were writing it? Did you outline every detail, wing it, or something in-between?
A: Thank you, Cait! I wish I could say it was meticulously plotted, but the first draft pre-deal was pure discovery. Inspiration came pouring out of me and onto the page. It was such an exhilarating feeling! What feels most natural to me as a writer is having a few big plot points figured out before I start drafting, and then finding my way as I go. I like to think of it as grounded exploration. So something in between, definitely!
Q: Representation is so important, which is why I was so excited that the main character of Small Town Hearts, Babe, is bisexual. What books would you recommend to people looking for more LGBTQIA+ reads?
A: Diversity and positive representation in YA is incredibly important to me. There have been an increasing number of LGBTQ+ books published over the last few years, but many are still coming out stories, or stories where sexuality and identity create struggles in the main character’s life. I wanted to read a story with a girl who was proudly out, someone whose community accepted her. Who had the love and acceptance of her friends and family, who didn’t have to hide who she was or make herself smaller to fit a close-minded space. I wanted her to have struggles, but who she was and who she chose to love was NOT going to be one of them. I wrote the story I would have loved to read as a teen. The story I would still love to read.
Some recent LGBTQ+ stories I’ve loved are: Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon, Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, and I’m about to start Hot Dog Girl by my fellow debut Jennifer Dugan, which I have heard all the good things about. I know next to nothing about These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Stirling and Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi, but I can’t wait to read them!!!
Q: What was your inspiration for Small Town Hearts?
A: The origin story for Small Town Hearts is actually pretty funny. At least, I think it is! Going into the book, I only knew I wanted a slightly sad, very cute artist to wash up on the coast of Maine and fall in love with a local girl. Babe, the main character of Small Town Hearts, got her name because I was playing around with quirky nicknames and thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be a hoot if her full name was Barbara, but everyone calls her Babe, and Levi (the new summer boy in town) mistakenly (read: hilariously) thinks everyone is hitting on her, like, ALL the time?” Babe’s name inspired the story for Small Town Hearts 100%. This foodie, messy friendship, bi book of my heart evolved from there!
While I loved the world building and aesthetic that went into developing the village of Oar’s Rest, I was hugely inspired in diving deep into a friendship that’s always had a status quo, where the characters only knew who they were as individuals insofar as who they were relative to their friends. What would happen when those characters were in a period of transition (high school to college) and that status quo was threatened? Exploring the conflict that arises when characters have differing hopes, dreams, insecurities, and fears that put them at odds with one another was a theme I found deeply compelling.
Q: If a reader takes away only one message from Small Town Hearts, what would you hope it would be?
A: I think a lot of Babe’s struggles could apply to teens and young people today. Leaving high school, friends, and family for the first time can be terrifying. Home can provide stability and comfort, and the people and places that make up what “home” means to us are major cornerstones. Many teens, whether they go to college or not, may find themselves losing their support system. How do we hold on to friendships when we’re miles apart? How do we know when to let go? Babe, for whom remaining in the work force is not only a pragmatic choice, but the one that will allow her to work at the coffee shop she loves, The Busy Bean, is terrified of the new changes that will affect her friend group. She’s going to be the one left behind, and she has no idea how to deal. I hope readers can take away that change can also be an opportunity for growth, that friendship can be tested without breaking, and that sometimes, we may have to untangle ourselves from our comfort zone in order to become the person we’re meant to be.
More About Small Town Hearts:
Rule #1 – Never fall for a summer boy.
Fresh out of high school, Babe Vogel should be thrilled to have the whole summer at her fingertips. She loves living in her lighthouse home in the sleepy Maine beach town of Oar’s Rest and being a barista at the Busy Bean, but she’s totally freaking out about how her life will change when her two best friends go to college in the fall. And when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, she may lose them a lot sooner. On top of that, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, bringing with her a slew of memories, both good and bad.
And then there’s Levi Keller, the cute artist who’s spending all his free time at the coffee shop where she works. Levi’s from out of town, and even though Babe knows better than to fall for a tourist who will leave when summer ends, she can’t stop herself from wanting to know him. Can Babe keep her distance, or will she break the one rule she’s always had – to never fall for a summer boy? (Via Goodreads)