When Sam Elling creates an algorithm to pair people with their soul mates online, he meets Meredith, his own perfect match. But when Meredith’s grandmother Livvie dies unexpectedly, Sam puts his algorithm to even better use: it compiles Livvie’s old emails and video chats to create a computer simulation so that Meredith can say goodbye. It’s not supernatural; it’s computer science, and Meredith loves it—too much to keep to herself.
Together, she and Sam open RePose to help others who have lost a loved one. Business takes off, but for every person who just wants to say goodbye, there’s someone else who can’t let go. This twenty-first-century love story asks what would happen if saying goodbye were just the beginning, and shows how love can take on a life of its own.
Excerpted from Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel. Copyright © 2013 by Laurie Frankel. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
How did you become a writer?
I think it boils down to two things. The first is I read. Constantly and widely. This one started early and has yet to abate. When I was little, my parents read to me every night before bed, and that became habit that’s served me well. I was one of those kids who always had a book in her hand. And I am one of those adults as well. I am never not reading something. I finish a book and immediately pick up the next one. Sometimes I have students tell me that they want to be writers, but they don’t like to read, and I just say no, sorry, not an option, not even a possibility.
The other thing that made me a writer was I sat down one summer to try to write a novel. I don’t think there’s any way to know whether or not you can write a novel without trying it. When I wrote the last chapter of the first draft of my first novel, I did a word count, and lo and behold, it was novel length. That’s when I knew I could write a book—when I’d already drafted one. (And I was ecstatic.)
What was the most challenging thing about writing Goodbye for Now?
You know, it sounds ridiculous to say this, but it was really sad. You’d think since I was writing a book about loss, death, and mourning I would have expected that, and I did to some extent, but I wasn’t expecting how sad I would feel about it. I kept telling myself, “These people aren’t real. You made them up,” but that didn’t cheer me up. People I’d come to know well and to love died while I was writing this book, and that was very hard for me, and the fact that they were people who existed in my head and nowhere else didn’t matter. You have to be all-in to write a novel, emotionally invested, committed to the characters as people, and so when they hurt, as when anyone you love hurts, it’s hard.
In what ways do you feel your role as a creative writing teacher has affected your own work?
Putting into words what you seem to do by instinct is always a great practice. At first, I thought I’d have a really hard time teaching creative writing because I had the sense that I don’t know how I write, I just do it. That’s less true than it seemed at first though. In fact, when I make myself think about it—as I had to when I was teaching—there are lots of rules, tricks, useful paths, important things to consider, approaches that work, ways to surmount challenges on the page, points to keep in mind. It was very helpful for me to articulate all of that. I’d often find myself preaching something in the classroom and then thinking, “Hey, that’s true. That’s a great point. I should do that.”
The characters in Goodbye for Now feel incredibly real—how do you go about creating them?
Thank you. I’m so glad you think so. I think every writer says this, so it seems like a cliché, but it’s true: they are real people in my head. I get to know them as I write them and rewrite them and rewrite them. Authors spend years working forty-plus hour weeks with their characters, so maybe they’re more like coworkers. That’s a lot of time to spend with anyone, even someone you’ve made up, and so you become quite close, and they, in turn, become quite real. How many people in your life do you know so well you always know what they’re going to say next? Not right away, but eventually, I have that relationship with all of my characters. That’s the key to creating them I think—really getting to know their voices, hearing them loud and clear, nailing that dialogue. Dialogue is my favorite part.
If it were possible to invent a computer program like RePose, how would you feel about using it?
Such a good question, and one you’d think I, of all people, could answer for sure. But I’m not sure. I came up with the idea for RePose years before I came up with the idea for the novel. My grandmother and I were very close, and we emailed one another regularly. When she died, I knew I couldn’t have her back, but it made so much sense to me that a clever computer programmer could fake her emails and send them to me and that that way I’d get to keep a little piece of her. I thought that was such a good idea I was almost angry the software didn’t exist. Then, years later, I started writing a novel about it and realizing all the ways that technology would be problematic at the very least and often quite devastating or maddening. So in some ways, I talked myself out of the technology once I started to explore it. In the end though, I think I’d still use it—maybe not the video chat option but the email for sure.
What do you see as being the best and the worst things about the way our use of technology is changing?
Our connectivity with one another is breathtaking. For me, the best thing is hearing from readers. So many people I’d never otherwise meet or hear from email me or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter to tell me they’ve liked a book of mine, and that means the world to me. It’s amazing to be able to write back and say thank you and also to keep in touch with readers—to be able to pass on writing tips or an article that relates to something in the book by posting it to my Facebook wall. And that’s true for all of us, personally and professionally. We get to keep in touch and make connections and meet people we never would without these technologies, and in lots of ways, that makes for a smaller world and a more connected humanity and a lot of cute pictures of people’s puppies.
But, often I feel I give up real connections with my closest friends in exchange for surface, electronic connections with people I lost touch with for a reason. I spend so much time online I don’t have time for my offline—a.k.a. “real”—life. And though those distinctions—on- and offline, real and virtual—are losing meaning by the moment, they hold something important at their heart. I don’t want Facebook to replace getting coffee with a friend. I don’t want reading blogs to replace reading books. And I know, I know, everyone says I could do both. And I could. Just as soon as I learn to do without sleep, my four-year-old starts self-entertaining, and my groceries buy and cook themselves. I can’t wait! Meantime, balancing these pressures is a challenge, and thinking of socializing as a pressure—instead of a joy and a release and well-earned time off to laugh with friends—strikes me as a high price to pay for all that connectivity.
What are you planning to write next?
