The After series has been translated into over 30 languages, read two billion times by users on Wattpad, and adapted into a blockbuster film series — the fourth and final installment, After Ever Happy, hits theaters on September 7.
Yet, when I asked author Anna Todd if she felt if there was added pressure for her new book trilogy, The Brightest Stars, to be bigger and better, she confidently smiled and shook her head no.
“If I try to live up to this very successful book and film series, I would torture myself for the rest of my life,” Todd laughs. “These kinds of things don’t really happen to anyone, so for it to happen multiple times to the same person, that would be insane. For me, I’m very lucky and grateful that I had the success that I had. Now I feel like I can write what I want to write. I’m not going to try to live up to the next big thing.”
The Falling is book number one in The Brightest Stars trilogy. It’s a slow-burning (emphasis on slow) love story between a physical therapist named Karina and Kael, a soldier who’s been deployed to Afghanistan twice before his 21st birthday. As the daughter of an army officer, Karina is more than familiar with how the army lifestyle can affect a soldier and their family, which is why she works at a massage studio where she can use her talents to help soldiers heal. It’s also where she meets Kael.
A lot unfolds over the course of the next 300-something pages, but not in the way some of Todd’s fans may be expecting. In fact, Todd wants readers to know that The Falling is nothing close to an After 2.0.
“I’m going into this book very much knowing it may not be for everyone,” she says, adding that fans shouldn’t expect a super fast-paced storyline packed with hot and heavy love scenes. “It definitely gets a lot more intense in the second and third book, but not in the same way [as After]. It’s 80% internal monologue and 20% trauma. It’s a whole different beast.”
This “beast” is both literary and personal for Todd, who like the main character in her novel, grew up in a military family and fell in love with a soldier. Todd tells Scary Mommy that before she was an army wife, she was a very young high school army girlfriend and before that, an army daughter. So, she learned a lot about PTSD and trauma, she adds. And while longtime fans may view The Falling as Todd’s literary take on her relationship with her now-separated husband, it’s much more than that.
“A lot of people are assuming it’s just about my experience with my now-separated husband, but it’s about my experience with military life in general. My grandpa and my uncle, all the men in my family are retired from the military,” she explains.
Todd has also had to navigate loss, both romantically and platonically. “In my experience, I met 10 military people and three years later there’s only seven alive. I didn’t process any of that,” she continues. “I didn’t write this book for anyone but myself, and the people who can relate to it — or not even for the people who can relate to it from the army perspective, but from the loss perspective and this anxiety, too.”
“Basically, it was me trying to process my own traumatic experiences and put it into a novel.”
The Falling is Todd’s most personal novel yet. As someone who grew up with a military presence in their own extended family, I felt Todd’s vulnerability seeping off the page. The Falling will be followed by The Burning and The Infinite Light of Dust, books two and three, respectively, in The Brightest Stars trilogy — all of which will be published under Todd’s new co-branded publishing imprint, Frayed Pages x Wattpad Books.
In 2021, Todd’s multimedia company Frayed Pages Media joined forces with Wattpad WEBTOON Book Group to launch a new co-branded publishing imprint. The new business venture felt very much like a homecoming for Todd, who originally wrote After on Wattpad back in 2013.
“It’s definitely a full circle moment,” Todd says. “When I first started publishing, I had no idea what I was doing because I literally came from the internet. I was a reader my whole life, but had no idea about publishing. I kept meeting all these amazing storytellers, — all women given my space — but I noticed that there was a major disconnect. There were writers who were super successful on their own or writers who were missing the connection between being able to tell incredible stories and get them into bookstores.”
Todd says some of the best books she’s read have never been published outside of being posted on the internet. “They’re just women who are telling stories in their bedrooms because they’re storytellers.” So, Todd took matters into her own hands. She assembled her team, learned the business side of publishing, shopped around, and eventually partnered with Wattpad.
“My goal was to do this by the time I turned 40, so it happened way faster than I ever expected,” she gleams. “I’m really excited. I can’t say yet, but we have our first author. A lot of stuff is happening soon.”
“I want to be an advocate for authors and for them to have a say in their career, while also giving the distribution, which is the trickiest part,” she says. “These writers will get to know the business side instead of someone just going, ‘Oh, I’ll give you a deal.’ It’s about having both sides, where we can all be successful; but it also needs to be more fair to the author.”
Writing will always be a constant in Todd’s life, but right now she’s passionate about helping other writers get published and seeing their books turn into film and series adaptations. “I can’t say what, but I have multiple film/TV projects going at once,” Todd teases. “I’m still going to write, but I’m going to write what I want to write and when I want to write it. I’m spending most of my time on TV/film development and producing, and Frayed Pages x Wattpad books.”
Todd’s readers have a lot to look forward to these next six months. Not only is she in the process of editing The Burning, but she has a secret standalone romance novel that she is hoping to announce very, very soon. “I wrote it because…I just felt like it,” Todd laughs. “I’ve always been in contracts my whole career so it felt so nice to be like, ‘Wait, this is my imprint. I can write whatever I want.’”
If all goes as planned, Todd is also hoping to add several film credits to resume by the end of 2022. “I will have at least one film announcement, but hopefully two,” she teases.