Thursday, November 11, 2010

Interview with Jenny Davidson

Jenny Davidson, author of The Explosionist and the upcoming novel Invisible things joins us today for an interview.

About the book...
Invisible Things will be available on November 23rd!
Sixteen-year-old Sophie knows there is more to the story of her parents' death. And she's on a mission to find the truth. To aid her in solving the decades-old mystery, Sophie has enlisted her best friend, Mikael, whose friendship has turned into something more. It's soon clear that Sophie's future is very much wrapped up in the details of her family's past, and the key lies with information only one man can provide: her parents' former employer, the elusive billionaire Alfred Nobel.
As the threat of war looms in Europe, dangers to Sophie and her loved ones grow. While her determination to solve the mystery doesn't waver, forces beyond her control conspire to keep her from her purpose. Then, news of her great-aunt Tabitha's death sets off a chain of events that leaves Sophie questioning everything.
The more Sophie learns, the more she realizes that nothing—and no one—in her life is what it seems. And coming to terms with the dark secrets she uncovers means imagining a truth that she never dreamed possible. Full of gorgeous settings, thrilling adventure, and romance, invisible things is a novel that dares to ask, what if? 

And now for the interview...

Where is your favorite place in the world?

I have lots of different answers to this.  The library - the water - New York City - wherever my boyfriend is.  I do feel, though, that I am most myself in the stacks of a huge library with a list of interesting things I'm looking for.
Why did you choose to set your novel, THE EXPLOSIONIST, in an alternate version of 1930s Edinburgh? What does "alternate version" mean exactly?
In this world, Napoleon beat Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in the early nineteenth century (in our world, it was the other way around), and the entire configuration of the world looks quite different politically.  Of course, it is also true in this alternate world that some people can build radios to talk to dead people, and spiritualism is a real scientific phenomenon rather than a crypto-science...

How has teaching impacted your writing?
I would find it difficult, I think, to be a full-time writer.  I love solitude but it can be very demoralizing working so very much on your own.  I enjoy the lively and stimulating students I have at Columbia, and I find that a spell of teaching alternates very well with a spell of writing: each one makes me eager to experience the other, and very much able to appreciate its advantages!

Did you have someone who mentored you in your writing or was it independent?

I've had lots of people over the years who've helped me in one way or another - my first editor at HarperTeen, Ruth Katcher, taught me a great deal about writing.  But in the end you have to learn this stuff on your own by way of a lot of drafting and revising and re-drafting and revising yet again, long past the point where you are totally sick of your manuscript!
 
You've written a few historical nonfiction books. Why did you choose to write YA?
On the whole, I would say that I've written two different kinds of books so far: books of literary criticism/nonfiction that are connected to my work as an English professor teaching eighteenth-century literature and novels.  My first novel was not a YA book; I didn't write The Explosionist as YA originally, but those were the editors who were most excited about it, so that's where we went.  To me there's not that clear a division between the two kinds of books: a lot of the "adult" novels that I like most have teenage protagonists, and I wrote these books in that sort of spirit.  (I'm thinking of Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows in particular, but there are countless others: Dickens' David Copperfield would be another good example.)
Do you prefer nonfiction or YA?
I am a die-hard novel reader!  But from a writerly standpoint, I definitely find novels harder to write than nonfiction - I love doing historical research and finding out interesting things and incorporating it into description, but I find that really engaging story-telling is something that comes a little less easily to me.  I am full of envy for a writer like Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett who is truly an absolutely natural storyteller - other favorites of mine in the YA realm include Eva Ibbotson, Diana Wynne Jones and Robin McKinley.

What is your favorite aspect of writing?
I like the steady pull forward to produce a first draft - I usually have a system whereby I sit down every morning (not every day of my life, just the times when I'm actually working on a project!) and have to stay there till I produce that day's quota, which is usually about 1500 words.  I write with pen and paper for the first draft, as I find it makes things go more steadily forward if I can't linger over a paragraph and tinker with it.  But I do enjoy polishing prose and turning a rough and unwieldy first draft into something more polished.

JENNY DAVIDSON was interviewed on MAY 3, 2010 by READING ROCKS.

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