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Today I have the privilege of interviewing debut novelist, Jennifer Hubbard, author of The Secret Year, a YA novel that is about secrets and loss, although it's about so much more than that. I've known Jenn personally for at least 7 years. We first met at the Philadelphia Writer's Conference in 2003, and ran into one another at the Fall Philly Conference run by the always terrific Eastern PA SCBWI as well. At the time, I knew that Jenn was working on a novel for teens and that she is the author of a number of short stories for grown-ups as well as some poetry.

Since then, Jenn has completed her novel, landed an agent, gotten a book deal and seen her first novel released. In the words of the Grateful Dead, "what a long, strange trip it's been."

1. Your debut novel, The Secret Year, came out a few months ago. What has surprised you most about being a published author?

That strangers really do read and talk about one’s book. I know that sounds incredibly naive, but I published short stories for years, and it’s a very different experience. I’ve only ever seen one review of a short story of mine. But novels generate much more conversation, for whatever reason—which is wonderful and strange at the same time!

2. The Secret Year features a teen male narrator. Did you always conceive the book as being written from Colten's point of view?

Yes, always. His voice came to me rather insistently, and provided the engine to move this story forward.

3. The voice sounds like an authentic teen male voice. Given that you are not now, nor have ever been (to my knowledge) a teen boy, how did you go about putting yourself into his shoes?

Whatever I know about male voices comes from living with guys, working with them, being friends with them, overhearing their conversations in school halls and on trains and in restaurants, and from reading their work. And still, I always think of my characters as people first.

4. As anyone who has read your blog knows, you put a great deal of thought into your writing. How conscious are you of theme when you write? Is that something that you start with, or something that evolves throughout the writing and revision process?

At first, I just write. As I go, I have an idea or two that I’m trying to develop: in this case, “secrecy” was uppermost. Why do people choose secrecy, when they do? What do they get from it? Why is it so appealing? What are the consequences of keeping secrets? Of revealing them?

After the first draft, I figure out what the theme is and sculpt the later revisions to emphasize that theme. In later drafts, I also consciously choose language or symbolism that reflects that theme. Although secrecy stayed a central focus of The Secret Year, loss and grief were important topics also, as well as the issue of class differences, and the fact that people often become emotionally involved with one another even when they’re trying not to.

5. You've written (and sold) short stories for the adult market, but your longer fiction is for the young adult market. Have you (or would you) write short stories for the YA market, or, alternatively, novels for the adult market? Why or why not?

To me, the main difference between the forms is that a short story revolves around one incident or idea or concept, while a novel requires subplots and a wider scope. I have written YA short stories, although there hasn’t been a huge market. However, there’s Hunger Mountain now, and there are always anthologies. I would love to do more short fiction. I think it’s fascinating that short stories haven’t been more commercially successful in this era. We keep hearing how people have short attention spans now, how we live in a sound-byte society. And yet, short stories haven’t found as big a market as novels have, just like short films haven’t found as big an audience as longer feature films have. It seems counter-intuitive!

The YA genre is rich in material, and I’m very happy working here. I have no shortage of YA ideas. But once in a while, I want to write about a different time of life, and then I’ll write a short story for adults.

6. From conversation and having attended several conferences with you over the years, I know that you are a proponent of what you call the "creative stretch", by attending seminars or conference sessions that focus on areas other than those in which you typically write. What are the benefits of attending sessions in areas in which you don't typically write?

It keeps me fresh, from getting bored or stale. I also think that cross-genre and cross-form pollination is very good for the arts.

For instance: Working with short fiction and poetry teaches me about economy of language, richness of imagery, and making every word count. Mysteries and thrillers show me how to build suspense, and how to pace discoveries and revelations. Essays are great examples of developing a narrative voice and shaping an idea, picking and choosing which details are most important to make a point.

7. How often do you go about singing "Pop! Goes My Heart"?

Two writers who shall remain nameless (cough*Kelly Fineman and Angela De Groot*cough) exposed me to this snappy pseudo-‘80s-pop-hit from the movie Music and Lyrics during a break on one of our writing retreats. Retreats are a great way to focus exclusively on writing for a period of time, to get away from all other responsibilities. Most of us have to put writing on the back burner, or at least the side, while we deal with day jobs and family obligations and the chores of daily life. A retreat puts writing squarely on the front burner, and for me it’s also an opportunity to unplug from the internet for a while. As an added bonus, retreat evenings with my writer buddies have exposed me to movies my husband would never watch!

KRF: I notice that Jenn hasn't actually answered the singing question. I shall assume, therefore, that she sings the song at least once a day, but since she was not suffering from the Pop! hip last time I saw her, she must be keeping it under control.

8. What's next?

I’m working on another contemporary, realistic YA novel.

Speed Round:

Cheese or chocolate? Both, but not at the same time.

Coffee or tea? Tea.

Cats or dogs? I’ve owned both, but currently have a cat who is a legend in his own mind.

Favorite color? Blue.

Favorite snack food? Smartfood.

Favorite ice cream? There was a place near my house that used to sell Almond Joy ice cream: coconut ice cream with fudge and almonds. But now that it’s gone, I stick with my old favorite, mint chocolate chip.

Water or soda? Water.

What's in your CD player/on iTunes right now? I pressed shuffle 5X to bring you this selection: Vivaldi, Kelly Joe Phelps (a blues musician), the Beatles, REM, and David Bowie.

What's the last movie you memorized lines from? It’s not necessarily the last, but my all-time favorite is from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Spencer Tracy plays a police chief whose life is falling apart. He’s overseeing a big investigation, and when he reaches his breaking point, the police are all looking to him for a decision about the next phase of the investigation. That’s when he says, “You know what I believe I’d like? A chocolate fudge sundae, with whipped cream and a cherry on top.” A co-worker and I got into the habit of saying that line to each other whenever things got too hectic.

