Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Author Interview: Jennifer Castle

[my review]

Today A Book and a Latte has a special guest! Please welcome the debut author of The Beginning of After,

Jennifer Castle
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

"Anyone who's had something truly crappy happen to them will tell you: It's all about Before and After. What I'm talking about here is the ka-pow, shake-you-to-your-core-and-turn-your-bones-to-plastic kind of crappy."

Sixteen-year-old Laurel's world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel's life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss--a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways. (Amazon)

Hi Jennifer, and happy book birthday! I'm honored to have you here. I recently read The Beginning of After, and thought it was amazing (read my review here). Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Let's get started :). 

Describe The Beginning of After in five words or less.

Whoa! Five? Okay, hang on...

Laurel builds a life post-tragedy.

(I realize I may have cheated there.)

Your depiction of grief in The Beginning of After is excellent. Initially I was worried that it would be hard for me to read, as I remember my own experience with the grieving process, but it was beautiful. What, or who, inspired you to write this novel?

Actually, it was both a who and a what! A while back, in the year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it still felt like we were all grieving not just the people who died that day, but our own lost innocence and the loss of the way the world was "before." I wasn't sure what to do with that, but then I met a young woman who, years earlier as a teen, had survived the sudden deaths of most of her family in a freak accident. Now she was devoting much of her life to volunteer work and I couldn't stop thinking about her circumstances, and how much she must have struggled through. Also, I had recently read "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold and I guess I was just fascinated by the challenge of taking very dark material and crafting something beautiful and hopeful out of it. Somehow all those things came together at once and of course I'm glad they did.

I'll tell you that originally, it wasn't grief as a theme that most attracted me to this story. I was at first interested in the idea of how being a "survivor" can change every part of your world, and how a terrible situation can help us forge unexpected connections with people. But as I began to write, I realized how rich that theme of grief can be. Incredibly difficult and risky, yes. But definitely worth it. When someone like you tells me they experienced a painful loss at a young age, and that this book rings true for them...I can't tell you how much that means to me.

Who is your favorite character in The Beginning of After? Was the character easier or more difficult to write?

Not counting Laurel, who's more like an old friend than a character to me, I have to say David. He was just so much fun to develop, but also infuriating in the same way Laurel finds him infuriating. Sometimes he was easy to write, because I could see him clearly (I think parts of him are made of all the enigmatic guys I've ever crushed on), and sometimes he was tricky. I mean, the guy didn't understand his own motivations and wants...so how could I? But once I did, I loved the process of bringing David there too. I was joking to someone that I should write a "Midnight Sun" type version of the story from David's POV. Where did he go when he was driving around the country? Hmmm...

I would LOVE to read this story from David's perspective! Is that a possibility? Do I need to sign a petition?

Yes, start one! It would be interesting to see if anyone else feels the same way. I think it would be fun to explore David's story more. I don't think I'd want to do a whole other book, but a short story might be perfect. There are some tales to be told there, for sure.

Alright, done! I think a novella would be perfect. ***SIGN PETITION HERE***

Pets/animals are such a great source of comfort. Did you know from the beginning that they would have such a large role?

I did. I spent many years involved in cat rescue in Los Angeles, and that played into the book from the very beginning. As a volunteer, I've seen it all. I fostered cats that we pulled from death row at the shelters, I trapped ferals in alleys all around the city, I tamed wild kittens, you name it! It was really rewarding, but I think I got so sucked in because at the time there was a lot lacking in the rest of my life. And I met people who came at it from much more wounded places, because helping animals in this way was therapeutic for them. So in addition to animals providing such comfort like you say -- unlike the people around her, Laurel's animals do not judge or pity -- they eventually force Laurel to reach outside of herself and begin to heal. Plus I was drawn to the idea that David's dog Masher would be the first way Laurel becomes a type of home for David.

So true, and for me that is part of the comfort - that animals do not judge or pity. Animals are so therapeutic; it is amazing to watch. I currently volunteer as a mentor in an experimental learning program that pairs foster kids with rescue horses. To see the impact, and the progress the kids make (and the horses) when talk therapy just doesn’t work is truly amazing. I just loved that you incorporated animals into The Beginning of After the way you did.