I’m working on something, a novel, but I’m not completely sold yet. I’ve got a few other ideas I can’t quite let go of. It’s hard to settle on one. The starts of new projects are always big buckets of impossible decisions for me, and decision making is not my strong suit, so I’m not 100 percent sure what I’m writing next, but I’m so grateful that you’re interested, and I’ll keep you posted.
Praise for Laurie Frankel's Goodbye for Now:
“Frankel’s clever and well-considered second novel extends the reach of technology just beyond our fingertips, where it feels possible.”
—The New York Times
“Clever, funny, moving, intelligent, Goodbye For Now is about love and loss, real live emotions and human relationships in a cyber world taken to its extreme. Will Laurie Frankel’s wonderful book capture your heart and imagination? Absolutely. You will laugh; you will cry. And you will probably start video chatting with your loved ones daily, just in case an inspired computer genius jumps on Frankel’s idea.”
—Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
“It’s a book that will grip you, make you laugh and possibly cry, and make you think. . . . Frankel spins a story of a brilliant software genius who invents an algorithm that resurrects the image, voice and words of his grieving girlfriend’s dead grandmother. . . . These are characters worth reading about: the two quirky, sweet-natured principals are surrounded by colorful people. . . . Let it just be said that the events unleash enough tears to rival Seattle’s annual rainfall. And yet, Goodbye for Now is still hopeful and thoughtful and securely rooted in a belief in the essential goodness of which people are capable.”
—The Seattle Times
“The Social Network meets One Day in an attractive love-and-loss story that applies new technology to the job of soothing broken hearts.”
“If you like your love stories modern, clever, and a little weepy (think One Day), you will adore this.”
“Computer science flirts with sci-fi when a programmer creates software that (almost) lets the living talk with the departed.”
“Goodbye For Now is a fabulous, original read—very funny, yet so sad and thought-provoking too. I couldn’t put it down.”
—Liane Moriarty, bestselling author of What Alice Forgot
“Somewhere in the middle of Goodbye For Now, I found myself getting angry at Laurie Frankel for moving so seamlessly between hilarious and devastating, and for making me feel so deeply for her characters. I offer this as both recommendation and warning: this book will engross you and affect you, and you should know that you won’t be putting it down unchanged.”
—Carolyn Parkhurst, New York Times bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel and The Nobodies Album
“A smart, engaging novel that will make even the most skeptical online dating holdout reconsider. That's because Seattle-based author Laurie Frankel has written a love story featuring loveable characters and a premise so intriguing you hope someone will actually invent the computer program at the heart of this tale.. . . . The strength of Frankel’s story is that she tackles big questions surrounding grief. . . . A perfect end-of-summer cottage read. As a writer, Frankel is literate, funny and at times poignant.”
“There’s no denying Frankel’s warmth, wit and ingenuity in this cleverly conceived charmer.”
“Frankel tells a touching story of how this young couple deals with a new love in a world full of loss and sadness. Her first novel, The Atlas of Love, was a wonderful, heartfelt read, and while this book has a completely different story line, it retains that emotional core. Frankel is an author to watch and definitely to keep in stock.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
“Frankel addresses thorny questions with thought and care.”
“Frankel presents a fascinating concept as she keenly and sensitively explores themes of love and loss in this tearjerker centered on technology that pushes the boundaries of artificial intelligence. A compelling novel that tugs at the heartstrings; keep tissues handy.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“An ingenious emotional riptide of a story that leaves your heart drifting in the gulf between losing a loved one and actually letting them go.”
—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
“Frankel is unafraid to take on big questions as she weaves together her entertaining and thought-provoking story. The result is an imaginative tale that explores life, love and what lasts.”
“Brilliantly unsettling. . . . This is an unforgettable, heartbreaking novel about love after death, and is impossible to put down.”
“A thought-provoking 2012 love story well-told.”
“Beautifully written . . . brilliant.”
—Heat (UK), 5 stars
1. From the algorithm to pair you with your one true love to the technology used by RePose, does the technology in this book seem possible?
2. How much of your identity is online? If RePose existed, how well do you think you could be re-created based on your online archive? How is the picture of you presented on Facebook or Twitter or other social media sites an accurate one, and how is it less accurate?
3. How much of your social time is spent socializing online? How do social networking sites make socializing easier and more fun? And how do they make it harder and less fun?
4. If RePose existed, would you use it? Who would you contact? Would you video chat or just e-mail? What would you say if you could?
5. What should happen to our online identities—our Facebook pages and old e-mails and video chats and Twitter feeds and archived texts and blogs, etc.—after we die? How can social media help the loved ones we leave behind?
6. RePose takes heat from the press and from religious groups. What do you think those groups’ reactions would be if this technology existed? Are their concerns legitimate?
7. Why does Meredith start to become disillusioned with the virtual Livvie?
8. For which of their clients does RePose seem to work best? And for whom does it work less well? What seems to make the difference?
9. Who is your favorite RePose user? Who grows and changes the most over the course of the novel?
10. Do Dash and Meredith seem like family? They are very different, but what do they have in common?
11. While there is a lot of loss, what do you think is gained here? What new love does RePose bring about?
12. Whose method of mourning do you relate to more: Sam's or his dad's?
13. Why does Sam tell Julia she can’t RePose? Is he right or wrong to deny her the chance to speak with her daughter again?
14. Meredith is the only projection you know both before and after death, so she’s your chance to see whether RePose really works. Does it? Is Meredith’s projection a good likeness of her? A satisfying one? When she says things she’s said before, do you feel more joy at remembering or despair at her loss?
15. Penny and Josh both argue that RePose is for the dying. Who benefits most from RePose—the dying, the living, or the dead? How does it help each of those groups?
16. Sam feels that he’s been forgiven at the very end of the novel. What sins does he think he’s committed, and do you agree? Should he be sorry? How can he make amends?
17. Why does Meredith get the last word? What hope does she offer?