I am so happy to have Jenny Davidson here at The Book Cellar today for an interview on her Traveling To Teens tour for Invisible Things. Jenny Davidson is the author of both, The Explosionist, Invisible Things, and several other books. She currently teachers at Columbia University. You can visit her online at her blog.
Where did you get the idea for The Explosionist and Invisible Things?
I spent some time in 2000 and 2001 traveling in Russia, Estonia and Sweden, where I fell in love with the shimmery northern watery landscapes. I had always loved the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale “The Snow Queen,” and all these bits and pieces gelled into the idea for a story that would be set in this magical northern landscape.
Did you have a favorite character to write in either of the two books?
I strongly identify with Sophie, so she is probably the easiest character for me to write! That said, I very much enjoyed writing about Tristmegistus the cat, a.k.a. Blackie. He is based on my own cat, who died in May of this year – he was a very handsome large black cat who had lived with me since 1993, and I sorely miss him.
What drew you to write about Europe in the 1930s? Why did you choose to change history?
I wanted to write an alternate world rather than a real historical one, and changing an event in the past and letting things play out differently is a good way to do that; I am a big fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and I wanted to get some of the feel of his alternate worlds, only without having an actual system of alternates. The event I changed in history happened in the early nineteenth century, and by giving the world more than a hundred years in which events would play out differently from our own, I was able to make more things up; but I am also drawn to the idea of the 1930s as a time in which so many different things were happening: advances in science and technology sandwiched between two major wars that transformed society in Europe and the world as a whole.
Do you see yourself writing more Young Adult books in the future?
I can’t say for certain. I actually didn’t set out deliberately to write The Explosionist as a YA book, though in retrospect, as my models were Philip Pullman and Garth Nix, I don’t know why I was so surprised that the YA editors were more interested in publishing it than the adult literary editors? The next novel I want to write has the working title The Bacchae on Morningside Heights; it’s about a group of students who are pretty seriously into live-action role-playing games, at least until things go terribly awry. I’m thinking of it as an adult novel, but I think I need to wait and see how it turns out – and what readers think.
Was it easier to write The Explosionist or Invisible Things?
The Explosionist was probably more exciting to write – I was delving into entirely new territory, and at times I had an uncanny feeling that I was almost just mining a book that was there in the world rather than really making things up; I had something that was so intense it was almost a hallucination, where I imagined I was reading the pages of the novel in a published edition that looked as though it were itself from the 1930s, with the feeling that if I concentrated very hard indeed I could just transcribe this novel that actually already existed rather than needing to imagine it for myself. Invisible Things wasn’t easy to write, particularly as life intervened and it was a couple years later before I really sat down to get to it, but once I had picked back up Sophie’s story I found myself very engaged with seeing what would happen. The voice and style are quite similar in the second novel, so that meant a lot of my work was already done for me; otherwise that’s the kind of thing one spends a lot of time on in revision. I do feel I learned quite a lot while revising the first novel about how to tell a story with vivid detail and economical description, and I think that in a technical sense Invisible Things is probably the better “told” of the two stories.
What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?
I like things about all of the different stages. Drafting is the most exciting part – I usually just sit down every day for a period of some months and try and get down 1200-1500 words, writing from start to finish (usually with pen and paper, so that I’m not tinkering with paragraphs as I write them!) until the whole story is told. Then I type up that draft and start editing. Invisible Things went through two major rewrites – I find it is useful to let the manuscript sit for a while and then come back to it with a fresh eye. I do find it stressful writing to a deadline, especially as writing deadlines need to fit in around the edges of my life in my ‘real’ job as a literature professor at Columbia University in New York; I also don’t enjoy the things associated with pitching and selling work.
Thank you so much Jenny for stopping by! Make sure to follow the rest of the tour on the Traveling To Teens Site!