Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In the Hotseat: Jessica Warman

Today is the book birthday of Where the Truth Lies, an edgy YA novel about a girl on a quest to find out what's real and what's not in her seemingly picture-perfect life, and the companion novel to Breathless. To celebrate the release of her novel, Jessica Warman is paying us a visit today to talk about her novel and the ups of being an author.

Describe your novel, Where the Truth Lies, in three words.
Love. Lies. Loss.

Are you anything like Emily, the main character of the story?
Well, like her, I went to boarding school for high school – though mine
wasn’t in Connecticut, and my father certainly wasn’t the headmaster! And several of the characters who Emily knows are based on real-life people who I knew in high school: her roommates, particularly Stephanie, and also Ethan. There’s also a real-life Renee, and a real-life Mazzie, though she plays a much smaller part in this book than she did in Breathless. I also lived in a quad while I was at boarding school: there were two of us in the front room, and two of us in the back. Like Emily and her roommates, we had a rope ladder that we could sling out our window whenever we wanted to leave in the middle of the night. And some of the stories from the book actually happened to me. Let me think… the incident with the Dadmobile license plate is taken from real life; so is the incident with Stephanie’s birthday cake (which I really, really regret!). Several other stories are true, though I’d prefer not to give away everything that was taken from my teenage years! But beyond who she knows, as well as a handful of experiences, Emily and I are very different people.

Where the Truth Lies is the Companion novel to your debut, Breathless. What are the similarities and differences of the two novels?
Both novels are somewhat dark and edgy, though Breathless is definitely more so. Both are set at boarding schools. And there are two crossover characters: there’s Renee, who was Katie’s roommate at Yale in Breathless, and there’s Mazzie, one of the main characters from Breathless, who doesn’t make an actual appearance in Where the Truth Lies, but she’s certainly discussed. The biggest difference between the two, though, is that Breathless was such a highly personal story
for me to write. So much of it was based on real life experiences – every character in Breathless has a real-life inspiration – whereas, with Where the Truth Lies, the plot is a total fiction. Because of
this, both books provided very different – though equally rewarding – writing experiences.

Were there any scenes in the story that you found particularly challenging to write?
Definitely the scenes that dealt with pregnancy. Without giving too much away about the book, I wanted the scenes to ring true without delving too much into a topic that would be foreign to most young readers. I have two children, so it was easy for me to describe what being pregnant is like – but I often wondered if teenage readers would really be interested in the details. As a result, the physical
symptoms of the pregnancy within the novel don’t get too in-depth. I hope that doesn’t backfire on me with readers. For example, the pregnancy goes completely unnoticed until it’s six months along, even
among the character’s closest friends and family, and I’m a little bit afraid that some young readers will find that unrealistic. In the movies and on television, we’re used to seeing women who are supposed to be six months along with these huge bellies; in real life, it usually isn’t like that. Especially when you’re dealing with a young, healthy teenage girl who’s on her first pregnancy; it would absolutely be possible to conceal it for six months – even longer. I wrestled with that aspect of the plot SO much – how much is too much to explain, how much is too little? I still question whether or not it could have been handled a bit differently.

What was the most fun part of writing the novel?
Two words: Del Sugar. Ohhhh, do I have a crush on that boy! I’ve written dozens of stories about him - both as teenage Del and as adult Del. So let me rephrase a bit – I have a crush on the adult Del Sugar, but I still absolutely adore his teenage character. Seriously, I’ve probably written a thousand pages about him. There’s nothing about his personality or background that doesn’t fascinate me. It’s like he’s grown from a character to become a real part of my life. I’m not sure how else to explain it; I absolutely love spending time with him on the page.

What made you decide to write YA?
I think the teenage years are so fascinating. They’re so filled with heartache and drama and discovery. And though we all grow up and look back on those years, maybe thinking they don’t matter as much anymore, they certainly do matter while they’re happening to us. I love exploring those issues with teens. More than anything, I love knowing that something I’ve written has had a positive impact on teens. When I was that age, I read everything that I could get my hands on, and I wrote creatively all the time. Reading and literature were what I felt closest to, and the way I felt most comfortable in my own skin. The idea that I might possibly provide that feeling for another teenager is incredibly rewarding.

In your opinion, what's the best thing about being an author?
Everything! I absolutely love my job. I can’t imagine doing anything else – in fact, I never considered it for a moment. To echo what I said above, though, the absolute best thing about being a writer –
specifically a writer for young adults – is getting feedback from my readers that I’ve affected them in a positive way. Whenever I get an email from a reader who really enjoyed Breathless, it makes my entire week. I try to respond to all the emails I receive. The positive feedback feels amazing. Beyond that, I’d have to say that being a writer is the same kind of dream as, say, being in show business. It’s
not just a matter of going to school, earning your degree, and finding a job. Not everyone who wants to be a writer will succeed. So in that sense I feel incredibly fortunate. My childhood dream has come true. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Let's play favorites! What's your favorite...
Drink to have while writing: coffee
Movie: Donnie Darko
Quote: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”- Annie Dillard.
Ice cream flavor: chocolate peanut butter cup
Pair of shoes: I have these great leopard print high heeled sandals that I bought last year. I’m always buying outfits to match those shoes, just so I’ll have more opportunities to wear them.
Time of year: Autumn. No question.
YA novel: Catcher in the Rye. My favorite contemporary YA is Skinny by Ibi Kaslik.

Thank you so much for the interview, Jessica! Any last things you want to add?
Thank you so much for this opportunity! It was a lot of fun!

Jessica Warman is the author of two YA novels: Breathless (2009), and Where the Truth Lies, which is out now. You can find out more about her and her books on her website, www.jessicawarman.com.

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