Interview: Tess Sharpe discusses new book, fanfiction, and emotional scenes

6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Didn't) by Tess Sharpe. Image courtesy Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Didn't) by Tess Sharpe. Image courtesy Little, Brown Books for Young Readers /

Tess Sharpe’s latest book is 6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did), an emotional and complex story about two teen girls who have been anything but friends for years. But now that they will be living under the same roof, they decide to make a pact to get along. Well, that pact might ultimately lead to their underlying feelings coming to the surface.

Tess Sharpe is one of my favorite authors because of how much detail she puts into her characters. And she’s never afraid to have them feel big, complicated emotions. Her last book, The Girls I’ve Been, did that beautifully and 6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did) brings so many difficult emotions to the forefront. You will not be disappointed!

I was lucky enough to be able to interview Tess Sharpe about the new book, some of the more emotional scenes, and the inspiration behind the title.

Tess Sharpe shares her thoughts on her new release, texts in books, and more

Culturess: How did the idea for this book first come about?

Tess Sharpe: I’ve always really wanted to write a book where an epic, lifetime spanning friendship was at play. I love BEACHES and that was definitely an inspiration behind Lottie and Anna’s friendship.

I spent years circling around the concept of writing about the origins of a life-long epic friendship but I could never make it work and keep it in the YA sphere. And then I realized I should be writing about the repercussions—good and bad—of such a friendship. Which brought me to the idea that I should be writing about the daughters of the best friends…and that the daughters totally should fall in love.

Culturess: Fanfiction often has titles that refer to the number of times the characters did something. Did you take the premise/title from that tradition?

Tess Sharpe: Yes! I’ve long been inspired by fanfic structures. I feel like one of the big powers of fanfic is that you come into it with an established world and characters, so it allows you as a writer to get more experimental in other places—like structure. And really beautiful things blossom when you have that power and freedom to explore and experiment.

5 Times Fanfics are some of my favorite. I’ve always wanted to take the structure and use it in a novel. And it ended up being one of the more challenging writing excursions of my career so far!

Culturess: The scene where we see why Penny is scared of the water and what happened to her father is absolutely heartbreaking. Was that as difficult to write as it was to read?

Tess Sharpe: This was one of the first scenes I pre-wrote for the book, when I was getting to know Penny. It was very difficult to write—and it stayed almost exactly the same as it was written during my pre-writing scribblings–but it was most difficult to narrate. I basically spent 3 days in the booth crying on and off through most of the Penny scenes, but especially that one.

The moment Penny confronts her mother about the damage she’s done and the art she created is so utterly satisfying. Especially for someone with equally complicated parents. What did you hope to achieve or get across with that scene?

This is the moment where Penny really comes into her own. It’s the first step of many, but it is a very big step into truth. I hate that it comes about from such pain, but sometimes great change comes from great pain.

Culturess: The texts between Penny and Meghan and Meghan and Remington were hilarious and a nice bit of comedic relief between the tougher scenes. Were those always in the story? And what do you think they bring to the story?

Tess Sharpe: Yes! I always wanted to have a mini “text fic” within the book. Another little tribute to fanfic structures. I also LOVE secondary couples in Romance novels because they’re just so fun.

Text Fic Structure has been a delightful addition to the fanfic world and has gotten so intriciate (music! Images! Voice Memos!) and I had so much fun writing from Remi and Meghan’s perspectives to give us an outside look on Penny and Tate’s love story. I normally write first person solo POV so to get so many outside perspectives on my main characters was a rare treat!

Culturess: What do you see as Penny’s strengths and Tate’s strengths? They seem very aware of their faults but have no problem using their strength to care for and protect one another.

Tess Sharpe: I think one of my favorite of Penny’s strengths is her ability to accept help when it’s offered—something that can be very hard for a lot of people. I admire her ability to do that a lot. And I think Tate’s steadiness and depth of emotion and care for others are huge strengths.

Culturess: This book does a great job of showing emotional abuse and a kind of neglect with Penny and her relationship with her mom. In my experience, it can be difficult for people to recognize or even see it as abuse. How did you go about writing those scenes and did you consciously decide that you were going to show those sides of abuse?

Tess Sharpe: I did really want to focus on emotional abuse and neglect in this book, partly for that reason: that people don’t often recognize it as abuse. I’m not even sure Penny is at the point where she can label it as abuse. That’s a journey she’s definitely on. I write a lot about parental abuse in general—but this is my deep dive into parental abuse and neglect on the emotional side.

What put me on this path to write a book really centered around healing from parental emotional abuse is actually another piece of writing. I had the wonderful opportunity to edit an anthology, TOIL & TROUBLE with Jessica Spotswood and there’s a story by Emery Lord in the collection—THE GHERIN GIRLS– about the aftermath of healing from emotional abuse in a romantic relationship and it’s a piece of writing that really left its mark with me, as an editor, as a writer and as a person. I found myself circling back to it over and over again as a reader because it affected me so much. And it definitely set me on the path to explore this kind of abuse from a daughter/parent standpoint.

6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did) is releasing on Tuesday, Jan 24, 2023

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