WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: A Guide
Hey, friend! So you want to dig deeper into the novel WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Here’s your chance! But first, a brief request on my part. As a writing teacher the use of citation is important to me. Please use citation if you pull quotes from this guide or from any of the suggested readings and links that I mention. A website for learning how to do this can be found here: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/02/
I hope this guide is helpful to you. Now, let’s get started!
Where did you get the inspiration for WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The inspiration for this book came from so many places. First and foremost, I wanted to write a story specifically about drug-induced date rape because it happens, it’s real. It was happening when I was a teen and college student and it still happens today. I also had the Natalee Holloway case in my mind a lot when writing the opening scenes, in that, I wanted to explore the idea of a young woman being out of her familiar environment, traveling, and who, perhaps, is feeling a bit spontaneous, carefree, and overly trusting. Regarding Sid specifically, I wanted to make her someone who is naturally outgoing but, like a lot of us, is still somewhat insecure about the way she looks. Finally, I wanted to create a situation in which someone very manipulative and predatory uses these things against her.
What made you want to write about eating disorders?
I wanted to write about a person who, post-assault, is trying to regain a sense of control over her body but doing so by unhealthy means—a combination of dieting, bingeing and purging, and excessive exercise. Eating disorders and disordered eating are complex issues and not all people who suffer from them do so in the same way. Sid’s problem is not one that is neatly categorized. While she had some insecurities to begin with, Sid is mostly okay with herself before the ski trip. That changes after the assault. Her negative eating and exercise behaviors are a direct result of sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress. Through weight-loss, Sid is attempting to gain control over her life and body and is trying to defeminize her physique, essentially trying to rid herself of the parts of her body that she feels make her a target for unwanted attention.
Sid is gutsy, opinionated and (in her words) “loud-mouthed.” She also has a pretty awesome mom. Considering these things, she doesn’t seem like the type to keep quiet about being assaulted. Why didn’t she just tell someone?
Despite being naturally sociable, outspoken and having a good relationship with her family, Sid still doesn’t tell her mom or report her assault. All kinds of people, with all kinds of personalities and backgrounds have experienced sexual assault and the fact is, many of them don’t tell anyone or report to the police. Are all of these people naturally shy and introverted? Do they all have awful relationships with their parents? No. Furthermore, everyone deals with trauma differently. Not every survivor reacts or heals the same way. To assume that all survivors exhibit the same symptoms and behaviors in response to their trauma is essentially placing survivors into one categorical box. It is like saying to them “Here is your Rape Victim Box and a checklist of typical behaviors and symptoms. Climb inside and act accordingly.” That is so entirely disempowering. Each survivor travels her or his own path. Sometimes a person’s emotional pain and post-traumatic stress manifest in not-so-textbook ways. Would it have been better if she’d told right away? Yes. Absolutely. But she didn’t, and that is understandable. Sid deals with her rape in a way that is unique to her specific journey.
Sid should never have gone to meet Dax. Wasn’t she just asking for trouble?
A person who is raped is never to blame in any way for his or her attack. People have a right to assume that others have the best of intentions. To think that a survivor of rape might somehow (even partially) be to blame for the sexual violence perpetrated against him or her is called Victim Blaming. It is a social-psychological mindset that, according to research, gives people around the survivor a false sense of security and helps people believe that they are in control and can predict the outcomes of an often violently unpredictable world. Victim Blaming alleviates anxiety and helps people believe that “This will never happen to me because I’m smarter about these things and would never get into that situation. I’m safe. I live in a Just World where people get what they deserve.” People are more comfortable believing that a victim must have done something to bring about his or her misfortune than to acknowledge that the world is simply just a horrible place to live sometimes, that there are rapists and bad people walking comfortably among us, and that no one is ever 100% safe from anything.
It is WRONG to blame the victim. The only person ever to blame in a rape is the rapist.
(For more on Victim Blaming, see the study in the suggested readings section below, Lerner and Montada…)
Why did you feel it was important to include a strong romantic element in a story about rape?
It was important for me to write a story in which a survivor of sexual assault reclaims her sexuality and sense of desire and does so in a positive way. I wanted to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel and one can still feel desire after assault. To assume that someone who has been sexually assaulted must automatically become a non-sexual being with deep-seated intimacy issues, who flinches forever at the touch of a loving partner, is not only disheartening but, again, disempowering for survivors. In that same regard, people are allowed to seek and feel joy no matter their situation. Even in the darkest of circumstances, one must always, always seek joy. It is the moments of joy that get us through terrible times.
Regarding Corey, I wanted to create a love interest who is the ideal dreamboat; a guy who is cute, masculine, respectful, and kind. I wanted to show young women that THIS is the way you should be treated…don’t settle for less. And for any boys who might pick up my book, I wanted to show them that THIS is how you treat the love in your life.
