Tomorrow & Tomorrow: An Interview with Novelist Lauren Emily Whalen
by Writing Workshops Staff
5 months ago
We are thrilled to have an interview with novelist Lauren Emily Whalen, whose novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, co-authored with Lillah Lawson, is set for publication on October 17th, 2023.
In their gripping new novel, Tomorrow & Tomorrow, we follow the fiercely determined Duff O’Brien as she seeks a fresh start in Hiawassee, Georgia, leaving behind a traumatic past in Michigan. Hope blossoms as she forms an unbreakable bond with her classmate, the rough yet ambitious Marian “Mac” Shepherd. Along with their new ally, the once revered Quincy Banks, they form “The Scottish Play”, a hard-rocking all-female band that quickly gains traction in North Georgia’s music scene.
But their journey from small-town performers to promising stars in Athens, Georgia, is anything but smooth. The story takes a dark turn when they meet the captivating yet mysterious Lawrence MacLaren, a man who sees grand opportunities for the band's future. Tragedy strikes, shaking the very foundations of their friendship and forcing them to grapple with the sudden deaths of their manager, Ian Duncan, and band member Quincy.
As suspicion grows, a tangled web of secrets, love, and deceit unravels, pulling Duff into a whirlpool of doubts and fears. The involvement of The Hecks, a trio of enigmatic witches from their hometown, only adds to the deepening mystery, especially as Duff finds herself romantically entangled with one of them.
As "The Scottish Play" prepares to perform at the historic Glamis Castle in Scotland, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Duff must race against time to unravel the truth behind the disturbing events unraveling around them. With each passing moment, Duff realizes that her trust in Mac is fracturing, potentially shattering their friendship forever. The question remains: is the bond they share strong enough to withstand the dark secrets looming in the shadows, or is Duff the next one in line to face peril?
In "Tomorrow & Tomorrow," Whalen and Lawson craft a rich narrative, weaving a tale of friendship tested to its limits, and the treacherous path of pursuing fame at potentially deadly costs. Through a vivid backdrop of music and mystery, readers will be gripped by a story where trust is fragile, and secrets have the power to destroy everything in their path.
WW: What inspired you to write "Tomorrow and Tomorrow"? How did the idea for the novel come about?
LEW: I’ve written two other Shakespeare reimaginings for YA audiences: “Take Her Down” is a retelling of Julius Caesar set in the post-Trump election and pre-Me Too era, and “Two Winters” borrows heavily from The Winter’s Tale and like the original play, takes place in two different time periods—the first half of “Two Winters” is set in 1997, the second half in 2014. Because of…a lot of factors, they ended up being released within six months of one another. In the late summer/early fall of 2021, both projects were in the pre-publishing stage, and I was contemplating what to write next.
Lillah Lawson and I have known each other since 2009, when we met on a Jezebel.com message board, and our “author lives” have paralleled a bit (we both started getting published around the same time), but never directly intersected. We started talking back and forth about what a female-driven Macbeth retelling—for adults; this is my adult debut—would look like. As a theater critic since 2011, I’ve probably seen Macbeth more than any other play, and the possibilities are endless! At some point, the conversation (all over voice notes) morphed from “wouldn’t that be a cool book?” to “hey wait, why don’t we write this book together?”
I should mention right off that I live in Chicago and Lillah lives in Athens, Georgia, and we were writing this book during the Omicron COVID variant, when places started closing again and restrictions came back. I work full-time and am a freelance writer, and Lillah has a lot of commitments, including a husband and son. So all of this was in play while we were writing the book. We love a challenge!
WW: Could you describe your writing process for this book? Did you have a specific routine or approach that helped you bring the story to life?
LEW: Normally, I write at least three full drafts (“Take Her Down” had four), and I write the first draft very quickly, in 30 days or less. I sketch out characters more than plot points—the nice part of reimagining Shakespeare is I have a basic plot structure from the beginning, though I leave a lot of room to play. Also, I have a degree in theater, so I love playing with characters! For the second, third, and possibly fourth drafts I really dive into revising, editing, and rewriting, whatever that particular story needs.
