Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Talking with Jennifer Donnelly, Author of REVOLUTION and A NORTHERN LIGHT

I recently wrote about Jennifer Donnelly’s amazing novel, Revolution, here on Carpe Keyboard. I sent her a note to let her know I blogged about her novel. Turns out she was glad to be compared to a vintage wine rather than a soft drink!

Ms. Donnelly generously agreed to spend some of her valuable time responding to a few interview questions about her writing life. So…with no further adieu…I welcome her to Carpe Keyboard!

Carpe Keyboard: To start off, when did you know you were going to be a novelist? Were you inspired by any particular events in your own life or by any specific authors?

Jennifer Donnelly: I always wanted to be a writer, and in fact worked as a reporter for a small upstate NY daily paper, and as a copywriter for Saks Fifth Avenue, but I didn't know I was going to be an novelist until the day I (finally!) got the call from my agent telling me that St. Martin's Press had just offered on The Tea Rose. That night I drank champagne and danced on the table. Quite literally.
I was raised by a mom who was a wonderful storyteller, and many members of my extended family loved to tell stories, too -- so I grew up with this expectation of words and stories. When I got a bit older, I decided I wanted to create a few stories of my own.
Many, many authors inspired me. Some of my favorites are James Joyce, A.S. Byatt, Jeanette Winterson, Stephen King, Barbara Taylor Bradford, and Graham Greene.

I’m a hopeful middle grade/YA writer (as are some Carpe Keyboard readers), crossing my fingers and toes about my agent and her quest to sell my book. Do you have any advice on the writing “biz” for those of us trying to break into the publishing world today?
Write a good book. If you do, and you are persistent and stubborn and absolutely refuse to take no for an answer, you will eventually get published. The publishing industry can be a hard nut to crack...but so what? That's life. Lots of things are hard. You may get discouraged, and that's okay. Rejection is pretty discouraging. Just don't let it make you quit. Make sure your ms. is the best it can be, and your pitch letter, too, and then never, ever give up.
For the story of my first sale, and how I kept going until I sold my first book, check out this link at http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/01/11/my-first-sale-by-jennifer-donnelly-just-keep-writing/.

What is your biggest writing craft challenge? I, for one, struggle so with writing realistic, honest, solid dialog… 
It's all a challenge! Everything! I've written five novels now, and it's all still new and scary and overwhelming every time I sit down to write.

When do you carpe your keyboard? What are your writing habits?
Generally I write while my daughter's at school, but I often work nights and snatch hours during weekends, too. Working as a reporter at a very scrappy daily paper, with a big work load and constant deadlines, taught me not to wait for the muse. Sit down, start working, and she will show up.

Thanks so much, Ms. Donnelly, for talking with me and sharing your writing life with us! I hope to have you back soon to talk about your next book.


  1. "I've written five novels now, and it's all still new and scary and overwhelming every time I sit down to write."

    I'm in the middle of writing my second novel and it's nice to know that I'm not the only one feeling this way. I suppose that this is just one of those jobs where muscle memory doesn't count! ;-) Great interview.

  2. Thanks, Jennifer, for sharing a bit of your writer's journey with us--and thanks, Karen, for a great interview! I've been hearing so many good things about Jennifer's books and WILL read them, though I haven't yet. I was so glad to see this interview come up :-)

  3. Fantastic interview - AFter having just finished "Falling in love with English boys" I can't wait to read such a different take on the "historical/modern narrative in 2 voices". Great insights by Jennifer here - I'm fascinated by her inspirations too (love AS Byatt!)