Monday, April 24, 2017

Author Interview: Jenn Bishop on Stormy Middle Grade Emotions

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today we welcome author Jenn Bishop to talk about her upcoming middle grade novel, 14 Hollow Road (Alfred A. Knopf, June 13, 2017). From the promotional copy:

The night of the sixth-grade dance is supposed to be perfect for Maddie; she’ll wear her beautiful new dress, she’ll hit the dance floor with her friends, and her crush, Avery, will ask her to dance. 

Most importantly, she’ll finally leave her tiny elementary school behind for junior high. But as the first slow song starts to play, her plans crumble. Avery asks someone else to dance instead–and then the power goes out. 

Huddled in the gym, Maddie and her friends are stunned to hear that a tornado has ripped through the other side of town, destroying both Maddie’s and Avery’s homes.

Kind neighbors open up their home to Maddie’s and Avery’s families, which both excites and horrifies Maddie. Sharing the same house . . . with Avery? For the entire summer? 

While it buys her some time to prove that Avery made the wrong choice at the dance, it also means he’ll be there to witness her morning breath and her annoying little brother. Meanwhile, she must search for her beloved dog, who went missing during the tornado. At the dance, all she wanted was to be more grown-up. 

Now that she has no choice, is she ready for it?

What inspired you to write this book? Have you experienced a tornado?

Much like Maddie, the main character in 14 Hollow Road, as a kid growing up in Massachusetts, about the last weather disaster I expected to experience in my home town was a tornado.

Blizzards: been there, done that. Hurricanes: yup. But a tornado?

Well, in June of 2011, a series of strong thunderstorms rolling across western and central Massachusetts spawned an EF-3 tornado.

Tornado damage near Jenn's home the following winter
I was living in Boston at the time, but my parents still lived in my childhood home, and I remember getting a call from my mother. Apparently while my dad was in his office in Springfield, he saw the funnel cloud forming over the river. There were a lot of frantic phone calls that afternoon between the three of us, as it was clear that a tornado was on the ground, taking essentially the same path my dad was taking home from work.

While most homes in Massachusetts do have basements, we do not have tornado sirens, so you really have to stay on top of severe weather yourself. My dad made the smart choice to pull off the road and stop in at my grandmother's apartment.

Meanwhile, as my mom huddled in the basement with her cat, the tornado, still a mile-wide at the time, crested the top of the hill where I lived and crossed my street about a half-mile from my parent's house.

When I return home for a visit, I'm still startled every time to see how bare the top of the hill is now.

While the events of that day certainly served as inspiration for the book, I think I was equally inspired by my own memories of junior high.

It's such a fraught age, filled with so much change and uncertainty: shifting friendships, crushes, cliques--all while your body is managing mood swings and hormones and growth spurts. I joked that 14 Hollow Road was basically a tornado of tweenage emotion.

What appeals to you about writing middle grade?

Everything?! The funny thing is that I came into writing middle grade almost accidentally.

I started out writing YA, having been a teen librarian, and only decided to try out middle grade on a whim while a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts and fell in love with it.

I love the brevity of middle grade -- the economy of prose and storytelling and audience expectations that put middle grade in that 40,000 to 60,000 word sweet spot, instead of 80,000 plus, like most YA these days.

I love the audience -- school and Skype visits with 4th-6th graders are so much fun. There's such an energy to that age.

It's still okay to be yourself and unabashedly love things-- the self-consciousness of the teen years is only just starting to arrive. Most of all, when I think of middle grade, I think of the stories that made me a reader. The books that I read at that age held such a power over me. And the truth is, they still do.

What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

The surprise of it, I think.

There are good surprises--and occasionally bad surprises--but I think the one constant in the life of an author is that you can't really predict much.

While that can be terrifying for some, I've been trying to appreciate the positive aspects of it. Your next creative idea could come from the place you least expected it.

What are you working on next?

Weirdly enough, I've been trying my hand at writing picture books!

I don't know where this will lead, but I've spent the last month intensely reading and studying them and it's been such a breath of fresh air.

If you want to see the world from a new angle, try reading 100 picture books aloud in a month. I guarantee it will change you.

Cynsational Notes

A Booklist review of 14 Hollow Road said, "Bishop nails the tween voice: Maddie is a realistic heroine who deals with typical middle-grade problems amidst disaster, and she navigates upheavals with occasional grace and more frequent missteps. Tornado or not, growing up is a tempestuous business."

Jenn Bishop grew up in a small town in rural Central Massachusetts.

A lifelong reader, she was formerly a youth services and teen librarian. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied English, and Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. 

Along with her husband and cat, Jenn lives in Cincinnati, where she roots long-distance for the Red Sox. Her debut novel, The Distance To Home (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) was described as a "piercing first novel" by Publishers Weekly.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...