Author Mitch Albom talks about writing his first-ever sequel, 15 years later

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Fifteen years after Mitch Albom wrote Five People You Meet in Heaven, he's back with his first sequel, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven.

"I never envisioned writing a sequel," Albom said. "I'm not lucky enough to have invented Harry Potter or Jack Reacher. Most of my books are one-offs."

He tackled the project because he says people always wondered what happened to the little girl in the first book, Annie.

Albom suffered an immense amount of personal loss in the past three years with the deaths of his mother, father, and a little girl that he and his wife Janine were raising as their daughter, Medjerda (Chika) Jeune.

He said simply that heaven was on his mind after Chika's death and he decided to re-explore that territory through writing.

"Towards the end of her life it started and then after she passed away that's when I wrote the whole rest of it, and losing her informs a lot of this book," Albom said.

The protagonist in the sequel feels that her whole life is a series of mistakes, including the short life of her baby boy.

"There's a line in the book that says she felt utterly full and utterly vacant at the same time, which is what having and losing a child is like," Albom said. "And that line was ripped directly from my own feelings and experiences because that is what having and losing a child feels like."

It was at Have Faith Haiti Orphanage/Mission, that he first met Chika in 2013. Albom runs the Mission through his Hole in the Roof Foundation. Chika died from a rare cancer of the brain stem called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) at the age of 7, after living with Albom and his wife for nearly two years.

Read the story of Chika's life HERE.

Albom calls his concept of heaven a "fable and a wish" and added "it is not first-person reporting." However, he got the idea for Five People You Meet in Heaven directly from his uncle Eddie, and based the character Eddie on him in both books. The real-life Eddie died on an operating table and was revived by doctors. He recalled seeing his relatives who had passed in those moments.

"I thought well, what if they're not just your relatives? What if they are people you interacted with maybe for two minutes on earth, but you changed their life and they changed yours?" Albom said. "Wouldn't that be an interesting way for heaven to begin? You have your life explained to you."

The main characters in this book and the former die in relatively freak accidents. Albom did research what would realistically happen in the circumstances described to make it as accurate as possible. He said he used the unusual circumstances to represent how the characters felt in their own lives.

Annie, the protagonist, suffered an amputation and limb reattachment after an amusement park tragedy detailed in the original book and recapped in this sequel. She dealt with bullying, guilt, and a feeling of inadequacy due to her hand always looking different.

"She's got scars there, her fingers don't work exactly right, they get cold, her nerve endings are different, and it serves as a reminder to her, even though she can't remember the accident, she remembers something happened that day and it left a scar, and of course it's a literary thing too because you have this scar from this moment in her life," Albom said.

There are several key moments and lines in The Next Person You Meet in Heaven that will not only surprise you, but touch your heart and give you the feeling of hope and inspiration.

"If we got to keep everybody, if we got to live forever, nobody would really appreciate anything because it could never be taken away," Albom said. "Those heartaches and heartbreaks they teach us about a whole heart."

He added that the best lines in his books come from simple things that comfort him and hopefully comfort the readers of his books.

To learn more about the characters and Albom's thought process while writing this novel, please watch his interview in the video above.

Mitch Albom, his books, and philanthropy:
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