Thursday, October 29, 2009

Author Interview: Jennifer Brown - Hate List

My first author has responded to my interview questions. I cannot begin to express how excited I am to share this. The author is Jennifer Brown who has created the brilliant novel Hate List (click this link to read my review). She has taken time out of her very busy schedule to answer the many questions I threw her way. She has also agreed to send me some autographed bookmarks. As soon as those come in, I will be giving those away. I am open to suggestions as to the way they are delivered. If you are a reader of this blog, then you know that I love challenges. So, while I ponder a challenge for the bookmarks, you can also offer suggestions by adding a comment to this post. Anyways, here is the interview which I am so proud to present.

1. Growing up, when I was reading books I never really even considered authors to be human. I never gave a thought to actually talking to them or sending them letters. Now authors do interviews (like this), Skype conferences, blogs, email, etc. How does the utilization of all the latest technology and internet help you as a writer? Do you think it helps you or is it more of problem trying to fit it all in?

Ah, well, both! It's very stressful trying to keep up with all the online obligations. The social networking sites, the tweets, the interviews -- it all takes serious time away from actual writing and it does take real effort at organization to make sure you don't waste all of your writing time chatting online.

But I'm able to reach so many more readers with these tools than I ever would have been able to without them. I've met a lot of really great people online, and several school visits have come directly from online friendships with people who have connections. I can't imagine how difficult it was to really spread the word about a new book before authors had all these tools at their disposal.

Plus, I think the accessibility of writers nowadays has made reading more fun for young adults, who feel like they can approach writers and ask them questions about their books and about being a writer (I even have readers email me to ask for bookmarks and other swag). And it's great, for writers, to get feedback from readers! For that reason alone, I think online tools are extraordinarily valuable in the writer/young reader relationship.

2. How did you come up with the idea to write Hate List? I am sure that you have been asked this a million times, but how does one go from being a writer of humor to creating a novel that has such little humor in it?

Even though I've been writing humor for several years, I actually began by writing more serious work, and it was always my intention to write serious work. I just happened to also find a niche in humor-writing. It's the oddest thing -- when I sit down to write a humor column, it works, but if I try to infuse humor into my fiction-writing, it almost never works. I'm much better with serious writing in fiction.

My simple answer to the inspiration behind HATE LIST is to say I got the Nickelback song "If Everyone Cared" stuck in my head one night while I was asleep, and when I woke up in the morning, I had the idea for a novel about a school shooting in my head. But the truth is, I just think a bunch of things came together at just the right time for me.

I was definitely picked on and bullied in junior high and high school and I've never understood what makes some people be so mean. I guess that's probably been in the back of my mind for a lot of years. Then, as a parent, I pay special attention to news coverage of these kinds of horrible and tragic events, with this thought of how sad it is that the place we parents always thought was the safest place in the world to send our kids is maybe not always so safe anymore.

I was watching news coverage about a school shooting and I started asking myself questions. The song got stuck, and ka-pow!, everything came together for me and next thing I knew... there was the novel.

3. How were you able to understand what Val was going through? I really felt like I was inside her mind and not that I know anyone that has been in her situation, but it was exactly like I thought it would be.

I had help. My husband is a clinical psychologist, in private practice for about 25 years or so. I actually wrote up a very exhaustive character sketch of Valerie, and included everything I could think of about her. I gave him the sketch and asked him to "do therapy" on her.

He and I must have talked for hundreds of hours about Valerie and I really felt like I had a good feel for what she might be going through along the way of putting her life back together.

4. Who was the hardest character to write in the novel? Why?

Valerie, for sure, because in the first draft she was not at all likable. And I really struggled with softening up, making her less ugly, because I felt she truly was in an ugly place and when someone is in an ugly, horrified, grieving place, they may not be overly likable. So I struggled with making her someone readers would care about and want to read on about, and also making her realistic. This is where my editor really helped me out.

5. What advice on life would you provide your young adult fans?

Wow, on life in general? That's a tall order! I guess my advice would be to take on Valerie's task -- to try to see people for who they really are, rather than what you think they are. Try to reach out in friendship, try to be tolerant. I think you'll never be sorry when you tried to be a good friend to someone who really needed one.

6. What surprised you most as you were writing this novel?

That it sold so quickly! I've been writing a long time, and was accustomed to waiting for months and months to get word on a submission. But this one sold within weeks.

7. I was on your website and noticed you like the Beatles. If you could choose to meet one Beatle who would you pick?

John Lennon, without question.

8. I recently read a book title, Six Word Memoirs, which has a website. If you had to write your memoir in six words, what would you write?

Look, Ma! I Amounted to Sumpin!

9. I am sure that you have met many teens and avid fans of yours while out promoting and going to schools. Could you share any stories or instances that reminded you of the impact you have on your readers?

So far my most touching moment was at an alternative high school. The kids were so enthusiastic, and I felt like they really understood what I was trying to say. I found out that I was the first visiting author to ever come to their school, which made me feel so... honored. Since visiting them, I've discovered that they're starting up a student-led book club, and the kids chose HATE LIST as their first book! Yay!

