Today's interview is with Deb Caletti, author of The Nature of Jade. You may read my review here. Be sure to visit her official site as well. And here is the site to watch the elephants.
Every big happening has a moment of plunge, that moment of decision, usually instantaneous even if you've been thinking about it forever. That now! Toes at the edge of the pool, looking at the water, one toe in, looking some more, and then, suddenly, you're in, and it's so cold, but nice, too, and you don't even remember where in there you decided to jump. (104-105)
What inspired you to write The Nature of Jade? (Or how did this novel come to be?)
My daughter was in her senior year of high school and was planning to move across the country to go to college. It was a year of change - a year of both mourning her moving on and feeling excitement for the future. I started to think about change, and its evil counterpart, fear. Change is necessary, change is unavoidable, change can be a great thing, but change often just plain sucks, too.
“When you live one and a half blocks away from a zoo like I do, you can hear the baboons screeching after it gets dark.” Why did you choose a zoo theme for Nature of Jade? Why the focus on elephants? And how much research was involved in finding out all of those cool animal facts? [Personally, I loved this. I’ve always been a big elephant-lover, and I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel. But still, it’s not something you find in your typical teen novel.]
I think I was focusing less on the zoo itself than on nature. Human nature, animal nature, and nature as a whole. I felt that nature made a nice backdrop for the idea of fear and change, a way to make the point that both fear and change are basic and primitive and timeless. It seemed comforting to me, to think of change as very old and irrevocably connected to life on earth. Elephants were a natural choice as a focus. As a matriarchal group with males on the periphery, they mirrored Jade’s own family. They also have so many human traits that the ties were interesting to play with. And, yes, it all took a great deal of research, but that’s one of the fun things about writing. It’s a great excuse to read fascinating stuff and call it “work.”
First of all, I’ve just got to say that I thought Jade’s anxiety issues, her panic attacks or panic disorder, seemed very authentic. It was something that I could really identify with. It felt “real” to me. Did this involve research as well? And what advice (if any) would you give teens going through similar experiences to Jade’s?
I’m so glad it felt real. I hear from many readers who think I must suffer from anxiety, too, because of that. I did do a lot of reading about anxiety, but what I think I did more than anything was turn up my own empathy and imagine what that might feel like. To me, anxiety is very relatable. We ALL feel it sometimes. The volume is just louder for those incapacitated by it. Anxiety and fear are part of our biology, so I think it was an easy place to get to in my mind. I got there so deeply when I was writing that sometimes I felt like it was hard to catch my breath. I don’t have easy advice to give to teens who deal with anxiety. I do have a wish, though, and that is for teens (and everyone) to understand that we all have our issues and not to be embarrassed about asking for help.
Does Jade have a theme song or playlist?
No. But every time I go up in a plane now and look down at the tiny things below, I think of Jade traveling to meet Sebastian, and the song, “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service.
What do you hope readers gain from reading The Nature of Jade?
I don’t really set out with an idea of something I want a reader to gain, or something I want to teach or instruct a reader about. I have way more questions than answers, so I don’t feel very equipped to lecture a reader. I think of us, the reader and me, more as equals tromping around the human experience together. With all of my books, I hope a reader will have that experience I most love to have while reading, that moment of, “I know exactly how that feels. That is so right.” My wish is that a reader will go along on this little trip with me, exploring questions and maybe laughing and maybe feeling sad and happy and hopeful.
What was your first impression of the cover art for The Nature of Jade?
I loved it immediately, and thought it was just right. I think Simon & Schuster does a beautiful job.
What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest?
I most love that writing is a place where I can be completely honest. I most love, too, the mystery of the process – the sense that you think you don’t know where you’re going, but some part of you does know. I love the discoveries that brings, the neat tricks that occur when you’re writing and everything just works and you don’t even know how it’s happening. The easiest thing for me is listening to characters and writing down what they say. I feel like I’m just the typist. The hardest is the ups and downs of self doubt. I work on a book completely alone for a year or more, and so you have those days where you think it’s the best thing you’ve ever done and the days you’re sure it’s a disaster. Getting out of your own way is probably seventy-five percent of the job in writing, same as in life.
You write YA books, what do you love about the genre? Do you have any favorites past or present?
I think I again most love the honesty that’s found in the genre. Teens have a built in B.S. detector that I respect and understand, and that the genre must also respect. My all-time favorite is what I think to be the quintessential Y/A book – The Catcher in the Rye.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Has this always been a dream of yours? Growing up, whose work did you admire most? Was there a particular author that made you say, “I want to grow up and do that!”?
I think that even more than “always wanting to be a writer” that I always already was a writer. I have this belief that most writers just come this way. I had a need, from maybe the age of seven or so, to observe and explain and describe. I started writing stories then. It was always part of who I am, as long as I can remember. When it came time to go to college, though, I didn’t study fiction writing. I studied journalism, because being a writer seemed like one of those big, impossible dreams, like becoming an actor or musician. But I was never a journalist; I’m a novelist. And so one day I made a pact with myself – pursue the dream or banish it from my head. I was afraid to be one of those people who say, “I always wanted to be a…” So, that’s what I did. Pursued and pursued and wrote and wrote and read and read. Every author, every book I read made me want to write, from childhood on. From Little Bear to Nancy Drew to The Chronicles of Narnia, and later, to Hemingway and Flannery O’Connor among so many others.
Have you always loved to read? Did you have a reading hero growing up? Someone who encouraged you to read, to lose yourself in a good book? Did you/do you have a favorite time and place to read?
I was always the kid with the big stack of books coming out of the library, and I am still the kid with the big stack of books coming out of the library. I inhaled books then, and do still. My books morph into furniture – end tables and nightstands. My mother always took us to the library as kids, and the library is still my favorite place, my favorite way to spend a day. She read aloud to us, too – I remember Charlotte’s Web in particular. I don’t have a favorite time or place to read – anywhere, anytime. I’d read while driving, if I could. Maybe my favorite is the cozy old standard – in bed, just before sleep.
Are there any out-of-print books that you wish would make a come back?
Hmm. None that I can think of. But there are out-of-print (well, you know) foods that I wish would return. This cereal called “Quisp” from when I was a kid. Captain Crunch-ish, but with a space alien theme. Also, these chocolate Poptarts with a white-something filling. Sounds disgusting, I know, but in my kid-memory they were awesome.
If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?
I’d want to go to Florence, Italy, during the time of the Renaissance. I’d like to sit in Lorenzo de’Medici’s garden, where the great artists, writers and thinkers of the time gathered, and where Michelangelo first learned to sculpt. But I imagine that would be one really nasty case of jet lag.