For “Tomorrow and Tomorrow”, Lillah and I had more of a concrete plan, as neither of us had cowritten before! Google Drive became our best friend—we shared documents back and forth for character development, plot points, and research on the various locations (two different places in Georgia, plus Scotland!). We ended up writing a full synopsis, which I hadn’t ever done for one of my books before I wrote it, but it was necessary so we’d be (groan) on the same page.
Because the two of us are NaNoWriMo people from way back, we wrote the first draft in the 30 days of November, alternating dates and using the synopsis as a guide—my day job as an admin came in handy with scheduling this for us! After that, we took December off for holiday/family time, and that January, we dove into edits and revisions. We did a second draft, then a third, then submitted it to a publisher that Lillah was working with on her next release, and who had approached me in the past about working together. They read it and loved it, and we had a contract!
WW: Co-authoring a novel can be a unique experience. How did you and Lillah Lawson collaborate on "Tomorrow and Tomorrow"? What was the dynamic like between the two of you?
LEW: Lillah is a big fan of Our Flag Means Death, and she’s told people that she’s the Taika Waititi character (broody) and I’m Rhys Darby (bubbly). I will take her word for it on that one, but I do think we complement each other, personality wise! We’re both very driven and goal-oriented, which helps a lot when you’re working on a book, and we were so excited about this book from the very beginning, everything kind of fell into place. We were understanding of each other’s commitments and challenges—work, writing, family, and, you know, trying not to get COVID—and both of us had other books coming out, so we had to make room for prepublication commitments like marketing, events, et cetera.
I think the upside of having a cowriter is, you don’t want to let the other person down! Also, it’s amazing what you can accomplish with a deadline—we wanted the first draft finished by November 30 so we could “win” NaNo—and writing less than 2,000 words a day. Often we’d get excited and write even more than that.
Many writers use “beta readers”—I have too, including Lillah—but for me, one of the best parts of cowriting was having a built-in beta reader. We were able to really dive in on our own writing and the other person’s, while still preserving our unique voices. And we have an endless backlog of voice notes where we talked about everything from why a certain character would say or do what she did, to whatever coffee drink we were ordering that day, to the best way to make fudge! We grew a lot closer as friends during this process too.
WW: "Tomorrow and Tomorrow" combines elements of "Macbeth" and The Runaways. How did you merge these influences into a cohesive story? What challenges did you face in blending different genres and themes?
LEW: One of the first things Lillah and I connected on early in our friendship was our love of Joan Jett—who’s still out there and still rockin’! We both loved the movie The Runaways, about the early days of Joan’s career in a rock band of teenage girls, and her friendship with Cherie Currie. I mean, who doesn’t scream along to the song “Cherry Bomb”?
We knew from the beginning that we wanted our Macbeth to incorporate the experience of being an early twentysomething woman in a creative industry that’s still male-dominated (aren’t they all?), and wrestling with how far one’s own ambition can go before, well, blood is spilled. We thought it would be interesting if the Lady Macbeth character and the three witches/”weird sisters” were male, and to play with those gender dynamics. We wanted the story to be dark, sexy, queer, and empowering and we wanted it to, in a word, sing. I think/hope we accomplished that!
It helps that Lillah has a background in writing gothic and horror-themed books (check out her Dead Rockstar trilogy!) and my books center young women and have their own share of darkness (as one of my favorite movies, Jennifer’s Body, says, “Hell is a teenage girl”). We both love music—we made a playlist for “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” before we began the first draft—and incorporate that into our own books, and we knew we wanted our book to be musical as well.
WW: The setting of Hiawassee, Georgia plays a significant role in the novel. How did you research and develop the sense of place for your story?
LEW: The two main characters and narrators—Mac (the Macbeth stand-in) and Duff (Macduff)—first meet in Hiawassee, Georgia. Mac has grown up there, while Duff is a transplant from the Midwest, who’s had a traumatic experience and wants to make a fresh start in a place where she has family (her beloved Granny Devereaux, who runs the local barbecue joint). They then join forces with another local girl, Quincy (Banquo), to form their band, The Scottish Play.
