I was able to read Just Pretend early and I found it to be a really important read. I’ve never read a memoir that is also a graphic novel, but found myself really enjoying my time reading it!
Thank you so much to Little Brown Books for Young Readers for a copy of Just Pretend by Tori Sharp!
Congratulations on the publication of Just Pretend! How has the publication experience been for you?
Thanks so much! Publication has been joyful and HECTIC! The first copies are starting to pop up in stores, there have been a couple of really lovely trade reviews, and now it’s finally time for Just Pretend to officially enter the world. Everything has been social-distanced or virtual, so I will be stretching out the “firsts” of being an author, like doing an in-person signing or panel. It’s been incredible to watch this very personal book get published.
How would you describe Just Pretend in one sentence?
Just Pretend is about how, in middle school, my best friend and I wrote fantastical stories to process big changes in our lives—like my parents’ divorce—and it also has bunnies and pizza and magic crystals in it!
How did you decide where you were going to begin Just Pretend?
Deciding where to begin Just Pretend was natural enough! I started daydreaming about how to begin the story, and then began it with a daydream. In the first scene, Tori is bored so she starts writing a fantastical story from her imagination. I got to introduce the portal magic from her fantasy story and show how intensely Tori wants to write. The early scenes in a book have to convey a lot of information to set the foundation for the entire plot. There are a bunch of important settings in Just Pretend, since the story is about dealing with instability and searching for a sense of belonging, so I felt that it was important to give the reader a tour through the many places Tori inhibits and imagines regularly.
As you’re also the illustrator, how was the drawing process for you? Did the story or illustrations come first or was it a combination of both?
It was a combination. I wrote a detailed synopsis to make sure that the plot felt right before I started drawing, but I don’t work from a full script because I do a lot of the “writing” when I’m thumbnailing a book. With this kind of character-driven and atmospheric storytelling, the characters’ expressions and the shot calls tell the story just as much as the words do. Even coloring a book feels like “writing” to me because they have such an impact on each moment’s mood and tone, and they can help the reader know what’s most important to look at in each shot. In comics, the art and the story are the same to me.
Just Pretend weaves real life together with imagination and fantasy. How was the process of combining those?
Combining the real-life and fantasy stories was my favorite part of writing Just Pretend! It felt so seamless. I knew that the story I’d written in middle school had been inextricably personal—it was an abstraction of my feelings about what was going on in my life, so it just made sense to use it to reinforce and extrapolate on the events in Tori’s life. Plus, I just can’t get over how excited my middle-school self would be to know that this version of her fantasy novel really, actually got published, and that made those scenes even more fun to draw!
I found myself loving Penny and Talia’s story while reading Just Pretend. Do you ever see yourself publishing a fantasy? If so, do you think it would also be a graphic novel?
I’m so happy to hear that! I could absolutely see myself publishing a fantasy. I have lots of fantasy stories I’m just bursting to tell, and writing about magical adventures still feels like coming home. But I could also see myself writing more memoir or contemporary graphic novels. I’ve written some short comics for anthologies and for pitches that have witches and fantasy elements. I’ve also drafted a few fantasy novels (with no pictures). I don’t think my next graphic novel will be a fantasy, but I’m determined to publish one someday. In the meantime, since I desperately miss writing prose, I’d like to (slowly) draft a contemporary fantasy manuscript while drawing my next book.
What are three books you would recommend if someone enjoyed Just Pretend?
Readers of Just Pretend might also love Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, and (a lifelong favorite) the novel Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay.
What’s next for you? Anything you can share?
I’m planning to keep making books until I’m at least a hundred years old, and then maybe I’ll retire and play a lot more Dungeons & Dragons and finally take up yoga. Unfortunately I can’t share what my next book’s about just yet, but I wish I could because I love it to a ridiculous degree. It’s a perfect intersection of so many of my favorite things! Once I can talk about it, I likely will not shut up about it for the rest of my life. Other than that, whenever in-person conventions and conferences can safely recommence, especially in the Pacific Northwest, I will be visiting as many as possible because I miss that community of fellow artists and writers.
ABOUT THE BOOK
A graphic memoir, in which a young girl uses her active imagination to navigate middle school as well as the fallout from her parents’ divorce.
Tori has never lived in just one world.
Since her parents’ divorce, she’s lived in both her mom’s house and her dad’s new apartment. And in both places, no matter how hard she tries, her family still treats her like a little kid. Then there’s school, where friendships old and new are starting to feel more and more out of her hands.
Thankfully, she has books-and writing. And now the stories she makes up in her head just might save her when everything else around her—friendships, school, family—is falling apart.