Introducing 2019 Debutante Joseph Moldover

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

This week, we’re talking to Joseph Moldover, author of One Teen Story Issue #35, “Every Other Emily” and the novel Every Moment After (HMH Books for Young Readers, forthcoming April 9th).

Set in the fictional town of East Ridge, New Jersey, Every Moment After examines the far-reaching impact of an elementary school shooting that killed eighteen students. Over a decade after the tragedy, in the wake of high school graduation, survivors Cole and Matt are dealing with all the usual trappings of growing up—girls, college, parents, drugs, and hot air balloons—but are also still coming to terms with the effects the shooting has had on them and their town. While Every Moment After is certainly about the long-reaching aftermath of tragedy, it is also a generous and thoughtful coming-of-age story, in which we remember that the only thing certain is change.

Kaitlin McManus: Where were you when you found out Every Moment After was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Joseph Moldover: I was at home when I got the call from my agent, Adam Schear. It was incredibly exciting; the best part of it was sharing it with my family. In terms of celebration…one nice thing about being part of a big family is that it keeps you grounded, so I think my wife and I hugged each other, said “this is amazing,” and then two minutes later shifted to figuring out who was doing pick-up from school and who was getting dinner ready.

KM: Every Moment After is largely about effects of a school shooting on a small New Jersey town, and rings very strongly of the tragedy committed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. What made you want to approach this subject matter? Did your day job have any influence on your decisions? (Joseph Moldover is also Dr. Moldover—a developmental neuropsychologist.)

JM: I believe that there is a story that we are not telling about the violence in our society. When there is a terrible incident—like a school shooting—the media covers it intensively for a little while, the pundits all chime in, and then we move on. But the people involved don’t get to move on in the same way, and I feel that there is a collective failure to pay attention to that, to acknowledge that the burden of violence is not just the loss of life in the immediate moment but the anger and sorrow and guilt that so many people have to bear for years and years after.

In my day job, I work with children and families who are struggling with very complex, painful issues. It’s made me aware of the ways in which we carry these things with us, how the layers of a family or a community can peel away to reveal memories and beliefs that cause enormous pain but aren’t let out into the open. That was part of what I wanted to explore in the fictional town of East Ridge.

KM: This novel is a bit different than others of its ilk in that it’s set more than ten years after the shooting. What do you see as the benefits of setting this book so long after this incident rather than in the immediate aftermath?

JM: I felt that it was important to distance both the reader and myself from the immediate horror of the shooting. I think that, particularly when dealing with violence against such young children, there is something unbearable about focusing on it too closely. I sometimes think about the story of Perseus, who approached Medusa by looking at her reflection in his shield because it was too terrible to look directly at her. This story is about the reflections of the shooting in the lives of many different people over a decade later, and maybe it had to be written that way because it was too terrible to look at the thing itself.

KM: One thing Every Moment After did particularly well was acknowledge that there’s no correct way to memorialize this kind of incident. The town diner is wallpapered with rejected gun control bills, which many characters dislike. There’s an unofficial monument in the woods that some believe is more about the shooter than the victims. And while everyone in the novel agrees that the victims need to be remembered, sometimes they just want to forget that they were ever part of something so horrifying. Can you speak to these conflicting feelings and how you struck the balance between them so wonderfully?

JM: I don’t think that was something I was doing consciously, but one thing that does obsess me is the question of how people go on with things that are too painful to carry but which can’t be set down. How do we try to make peace with things that won’t leave us alone? I think that the conflicting feelings you mention, and the efforts at memorialization by characters in the story, comes out of that preoccupation.

KM: Your book speaks openly about violence, drugs, sex, and other things that teenagers face—but that many are afraid to include in media for them—in an honest, reasonably healthy way. My mother would have lost her mind if I read this as a “young adult”, but there’s been a surge of serious, issue-focused young adult fiction in the past several years. Do you see a reason for this? And how do you think Every Moment After fits into that movement?

JM: When I wrote the book I wasn’t really aware of a particular movement, I was just trying to write honestly…and all of those things are part of the world that “young adults” are living in. Omitting them would be totally dishonest, and the book wouldn’t be worthy of the respect of people who are reading it in between lock-down drills in schools with major drug problems. 

I think that those of us who are older than “young adult” (which definitely includes me) are wrestling with the growing realization that we are handing a world riddled with incredibly large, complex, and serious problems to younger people. With that realization comes a sense of guilt—that we have not more seriously addressed these issues—and also responsibility to be honest about them. In the case of my book, I would say that if we can’t—or won’t—do something about the problem of gun violence, the least we can do is be honest about it.

KM: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to at the One Story Ball?

JM: I published in One Teen Story in 2015, and have read OTS and One Story for years. I’ve also taken a number of online classes with One Story instructors. I haven’t met the staff and teachers in person, however, and I’m really looking forward to putting faces to names!

Kaitlin McManus is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn—by way of Central Illinois. She earned her MFA in fiction from The New School in 2018 and her work can be found in Brooklyn Magazine, Vault, and elsewhere on One Story‘s blog. She is currently at work on a novel about the Nashville club scene of the near-future.

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