Today I am honored to be posting my interview with Jeannine Garsee, author of Before, After, and Somebody In Between. (It is one of the books nominated in the Cybils YA category.) I read the book and reviewed it in November, you may read that review here. I would encourage all of you to visit her official site and her blog.
What inspired you to write Before, After, and Somebody In Between? (Or how did this novel come to be…)
Partly I was inspired by the old TV show, “My So-Called Life,” which was one of the very first shows to realistically depict life in a public school. I was enthralled by it and I wasn’t even a kid at the time. Having had some pretty rotten times in middle school and high school myself (though nothing like Martha’s!) I thought it might be fun, and possibly therapeutic, to explore. Also, through my job as a nurse and also from personal experience I’ve been very close to people with drug, alcohol, and codependency issues. There are a lot of kids out there, like Martha, whose families have addiction problems and it’s important for these kids to know it is not their fault.
How long did it take to write? Were there any surprises along the way on its journey to publication? What do you know now that you wish you had known then? (If anything…)
It actually took me a LONG time to write—eight years—because I was working full time, going to school, and raising a family. I was also pretty clueless about the publishing business in general, i.e. genres, word count (the original manuscript was excessively long), how to submit, etc. so the whole process took me an unnecessarily long time. I wish “known” I was writing a young adult novel—I’d thought of it more as a “coming of age”—and made sure I’d submitted my query letters to the agents who were interested in the genre.
Have you always wanted to write? Has this been a dream of yours?
Always! I started “writing” before I could read, by drawing pictures and putting them together to make a story. Later, I added words to the pictures, and eventually gave up the pictures entirely. I knew from the age of nine this was exactly what I wanted to do.
Who has been your biggest supporter on your journey to publication?
My family, especially my daughter (who also loves to write) and the other writers in my crit group who have always cheered me on. And my agent, Tina Wexler, has been absolutely amazing in her support and encouragement.
What do you love about being a writer? What do you find the hardest? The easiest?
I love “creating” people, making them come alive. And I love the fact that I may write something that will touch someone tremendously. I’ve reads books in the past that have changed my life, and that’s always what I hope for—that one of my stories may do that for someone else. The hardest part is finding time to write because I work outside the home. The easiest part—well, maybe not the “easier” but for me the most fun—is the revision process. I love sitting down after the first draft is completed and digging my hands in; enhancing the narrative, developing new scenes and slashing out others, tweaking the dialogue so each line “sounds” as if it should some from that particular character…polishing, etc. It’s much more time-consuming than writing the actual story, but the end result makes me happiest.
You write young adult books, what do you love about the genre? Do you have any favorites past or present?
I started reading YA novels YEARS ago, but they were nothing like the YA novels of today. The genre has evolved so much, with characters and plots often as complex as those of mainstream adult novels. I missed that growing up, so now I’m making up for lost time. Although I do read quite a few adult novels a year as well, I prefer the faster pace of the YA’s--I can often read one in single sitting. I love the quirky characters, the passionate voices, the “in-your-face” narratives that many some adult novels seem to lack. The problems in their lives—school, parents, friends, peer pressure, the need to make difficult choices, sometimes a terrible lack of direction—are problems most of us, including myself, have faced.
I have so many current favorite authors whose books I never pass up, it’s impossible to name them all—but I especially love Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, Prom, and Twisted). Patrick Jones (Chasing Tail Lights, Nailed) is another author I admire, because he’s not afraid to write “gritty” and show us the darker side of teen life.
Life isn’t easy for our narrator. And it really doesn’t come as a surprise that she’d try to reinvent her life and transform into Gina when given the opportunity. Was it easy or difficult to capture her voice as she’s changing day by day and trying to survive the best way—the only way—she knows how?
Luckily, I have characters who “speak” to me and Martha’s voice came to me very easily. As “Gina” she tries to “tone herself down” but isn’t always successful. Her strong personality always manages to strike through. Walking that fine line between the two “characters” was definitely a challenge. Outwardly, Martha needed to appear as Gina to the other characters, and yet inside she was always herself. It was hard, but fun.
Is there anything you’d like to tell teens going through such emotionally turbulent situations?
First of all, know you are NOT alone. Know that there are certain situations that are completely out of your control. You can only be responsible for your own behavior, and how to react to people’s behavior toward you. This, I know, is easier said than done. I’ve been on the receiving end of bullying situations myself (DEFINITELY no fun!) I also grew up in a family with alcohol abuse issues and it’s easy for a child to feel as if they are responsible for every problem in the family. Kids need to know *they* aren’t to blame for anyone’s substance abuse, that they can’t make things better. Understanding this won’t make the problem go away, but it may make kids feel better about themselves and give them a greater sense of emotional freedom.
What do you hope readers gain from reading Before, After, and Somebody in Between?
An understanding that yes, there are many kids who, like Martha, are smart and talented and driven, but because of circumstances beyond their control—e.g. addicted and/or abusive parents, extreme poverty, etc.—who are never encouraged to pursue their dreams. They’re lost forever. Martha has an inner strength that will probably see her though, but not every child has that. Without it, and especially without any encouragement or support, there is no chance for success. It’s a hideous loss for the rest of society.
Why do you think teens can be so mean to one another, so cruel, with the bullying and the gossip and the cliques?
Part of it, I think, is simply a part of growing up. Teens, especially, can often be cruel to classmates, and the desire to do this usually disappears as they mature. Then again, occasionally there *are* people who simply lack empathy for others, and never grow out of this; the way they treat others in middle school and high school may very well be the same way they treat others once they’re adults out in the “real” world. I like to think these people are in the minority, and that as most kids mature and establish a greater sense of “self,” they learn to be more in tune with the feelings of others.
Are you writing a second novel? Is there anything you can tell us about your work in progress?
I have finished a second novel, Say the Word, which is now under consideration for publication. Hopefully I’ll have some good news very soon.
Are you excited that your novel has been nominated for a Cybil?
Yes! I am in awe that my novel is included in such great company.
This one is for both you as a reader and an author. Do you write fan letters (or emails) to authors you admire? And have you received any fan letters from readers?
I have written emails to authors whose books I’ve especially enjoyed and I’m always excited when I get a reply. Recently I emailed an author whose novel impressed me many years ago, when I was still a child. She wrote back, and yes, I was thrilled. So if *I’m* that excited, I know kids are even more so. For that reason, I always make a point of answering every fan letter. I love to hear from readers!
If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?
Seriously, I’d like to travel back about 30 years and begin my writing career earlier. To be able to write FULL TIME and not have to juggle what I truly love to do with the responsibility of a “real” job would have made my journey a whole lot easier. However, if I only had twenty-four hours, I’d like to go back and spend ONE DAY at my middle school—to be myself, as I was then, but with the mind I have now. Ohhh, the fun I would have!