Monday, April 4, 2011
Fresh New Voice of YA- Interview with Jennifer Archer
1) How did you get the idea for Through Her Eyes?
I came up with the idea for Through Her Eyes several years ago when I was writing quirky adult paranormal romantic comedies (Wow! That’s a mouthful!) for the publisher Leisure/Lovespell. I was having a lot of fun writing those books, but I also wanted to write different kinds of stories. At the time, I often worked as a substitute teacher in the elementary schools where I live, and one day I was subbing in a 5th grade classroom when I picked up a copy of the classic, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. I began rereading it and became so engrossed I hated to put it down and go back to work. I had forgotten not only how much I loved that incredible story, but also how engaging young adult fiction can be. Soon after, I had a phone conversation with my literary agent about it, and she said she thought my writer’s voice is suited to the young adult market. So with that in mind, I went to bed that night and awoke the next morning with the bare bones for a YA plotline and the sixteen-year-old main character, Tansy, talking to me. She told me she was the new girl in town and she felt invisible at school, and I could very much relate to that, since I moved several times while growing up. I started thinking…what if Tansy started to fear that she was literally becoming invisible? So I decided to explore that scenario. Tansy also told me she was a photographer, and I was really psyched about that! I’m intrigued by how photographs capture a single moment in time, and I especially love really old photographs of people; when I look at them I always wish I could step into the moment that the camera snapped and know what was going on in their lives and what they were thinking. I incorporated my wish into the story by allowing Tansy to do just that.
2) Tell us all about The Call/The Email for Through Her Eyes! Where were you when you got it? Did you do anything to celebrate the sale?
It’s always exciting to get an offer on a book because then I know that my characters will get to live for other people besides me! I actually received offers from two different publishers for Through Her Eyes – one of them being Harper Teen. I was in my home office when my agent called with the news of the offer from Harper, and I remember saying, “No! They didn’t!” To which my agent replied, “Yes, they did.” And then I said again, “No! They didn’t!” And she calmly responded, “Yes, they did.” After that, I think we both squealed. I know I did, anyway! It was a great moment. Then we hung up, and I made some phone calls to family and friends. A lot of phone calls. That evening, my husband and I went to dinner, and as I recall, a bottle of wine was involved.
3) You've written quite a few novels of women's fiction. What prompted the change to Young Adult novels? Had you been a fan of YA before writing this book? Was there any difference in writing for teens as opposed to adults?
As I said, I simply wanted to write something different, and when I started reading teen fiction after a long stretch of not reading much of it, I really felt drawn to writing in that market. After the idea for Through Her Eyes took root in my mind and I began working on it, I was offered a contract for three mainstream women's fiction novels less romance-y than the novels I had written previously, so I wasn’t able to concentrate solely on writing Through Her Eyes. I worked on it sporadically when I had the time, and finally finished it. Six years passed during this period, and I wrote four more women's fiction novels and one novella before Through Her Eyes finally found a home at Harper Teen. Regarding writing for teens versus writing for adults – I don’t find the process to be that different. Every good story, no matter the genre or the targeted age-group of its readers – requires smart plotting, realistic characterization, and just the right pacing, among other things. The only real difference – and my greatest challenge – in writing for young adults was reconnecting with my own teen self and staying in tune with today’s teen culture.
4) What is your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor (or flavors, if you're so inclined)?
Oh, I’m definitely inclined. I’m a sucker for Cinnamon! However, I’ve found that if you pop a Chocolate Pudding and a Very Cherry in your mouth at the same time it sort of tastes like a chocolate covered cherry, and there’s no way I can resist that! The truth is, I have a sweet tooth, so I like most of the flavors. Except Black Licorice. And I stay away from the nasty flavors, like Barf. Barf-flavored jelly beans. Really? Really? Who eats these things?
5) Are you anything like your main character Tansy? How much of yourself do you put into your main character or even other characters?
I don’t know that I consciously give my characters my own personality traits, emotions, or experiences, but those elements do tend to slip in. I don’t usually notice until the book is written, however! I was a somewhat shy teenager, as Tansy is. (I’m still somewhat shy!) I moved a lot growing up, as she has. I could be moody and brooding, and so can she. But I would’ve never had the courage to wear something that made me stand out in the crowd, as Tansy does by wearing her grandfather’s old-fashioned hats. I wasn’t as cool as she is! In that regard, I was more like Bethyl Ann – except that I wasn’t as intellectual, I had more friends, and I didn’t quote Shakespeare. (Maybe I should say, misquote Shakespeare.) I hope I had more fashion sense than Bethyl Ann, too!
6) What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. Write, write write. As much as you can. Make time for both reading and writing, even if you can only find a few minutes a day. After you read a book for pleasure, if it’s one you really love, read it again and this time pick it apart. Learn from that author how he/she built the story and created characters and structured sentences in a way that drew you in. Do the same thing with a book you didn’t like. Try to figure out why it didn’t appeal to you so you’ll know what to avoid in your own work. Practice, even if you don’t feel as if you know what you’re doing. You’ll learn. Writing as much as you can is the best way to discover and develop your writer voice.
7) What book(s) are you reading right now, or are about to start?
Though I’m never not reading a book, I only have time to devote about an hour a day to it, so I’m often reading books that were released a year or more ago. That’s the case with the three novels I’m taking on an upcoming trip. The first is a YA novel called A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. It was published in 2004 and is a Printz Honor Book. (Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature). I’m very intrigued by the 1906 setting, and by the fact that secret letters play a part in the plotline. As you can most likely tell if you’ve read Through Her Eyes, I adore books about secret messages! The other two novels I’m taking on my trip are adult novels. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, and Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.
Thanks for allowing me to visit with you and your readers, James! It’s been fun.