Returning to the pearly gates, Albom follows Annie, a woman reflecting on her life after a tragic accident, in his novel set in the afterlife, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven (Harper, Oct.).
Did you always know you wanted to write a sequel to The Five People You Meet in Heaven?
I started to sense that a sequel might be possible once The Five People You Meet in Heaven had been out for a few years and people started to ask me, “Well, what happens next? Where does Eddie go?” Really, it’s not a complete picture of heaven. The first stage of heaven is where you meet five people from your life, but then what happens? So, it sort of sat in my head. I’ve never done a sequel before, so I’d have to ask people who are more familiar with it… when do you actually know it’s time to write the sequel? For me, it happened to be 15 years!
Annie, the protagonist, was just a little girl in the first book, but in this book she’s grown up. How did you imagine her intervening years when writing?
A lot of things went into Annie. One very important experience happened with an orphanage that I operate in Haiti. One of my children there developed a brain tumor, and we ended up bringing her to America and effectively adopting her. We had an amazing two years with her before she passed away. She was so full of life and so full of questions, and she just had such a strong personality. A lot of that was in the backdrop when I was writing Annie. A young girl with a lot of questions, a girl who leaves too soon, not knowing where she came from, not knowing her father. So there was a lot of just wanting to write a female character who had to endure things. She’s really my first female protagonist.
So much of Annie’s journey is about recovering from trauma and learning from your experiences.
When we’re young, our feelings guide us, and when we’re older, our experience guides us. Annie always felt like she was second-rate, an outcast, a mistake maker. She assumes things are going to go bad and doesn’t know where that came from. All the things that you kidded yourself about, all the things that you shielded yourself from, all the things that you know deep down somewhere inside but you don’t admit to yourself during your life—these things have to become clear in heaven.
Now that you’ve written your first sequel, do you think you’ll ever write another?
Looking back on the books that I’ve written to date, there can’t be a sequel to Tuesdays with Morrie, even though people have asked me. Frankie Presto was already three books in one for me, so I don’t think I’ll be sequeling him. But I could see, maybe years ahead, doing another Five People book with a different set of circumstances. It’s an interesting infrastructure to create a book out of.