Writing YA fiction was a goal from the very beginning for Morgan Matson. "I took a year off from college to work in the children's department at an amazing independent bookstore [Vroman's]," Matson recalls. "That was my introduction to YA. I loved it. I read everything I could. When I graduated I got a job as an editor, then saw that the New School had a Writing for Children's M.F.A. and knew right away it was what I wanted to do."
Scholastic editor and YA author David Levithan was Matson's thesis adviser for the manuscript that became Amy & Roger's Epic Detour (S&S). But back then, it was a completely different book, Matson says. "Originally, Amy's story was one quarter of a four-character story, How I Spent My Summer Vacation. David was the first person that said to me, ‘Really—are you sure this girl who drives from California to Connecticut isn't her own book?' He was right."
That wasn't all Matson got out of her time at the New School. During her last year, another teacher, author Sarah Weeks, brought Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, to class. Chanda liked Matson's story idea "even in its weird four-character format," Matson says. "So when my agent, Rosemary Stimola, went out with it, she sent it to him and he passed it along to Alexandra Cooper, who became my editor. When Alex got it, the entire thing was e-mails, blog entries, and receipts—there was no narrative to it. Alex told me I could keep all the ‘stuff,' but that it needed a voice."
The final story has two voices—that of Amy and Roger, though Amy's is primary. Together they take a rather circuitous route cross-country, getting lost, eating a lot of local food, and finding romance along the way.
The road trip part wasn't an accident—Matson adores them. "Before I wrote the novel I'd driven cross-country twice—I love to drive and I'll drive anywhere," Matson says. "I wrote the first draft pulling from these original experiences. Then I flew out to California, rented a car and drove back. I was by myself, and I was on the road almost a month. It was great."
Her most recent trip greatly affected the revision, Matson says. "I made the colossal mistake of driving across Nevada on the Loneliest Road in America," she recalls, "and it became a major part of the story. All the pictures in the book are pictures I took, and the designer used receipts I picked up, and things like the business card from Mom's Café in Silana, Utah. If you wanted to take a road trip similar to Amy and Roger's, you really could."
Matson began working on her novel back in 2005, sold it in late 2008, and took to the road in April 2009 to prepare for the last revision. "It's strange to have this thing in your head for so long, and then suddenly it's in the world and people are reading it," she says. "I can't really think of anything better than getting to share the things you love with readers, like road trips and music."
Currently Matson is back in California, getting a second master's degree, this time in screenwriting at USC. Right now she's just happy to have some time off so she can revise her second novel, currently untitled. "If all goes according to plan, it will come out next summer." And it includes a brief road trip, too—Matson says she couldn't help herself.