How is Corey different from other YA book boys?
He’s a working-class boy with no plans for college! College is a great aspiration and wonderful path to travel, but it is also not for everyone and that is okay. There is nothing wrong with choosing not to study at a traditional university. My brother is a machinist, my father and father-in-law are both retired autoworkers, my grandfather and uncles were all coal miners and a lot of my family members chose to enter the military after high school, my husband included. Cosmetology, carpentry, healthcare, culinary arts…people earn good livings doing these things. I have deep respect for young men and women who go to college but I have equal respect for those who choose the job market, skilled trades, and military. Anyhow, I wanted to write about a boy who maybe isn’t that great of a traditional student but who still knows plenty, about a boy who chooses a skilled trade as opposed to college. Also, in keeping with that thought, I was a server and bartender for years so I definitely wanted to write about a girl who gets a job in a diner.
There’s a lot going on in WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Why throw bullying, social cliques, and the legalization of marijuana into the mix?
On bullying: I was bullied as a child and teen…primarily by the “popular” kids…so it was something that I personally needed to write about, plain and simple. Studies have shown that most bullies are considered popular within the social circles of their schools. To quote a recent article in TIME: Health and Family, “Mean kids, mothers tell their wounded young, behave that way because they have unhappy home lives, or feel inadequate, or don’t have enough friends or because they somehow lack empathy. But a new study suggests some mean kids actually behave that way simply because they can.” (Source study can be found below: Faris and Felmlee.) While I believe there is a greater awareness of bullying, I also believe it is still a HUGE problem that needs continued attention. I cannot imagine what bullied kids must go through today with the added stress of around-the-clock social media.
Additionally, Sid has to deal with her day-to-day life the same as she did before the rape. She still has to go to classes, see her friends, go to work, nurture friendships and navigate the daily landscapes of teen life. To write a narrative that focuses solely on the assault is narrow and unrealistic. Yes, something MAJOR and horrible happened to her and Sid is coming to terms with that major, horrible event but, like most people, she doesn’t get the luxury of taking a break from life to do it. Even in the face of life-altering events, people have to function and move forward through their days and deal with a lot of the same problems that they had before.
On the legalization of medicinal marijuana: I feel strongly about the legalization of medicinal marijuana in Ohio and everywhere. If smoking pot makes sick people feel better, lawmakers and voters need to get over themselves and legalize it.
Literary Analysis of WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT is told in first-person present because it lends to the immediacy of the narrative. Sid does not know what happens next therefore neither does the reader. The reader is watching events unfold right along with Sid which makes the story an intimate reading experience and altogether more exciting. I also chose to address the reader directly a few times. An example of this can be found on page 305 when Sid says “Did I mention that?” It is Sid’s way of saying: “You have been my witness and I appreciate you being here.”
Foreshadowing and Allusion:
I’m really proud of the scenes between Dax/Tom Hamilton and Sid. He is only in a couple of chapters but I wanted to use a lot of subtle foreshadowing, irony, repeat imagery, symbolism, and allusion in those chapters. I wanted to use some literary wordplay that would creep readers out upon closer inspection, the most obvious example being Dax’s use of the word “parlor” and then later, that word showing up in the “The Spider and the Fly” poem by Mary Howitt that Corey reads to Sid. Also, the winding staircases were something I enjoyed placing throughout the story…in the poem, the condo, and then the Tudor house. On the ski lift, I wanted to create this Pygmalion type vibe, an Eliza Doolittle/Professor Henry Higgins scenario where Sid and Dax banter about regional accents. I wanted to make the readers sort of like Dax so that they might understand and believe why Sid could fall into his trap but maybe at the same time, be thinking: Whoa, do not go in there! Also, I wanted to create scenes where, upon repeat reading, a reader might see how Dax is viewing Sid through a predatory lens and toying with her—a specimen to be consumed. I think I accomplished this through specific word usage. “Cherry” and “Lifesaver” and the mentioning of “Law & Order” and “certifiable (crazy).” From a craft perspective, I’m really proud of those scenes. Hopefully readers will appreciate them as well.
The missing lock of Sid’s hair represents identity. Sid is known for her curly red hair. While this is something that has caused her feelings of insecurity in the past, it is part of who she is and Dax takes a piece of that from her. She will never be the same person that she was before the ski trip. Additionally, the lock is a symbol of loss. Sid lost a lot the night she was assaulted, her sense of security and peace of mind being the most painful. The lock of hair is an ever-present physical reminder of that loss.
The empty Tudor house and ceiling mural symbolize escape. When Sid is in the Tudor house she can pretend she is someone else. The emptiness of the house is comforting to her. It’s a blank slate, a place where she can forget what happened to her and imagine a better life.
