Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

Jo Knowles' newest YA novel sensitively and tenderly explores the repercussions of teen pregnancy among four friends.

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly said "Absorbing from first page to last, this sensitively written novel explores how a teenager's crisis rocks her life as well as the lives of others. "

We're delighted to welcome Jo Knowles to the YA Authors Cafe!

Melissa W: Tell us about your book, Jumping Off Swings.

I always do a lousy job at describing my books, so here’s my publisher’s description:

“Ellie remembers how the boys kissed her. Touched her. How they begged for more. And when she gave it to them, she felt loved. For awhile anyway. So when Josh, an eager virgin with a troubled home life, leads her from a party to the backseat of his van, Ellie follows. But their "one-time thing" is far from perfect: Ellie gets pregnant. Josh reacts with shame and heartbreak, while their confidantes, Caleb and Corinne, deal with their own complex swirl of emotions. No matter what Ellie chooses, all four teenagers will be forced to grow up a little faster as a result. Told alternately from each character’s point of view, this deeply insightful novel explores the aftershocks of the biggest decision of one fragile girl’s life — and the realities of leaving innocence behind.”

I know that’s totally cheating and I am sorry. But really that’s much better than I would’ve done. :-)

Melissa W: Summaries are tough! I always say if I could tell the story in a hundred words, I wouldn't have taken up two hundred pages!Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?

The words aren’t the same but the scene is quite close. In early drafts, Ellie’s chapters were all written in free verse. I decided to change that form when it became too restricting for what I wanted to say and needed to accomplish with her chapters.

Melissa W: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

I think it’s different for every book. But with the last two manuscripts (PEARL, which is coming out with Henry Holt in 2011, and my current work-in-progress), it was getting that first draft DONE and then realizing one of the reasons it was so hard to finish was that I’d chosen the wrong tense to write it in. For both novels, I scrapped the entire manuscript and started from scratch. This actually happened with LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL too. I’m hoping it’s not my “process” because WOW, that is a very inefficient way to write! However, I will say that it helps me to rethink the story, to get closer to it somehow, to hear it in a new voice. And that has been extremely helpful.

Melissa W: What are you working on now?

My next novel is called PEARL and it’s set to come out in Spring ’11 with Henry Holt. It’s about a girl who lives with her mom and grandfather and what happens when her grandfather dies and family secrets are unleashed. There’s also a lot about friendship, mother-daughter relationships, love and row-boat rides in a smelly river.

Melissa W: Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

I don’t think it was a questions of wanting to quit, but rather a question of whether I should quit. Just before I sold my first book, LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL, I was reaching the point of lots of close calls but no offers. I’d been with my agent for a while and kept thinking any day now he was going to drop me and I wouldn’t blame him. I think at some point, you just start to think, Well, I know I came close but I guess I just don’t have what it takes. But let me tell all you writers out there that this is the WORST thing to think because if you are having close calls, it means you are SO CLOSE to getting THE call. The only sure way to fail is to give up. So just stick it out. Keep writing. Keep getting better. Keep getting your best work out there. Sometimes, you just have to wait for the stars to align exactly right. Seriously. There is a lot of luck involved in this crazy business. But there is also a lot of heart and bravery and believing in yourself and the characters you love. Don’t give up on them and don’t give up on yourself.

Very true and wise. Thanks so much for stopping by the Cafe, Jo!

For more information on Jo and her books, please visit her website.

As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Jo, please feel free to post away in the comments!