Rachel is Stephanie's best friend. Since the second grade they have shared all their secrets, good and bad. So when Alison moves in, Stephanie hopes that the three of them can be best friends because Stephanie really likes Alison. After all, they have even more to share now, including seventh grade and Jeremy Dragon, the cutest boy in junior high. The companion book to Here's To You, Rachel Robinson.
I had the idea for the characters in this book years before I actually sat down to write it. So by the time I started I knew them well, or thought I did. I like it best when my characters surprise me as I'm writing, and these three and their families definitely did. Since there are three main characters— Stephanie, Rachel and Alison—I planned to write a trilogy, giving each of the girls her own book. And that still might happen. It's just happening a lot more slowly than I imagined when I began.
When I started on Stephanie's story we were spending part of each week in an old house in Connecticut which gave me the idea for the setting. Some of the characters are named after shops in Westport. The Klaff twins for Klaff's, a plumbing supply store; Alison Monceau for Parc Monceau, a french country furniture store (my favorite shop); and Alison's dog, Maizie, for the little dog who belonged to the owner of that shop. I took a picture of Maizie to send to the artist who did the painting for the jacket of the first hardcover edition.
I love writing about girls' lives when they're right on the edge. One minute they act like little kids, the next they're young women. And by creating families and situations that kids have no control over, I get to see how they cope and so do my readers. Sooner or later, most kids find themselves in situations they can't control. In this book Stephanie's parents are splitting up, though she doesn't want to admit it, not even to herself. Having lived through divorce myself, I know how hard it can be. But this is a funny book, too, in the same way that Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is funny. Funny—real. I laughed out loud as I was writing some scenes. But I cried, too.
When it was finished, I couldn't come up with a title. My agent, Claire Smith, and I met for a lunch that lasted well into the afternoon. Finally, we resorted to singing old camp songs, trying to find a good title. Eventually we decided on a line from the song Side by Side. I wish now I'd called the book: Just as Long as We're Together—Stephanie's Story so the second book could have been Just as Long as We're Together—Rachel's Story and the one after that (should I ever write it) Alison's Story.
The book is dedicated to Stephen Murphy. I met Stephen, the son of friends, when he was a smart, funny twelve year old. He named me Lola because one night I sang that old Barry Manilow song—the one about Lola the showgirl, who wore yellow feathers in her hair. I had no yellow feathers to enhance my performance so I used yellow flyswatters instead. When I started to write the book Stephen was a student at Vassar College, a big, gorgeous guy. A month later he got sick —with leukemia. He was fighting for his life as I finished the book. I asked if I could dedicate it to him. He laughed about the subject matter—three girls in seventh grade—but gave me his blessing. By the time it was published he had died. No one who knew Stephen will ever forget him.