Friday, March 14, 2014

Guest Post by Riley Graham: An Interview with Author Jenny Hubbard

Hello All, 

Davey here, this month I turn my blog post over to Riley Graham and her interview with author Jenny Hubbard. I am actually glad she was standing in the wings to help out since I was blasted by an ice storm here in North Carolina. I just got my power back on. So Riley was nice enough to step into my shoes and help out. But next month I have a special treat with an interview with YA author A.J. Hartley (Darwen Arkwright & Will Hawthorne Series). 

So until next month... 

Guest Post by Riley Graham: An Interview with Author Jenny Hubbard

I’ve been a fan of Jenny Hubbard’s since I read her stunning debut novel Paper Covers Rock a little over a year ago, so I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to meet her at a conference last fall. I already knew she was talented, but I was pleased to find out that she’s incredibly kind and gracious as well. We struck up a correspondence and I couldn’t wait to read her new young adult novel when it was published in January, and then to talk with her about it.

And We Stay is the story of Emily Beam, a young girl dealing with the aftermath of her boyfriend’s suicide while attending boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts. Emily struggles to make sense of her past and eventually learns to embrace her future through connections with new friends, teachers, Emily Dickinson, and of course, poetry. Read the interview to find out more about Jenny Hubbard’s inspiration for the book, as well as her thoughts on writing in general. And then pick up a copy of And We Stay if you haven’t, because it’s not to be missed.

1—How did the idea for the book first come to you—and who came first, Emily Dickinson or Emily Beam? I’d also love to hear more about your inspiration for the stolen dress and its role in the story.

Emily Beam came before Emily Dickinson, but the character that first came to me was Carey Wagoner, Paul’s little sister.  For a long time, through a couple of drafts, she was the protagonist.  But the book was so dark, so hopeless, really, with her at the forefront (and Paul’s parents in the background) that my editor suggested that we hear more from Emily Beam, whose first name at the time was Jessica.

I wanted the book to honor those who are left to pick up the pieces of such tragedy—the other children, teachers, principals, parents, siblings, best friends. But I wanted it to be a hopeful one, one that attempted to show that when bad things happen to good people, the good people can find a way through the sadness and maybe even redefine themselves.  And the real Emily Beam was born.

I have not seen the white dress in person, but I’ve seen photographs and read descriptions of it.  By all accounts, it is as depicted in And We Stay, complete with large pocket for pencil and scraps of paper—the detail that inspired me most, I think. This dress has captured the imagination of other writers, too, poets and novelists.  In my book, the white dress works as a symbol—at least, that was my intention.  I’ll leave it to high-school English students to figure it out.

2—At the end of And We Stay, Emily arranges her poems into a book, going so far as to comment on their order and placement. Could you talk about the process of writing and arranging the poems within the context of And We Stay? That must have been quite an undertaking!

It was my favorite part of writing this book, creating poems for Emily Beam that reveal her process of healing, not to mention her burgeoning talent.  Choosing where to place them in the narrative was not so easy, though pairing them together in the end, the way Emily does, felt very natural.  Some of the poems were ones that I’d crafted before I started the book, so I adapted them to fit Emily’s perspective and voice.

3 – Obviously your background as a poet informs your work, in that both Paper Covers Rock and And We Stay incorporate poems from the narrators’ perspectives, and both contain lovely, poetic prose. How does your background as a playwright also influence your fiction?

I’m a fledgling playwright, so my ground doesn’t reach back very far, but I can tell you that I try, both in my fiction and in my plays, to create realistic dialogue that works to develop both the plot and the characters.  Perhaps I have a stronger visual sense of the scene, and of the drama contained with it, because of my interest in theatre.

4 – Both Alex in Paper Covers Rock and Emily in And We Stay have important relationships with teachers who see something promising in them. Can you share an experience of a teacher who impacted your life in a positive way?

I love this question!  Yes, I’ve had many teachers to whom I owe debts of gratitude. Mrs. Wendy Jessen, my fifth-grade teacher, was a great love of my life.  She was young and funny and pretty and stylish.  She must have gotten a kick out of my Little House on the Prairie obsession because she never frowned upon the calico dresses and bonnets I wore to school.  She understood my need to live out those books, and she allowed me that freedom.  I also wrote a lot creatively in her class, and Mrs. Jessen told me I was a wonderful writer.  I’m pretty certain I wasn’t, but she believed in me—my present and my future—and that was what mattered.

5—Do you have a favorite scene or character in the book?

The scene between Amber and Emily in the drugstore might be my favorite; I always choose it when I read out loud to groups. I get a kick (that’s my catch phrase for this interview!) out of Amber.  Unlike Emily, she’s so transparent, which makes me forgiving of her lies.

6—What was the hardest part of the book to write, and how did you get through it?

The scene in the library with Paul and the gun was, by far, the most difficult.  The timing, the pacing, the step-by-step details:  everything had to work together to make it credible.  As one of my readers told me, he appreciated the fact that it was not a “time stood still” kind of thing.  He had lived through a school shooting, and he said that it happened very fast as Emily describes it: that “the morning flipped over on top of [Paul].”  I was glad to hear that.  The way I got through it was that I revised it over and over and over again until all of the right details were present in the right order.

7—One of my favorite aspects of the book was the unfolding of the relationship between Emily and Paul. I felt sympathy and frustration for each of them at different points. As a writer, did you find yourself sympathizing with one more than the other at any point?

Another great question! And I agree with you:  equal parts sympathy and frustration until the scene in the library, when Paul acts on impulse.  His wires cross in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when the helping hand of Ms. Albright reached out, he didn’t take it.  That’s when my sympathy for him abates.  But what readers have told me is how much they like Paul, and every time I hear that, I breathe a sigh of relief because I did not create him to be a weirdo or a monster.  The scene where he hits the dog with his truck tells you, in a nutshell, what kind of boy he is.  There’s a lot of humanity there.

8—What poets, besides Emily Dickinson, do you particularly enjoy reading? What about novelists?

Other poets:  Kay Ryan (spare and funny), Billy Collins (laugh-out-loud funny and refreshingly accessible), Robert Frost (ever-so-slightly pompous but often chillingly accurate).  Novelists: Jane Austen, Jhumpa Lahiri.  My all-time favorite writer is Alice Munro, so I was thrilled when she won the Nobel Prize this past year for her body of short stories.  Masterful short stories are great tools for aspiring writers because they show us how to pare a tale down to its essence. They offer models of form and structure, of where to begin a story, and how to end it.

9—What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Are there any resources you recommend?

I recommend reading, and not only novels but non-fiction, including good newspaper reporting.  Anything in The New York Times would serve you well; plus, it’s such a good resource for stories. (Check out the obituaries and the Monday feature called “Metropolitan Diary.”)

Here’s my advice. To borrow a mantra from Nike, “Just do it.”  The difference between a writer and someone who wants to be a writer is that the writer gets it done.  You aren’t always going to feel like sitting down at your desk, but if you can get yourself to the point where you feel guilty if you aren’t writing, you’ve crossed over into the place you need to be.  Also, of course, “Rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite again.”  I do not get a kick out of writers who come up to me and tell me they’ve written a book and would I read it over for them, and I say, “How many times have you revised it?” And they say, “None.”  What I want to say is, “Then you haven’t written a book.  You’ve practiced writing a book, but you haven’t actually written one.  So hop to it!”

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