Though the book mainly takes place in Athens, Georgia, we wanted the characters to meet and connect in a different setting before moving to Athens—a city known for its music scene—to pursue their dreams. We also knew they’d be returning to their hometown throughout the book, for reasons both happy (Christmas with the family!) and tragic (no spoilers!). We settled on Hiawassee because according to our research, it’s a small but funky Appalachian town with close proximity to nature, which is a pivotal element of “Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” I mean, you can’t tell a Macbeth story without spooky places for the witches to congregate and ghosts to appear…
WW: The Scottish Play, the characters’ band, is a pivotal element in the book. Did you have any personal experience with music or bands that influenced your portrayal of the all-female band?
LEW: Lillah’s husband is in a band in Athens, so she knows a lot about the local music scene, as well as the complications that can arise among artists. Regarding that element, I’ve never been in a band, but I majored in theater and have been performing since I was little, so let’s just say I’m also very familiar with these dynamics!
These experiences informed not only the relationships within our band, but what instruments they play and roles they have in it. For example, we knew we wanted Mac to be the lead guitarist, with an eye on lead vocals (which is Quincy’s role along with drumming…until it isn’t) as her ambition grows. She wants to be a star—the star—whereas Duff is happy teaching herself bass and eventually, writing songs. When the group meets Ian Duncan, who becomes their first manager as well as a father figure, he tells them they need a rhythm guitarist, which is where the character Ross (also Ross in Macbeth) comes in. Mac and Duff are more rough-and-ready and self-taught, whereas both Ross and Quincy both have a lot of musical training, and Ross can actually play multiple instruments, which I think says a lot about each character—and the connections and conflicts they have with one another—as well. Then there’s Lawrence MacLaren (Lady Macbeth), Mac’s boyfriend who takes over band manager duties and is perhaps the most ambitious of them all.
And of course, the band’s name—The Scottish Play—was a no-brainer, considering the curse of saying “Macbeth” in a theater!
WW: The novel tackles dark and intense themes such as trauma, ambition, and betrayal. How did you approach balancing these themes while maintaining the overall tone of the story?
LEW: Honestly…that part was easy! Macbeth is rife with trauma, ambition, and betrayal, and when you think about it, so is life. I’m proudest of how we incorporated the themes of birth and reproductive choices, and the physical and emotional pain that can surround them. I think a lot of people forget how those themes are in the original play as well, especially where the characters of Lady Macbeth and Macduff are concerned. I’m also proud of how we explore toxic friendship and the effects it has on women, which is something I feel like wasn’t talked about for so long and is now popping up everywhere. Relationships are complicated—not just the romantic ones.
WW: Can you discuss the role of prophecy and The Hecks in the narrative? How did you incorporate supernatural elements into a contemporary setting?
Very carefully, but also with a sense of fun! The way Lillah and I saw it, you can’t retell Macbeth without ghosts and witches, but we also knew we wanted our story grounded in reality. More of a cozy horror or domestic horror, to use marketing terms, as opposed to a straight-up ghost fantasy. We started with the “weird sisters” or witches—we knew right away we wanted them to be male, and have a history with Mac, Duff and their friends—so they’re not unknown entities, which can be even creepier (the call is coming from inside the house!). We also decided that Duff is going to have a romantic connection with one of The Hecks, so we had to tread carefully to make them human, but also…intuitive.
Lillah and I love spooky-hot guy characters, and I have an affinity for reformed bad boys (I’ve been watching The Bear and have a huge crush on Richie). We decided that The Hecks would be high school classmates of Mac, Duff and Quincy, and they issue their first prophecy right before graduation and then show up at opportune times when they’re all in their twenties (when the majority of the novel takes place). In high school, The Hecks were the weirdos who traveled around in a hippie van and brought their tarot cards to parties—you know the type. Five years later as adults, they’re still tight, also in Athens, and become more a part of The Scottish Play’s lives. Especially Duff’s…there is a very steamy scene involving all four of them!
The other supernatural elements also have a grounding factor—bodies start dropping and the spirits of the dead begin to appear, but they’re people the band knew, and knew well. So it’s scary, but there’s also an emotional connection, which in many ways makes it even scarier. When I attended Writing Workshops Iceland, I read one of my favorite sections of the book—our take on the iconic “Banquo’s ghost” scene in Macbeth—and at one point, everyone gasped!
Oh, and we also settled on a Godfather-esque symbol throughout the book: an otherwise benign thing that in the context of the story, portends trouble. In The Godfather, it’s oranges. In “Tomorrow and Tomorrow”…watch out for flies.
