This author is a genius!

Everybody has a story.

When I worked for a small city newspaper, my editor and friend Buffy Andrews often repeated this motto. (Check it out! Buffy is taking the publishing world by storm herself right now.)

As the head of the Features Department, Buffy tasked us each with finding and sharing that story.

She had reporters to go through the alphabet and find a story in a town that began with that letter. In another series, we went to Main Streets, found a resident and told their story.

And it worked.

Each of those randomly chosen residents had a heartbreaking, funny, swoon-worthy or inspiring story to share. We just had to find it.

Everybody has a story.

I was reminded of this while reading “I’ll Be There” by author is Holly Goldberg Sloan.

I’ve been reading a little of “I’ll Be There” to my 10-year-old daughter, Emma, before bed each night. (It’s a young adult novel, but without graphic sex scenes or innuendos. I just had to skip one line so far.)

It’s a novel about a teenage boy, Sam, whose life is tied to his deranged and dangerous criminal father and his ill, challenged little brother. All he knows is abandonment and chaos, until he meets Emily. She’s  a girl-next-door, has-everything-easy middle class kid whose life is expanded and twisted when she falls for Sam.

Goldberg Sloan’s tells the story with a shifting third person perspective. Many sections focus on Sam and Emily, and some are told from minor side characters. But each character, even the elderly maid who stumbles upon stolen jewelry, has a story, a motivation and a role to play.

It’s like we’re getting a glimpse of those characters’ books, where their pages overlap with Sam and Emily’s, I remarked to Emma last night.

Her reply: “Whoever wrote this book is a genius!”

Emma was equally impressed with Goldberg Sloan’s perspective changes between just Sam and Emily. In the beginning of the book, Sam has his own chapters and Emily has hers. Toward the middle, they share chapters with perspectives changing within those chapters. Then they separate (in an amazing, whip-through-the-pages plot twist) and once again they are separated within chapters, too.

As the book reaches its nibble-off-all-your-fingernails resolution, once again the two share chapters. And that’s how Emma was able to get to sleep last night, that little reassurance that they are once again getting closer to each other. (Insert dramatic sigh from daughter and eye roll from small son, who was waiting not-so-patiently for me to read “Frog and Toad Are Friends.”  Love stories, even ones with adventure, including literally going off a cliff? Bleh.)

“I’ll Be There” is the work of an expert craftsman, each section riveting and constructed to perfection. I marveled at the planning involved in getting so many characters and so many twists and turns to construct such a solid, beautiful story.

It’s been tough, but I’ve been keeping us to two or three chapters per night. Last night’s chapter ended on such a cliffhanger, that after she was tucked in bed, I cheated. I flipped to the back of the book. (I know, I know. Shameful.)

Instead of the last page, (please, please let Sam and Emily be back together!) I found an interview with Goldberg Sloan. And imagine my total awe and surprise when she said SHE DOESN’T OUTLINE.

Wha?

The story evolves organically, she said, sans outline or synopsis.

Maybe it’s the synopsis I’m gearing myself up to write that makes this particularly tough to swallow, but seriously, this author is a genius.

Writers out there, do you outline? Or do you just plant seeds and watch them grow?