Alyson Derrick makes her solo debut with YA novel Forget Me Not, following her first novel, rom-com She Gets the Girl, co-written with her wife, Rachael Lippincott. In Forget Me Not, Korean American Stevie grapples with her relationships after a devastating accident leaves a gap in her memories for the past two years, including her relationship with her girlfriend Nora. PW spoke with Derrick about shifts in her writing process and style for her first solo novel, homophobia in small towns, and how fate plays a role in the novel and her own life.

What were the major differences in themes and the writing process in working on Forget Me Not?

She Gets the Girl was the first book that I actually finished. And while I only wrote half of the book it still felt like I finished a book. The way I ended up writing that is I didn’t do word count or time or anything [as writing goals]. I did [it by] chapters. I’d say, “Okay, I want to finish chapter one in the next two days,” and that seemed to work really well for me. And She Gets the Girl gave me confidence. Finishing that book with Rachael and knowing I could do it made such a difference going into Forget Me Not. I’ve worked on books for years at a time, and I haven’t finished them, but I wrote Forget Me Not in a few months.

I’m naturally drawn to the Forget Me Not style. In my reading, too. She Gets the Girl was pretty heavily inspired by my love story with Rachael so that made it different. I really enjoyed writing She Gets the Girl, even though it was a style that I wasn’t really used to because there were all these personal aspects to it. And also writing with Rachael. I just remember being up late so many times, just like giggling at the funny scenes we would come up with. With Forget Me Not, I really wanted to write a book that felt closer to home. I grew up in a small town, and there weren’t a lot of other Korean Americans there and I was super closeted. I felt like I could put a lot of my heart into this book.

The novel captures the joys and also the feeling of isolation of small-town life. Where did you draw from to capture life in Wyatt?

I think [I pulled] from my own high school experience. Stevie’s experience as an Asian American in that town was probably hitting a lot closer to how I was feeling [at that time]. Then with the queer aspect of it, I was so closeted that I didn’t even know I was gay until I was halfway through college. It was more on that front of imagining what it would have been like or could have been like had I known that part of myself when I was growing up.

Stevie and Nora both face the realities of homophobia affecting their relationship with a parent. What was your motivation for writing about this and what do you hope young readers can take from Stevie and Nora’s experiences?

Stevie’s experience was a lot like my experience, down to how I grew up super Catholic, and that’s a scary thing. And I feel like it was important to see Nora, whose mom had a really bad reaction, still getting out. And she’s going to get to be who she is and be happy. It took her a long time to get out of that situation, but moving forward, I feel like her life’s really going to start. At the end of the day, I just want a young, queer, closeted person to see that as a gay person in a place like Wyatt, life can feel completely impossible. Especially when you’re stuck in that bubble and you’ve never known anything else. But things can really get so much better. Everybody deserves a life to live authentically.

Stevie and Nora’s relationship is tied to the idea of their destinies being intertwined. How did you work with that theme and are you a big believer in fate yourself?

It's funny, I remember Rachael asked me if I thought she was my soulmate, because Rachael believes in soulmates. But I never really have, and I go back and forth. But I don’t know. I do feel like the more time I’ve spent with her, the more it does feel like something really special that perhaps only comes along once in a lifetime. There’s a part in the book where Stevie says something like, “I don’t know how it works but I feel like I’ve almost always been in love with you” or “I never fought a love with you.” I think it was important for the story because it’s so strong. It’s Stevie and Nora forever, and nothing’s going to rip them apart.

Forget Me Not by Alyson Derrick. Simon & Schuster, $19.99 Apr. 4 ISBN 978-1-6659-0237-3