There is Hope: An Interview with Liz Lawson, Debut Author of The Lucky Ones


"For those who have made their way through painful, heartbreaking times and managed to find their way through to the other side. I wanted to show them that there is hope."

America has witnessed 2,412 mass shootings since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 (Vox). After the cameras leave and the spotlight disappears, survivors of these events are left to grapple with the consequences. Sometimes there are legal proceedings; always, lives are altered. In her debut novel The Lucky Ones, author Liz Lawson tackles the stories of school shooting survivors through dual perspectives. May, whose twin brother Jordan died in a school shooting, struggles to adjust to a new school. Zach, whose mother is the lawyer defending Jordan's killer, faces isolation for a choice that was not his own. After a chance meeting, the two discover that they can empathize with each other's loneliness.

Today, I am excited to welcome Ms. Lawson to the blog to discuss The Lucky Ones and writing for a young adult audience. My questions will be in blue, and Ms. Lawson's responses will be in standard text.

1. What motivated, inspired, or compelled you to write The Lucky Ones?

I grew up and graduated from high school right when Columbine happened, and that changed the entire landscape of our country, forever. I started writing this book for all the kids who are faced with this reality, day in and out. I wrote it for the kids who have lived through the shootings that are mentioned above and the many other shootings that aren’t, and for those who fear that they might endure a similar fate someday. For those who have made their way through painful, heartbreaking times and managed to find their way through to the other side. I wanted to show them that there is hope.

2. You started the novel with a quote from the song "Youth" by Daughter: "And if you're still breathing, you're the lucky ones / 'Cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lungs / Setting fire to our insides for fun." Can you elaborate on the idea of "the lucky ones" and how you chose the title of your book?

The title fell into my brain very early into writing it and it just felt…perfect. The way that thephrase could mean two things—both that May and Zach are lucky because they are alive, because May survived, but also… are they really lucky? Because they’re left with the weight of everything that they’ve been through, and they’re going to be carrying that weight forever. That intersection between grief and hope is what the book is about, in large part. The song YOUTH actually came after—it was one that I put on my writing playlist while I was revising, and when I realized that line was in there, it seemed like kismet.

3. When writing for a YA audience, how did you seek to capture the voices and habits of teens?

Well, sometimes I feel like I’m still about 17 in my head, so that’s helpful when writing YA! I also tend to watch a lot of teen-centric shows, and I have read a LOT of YA too. While I’m writing a teen character, though, the biggest thing for me is to remember how it felt when I was that age. I also tend to go back and re-read my diaries from high school to remember how everything felt like so much at the time.

4. One thing I found unique about The Lucky Ones was how it sought to humanize teens in all circumstances of the story. May, whose twin brother Jordan died in the school shooting she survived, and Zach, who is villainized when his mother, a lawyer, defends the perpetrator, find connection in the social isolation they have both experienced. Why do you think it's important to consider both of these perspectives?

Thank you so much! I felt that it was important to have Zach’s perspective in there because May has been through so much. Her voice is angry and fierce, and I love her, but Zach’s POV (point of view) gives the reader a breather from it, at least a bit. He’s mostly sad and lonely, and a little awkward, and his experience with losing his friends sucks, but clearly wasn’t as brutal as what May went through. I think having Zach’s POV in there gives the book some levity.

5. In the book, May and her classmates grapple with survivor's guilt in different ways. While writing, how did you approach articulating difficult emotions, like grief, anger, and frustration, in different characters?

Honestly, I think it was mostly unconscious on my end. I tend to really imagine myself in the situations my characters are in while I write (so much so that when they cry, I usually cry, and when they’re happy, I feel happy), and so a lot of the time, I think to myself how would I be feeling internally or reacting externally if I was in this situation? That said, May and Zach are so different in terms of how they handle themselves—May is so much more outwardly mad and aggressive, and Zach is much more internal and quiet about his anger—and I tried to keep those two opposites in mind while writing their characters.

6. For you, what was the hardest part of the book to write?

Ohhhh this is a hard one to answer without giving away a fairly major spoiler, so I will just say that there is a scene about 75% of the way into the book where May speaks with someone from her past in person… and it was incredibly difficult to write. I wrote that scene over and over again, trying to get it right, until I finally was able to. It’s absolutely one of the hardest things I’ve ever written.

7. In The Lucky Ones, May expresses frustration at the media for using the shooting at her school to get views and then leaving survivors to brave the consequences of the intense publicity. How did this criticism of the media inform how you wanted to make The Lucky Ones a more nuanced form of media? As an author, how do you view the responsibility of media in shaping a narrative or telling a story?

Wow what a fantastic question! As a human, I often think about how the media and their need for ratings and views affects their content and the tone of how they cover what they cover. Their responsibilities to both their bottom line and their viewership, and how those two things seem to often conflict. The sensationalizing of tragedy is one of the very worst outcomes of the 24-hour news cycle, in my opinion. In THE LUCKY ONES, I wanted to touch on that without harping on it for too long—because I wanted to use the longer form of a book to explore the nuances of what it means to survive a tragedy, rather than examine the event itself. I believe we all have a responsibility to shape narratives in a responsible way.

8. Finally, if you could leave readers with one lasting message, what would it be?

That THE LUCKY ONES is a story of pain and fear and loss, but also one of hope. And I truly believe that we need stories of hope in this world, stories where people go through some shit but manage to come out on the other side. Try to hold on to your hope.

About the Author

Liz Lawson is an author, a music supervisor, a wife, a mom, and a bunch of other things, too. She's been writing for most of her life in one way or another -- in high school her SAT II essay about gopher throwing was awarded a perfect score, and in college she held a position on the editorial board of the campus newspaper.

Since college, she's written for a variety of publications, including PASTE MAGAZINE, went to grad school, lived in six states + D.C., worked on a multitude of films and many, many episodes of television, got married, birthed a child, birthed three books (the last of which is her debut, THE LUCKY ONES!), and has done some other stuff, too, probably.

Her debut contemporary YA novel, THE LUCKY ONES, will release from Delacorte Press/Random House in 2020. It's the story of May and Zach, and deals with the healing process after extreme tragedy. It's inspired in part by all the children who have experienced school shootings, of whom there are far too many in this country.

Currently, Liz resides in Los Angeles, CA, where she lives with an adorable toddler, a fantastic husband, and two VERY bratty cats.

Find her on Instagram and Twitter: @lzlwsn


  1. I've been seeing this book around these past few days since I've returned from my hiatus. After reading what it's about, I just had to put this in my list of books to read. :) I absolutely love your questions Claire, as they are very insightful, as well as the author's personality through her questions. I will consider getting this book to read!

    jillian @ jillian etc.

    1. Thank you, and I hope you get the chance to read it! :)

  2. Wow this book sounds amazing - as someone studying in college to be a teacher, school shootings are an unfortunate conversation that has to be discussed especially with the constantly evolving school landscape. Your questions offered a wonderful glance at the heart of the story and definitely piqued my interest! Can't wait to pick this up and give it a read!

    1. Thanks Riv, hope you get to read it soon :)

  3. What a spectacular interview, Claire! This book sounds awesome and that cover is so beautiful. My first high school suffered a school shooting and it was terrible. I am glad more discussion has surrounded the issue in the past couple of years.

    1. Thanks Erin! I am so sorry that you had to experience that. I am grateful for student activists that continue to bring awareness to the need for reform.