Other stops on the SBBT today:

Mary Jane Beaufrand at The Ya, Ya, Yas

Rita Williams-Garcia at Fuse Number 8

Charise Mericle Harper at Shelf Elf

Holly Schindler at Bildungsroman

Kiva - loans that change lives




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Comments

( 46 comments — Leave a comment )
ex_lgburns
May. 18th, 2010 11:52 am (UTC)
" cross-form pollination is very good for the arts."

And so many other things, too!

Great interview, ladies. And I totally enjoyed seeing you both in person this past weekend.
kellyrfineman
May. 18th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed seeing you as well, even if it wasn't for long enough!
(Deleted comment)
angie_frazier
May. 18th, 2010 12:42 pm (UTC)
Great interview Jen & Kelly! Oh, and "Pop! Goes My Heart" is hilarious! I think I must go and watch that movie again...
kellyrfineman
May. 18th, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC)
It's a great movie. Glad you enjoyed the interview!
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - angie_frazier - May. 19th, 2010 12:56 am (UTC) - Expand
jessica_leader
May. 18th, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
Great, thoughtful interview--thank you! And now I see that I have something in common with my fellow Tenner: an embarrased love for Music and Lyrics and "Pop! Goes my Heart." I'll have to see how we can parlay this into future world domination...
kellyrfineman
May. 18th, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC)
Future world domination involving "Pop! Goes my Heart" sounds brilliant.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - jessica_leader - May. 19th, 2010 03:04 am (UTC) - Expand
wyckedgood
May. 18th, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
Well done!
A very enjoyable interview. Thankyou for posting.
kellyrfineman
May. 18th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Well done!
Thank you for saying so!
(Deleted comment)
jessica_leader
May. 18th, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)
Wait--I just realized--I reference "Music and Lyrics" in my SBBT interview, too! Craziness! Tune in tomorrow, as they say...
kellyrfineman
May. 18th, 2010 04:45 pm (UTC)
Too funny! Will check out Gwenda's blog interview tomorrow, naturally!
jamarattigan
May. 18th, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC)
Nice interview! Love Jen's comment about cross-pollination. And of course, that chocolate fudge sundae at the end wasn't too bad, either. Thanks, ladies.
kellyrfineman
May. 18th, 2010 04:45 pm (UTC)
I knew you'd like the food reference! Thanks, Jama!
(Deleted comment)
tracyworld
May. 18th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
I never thought about how counter-intuitive it is to harp on the short attention span of today's young people, but then not publish lots of YA short stories. Hmm. Wonder why that is?

I also loved the cross-pollination idea, and am going to try to take that approach at my next conference.

Thanks for a fun interview, Kelly and Jenn!
kellyrfineman
May. 18th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC)
Jenn is (as I think I noted) one of the most thoughtful writers I know, so of course she noticed the dichotomy!

Glad you enjoyed it, Tracy!
(Deleted comment)
ext_178041
May. 18th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
OK, I'm going to have to check out Music & Lyrics now!

I loved this interview--writerjenn's been a repeat visitor over our way and it was great to read more about her work and creative philosophy. I look forward to reading The Secret Year. And I love it that there's someone else out there interested in YA short fiction! Maybe we need to find a bunch of collaborators and anthologize. :)
kellyrfineman
May. 18th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
Collaboration and anthologization (is that even a word?) sounds brilliant!
(Deleted comment)
wolf_hollow
May. 18th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC)
Great interview! Thank you for sharing it.
kellyrfineman
May. 18th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
You are very welcome!

Love that icon, btw.
(no subject) - wolf_hollow - May. 18th, 2010 10:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
May. 18th, 2010 07:08 pm (UTC)
Nice one :)
kellyrfineman
May. 18th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jon!
(Deleted comment)
(Anonymous)
May. 18th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
tanita says :D
Fun conversation going on here. I have to laugh at Pop! Goes My Heart -- those are the MEMORIES worth saving, of course. And blackmailing people over later.

Love the cover of this book.
kellyrfineman
May. 18th, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
Re: tanita says :D
This book cover not only looks great, but also feels it - the paper feels velvety somehow, and it's a treat to hold.
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
kellyrfineman
May. 19th, 2010 02:10 am (UTC)
I claim absolutely no responsibility for all the comments lighting up this thread. Well - for mine, obviously, but they are all responses to those of others. ;)
wordsrmylife
May. 19th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
"Pop! Goes my heart" --now I've caught it. Fun movie, though.

Must read The Secret Year.
kellyrfineman
May. 19th, 2010 02:11 am (UTC)
I think you'll love Jenn's writing, Kathy - and the story, too.
(Deleted comment)
lisa_schroeder
May. 19th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
Great interview!!

Don't know if I've ever heard Pop! Goes My Heart??? May have to watch that movie now.

I really enjoyed THE SECRET YEAR, Jenn, and can't wait to see what you have for us next!

kellyrfineman
May. 19th, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC)
Jenn could tell you what's next, but then she'd probably have to kill you. And you really should see Music & Lyrics. Or at least click on the link above to see the "music video" of the song (from the closing credits of the movie).
(Deleted comment)
boreal_owl
May. 19th, 2010 03:53 pm (UTC)
Fun interview! The characters in The Secret Year stayed with me (in a good sense) long after I finished reading it. Congrats, if I haven't already said so, Jenn!
kellyrfineman
May. 19th, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC)
It's hard not to be a bit haunted by Jenn's book, isn't it? So glad you enjoyed the interview!
(Deleted comment)
( 46 comments — Leave a comment )

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