10. Do you listen to music when write? If so, what would be a playlist on your ipod?

Yes, I do! But I can't listen to music without singing along, so I have to listen to music sung in foreign languages (or music without lyrics). My favorite CD is called "Spirit of Africa." I play that one a lot while I'm writing.

11. What other books would you recommend young adults to read besides your own?

There are two YA authors that I'm totally and embarrassingly fangirly about: Gail Giles and John Green. Gail's books are dark and disturbing, and so beautifully written. My favorites of hers of WHAT HAPPENED TO CASS McBRIDE? and SHATTERED GLASS. John Green is just all-around amazing. I love to watch his videos, and I love, love, loved LOOKING FOR ALASKA! The characters in that book were just so wonderful.

I also really enjoyed Jay Asher's 13 REASONS WHY, and found it to be incredibly engaging. And one of my newest favorites is debut author Sarah Ockler, whose book TWENTY BOY SUMMER blew me away!

12. I am starting our very Exquisite Corpse Adventure writing project at our middle school. I was wondering if you would like to contribute a line or two to add to our story. This is still in the primary stages so I can tell you how it starts out, “Test Test Test Test Test Test”.

I would love to answer this question, but I'm not sure if I understand it. Can you clarify?

Here are some additional random questions that you could answer if you feels like it(though not really necessary, but students wanted me to add). These come from the Teacher Mystery Challenge that I have on my blog. They thought it would be cool to hear answers from an author.

1. What flavor of Kool Aid was your favorite?
What do you mean "was"? Definitely cherry.

2. What do you think of hot dogs?
About the only time I really enjoy one is at a football game.

3. Favorite Holiday movie or tv special?
A three-way tie between "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (the Jim Carey version), "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Christmas Vacation."

4. What do you prefer to drink in the morning?
Decaf, with a splash of skim milk and two packets of Splenda. If I'm splurging, I'll go for the really good stuff -- Blueberry Cobbler coffee. Yum!

5. Can you do push ups? If yes, how many?
Oh, please, I can barely push up out of my chair most days.

6. Favorite hobby?
Reading, hands-down.

7. Middle name?

8. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment?
The chair is too low, the air conditioner is too cold, and it's getting too late.

9. Current worry?
My middle kiddo has the flu.

10. Dum da dum dummmm what is that?
My deadline slowly trudging up behind me, ready to bludgeon me with my laptop if I don't get my work turned in soon. Ack!

11. Where would you like to go?
Walt Disney World. Always Walt Disney World.

12. Do you own slippers?
Oh, yes, several pairs. It's a little known fact that cold toes actually paralyze the writing portion of the brain.

13. What color shirt are you wearing right now?
Red and it says "William Jewell College 1849," which is the school I graduated from, but, contrary to what my children believe, not the year I graduated. Ha!

14. Can you whistle?
Only while I work.

15. Favorite color?

16. Would you be a pirate?
I have been a pirate. Seriously. Just last weekend I was a pirate for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. Pirates are cool. Yargh!

17. What was the last song that was stuck in your head?
A parade song from the party mentioned above. "Boo to you and you and you..."

18. What’s in your pocket right now?
No pockets, but if I had a pocket, it would be full of sunshine.

19. Best toy as a child?
My imagination.

20. What is your favorite candy?
Cherry Mash.

21. Favorite Sports Team?
I love to watch sports (basketball's my favorite), but I don't have any specific teams I root for.

22. What are you currently reading?
Finishing up LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green (omigosh, awesome book!) and getting ready to start Pam Bachorz's CANDOR (so excited!)

23. What is your favorite book of all time?
THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck

24. If you could meet anyone living or dead who would it be and why?
John Lennon, because I think he was special and a spreader of peace and amazingly talented and just an all-around nice guy.

25. What would we find in your refrigerator right now?
Oh, it's crammed all the time. But the really exciting thing in there right now is a half-eaten cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory.

26. What is one fact that readers would not know about you prior to asking this question?
That I think "The Office" is one of the best shows to ever appear on television and I have a secret crush on Jim.

27. If you were an animal/a can of soup/some other random object, which one would you be?
If I were a cartoon character, I'd be Minnie Mouse.

What a great interview! I have become an avid fan of Jennifer Brown even more after reading the interview. She has moved up my author list to the ranks of John Green. You go girl!


Jennifer Brown said...

Thanks, Mr. Maurer, for having me on your blog! I hope you enjoy the bookmarks (I may or may not have included some other little swag items in the package as well. mwahahahaaa!)!

coffeechug said...

Thank you for allowing me to interview and publish your words of wisdom. I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the package. I have been brainstorming some ideas on how to hand out the "swag". Do you have a suggestion?

Unknown said...

I've given you an award.

Jennifer @ Reading with Tequila

~Jennifer~ said...

I've given you an award.

Jennifer @ Reading with Tequila

Jennifer Brown said...

Thanks, Mr. Maurer, for having me on your blog! I hope you enjoy the bookmarks (I may or may not have included some other little swag items in the package as well. mwahahahaaa!)!