May 18, 2010
Interview with Janet Fox
Fellow Texan Janet Fox's debut young adult novel FAITHFUL arrived in stores this month, although she has previously written children's nonfiction. You might have seen her before, however, as an IBWB commenter. But this is only one stop one her blog tour: you can find her at SLJ Teen tomorrow and Rebecca's Book Blog on Thursday. In addition, you can read my review posted later today.
1. Before writing professionally, you studied oceanography - very different. What drew you to the sea floor? What's the most interesting thing you learned during your time as an oceanographer?
It is very different! But then . . . most people think of science as a left-brain thing and writing as a right-brain thing, but in fact I used a lot of creative energy when I worked in oceanography. The fact that we can’t actually walk around on the sea floor means ocean science requires a lot of imagination. I studied the formation of the crust – volcanism and deformation – and how do we know anything about what really happens inside the earth? It requires a lot of speculation, extrapolation. That fascinates me. I have to tell you about the most interesting thing I experienced, when I was a passenger in the submersible (mini-submarine) ALVIN. We were diving very deep. As the submersible descended, we had the outside lights off to save energy. As we got close to the bottom, I turned on the lights outside my window – and saw a world of fantastic creatures, most very tiny. Spirals, snowflakes, pinwheels – it was like watching a sci fi movie. All these marine animals live at great depths and never make it to the surface (they’d die and deform) and yet there they are, in a silent dark high-pressure world of their own in which we are the aliens.
2. You've also been a teacher. What are your favorite grades to teach, and why?
I taught 8th and 9th grades, and they will always be my favorites. There’s something about that age – it’s like teaching centaurs (half man, half beast) because they are caught in between innocent childhood and knowing adulthood. I feel for them. What a frightening, frustrating, glorious time of life.
And, I’m basically stuck there myself, emotionally. Stuck at about 14.
3. Before FAITHFUL, you wrote a non-fiction middle grade book: GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT, inspired by your own son's struggles with organization. Do you think you'll publish more non-fiction? Do you prefer writing for a middle grade or a young adult audience?
I do think I’ll write more nonfiction; in fact, there’s an idea in the works. Both fiction and nonfiction require creativity so they’re both satisfying. And I like both middle grade and young adult. I’ve got 4 manuscripts in various stages of development – I like working on multiple projects at a time – and they span the spectrum, from young middle grade to sophisticated young adult. The only thing I think I’m not into is really edgy YA . . . although, I never say never. I do have a couple of picture books, but that’s a genre I struggle with.
4. FAITHFUL is set in 1904 and takes readers on a journey across the country to Yellowstone. What attracted you to write about this time and place? How did you research it?
I love history at the cusp of change – when things take a huge leap or shift. The Wright brothers flew the first airplane in late 1903. Women’s suffrage was emerging in the early 1900s. This country was in transition, from an agrarian economy to an urban industrial economy fueled by an immigrant workforce. Women were emerging from behind their husbands, to have their own voice. That’s where I wanted to put Maggie – so that she could make the choice: do I want to be the submissive girl I’m supposed to be, or a modern woman thinking for myself? Yellowstone fed that theme, because it was so wild and untamed, and could become a metaphor for Maggie’s discovery of “freedom.”
5. Margaret Bennet, the heroine, worries about what her mother's mental issues mean for her own life, particularly as others gossip how like her mother she is. I found it to be an interesting relationship to explore, since it's very relevant to girls today, not just girls in the early twentieth century. How did you develop the mother's character?
Oh, I love Maggie’s mother, and I’m so glad you do, too. She’s such an interesting person. I felt that she was ahead of her time – artistic and passionate and not really willing to repress her feelings. I developed a whole backstory for her, almost another book in itself. She is torn between what she wants and what she must do. And this, of course, is what Maggie must understand about herself, and decide what kind of choice she will make. Will she be like her mother . . . or make a different choice?
6. What books have influenced your evolution as a writer?
Jane Austen (of course). But I also truly love fantasy. CS Lewis and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings were my favorites as a child – I read them over and over. And then, I also read all of Nancy Drew. I read everything when I was a kid . . . I was a reading maniac. I’m trying to get back to that place, reading as much as I can.