Natalie Lund: On Grief and Unanswered Questions in YA Fiction

YA author Natalie Lund shares how she handles the subject of death for a YA audience in her latest novel The Sky Above Us.
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Natalie Lund is the author of The Sky Above Us (April 13, 2021; Penguin Random House/Philomel Books) and We Speak In Storms (September 2019; Penguin Random House/Philomel Books), a 2020 ITW Thriller Award nominee and an Illinois Reads 2020 selection. A graduate of Purdue University's MFA program, where she served as the fiction editor of The Sycamore Review, she is also a former middle and high school teacher. She lives in Chicago with her husband. You can visit her online at natalielund.com.

Natalie Lund

Natalie Lund

In this post, Lund shares how she handles the subject of death for a YA audience in her latest novel The Sky Above Us, what it was like to write in multiple timelines and multiple POVs, and more!

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Name: Natalie Lund
Literary agent: Sarah Davies
Title: The Sky Above Us
Publisher: Philomel Books/Penguin Random House
Release date: April 13, 2021
Genre: Young Adult
Elevator pitch for the book: The morning after their senior year beach party, Izzy, Cass, and Janie are woken by a plane that crashes into the water before them. They learn that Izzy’s brother and his two best friends were on board and set out to discover what happened that day and why the boys were on the plane.
Previous titles by the author: We Speak in Storms

The Sky Above Us by Natalie Lund

The Sky Above Us by Natalie Lund

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What prompted you to write this book?

When I was 15, three of my classmates died in a car crash. A day later, my grandmother fell and fractured her spine; she didn’t wake up again. It was the hardest period of my teenagehood, and I spent a lot of time in the weeks and months after thinking about the questions that are left behind by those we lose. Eventually, I came to the realization I’d never have answers. A lot of teenagers face similar formative losses, so I wanted to write a novel from that space of being driven by grief and unanswered questions.

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How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

I pitched the idea to my editor in October of 2018, and the novel was originally supposed to hit the shelves two years later, but due to some COVID delays, it will be published on April 13, 2021.

In the revision rounds, I removed a few characters and changed the trajectory for one of the protagonists, but the core idea has really stayed the same since that initial pitch.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

For my first novel, it took about five years from the initial idea to publication. During that time, I spent several rounds revising with my agent and then again with my editor before we published. So, by the time we were finished, I’d sat with the book for a really long time and felt like I could recite it word for word. But this time around, the whole process was much, much faster. I wrote the initial draft in about eight months and then had quick turnarounds for each of my revisions with my editor. I didn’t feel like I had much time to “sit with” the book because we were moving so quickly. It was disconcerting at times, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts as well as my editor’s.

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Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

The Sky Above Us is written in two timelines and six points of view. It was a lot to keep track of, so I relied pretty heavily on a spreadsheet. I had a column for the chapter number, one for the POV, one for the date/time of the scenes, and one for the summary. As I revised, I added another column for notes about how I wanted to alter the chapter. It was an unexpectedly useful revision tool.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I want readers to get lost in the story for a few moments during their busy lives and to grow to love these characters as I do. But most of all, I want them to feel a measure of hope as they read the last few pages of The Sky Above Us. The world is hard, especially right now, but there is so much beauty in the friendships we build with one another.

Natalie Lund: On Grief and Unanswered Questions in YA Fiction

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

The business side of being an author—marketing, promotion, answering emails, etc.—takes a fair amount of time, and sometimes, because it feels more tangible, it’s easier to prioritize this type of work. You have to protect the creative time. I do that by writing super early in the morning, before the world and all of its tasks have encroached on me. It’s also when my brain feels freshest. I do the “business side” during my lunch break or just after I sign off from my day job. Find what works for you—but make sure you’re writing.

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