Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Fresh New Voice of YA- Interview with Jennifer Brown

1) How did you get the idea for Hate List?

I don't know if I can really pinpoint one thing that gave me the idea for Hate List. I get asked this question a lot and I find that my answer differs just slightly every single time I answer it. I don't know if it's been inside me to get this message out since high school, which was a very rough time for me, or if it's my fear as a mother about the horrible and tragic things that can happen when you think your kids are in a safe place, or if it's just an expression of a hope I have about a future where people really start to "get it," or if it just... happened.

I can, however, pinpoint the day that I decided to write it. I'd been thinking about school shootings and it was right when that song "If Everyone Cared" by Nickelback was on the radio all the time. The song got stuck in my head while I was sleeping (I usually hate it when that happens), and when I woke up, I had this idea about a girl having lived through a school shooting, but being so tied up in it even she had a hard time deciding if she was hero or victim. I started working on it right away.

2) Hate List is quite the departure for you as you are mainly known for your humor writing in your local paper. Was it hard to make that transition and write a book dealing with this subject matter?

It's actually not that huge of a departure for me, in that I'm not, in person, a really funny kind of cut-up person. I'm more on the shy/broody side, so the subject wasn't something totally out of character for me. What I did find difficult, however, was telling my agent that I was working on something not funny. I was afraid that I'd "wasted time" writing out of genre when I could've been writing humor. I didn't tell her about Hate List until I was finished with it... and was, honestly, floored by how excited she was about it.

Also, I've had a lot of worry about my "fans," who know me for my humor writing, thinking they would pick up Hate List, expect humor, and be disappointed. That's one reason I love, love, love my cover art so much. There's no way you could mistake this book for a humor book!

3) What are you working on now? Can you tell us anything about it?

I'm still not big on details yet, but I am working on a new YA novel. It's going to be similar in tone to Hate List, but the subject is, of course, very different. Once again, I'm trying to look at a tough situation from a more objective angle, see if I can understand and relate to why my characters do what they do. I know that's not much to go on, but I'm kind of superstitious when it comes to my writing process... and that's all I'm givin' ya!

4) What brought you to the YA genre? Have you always been a fan or are you still pretty new to it all?

I am definitely still new to it all. I had never even considered writing YA, and even up until the point when my agent said the words "YA crossover"... I had no idea that's what I'd written. I was really kicking myself because until that point I'd only focused on learning adult fiction-writing and had never really paid any attention to the Children's/MG/YA markets because I never saw myself writing in those genres. Not that I wouldn't write in those genres... but I guess I thought I couldn't write in those genres. But right away, I knew I had a huge learning curve ahead. I'm still learning.

After Hate List sold, however, I realized that, growing up, I adored books that would have fallen in the YA genre. I also realized that I really fell in love with reading and writing when I was a teen. Now I'm at a point where I'm really identifying with the YA genre and am so excited to be a part of it! There are some real writing heroes in YA.

I'm also just amazed at how supportive the YA community is. It's really cool.

5) What is your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor?


6) What book(s) are you reading now, or are about to start?

I read constantly, so by the time you post this, I will be on to something else, for sure, but right now I'm reading Megan Crewe's GIVE UP THE GHOST and also Wally Lamb's THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED. Oh, and I just got a copy of Deva Fagan's FORTUNE'S FOLLY, so I'll be starting that soon.

7) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don't listen to bitter people who say you can't do it or it's not worth it. You can, and it so is!

8) The book is peppered with flashbacks to the fateful day as well as articles about the shooting. Did you write all these in the order in which they appear, or were they done after the present day part was completed? Was it always the plan to include those things in the novel?

Yes, it was always a plan to include the articles and flashbacks in the book, as I felt they added an extra dimension to the story -- the flashbacks, because I thought it was important for readers to "see" how horrifying the shooting was for Valerie, and the newspaper articles because I felt the objective (and sometimes inaccurate) story that the rest of the world was seeing was not at all what was happening in Valerie's world.

However, the flashbacks, and even some of the articles, were not necessarily in the same place and certainly not in the same style in the final draft as they were in the first draft. In the first draft I peppered the present day with flashbacks, italicized, with no transitions at all. My editor thought that particular style would be confusing to readers (and I definitely think he was right), so we worked a lot to put them in a clearer and more organized fashion. As for the articles, they're pretty close to where they were in the first draft, with the most notable exception being Chapter One, which begins with an article that was originally the last article in the book.

So some things were definitely moved around, but I'm really pleased with how everything flowed together after we moved them!


  1. I think its great how she traveled out of her normal genre to do something different. I can't wait to read Hate List!

    Great Interview!

  2. Great interview! I just started Hate List yesterday and I already love it. :)

  3. Great interview! Her answers made me
    really want to read Hate List. So I will!

  4. I read this book in one sitting, and I wish someone would have given me a tissue warning for the end - I was in complete tears. I'm really surprised this is Jennifer's first book, but I am amazed with her writing. Looking forward to reading future books from her!