What a cool program! I can imagine how something like that makes a difference. I think animals have powers that we simple humans can't fully understand.

I read on your blog that you’re working on something new (yay!), can you tell us anything about it?

I'm working on another contemporary YA for HarperTeen. It's about five teenagers who are the subjects of a documentary film series that's been following their lives, with a new movie every 5 years. It started when they were 6 and now they're 16. The main character, Justine, is very different from Laurel and I adore her already. I'm excited to be exploring characters whose lives have been shaped not by loss, like Laurel's, but by public scrutiny.

Wow, that sounds so intriguing, and something new to YA. I always wonder about the people in documentaries and reality shows. I wonder who they really are, how the cameras change their personas, and who they are when the cameras turn off. I'm looking forward to it already!

Glad you think so! Yeah, it's really rich subject matter, and timely too. I don't think these people can have the cameras in their lives for a while, then have them go away, and then everything goes back to normal. It's got to change them.

What hobbies or activities do you enjoy? Writing doesn’t count!

I love skiing and hiking, and I swim a lot. Those are my favorite activities because they give me a chance to be alone with my thoughts. I actually do great book brainstorming while I'm swimming laps at our town college pool. Beyond that, I play guitar and sing badly...but my kids don't seem to mind!

That's great! I love hiking; I'm really looking forward to going on some fall hikes. I tried teaching myself to play guitar but it was a fail... I have pansy fingers. I love playing piano, but have always loved the sound of an acoustic guitar as well.

It's been a while for me. I'm building up my calluses again. Just strumming and playing with chords is a great release and I agree, the sound just tugs at me (even if it is a fail).

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why?

Australia or Scandinavia. I love the cultures, and there is so much natural beauty there that's unlike anything I've seen yet. Maybe the book will be really popular in those countries and I'll have a great excuse to go visit!

Oh, great choices. It would be awesome if you could go on book tour in those countries, but I hope you come to Denver first! :)

You and me both! I love that part of the U.S. There are actually parts of country that I've never been to and am dying to see, like the South and the Pacific Northwest. I really hope I get to go meet readers from everywhere. I believe that's how you truly explore the world…through the people!


Author Bio (from her website

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time pecking out poems on my dad’s typewriter, making up stories on long school bus rides, and constantly lying about stuff. From that poetry-spewing, whopper-telling little kid, I took the long way around to being an author, but I don’t regret the journey.

I grew up in a small town north of New York City in Westchester County and then studied English Lit and Creative Writing at Brown University. After college, I craved adventure and maybe a little glamour too, so I moved to Los Angeles and learned how to write for film and television. While I was waiting for the proverbial big break, I worked at temp jobs, a film studio, and a celebrity publicity firm before going it freelance as an advertising copywriter. Eventually I taught myself html and how to make stuff for the then-brand-new Internet thing, and started running the website for the PBS teen documentary series “In the Mix.”

I enjoyed working in interactive media, which was a lot more rewarding than writing movie scripts that would never get made. I was fortunate to receive a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to create a website called It’s My Life, which would be a safe place on PBS Kids for young people ages 9 to 13 to explore topics like dealing with divorce, bullying, puberty, and crushes. Many years later, It’s My Life has become an amazing community, and I love writing about all the things that are important to tweens.

Somewhere in there, I started a novel. Going back to fiction was like finding a key I’d lost at the bottom of a junk drawer. Realizing that I wanted to write for young adults was like finding the hidden door that key opened.

Now I’m in the place behind that door, living and working in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley with my husband, two daughters, and a black cat who’s named Louis but for some reason only called Blootie. I can't wait for "The Beginning of After" to wriggle into the world; in the meantime, my second novel, also to be published by HarperCollins, is under way. I still tell whoppers sometimes, but only if I have to or am really, really bored.

Many thanks to Jennifer Castle for visiting and chatting with me! 
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