Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jenny Hubbard: Morris Award Interview

Delacorte Press,
an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.
ISBN 978-0-385-74055-5.
Today's Morris nominee interview is with Jenny Hubbard. She tweets, but is concentrating on revision at the moment; check out @HubbardWrites . I must also mention this: Her dog Oliver is just plain adorable.

Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard

Alex, a junior at an exclusive boarding school, uses his journal (neatly hidden inside a copy of Moby Dick) to relate the disturbing events that led to the drowning of a classmate.  Hubbard’s literary references, her creation of Alex’s poems and journal entries, and her storytelling skills combine in a story about the code of silence that often compromises the code of honor.  (Description from the YALSA William C. Morris YA Debut shortlist announcement.)


The Morris Award is for a “first time author writing for teens.” Paper Covers Rock was initially conceived as a book for adults, with an adult POV. What were your considerations as you revised with a young adult audience in mind? 

My fabulous teacher at the Vermont College of Fine Arts summer workshop, Kathi Appelt, explained to me how to get it done.
1.  Put a teenaged narrator  "in the moment."
2.  Put adult characters on the periphery.  (Obviously, I didn't follow this one to the letter.)
3.  Keep the plot moving quickly.
She gave me more insider advice, of course, but these were my three primary revisionary mantras.

When did you know you had captured an authentic young male voice? 

After teaching and living with boys for 10 years, that voice was inside of me, and it took writing the book to get it out of me again.

Can you share some recent YA reads that you feel achieve the perfection of diction, structure, characterization, and setting that would make them good candidates for learning "how to read"? 

I don't read a lot of other YA fiction--a shortcoming of mine, to be sure.  But I highly recommend the "OA" book Monkeys, by Susan Minot, as "how-to" manual (both for reading and writing); in fact, I used to use it when I taught eleventh-grade English for just this purpose. Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is another model of perfection, and one that my (all-male) students enjoyed probably more than any other work of fiction I can recall.

Although Alex hides his journal-cum-novel behind Moby Dick and admits he is stealing Melville's words, he never actually reads the book. What does that say about the character? About the canon as it is taught? About reading?

First of all, thank you for noticing that Alex never gets past the first chapter!  What that says, to me, is that he is too self-absorbed for the time being to process any story other than the one he is writing/telling.  It also says that while Alex is a very good reader, he still has a lot to learn.  He still needs a good teacher to guide him.  What it also says is that the novel is too long to fit into a college-prep high-school curriculum.  As a former teacher, I bemoan the fact that so many schools these days require "teaching to the test" rather than teaching close reading or elegance of sentence structure/grammar or allowing room for instructors to share his or her particular favorites with their students.

What happens next? Do you have other novels in the works? 

Yes, I am overdue to present Novel #2 to my editor, Michelle Poploff, at Random House.
Working title: Exit, Little Sister. A story told in three different POVs by three teenaged girls. 

"I have here to speak of the magical, sometimes
horrible whale-line. 
The line originally used in the fishery was of the best 
hemp, slightly vapored with tar, not impregnated with
it, as in the case of ordinary ropes..." --H. Melville
BONUS: True fact, I spent the day after I got my Morris
prowling around the masted ships in the San DIego 
Maritime Museum. I saw an abundance of good rope.
Lightning round: 

Revision advice in five words...

Rewrite book in different POV. 

Three movies you think are worth watching, maybe more than once...

The Sweet Hereafter, Sideways, Amelie 

Where did you first fall in love with Vermeer?

1996.  Washington, DC:  the National Gallery of Art.

Last song you added to your music library...
"June Hymn," by The Decemberists 

Moby Dick abridged to excise the whaling minutia: for or against?

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