Mary E. Pearson is the author of several fantastic books, including her latest, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, a truly amazing novel whose subject I can’t clearly tell you because it gives away too much! Anyway, without further ado, the interview! Thanks, Mary, for doing this.
What inspired you to write The Adoration of Jenna Fox?
The first seeds of the story were planted when my teenage daughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Of course at first I was terrified, but very soon I realized how lucky we were that we lived where we did and when we did because there was a good treatment. Just fifty years earlier she would have died of this disease and now, thanks to good doctors and good treatments she would survive. It made me wonder just how far medicine would advance in another fifty years. And then as she went treated and I saw far sicker children in the hospital and the agony their parents were going through, I wondered again, how far would a parent go to save their child? How much would they be willing to put them through? As a parent, how far would I go?
Of course, these were only ‘wonderings’ of mine at the time during all the long hours and months waiting in hospital rooms while my own child went through treatment. I didn’t know these would be questions that would one day be the impetus for a story. Six years later when I was about three quarters done with this book, another seed was planted. My second daughter became seriously ill. This second diagnosis was almost my undoing, but I believe that it deepened the story, my understanding of the characters, and also deepened my resolve that you never know what you might do in an impossible situation.
If The Adoration of Jenna Fox were to be made into a movie, and you were the casting director, who would you pick to play your main characters?
It is going to be made into a movie! We’ve had interest for months and it recently sold to 20th Century Fox. An awesome producer, Julia Pistor, and director, Brad Silberling, are making it. I met with them and they had so many wonderful ideas about how to turn the book into a movie, that I knew immediately that they would make an awesome one. I can’t wait to see who they cast. I told them who a few of my “dream” choices would be, but I know they will choose the best possible actors because this is what they do.
Why do you write for young adults? What do you really enjoy or find challenging about writing for this particular audience?
For me, this age is such a fascinating, exciting, and pivotal time. I really don’t think of the teen years as a stage, as many people do, but the beginning of this long stage we call adulthood that is always in a state of change. You don’t finish the teen years and suddenly become this static adult. You continue to evolve. I am not the same person I was ten years ago, or even five years ago. But what I like about the teen years is that as we establish out identities apart from our parents, deciding what we believe, from politics, to religion, to relationships and how they should be approached, we are feeling our way, making good and bad decisions for the very first time. I think this heightens the drama, but more importantly for me, as a writer I can have patience with such characters, as opposed to adults who are repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
Have you ever, do you plan to, or would you like to write for a different audience in the future?
Sure! If the right character or situation spoke to me, I probably would have no choice.
What are you writing now?
I am working on another YA, this one about chance and coincidence and a girl who has had more than her fair share of it in her life. I am very near the end. It should be out in Spring of 09.
I know it’s probably like being asked to choose a favorite child, but do you have a favorite of your books?
Always the newest one out because it is so fresh in my mind.
Can you share a little about your road to publication?
I began writing while on breaks from my teaching job and eventually started writing full time around ten years ago. I joined the SCBWI, bought the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Digest and began submitting my first finished manuscript. That one never sold-it was a long rambling historical–but I did get some good feedback from editors saying they liked it but they wished it moved along a little faster. That was an understatement. I had no clue about pacing at that time, so when I started my second manuscript I was committed to make every word count. That was a great learning experience for me, and that manuscript, David v. God, did indeed sell. Once I understood pacing I tried to slow down and flesh my stories out a little more. Every book is a new challenge. I try to learn something from each one I write, so that I am always growing as a writer.
What is one of your favorite lines or passages from The Adoration of Jenna Fox?
Since it is near the end of the story and might be a spoiler I won’t quote it, but toward the bottom of page 260 there is a paragraph about winter in Boston that tugs at my heart every time I read it. It includes an age old saying that I know will be relevant a hundred years from now because some thing never do change. I cried when I wrote that passage and I don’t often cry as I write.
What three things are always on your desk?
1. Paper. Piles of paper. And lots of scraps where I have jotted down a thought on whatever piece of writeable material is available, like napkins, dry cleaning tickets, or store receipts while I am out and about. By the time I am finished with a book I have a drawer full of them.
3. Coffee rings.
Thanks for doing this!