Readers, we already asked Jennifer lots of questions about researching and writing her amazing body of work in an interview from 2012 (spoiler: she loves research!). We wanted this 5th Anniversary 5-Q&A to build on that one, and also check in with her about the success she’s had these last three years.
YARN: First, congrats on A Northern Light being named one of Time Magazine’s Best YA novels of all time! It was definitely in the elite minority on that list as a more recently published novel.
JD: Thank you so much! It’s a huge honor.
YARN: You write YA and young adult novels, and we wonder how you decide which category–YA or adult–you’re working in. Is it the age of the character, or something more about the topic, themes, or setting?
JD: It’s more about the reader, actually. It’s a question of who I want to reach with a novel. In ANL, for example, I want to speak to teenagers, to say “Listen to your own voice. Choose your own path, as hard as that may be.” But having said that, ANL has a big crossover readership, so maybe adults need to hear that message, too!
YARN: Continuing our interest in your amazing genre-diving… Within the YA category, you write historical (Revolution and A Northern Light) and fantasy (your Waterfire Saga about mermaids). What is it like to switch genres? Do you ever feel pressure (market or otherwise) to write within a certain genre, or do you feel free to write whatever you want?
JD: I feel free to chase ideas down rabbit holes and write what I like, fortunately. The Waterfire Saga has been a huge, fun adventure for me, and it’s stretched me as a writer. But these genre categories aren’t black and white. There’s an element of fantasy in Revolution. There’s a ton of history and mythology in the Waterfire Saga because I love those things and can’t leave them alone. One of the main Waterfire characters, Serafina, is a total history geek. I don’t know that many mermaids who are!
YARN: Because Revolution blends the contemporary world with a historical one, do you find it speaks more to teens than a straight historical? Did you set out to place part of the story in a contemporary world for that reason?
JD: You’re giving me a lot more credit for thinking and planning than I deserve! These books are living, breathing, willful creatures who set the agenda. I just trot along behind them, trying to keep up, trying to do right by the story. I actually don’t know if REV speaks more to teens because it’s a hybrid. Andi and Alex and Truman and Louis Charles spoke to me, and I felt compelled to share what they told me.
YARN: Were there any lessons you learned about writing historical novels that you applied to your mermaid fantasy series ? We already know the Waterfire Saga was inspired by an Alexander McQueen dress, which is so cool…
JD: Thanks! His work is incredibly inspiring to me, and the third Waterfire book – DARK TIDE – is dedicated to him, wherever he may be.
A lesson I had to learn as I started out on Waterfire is that a magical world – no matter how different from our own – shares one important characteristic with the real world: logic. There have to be rules and common sense. Things that can and can’t be done. Problems that magic can solve, and problems that it can’t. That’s the challenge of fantasy, and also the fun.
YARN: You’ve also said that you’re excited to share the Waterfire Saga with your tween daughter, and we wonder how that went. Was is nerve-wracking? Exciting? Was this this first book of yours that she had read? What’s it like to share your work with your children?
JD: Yes, these are the first novels of mine that my daughter’s read, and it’s been totally nerve-wracking and totally exciting! She’s my first reader on these manuscripts and I bite my nails every time she sits down with the pages. I sneak around and watch her as she reads, desperate to see if she’s into the story, or bored to tears. Luckily, she’s been into each one!
YARN: Thanks so much Jennifer!
Jennifer Donnelly is the author of books tweens, teens, young adults and not-so-young adults. Her newest book, “Rogue Wave,” is the second volume in the epic Waterfire Saga, published by Disney-Hyperion.