The Big Idea: J.A. Tyler
Sometimes, when you start writing a novel, the book is about one thing. As the writing and editing process goes on, however, the book will reveal itself as being about, if not something else entirely, at least, something more. What was that “more” for J.A. Tyler in his novel Only and Ever This? Come find out.
At the onset, Only and Ever This was built on a simple conceit: fit as many old-school type monsters as I could into a single novel, into one town, a town akin to the 1985 film The Goonies, where it was perpetually rainy and kids roamed on their bikes, getting into adventures. This was enough to set me off. The images exploded from that central idea. With it came ghosts and pirates and vampires and mummies.
More though, was at stake, only I didn’t know it yet.
I started this novel almost a decade ago, when my son was ten and my daughter was six. And while I whittled away at the scenes of bloody mummifications and the pirates in their rowdy ports, carving out the ghost of a girl up the street for twin sons to fall in love with, I was busy watching my own kids develop. It was tremendous and hard. It was amazing and scary. It was the terror and beauty Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of. What if I messed them up by shoddy parenting? What if I dented their natural, childhood armor with my adult cynicism? What if the world got there before I could help them make their mark? These questions were eating at me throughout the drafting process, because as much as I intended Only and Ever This to be about monsters and kids, it became more about parenting and growing up than I ever thought possible.
Over time, through the revising and editing, as the book began to take its final shape, I saw through the monsters, through the ghosts and mummies and pirates. Underneath it all, this book had become about me, about my kids, and about how frightening it can be to watch your children grow. The mother is attempting to mummify her boys because she’s afraid if they continue to mature, they’ll become what she can’t control or guide. The father is constantly sailing off because he’s scared that if he stays in the house, he’ll do the wrong thing for his kids, and it’ll push them away. Meanwhile the twin sons are busy in their own entanglements, falling in love, seeding jealousy, pretending maturity, eschewing guidance. Growing up.
They are me. They are my own perceptions of what it means to parent, to age, what it means to become whoever it is we are already, at heart. I went out to write monsters, to soak them in rain, to let them stand beside arcades, to ride bicycles, to witness the shore in a gray town, but what I ended up with was me, skinned and vulnerable, hung out for everyone to see.