Tess Sharpe is the author of numerous titles from YA contemporary to adult thrillers. Her new novel, 6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did), marks her return toYA after the 2021 release of The Girls I’ve Been, which is soon to be a Netflix film starring Millie Bobbie Brown. 6 Times We Almost Kissed charts the feelings that arise after former enemies Penny and Tate’s families move in together. Sharpe spoke with PW about the allure of writing for teens, the importance of trigger warnings, and her hopes for queer literature.
What was the catalyst for writing a sapphic love story?
I always wanted to write a YA romance, but I knew there was going to be one. It wouldn’t be a big part of my career; it would be an outlier.
I was looking at my idea list, asking myself if I wanted to write another YA novel or another romance novel under one of my pen names, and I came across my cross-generational Beaches idea. I love the movie Beaches; I love colorful female friendships in general, and I’ve always wanted to write a YA novel about the origins of epic life-spanning friendships. But the more I tried to dig in and find a way into writing about the friendship origins, I realized I should be writing about the ripple effects of such a friendship; I should be writing about the daughters. What happens when you have a ride-or-die and your children don't get along, and then they fall in love? It seemed like such a fun idea, and I decided to write it as my little break from thrillers.
What initially drew you to the YA genre?
I think that what I love about YA is that you can’t lie. If you’re false or you’re not truthful, or if you don’t resonate with [readers], they will tell you. It keeps you humble, and I appreciate the honesty. I appreciate the challenge that it gives me because the reality is that like every eight years, a new audience cycles into YA and an old audience cycles out. What you’re dealing with is a constantly evolving readership, and how they see the world is constantly changing.
An interesting structural choice was the use of text message exchanges between the characters. Why was it important for you to show different forms of communication?
I look at this book as an ode to fanfic. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed in the fanfic world is there’s been a lot of text fic [a log of two or more characters’ interaction through text message exchanges]. I’ve always loved fiddly structures and insights into secondary characters in a romance. I find [those insights] really special because, especially in this novel where it’s a split first person point of view, you’re very limited, and these two girls are in so much denial. I needed outside perspective so we could understand that everybody else is like, “Oh, yeah, these two are soulmates. They’re idiots. They just can’t get it together.
You shared an outline on Tumblr of potential content warnings, where you make it clear that your intention is for readers to feel safe within your books. How do you go about creating safe spaces for readers?
It’s such a ride. I feel so much responsibility as a YA writer because my life was saved by the YA book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I take my job really seriously because I know the transformative power of fiction. I think that having a comprehensive list of content warnings is really important. And I learned from fanfiction how to detail my content warnings, cover as much as possible, and widen my idea of what triggers could be. My triggers might not be someone else’s. My triggers or someone else’s triggers might seem benign or silly, but they’re important to someone.
How do you balance difficult topics with hope?
I write about tough stuff. I write about parental abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, medical trauma, rural medical access, poverty—and the thing I always try to keep in mind is being truthful, but not being hopeless. There’s always hope to be found in fiction, and I think hope is really important in teen fiction especially.
Are there any types of LGBTQ+ stories you would like to see more of?
I just want to see everything. Because publishing is so white, we have a lack of more marginalized queer people and marginalized queer authors, especially Black queer authors. This is something publishing really needs to rectify and get with the program. Right now queer YA is still very white, and that needs to change a lot, in my opinion, but that is more of a criticism of the publishing industry than anybody else.
What can readers expect from you next?
I do have a 2024 thriller book. I can’t really say much more about it right now, but I can say that it’s set in the forest and there are a lot of booby traps.
6 Times We Almost Kissed (and One Time We Did) by Tess Sharpe. Little, Brown, $18.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-316-30279-1