“For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.” (The Spider and The Fly by Mary Howitt)
The winding staircases represent change. A winding staircase is present at the condo, the place of Sid’s attack, the place where Sid’s life changes forever and begins spiraling downward into a dark place. But then a different winding staircase appears in the Tudor house, the place where Sid finally comes to terms with what happened to her and where her journey toward true healing begins.
I enjoy the use of staccato, descending prose when presenting moments of crisis or revelation in a text. Visually, I think it stuns the reader into really paying attention and feeling the narrator’s urgent state of mind. An example of this can be found on page 56 when Sid is describing what her life was like before the ski trip:
At the edge of sleep, I think about my life, before.
This is what my life has been for the past three years, and I was happy with it.
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION:
1. What is Sid’s primary desire? What does she want more than anything? Identify the conflict of the story (meaning the main obstacle that is keeping Sid from getting what she wants.) Identify Sid’s secondary desires and the minor obstacles she must face.
2. What five words would you use to characterize Sid? How about her mother, Katherine? Her boyfriend, Corey? (“Dreamy” comes to mind, no?)
3. When Sid went to meet Dax what was your reaction?
4. How might Sid have dealt differently with her physical and emotional trauma?
5. How would you describe the setting of WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? The seasons turn throughout the story, how does that affect the narrative?
6. Map out the story arc of WHAT HAPPENS NEXT using
7. Can you find examples of other symbols in the text? Interesting lines that use a distinct prose rhythm? Metaphors or similes that you felt worked well?
8. Did you find the ending to be realistic? Discuss how the ambiguity of what happens next for Sid made you feel as a reader. Was there a sense of resolution?
9. What do you think happens next for Sid and Corey? What do you think becomes of Dax/Tom? Is he caught or does he get away?
10. Who would you cast in the dream movie of WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The link between sexual assault and eating disorders:
Ackard D, Neumark-Sztainer D. Date violence and date rape among adolescents: associations with disordered eating behaviors and psychological health. Child Abuse & Neglect [serial online]. May 2002;26(5):455.
Dubosc A, Capitaine M, F. Rodgers R, et al. Early adult sexual assault and disordered eating: The mediating role of posttraumatic stress symptoms. Journal Of Traumatic Stress [serial online]. February 2012;25(1):50-56.
Mitchell K, Wells S, Mendes A, Resick P. Treatment Improves Symptoms Shared by PTSD and Disordered Eating. Journal Of Traumatic Stress [serial online]. October 2012;25(5):535-542.
Lerner, M.J. & Montada, L. (1998). An Overview: Advances in Belief in a Just World Theory and Methods, in Leo Montada & M.J. Lerner (Eds.). Responses to Victimizations and Belief in a Just World (1-7). Plenum Press: New York
Faris R, Felmlee D. Status Struggles: Network Centrality and Gender Segregation in Same- and Cross-Gender Aggression. American Sociological Review [serial online]. February 2011;76(1):48-73.
Peeters M, Cillessen A, Scholte R. Clueless or Powerful? Identifying Subtypes of Bullies in Adolescence. Journal Of Youth & Adolescence [serial online]. September 2010;39(9):1041-1052.
Thunfors P, Cornell D. The Popularity of Middle School Bullies. Journal Of School Violence [serial online]. January 2008;7(1):65-82.
Borgelt L, Franson K, Nussbaum A, Wang G. The Pharmacologic and Clinical Effects of Medical Cannabis. Pharmacotherapy [serial online]. February 2013;33(2):195-209.
Grant I, Atkinson J, Gouaux B, Wilsey B. Medical Marijuana: Clearing Away the Smoke. Open Neurology Journal [serial online]. January 2012;6:18-25.
Pryce G, Baker D. Emerging properties of cannabinoid medicines in management of multiple sclerosis. Trends In Neurosciences [serial online]. May 2005;28(5):272-276.
www.rainn.org (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)
studenttravel.about.com/od/springbreak/a/roofies.htm (Date rape drugs; safety tips)
http://www.crcvc.ca/docs/victim_blaming.pdf (What is Victim Blaming?)
http://psychology.about.com/od/jindex/f/just-world-phenomenon.htm (Just-World Fallacy or sometimes called Just-World Theory/Hypothesis/Phenomenon)
www.nationaleatingdisorders.org (Eating disorders NEDA)
http://health.columbia.edu/topics/eating-disorders/sexual-assault (eating disorders and sexual assault)
http://www.pacer.org/bullying/ (National Bullying Prevention Center)
www.apa.org/helpcenter/bullying.aspx (American Psychological Association; Bullying)
www.medicalmarijuana.procon.org (Medicinal Marijuana Information; Non-partisan/non-profit resource)