Four was an explosive year for my son’s mind. Every night when I put him to bed, he lobbed a new question at me:
“What happened to wooly mammoths?”
“Do plants sleep?”
“Why do we have tailbones?
“Good question,” I would respond, because—well, they were, even if I had to rely on Wikipedia to fill in the gaps in my knowledge.
One night I was lying next to him in bed, staring up at the glowing plastic stars affixed to the ceiling, when he said: “Mommy, what are bones made of?”
Finally, a question I could easily answer! “Mostly collagen, which is a sort of soft protein, and a mineral called calcium, too,” I said, drawing on my experience as a health journalist.
“Yeah, but what is all of that made out of?” he insisted. “Where does all that stuff come from?”
So much for easy. I thought about it for a moment, trying to figure out how best to describe a concept I didn’t fully understand myself. “Well,” I said, “Experts think that much of what we are comes from the inside of a giant star that exploded billions of years ago. The star’s parts contained material that makes up the parts in your body. Like the calcium in your teeth and bones—it comes from that.”
He looked at me like I had just informed him he was secretly a Jedi knight. “So we’re made of stars?”
“In a way, yeah.”
I had not yet kissed him goodnight when the plot for Forever is the Worst Long Time came to me.
Like every novel I’ve written, the skeleton of my latest book existed long before I was ready to write it. Several years earlier, I had written down a single line—“At the end of his life, a man tells a child about his relationship with her mother” —and filed it in my ideas folder. Then I promptly returned to another novel I was in the middle of writing.
My son’s awestruck response to a simple question formed the emotional core of Forever is the Worst Long Time. That is, one of the gifts of parenthood is the way your child’s sense of wonder can remind you—the jaded, seen-it-all adult—of just how amazing it is to be on this planet, at this particular moment in time, with your friends and family.
Forever is the story of James Hernandez, a struggling novelist who falls in love with his best friend Rob’s wife Louisa (Lou). Determined to act rationally, James manages to keep his feelings at bay for a full decade. But when Rob betrays Lou, she and James make what they both immediately agree was a bad decision. Yet the result of their decision unfolds in such a way that makes James—speaking to Lou’s daughter Emerson at the end of his life—question whether a so-called mistake can ever truly be called that if it puts you on the same path with the people you love most.