Our sister-site, NebulaAwards.com, interviews Mary E. Pearson about her Andre Norton Awards finalist novel The Adoration of Jenna Fox.
What made you decide you wanted to write for young adults?
I am not sure I decided or chose to write for young adults. Those are the characters who spoke to me. I do love the teen years because it is such a pivotal time in our lives. We make many big decisions that can affect us for the rest of our lives. I know many decisions I made in my teen years have altered the course of my life. As a writer, I also have way more patience with teen characters who are making mistakes than with adult characters and since I spend a couple of years writing a book, patience is essential!
At what point did you decide you wanted to pursue writing professionally?
I was teaching second grade and trying to write on breaks and then when it looked like my job might be cut or I might have to transfer, I decided to quit and take a year off and actually finish the book I had been working on. And then I finished another one and sold it. I always intended to go back to teaching but writing there was always one more manuscript to finish up. Soon I realized I was a full time writer for good. That was fifteen years ago.
In your opinion, what are the qualities that make a book suitable for YA?
As for what actually makes a YA book a YA book that is a tough question. A few years back it would have been easier to answer because YA seemed to have more parameters: length, maturity, etc. None of those seem to apply now, and really, no one can agree on exactly what makes a YA a YA. For me, I think YA, most of the time, simply means the main character is a teen and it is written from a teen perspective, that is, not an adult looking back on their teen years. The questions of suitability is a whole different animal. Teens, and their reading interests, are every bit as varied as adults are, so I don’t think there are any one group of factors that makes a book more suitable to be a YA book. If I were to substitute the word adult for the term YA you can see how impossible it would be to answer that!
With several novels attached to your name, is writing the next novel easier or more difficult?
I always thought that once I had a published book I would be infused with immediate confidence and wisdom when it came to my writing. Maybe if I wrote the same story over and over again I would have that, but what I have found is that each story is unchartered territory that I have to find my way through, often with new processes and tools I haven’t used before. It doesn’t get easier, but I suppose that is what keeps it interesting and challenging for me too and yes, sometimes frustrating.
How have you improved as an author over the years?
I have learned to slow down and pay attention to the characters and what they have to say. Writing is such a mystery. Where do the voices come from? The snippets of dialogue that surprise you? The previously unknown characters who step on stage and turn your story around? Or the characters who are suddenly more pivotal than you imagined? I have learned to shrug when a story goes in a direction I hadn’t seen coming say, here we go– and feel more like a participant watching it unfold than the architect of it all. So I guess you could say I have learned to trust the process more than I used to even when I feel very uncertain about it all… I trust that it will all work out somehow. That is a huge improvement for someone who liked to control all variables!
What influenced you to write The Adoration of Jenna Fox?
Two questions drove the story: First, How far would a parent go to save their child? And secondly, How far will medicine advance in another fifty years? I asked myself both of these questions when my youngest daughter was diagnosed with cancer, but still I didn’t think they would ever turn into a story. Years later these questions melded with an image I had of a girl looking out over water who I knew had been in some sort of accident and was recovering. By exploring these questions through the very different circumstances and time period of Jenna Fox, I was able to achieve the distance I needed to explore these questions.
What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
Since Jenna had brain damage of a sort, I needed to brush up on my basic brain anatomy, and also learn as much as I could about how the brain and mind work. I also read up on brain damage, stroke victims, language acquisition… anything I could to help me build this new world that Jenna was living in. I also tried to find what all the cutting edge research was in medicine and technology, and then just push it a little past that. It was a challenge because medicine and technology is advancing so rapidly, sometimes things that I thought were in the outer reaches of possibility were actually very close to reality. Prosthetics, for example were advancing by leaps and bounds as I wrote the novel and I had to keep upping the possibilities.
Any recent details on the movie adaptation?
Apparently the screenwriter has finished the screenplay and now she and the director are working on finishing touches together. I can’t wait to read what they have done!
For unfamiliar readers, which books of yours would you recommend they start with?
My books are all so different. I don’t write within just one genre. If they want something light and funny, David v. God, if they want romance, Scribbler of Dreams, for gritty contemporary, A Room on Lorelei Street, for science fiction, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and if they want something more in the slipstream genre, I would go with my newest book out this September, The Miles Between. I write the stories that speak to me, and whatever genre they fit into comes later.
What projects are you currently working on?
It’s a secret. I don’t talk about my works-in-progress, but I will say that I think fans of The Adoration of Jenna Fox will be surprised–and I hope, pleased.
Mary E. Pearson writes for teens. Her books include: THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, A ROOM ON LORELEI STREET, SCRIBBLER OF DREAMS, and her newest out in September, THE MILES BETWEEN. Her books have received numerous awards and honors including the South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, the Golden Kite Award, the ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults lists, NYPL Best Books for the Teen Age, and her latest was an Andre Norton finalist. She writes full time from her home in San Diego where she lives with her husband and two dogs. You can visit her blog at Live Journal for news and updates.
Charles A. Tan is the co-editor of the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler and his fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and Philippine Speculative Fiction. He has conducted interviews for The Nebula Awards and The Shirley Jackson Awards, as well as for online magazines such as SF Crowsnest and SFScope. He is a regular contributor to sites like SFF Audio and Game Cryer. You can visit his blog, Bibliophile Stalker, where he posts book reviews, interviews, and essays.