Rebecca Serle’s new novel “When You Were Mine” is our May Book Club pick, and we’re fortunate she took the time to talk about everything from Shakespeare and shopping to alpha girls and swoon-worthy boys with us.
In “When You Were Mine,” Rosaline and Rob’s longtime friendship has reached that all-too-familiar point where it’s blossoming into something more. When Rosaline’s cousin Juliet returns to town, she sweeps Rob off his feet and Rosaline’s life is changed forever. She still has her best friends, Charlie and Olivia, but losing Rob’s friendship is extremely painful.
In her relationships with Charlie and Olivia, you can see how much the girls are motivated by their need to be popular. It’s important to that they drive the right car, wear the right clothes, and do the right things for that popularity. However, there is more to them as well. They are loyal friends and they know they can really count on each other. The book is set in a posh Southern California private school during the characters’ senior year. It is against this setting that Serle delves into friendship, love, and family – the things that all teens deal with. That’s what’s refreshing about it — it’s easy to relate to.
Rosaline knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. Rose has been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her–and when he finally does, it’s perfect. But then Juliet moves back to town. Juliet, who used to be Rose’s best friend. Juliet, who now inexplicably hates her. Juliet, who is gorgeous, vindictive, and a little bit crazy…and who has set her sights on Rob. He doesn’t even stand a chance.
Rose is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet. This is not how the story was supposed to go. And when rumors start swirling about Juliet’s instability, her neediness, and her threats of suicide, Rose starts to fear not only for Rob’s heart, but also for his life. Because Shakespeare may have gotten the story wrong, but we all still know how it ends.
What inspired you to retell the Romeo and Juliet story? Are you a big Shakespeare fan? I am, but the inspiration for When You Were Mine came from my own heartbreak. I was devastated over a boy, and crying at my best friend’s house. We started discussing love stories and Romeo and Juliet came up and with it this question: “Whatever happened to Rosaline?” Instantly I knew that question was a book—my book.
Have you considered revisiting other classic tales, giving them a modern twist? Not right now, but I’d never say never. When You Were Mine was really more about wanting to tell Rosaline’s story, than do a retelling. But who knows! I have a lot of books in me 🙂 My new book pulls on a classic, too, but in a much more subtle way– it’s just another element of the overall story.
Did you draw on a heartbreak from your own teen years for the Rosie character? Were you ever betrayed by a friend or family member like that? Rosaline’s character goes through what I went through in my early twenties— that’s when I had my heart broken. It didn’t happen in high school for me, mostly because I didn’t have a boyfriend in high school (or date too much, really). I’ve been betrayed before, yes, but I think one of the things to keep in mind is that Juliet and Rosaline have a very specific, intense past. I’m one to think there isn’t anger without love. Hopefully, inevitably, you realize that.
Did you use locations from your time in California as the setting for this book? Did you go to a similarly posh high school? I went to college in southern California at USC, and spent a lot of time in LA growing up, so I knew a lot of girls like Olivia— girls who had everything. I went to private school, as well, and a lot of San Bellaro is based off of my campus at Seabury Hall (on Maui!) The boys surfed, too!
In your mind, what happens between Rob and Juliet that so instantly makes him fall for her? That’s the thing about Romeo and Juliet, isn’t it? We don’t really know. Is it love at first sight? Does such a thing exist? Is it lust? Is he duped? I think you get a hint in that kitchen scene with Rosaline and Juliet what’s really going on in their relationship…but that’s the great question of the play: If they would have lived, would they have even stayed together? Young love is unpredictable, to say the least.
We loved Len and how he was “always there” but Rose never noticed him (properly). Did you model him on someone in particular or just a generally cool and dreamy guy? I’m so glad you loved Len! I love Len, too. I have a crush on him, honestly. I don’t know if he’s based off of anyone– maybe bits and pieces…
There were a lot of designer labels and brands mentioned in the book. Were you concerned some of the characters would come off as overly materialistic, or was that the point — that wealthy California teens are naturally going to be into status? Yeah, this is a good question. Well, look, that’s what it’s like to go to school in some parts of the world. And Charlie and Olivia aren’t apologetic about it. It was important to me that Rosaline was a part of the “cool crowd,” for lack of a better term. She has everything, except this one thing, this thing that means more than anything else. It was a farther fall because she’s not used to things not working out for her. So those ideas of status, money, power— they’re useless when it comes to love and tragedy. That was very important.
Charlie was a bit of a divisive character in our group. She seemed to dominate a lot of what the circle did or how they acted. What made you decide to make her the alpha girl of the clique? Charlie is a very imperfect person. She, too, has a past filled with tragedy, and she overcompensates– she’s classic “everything on my terms so I never have to appear–or feel–weak.” But Charlie loves BIG. My friends are like that, I guess. We’re not perfect. We can be materialistic sometimes. We care about shopping, and shoes. But we love each other BIG. That felt real to me. I love Charlie. I think she’s deeply flawed, but that’s what makes her human. My best friend’s mother passed away while I was writing this book, and that changed a lot of Charlie’s character. It was important to me that she had experienced death so that when Rosaline goes through what she does Charlie can be the grounding voice— she’s been there. She knows.
How easy was it to slip into the various characters’ voices? Did you create backstories that aren’t on the page about each of your characters? Was one your favorite to write dialogue for? Yes! Somewhere there is a paper that lists all of the characters favorite things, biggest fears, and best memories– man, I wish I knew where that was! I think part of writing a book is that the characters naturally become whole people– so you find stuff out about them as you go. I did a lot of work up-front, but mostly they tell me things about themselves and then it’s up to me whether I put that on the page, or not. Some of it doesn’t belong there.
Len’s dialogue was pretty fun, I must say. I enjoyed writing him the most.
What was the writing process like? How long did the book take from idea stage to publishing? The first draft took about 7 months or so. I submitted it to my agent in August, she read it overnight and loved it, and we sold it to Simon and Schuster two months later. Then came the edits…
Which authors have influenced you both as a reader and a writer? Which author(s) do you follow religiously? Deb Calleti is my all- time favorite YA writer. She has an incredible career, and she’s just so talented. The love stories that inspired me growing up still do– Wuthering Heights, for example. And J.D. Salinger. He’s the ultimate writer, for me.
This seems like the perfect kind of book to get optioned into a film. Tell us the truth, have you already dream cast the book, and if so, who would play the major characters. Well there is a film in pre-production! We sold the rights to Fox2000 and the guys who wrote 500 Days of Summer did the screenplay— it’s very good– very sharp, sweet, funny. I think the people they currently have in mind are pretty perfect for the roles…
Thank you so much! This was fun! And come visit me: www.rebeccaserle.com @rebeccaaserle