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

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Author Interview- Michele Jaffe

1) How did you get the idea for Minders?

Have you ever dated someone and found yourself wondering what the ^#%@#!^ they are thinking? Yeah.

[ASIDE: okay, for real, that is true. But a more professional answer would be to say that the book also allowed me to engage with larger themes I've been thinking about a lot, such as what privacy means right now. That is important for lots of fancy human rights reasons, but as a writer it's also interesting because the rise of the novel during the 18th century is concomitant with the rise of our modern conception of privacy. Novels were set in "private" spaces like the home and also people's thoughts, at a time when privacy was being newly defined and valued.

"Privacy" as a concept is evolving (or evaporating) again, in large part because of choices we make. We live in a survaillovoyeuristic culture of reality shows (emphasis more on the "show" than on "reality) and selfies and people instagramming their snacks. We invite strangers to be our "friends" and follow us, and we consider attention a badge of popularity. We've ceded a lot of our private space, our secrets, willingly, with the understanding that we control who has access to our data. In the modern world, then, "privacy" is no longer about walls and locked doors it's about firewalls and blocking unwanted eyeballs; the last thread of privacy is the power to control who sees what. So in addition to satisfying my nosiness, MINDERS is about how easily that last thread can be snapped--without anyone knowing it. About what we're really giving up when we shed our privacy for "greater good" or "greater security" or "greater ease ordering pizza on line."

Hmm, that doesn't sound as scary now as I meant it to.]

[I am not that good at being professional, it turns out.]

2) This is your third darker YA, and it's a departure from your adult historical romances and the funny contemporary YAs you started out writing years ago. You've kind of rebranded yourself as a dark thriller writer now. Do you think you'll continue writing these darker suspense thrillers, or at some point, return to funny contemporary YAs or do a whole other genre entirely? You know I'm still waiting on a third Bad Kitty book (though I know why it isn't happening).

This is the kind of question I should put a pleasant spin on but I'm going to go with bald reality: writing darker thrillers was a market driven decision, or rather necessity, because publishers were not interested in lighter, funnier books. At least from me.

But I also love doing these books because they make me push myself as a writer. Like many people, I strap on humor as a form of protection, so lowering that shield to write darker things forces me to look myself in the face more. Which is daunting because it leaves me vulnerable and means they require more discipline because I can get easily distracted by that zit on my chin. See? There I go! It means these books are daunting because they force me to be vulnerable and that makes me feel all squirmy.

One thing I particularly loved about writing Minders is that I got to create not only a just-slightly-in-the-future-landscape for the setting but also, since a lot of it takes place inside someone's mind, an entire *mindscape.* That meant devising a theory and architecture of consciousness, tackling questions like: How do memories manifest themselves in the mind? What form do thoughts and emotions take? Are they sounds, flavors, sensations, images? What is the exact mechanism by which an emotion can trigger an action? Where do things we repress go? What does the subconscious look like? It was the ultimate exercise--and privilege--in world building.

But it was a bit exhausting and required an uptick in my snack consumption. (In fact, I think this is probably why Santa is so rotund, because he knows what is going on in people's minds ALL THE TIME and that is quite tiring)

[ASIDE AGAIN: Despite all that, I am still ACHING to write the next Bad Kitty novel. I even have it all plotted, but unfortunately no one is filled with the same fervor to publish it. But if anyone in publishing is reading this and wants to take a chance on a Bad Kitty, calltextweet me!]

[No, I am not sure that ASIDE means what I think it means, either]

3) Even though Minders just came out, are you currently working on anything? Can you tell us anything about it?

In my *mind* I'm working on dozens of things right now like a magical writing elf, but in reality I have to limit myself to one or two or I never make any solid progress (because when writing one gets hard I'll hopscotch to another and that is cheating; hard is, unfortunately, part of writing. And I am not a magical writing elf.). Right now I'm focusing on an adult historical suspense novel set in Berlin in 1932 that I've been struggling with but am excited about, and a YA project with a British company that is working on a new storytelling platform. That is a fancy and I-Signed-A-Nondisclosure-Agreement way of saying it will be electronic, but not in the way(s) people might typically think.

(Cue exciting and mysterious sounding music)
(And footsteps)
(And scary owl noises)

I'm also trying to emerge from my tiny cave and be better about social networking which to me feels like writing a whole other book since it is essentially about creating a character and hoping people like it. For some reason this is very hard for me (hello flashback to insecurities of teen age years! Thank you for visiting image of me in braces! You can leave now, memory of the time I dyed my hair--and body--purple!). I think part of it is because when I am feeling cynical it seems sort of mercenary to me--for authors, it's not about having real friends, it's about grooming a reader base to build or maintain sales--and part of it is because I can't imagine anyone cares what I am reading/thinking/doing/eating. And also because what if I start oversharing and suddenly I am admitting how much time I spend trying to master the perfect smokey eye or worrying about panty lines or--ACK! SEE? I JUST TOLD YOU. ERASE ERASE!

This is why I should stay off social media.

4) I've already asked you your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor, so can you tell us your favorite snack to have while writing, or as a reward for writing?

I love all snacks and want as many of them in my tummy as possible at all times. I especially like snacks involving dough such as dumplings, pie, pizza, croissants and royalty checks. And tacos.

5) What book(s) are you currently reading, or are about to start? Any 2014 releases you're looking forward to?

I only read books by the dead while I'm writing, so I've been gobbling up the fantastic mystery novels of John D McDonald featuring his Florida based sleuth Travis McGee. I'm also rereading some novels written in the 1700's--written at the moment when the word "novel" went from being an adjective describing something new and fresh, to a noun describing a new kind of narrative featuring made up people in real-ish settings--to help me think about how new information technologies and textual formats effect storytelling and through that culture and conceptions ofzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....whoops sorry, put myself to sleep there.

6) You're friends with Meg Cabot, and I know you guys hang out a lot. Can you share any fun adventures you two went through lately?

I am the luckiest person in Luckyland because I just moved in NEXT DOOR to Meg Cabot in Key West, which is basically the single best place in the world to be living because I have the most awesome neighbors on the planet. That is not bragging, simply FACT.

Key West is such a groovy town that just going to lunch can feel like an adventure because 1. you ride bikes with puffy tires 2. you eat places with views of boats or turquoise ocean 3. you are likely to see someone with either a bird or a cat sitting on their shoulder 4. there is key lime pie.

But I should not give the impression that life Next Door to Meg is all just delicious lunch and watching dolphins frolic off the beach in front of you and having dinner with Judy Blume (yes! I got to do that! I am still pinching myself. She is magnificent). For example the other day when Meg encountered a Large & Sinister Pile Of Mystery Goo on a path behind a locked gate and we had to use all our sleuthing skills to figure out how it got there, who left it, what it was. It was like playing CSI: Backyard. Only my smokey eye makeup wasn't as good as the actresses on TV.


(Meg's was though, of course.)


  1. Oh man, I love Michele Jaffe's books and can't wait to read Minders. (And I would publish a third Bad Kitty book if I could.)

    Great, hilarious interview!

  2. I have only read Rosebush by Michele but I absolutely loved it so I don't know why I haven't picked up any of her other books, maybe I should check out Minders.

  3. If only I were a publisher instead of a nineteen-year-old aspiring writer-slash-Michele Jaffe fangirl. I'd publish it!