WW: Athens, Georgia and Glamis Castle in Scotland are key locations in the book. How did you capture the essence and atmosphere of these places in your writing?
LEW: I’ll start with Scotland and Glamis—though I’ve traveled abroad many times, and Lillah has lived overseas, neither of us have been to Scotland. However, we knew from the beginning we had to get the band to Scotland for the climactic parts of the book—thank goddess for Google! Lillah’s also studying history and has been a history fan her whole life, so we incorporate tidbits about Robert the Bruce and other important locations and figures that surround the mythology of Macbeth. We hope to have tea in Glamis Castle someday, like our characters do in the book!
As for Athens, Lillah was born and raised in the area, and lives there now with her family—and I have been there once (which will change in October, when I travel there for our book’s launch at the opening of Historic Athens Porchfest, an event that also plays a pivotal role in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow”!). Thanks mostly to Lillah, there’s a strong sense of place in the novel, though we did have a bit of a challenge after we signed our contract and our editor was working on the book. In a short time, two locations that are featured in the book were no more: the famous restaurant The Grit closed, and The Georgia Guidestones were mysteriously decimated. Over a series of frantic voice notes, Lillah and I decided to keep The Grit and Guidestones scenes as is, as a tribute to their impact on Athens.
WW: What message or takeaway do you hope readers will have after finishing "Tomorrow and Tomorrow"? Are there any specific emotions or ideas you aimed to evoke through the story?
LEW: I think at its core, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is both a horror novel and a friendship novel. It’s scary, it’s sad, it’s sexy, but above all it’s about a very close friendship—Mac and Duff’s—that slowly but surely spirals out of control as their band reaches increasing heights. Just like Stephen King’s IT (a favorite of both mine and Lillah’s) is about the horrors of growing up, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is about the horrors of friendship. There are ghosts, there are flies, there is blood—a lot of blood—but most of all there’s the question of “how well do we really know the ones we love?”
Lauren attended Writing Workshops Iceland (2023) and Writing Workshops Paris (2022), and we couldn't be more excited for her on the publication of this new novel! You can order Tomorrow and Tomorrow, co-authored with Lillah Lawson, and let us know what you think!
Lillah Lawson is the author of novels Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree (2019); The Dead Rockstar Trilogy, including Dead Rockstar (2020) and The Wolfden (2021), with the final in the series, Driftwood Dreary forthcoming (January 2024); and novels So Long, Bobby (February 2023) and Tomorrow & Tomorrow with Lauren Emily Whalen (October 2023). Lillah enjoys writing across genres, including southern gothic, historical fiction, and horror, and her work is often set in her home state of Georgia. Lillah was a recipient of the UGA Willson Center/Flagpole Magazine’s Micro-Fellowship for her short story Shoofly (2020). Her horror short The Lady and the Tall Man was published in the Shiver Anthology, edited by Nico Bell in 2021. Her story Burn the Witch appeared in Chromophobia, edited by Sara Tantlinger in 2022. Another story, Oblong Objects in the Mirror was published in the Aseptic and Faintly Sadistic Anthology by Cosmic Horror Monthly in May 2023. In addition to writing, Lillah is a genealogist pursuing her BA in History and English Literature, and proudly serves as secretary on her local library’s Board of Trustees.
Lauren Emily Whalen, an alumna of Writing Workshops Iceland (2023) and Writing Workshops Paris (2022), is the author of the novels TOMORROW AND TOMORROW (co-written with Lillah Lawson), TAKE HER DOWN, TWO WINTERS, and SATELLITE, and the nonfiction book DEALING WITH DRAMA. Her short stories appear in the anthologies LINK BY LINK, BEST WOMEN'S EROTICA VOL. 5 and BETWEEN THE COVERS. She has also written several books for Hachette's Running Press imprint, including I HEART JENNIFER COOLIDGE, QUEER EYE: YOU ARE FABULOUS, and SCREAMING GOAT HOLIDAY. Lauren is a regular contributor to GO Magazine, Q. Digital and BookPage, and has been published in Playboy, BUST and SELF magazines. She lives in Chicago with her black cat, Rosaline, and an apartment full of books.