Joy (joyous reads)'s Reviews on Before Ever After
"I wish I could sufficiently say
exactly what's on my mind
or how to pick up the pieces
of a heart that's been sliced to rinds.
I wouldn't even know where to start
or how to put it in perspective,
but if I silenced my thoughts...
would that be more effective?
It was lovely and sad
maybe even life-changing
It was a story about love
and of a man never ageing.
There was no magic spell
nor is he a night creature.
He is just a man
who'd lived a thousand lives
It would all make sense
once you read this book.
It will make you fall in love
and find yourself hooked.
To the characters worth knowing
and to the places that perhaps
you've never been.
To the subject of history
that we once found boring.
Do you believe in serendipity?
Or in finding your destiny?
and centuries of history?
Well this is their story -
how their love came to be.
Would you choose life?
Or would you die to live for eternity?"
So listen. Can I take back all those gushing reviews for books that I now consider as mediocre after reading Before Ever After? I'm not going to name names but I'm hanging my head down in shame. The truth is, I don't know jack. I have had this book sitting unread for more than a year - and in our cabin, no less - which means that the chances of me picking it up was close to maybe never. But for some serendipitous reason, I joined this challenge thing on Goodreads and thought, heck, why not? It was a debut author challenge and I wanted to jump start my foray into the Adult Fiction. Oh my God. It's like I've never lived before this book.
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.
And what about your love for Ms. Marchetta, you ask? Well, I still love her. She's still my goddess. But Samantha Sotto's work here puts her in the running of a demi-goddess status. You need to read this book. Otherwise, you're missing the entire point of why we read to escape to begin with. Granted, the novel isn't all fun and rainbows and unicorns, because parts of it was a tad bit painful to read but it doesn't give you time to dwell on the torture that it just put you through. The book will pick you back up, dust you off, and will spirit you away back to Europe's grand and historic beauty. It will also introduce you to characters who deserved their own books. They have their stories to tell and you'll find yourself wanting - needing more, heck imagining their lives long after you've shelved the book.
Before Ever After touched me so deeply in ways that I don't understand. She writes with such ease and such lyrical beauty that empathy toward the characters are magnified. The places that they've been were made even more beautiful with her words.
But I'd come to the grave conclusion that this book is actually my worst nightmare. How do I follow this up? Where do I find a book that'd come close to this? The fact is, probably not for a very long time and unlike Max, time is something I don't have a lot of.
The author of Before Ever After wrote her novel in a coffee shop and sold it to one of the world's biggest publishers with the help of The Idiot's Guide to Publishing.
Before Ever After follows the story of Shelley, a young widow who receives a visit from a young man named Paolo. Paolo is Shelly’s age, only he says he is her deceased husband’s grandson. But what’s even more bizarre is Paolo’s claim that Shelly’s husband Max is alive. As she and Paolo track Max down, she recounts how they met--through a tour of Europe several years before--and begins to piece together the story of who Max really is (or was).
Samantha's writing style is fluid and engaging, and her novel is made all the more interesting by the fact that she starts it where you'd expect most stories to end, then proceeds to peel away the layers of her characters' lives, drawing her readers deeper and deeper into her story.
MOTHERHOOD FIRST, WRITING SECOND
Since leaving her corporate job, motherhood has become Samantha's first priority. Before becoming an author, jetting off to New York and meeting with her agent, her editor, and the press wouldn't have been something Samantha would work into her routine--far from it! In fact, a typical day revolved around her home life.
“I called myself a school bus driver because I was shuttling kids back and forth--that was life then.” She recounts how she started writing Before Ever After in a coffee shop while she was waiting for her son's classes to end. These days, she may be juggling her more domestic responsibilities with her writing, but despite the welcome upheavals her success has brought to her life, one thing remains the same: the kids always come first.
According to her husband, Tembong Yambao (Samantha is using her maiden name for the book), even when she is in the middle of writing, when the kids come to her, the laptop screen goes down.
Despite not having a regular job, Samantha was still working to meet a deadline for her first novel. Because she was committed to being a parent first, she knew she had the school year to finish writing so she could spend time with her kids during their summer break. She says that the last time she wrote this much was when she was the features editor of her university’s paper.
A SERIES OF FORTUNATE, UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
Samantha credits her brother for getting her on the path to writing her novel. Sitting with him while he was in the hospital for an appendectomy a few years ago, she read The Time Traveler’s Wife to pass the time. But instead of lifting her spirits, the story's ending made her feel worse. “I was already not in the best of moods. I should have read something happy!” she says.
The ending of Audrey Niffenegger’s story continued to bother her until, one day, while she was stuck in traffic, Sotto decided that, if she were to write a book, her hero would not die. “Ding, ding, ding! I’d call him Max, and he was going to like chickens and the Bee Gees.”
According to Samantha, in that moment, it seemed as though Before Ever After’s Max had practically hopped into her car to introduce himself and ask, “Why don’t you write about me?” She then began to chase a series of “what ifs.” What if Max had a wife? What would happen then? This string of what Sotto describes as “fortunate, unfortunate events”--a burst appendix, a sad story, and an experience with Manila traffic--led her to start the writing process. “I [knew I had] better write this down. Good thing I had time in Starbucks,” she says.
Another lucky coincidence gave her time to write. Her family lives in Parañaque, a long way from Ateneo, where her son goes to school. After dropping him off, Sotto did not want to drive back home and spend on gas and E-pass payments, so she went into Starbucks, bought a cup of coffee (which she placed in her own thermos), and wrote while she waited for her son’s classes to end. Her daily routine soon had her bringing her laptop and sitting at the same table every day as she developed her story. “I'd bring my own snacks and set up shop. It was like my little desk, kulang na lang flower vase and picture frame!”
For a few hours each day, Samantha says, she felt like she was in her own world, one in which she was allowed to do whatever she wanted. “It was like taking a European vacation for three hours a day before real life started,” she shares.
AN ADVENTUROUS LIFE MAKES FOR AN ADVENTUROUS STORY
Samantha formed her characters by combining quirky trivia found online and her own experiences, drawing from her travels in Europe to add a real and personal touch to the story of Shelly's own journey.
Years ago, she and a friend went backpacking through Europe after watching the movie Before Sunrise. She sold her car, borrowed a backpack, and hopped on a plane. Without an itinerary, she found herself on a huge adventure: she was mistaken for a vagrant, hid from drunk German tourists, and accepted a hotel receptionist’s offer to stay at his place to avoid freezing outdoors. All of these experiences gave her the basis for the characters in Before Ever After.
With no formal training in writing, Samantha looked to her TV and literary favorites for guidance. “That’s where I learned about mystery boxes, pacing, and cliffhangers. What I learned about writing, I learned from Lost and Dr. Who,” she says. She also incorporated a little Neil Gaiman in her book. “I like his humor and the mix of fantasy in his books. I like the almost-believable quality of his stuff. Even though there are fantasy elements, it’s like ‘Hey, that can happen!’” she says.
And she is quick to say that, while she drew on personal experiences to complete Shelly's story, this isn't a case of an author writing herself into her characters. “I’m not like Shelly anymore. I’m not that impulsive, but what I try to preserve in myself is that sense of wonder, exploring the ‘what ifs’ and continuing to believe that there might be something more.”