the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Jenn Bishop and THE DISTANCE TO HOME!

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, Jun 28, 2016 @ 06:06 AM

We're welcoming Jenn Bishop, a member 2014's M.A.G.I.C. I.F.s  class to the LaunchPad today! Jenn is also a  graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied English. Along with her husband and cat, Jenn lives just outside of Boston, where she roots for the Red Sox. The Distance To Home is her first novel.

cover.pngLast summer, Quinnen was the star pitcher of her baseball team, the Panthers. They were headed for the championship, and her loudest supporter at every game was her best friend and older sister, Haley.
This summer, everything is different. Haley’s death, at the end of last summer, has left Quinnen and her parents reeling. Without Haley in the stands, Quinnen doesn’t want to play baseball. It seems like nothing can fill the Haley-sized hole in her world. The one glimmer of happiness comes from the Bandits, the local minor-league baseball team. For the first time, Quinnen and her family are hosting one of the players for the season. Without Haley, Quinnen’s not sure it will be any fun, but soon she befriends a few players. With their help, can she make peace with the past and return to the pitcher’s mound?

Welcome, Jenn! Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does a family member read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?

While plenty of writers I know can write in coffee shops or with friends, for me the act of writing is a solitary pursuit. But when I'm not actually writing, I find it completely rejuvenating to spend time with other writers. I belong to a critique group with several of my VCFA classmates, where we take turns each month sharing sections of our work and videochatting (since we're spread across the country). Once I have a full manuscript that I've taken as far as I can by myself, I'd be lost without my critique buddies. (It's truly amazing what other people can notice in your work that you'd never see; and vice versa!) And let's not forget the all-important wisdom of the hive mind. I've been known to call out to Facebook friends from time to time with all kinds of small queries. Writing a book definitely takes a village! (And a lot of Twitter breaks.)

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What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

The biggest revision The Distance To Home underwent was with my agent, Katie Grimm. When I queried the book, I had some chapters set in the past (leading up to Haley's death), but it wasn't half of the book. Katie saw the potential in this construct, spurring two large scale revisions as I worked to incorporate essentially two full stories into one book (the arc of last summer, and the arc of this summer). While I loved the potential she saw in the project, it also meant I had to fully realize last summer -- i.e. back to the drawing board! Making sure the alternating pieces worked perfectly was a little like constructing a puzzle, and just as satisfying when it finally locked into place.

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Hector holds such a dear spot in my heart. I'm so inspired by baseball, and in particular, players that leave their home countries and families behind to follow their dreams. Much of my research for this book is hidden beneath the surface, but I spent a lot of time thinking about Hector and his back story, even though much of it never made it into the final book on the page. Maybe it was my excuse to read a bunch of non-fiction about minor league baseball life!

Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.

On the wall in my office is a shabby chic chalkboard left over from my wedding, which I refresh with inspiring writing quotes, depending on what project I'm working on at the moment -- and in particular, what stage of writing it's in. Since I'm drafting right now, I need a reminder to see the big picture and trust the process. 

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What's your writing superpower?

I think it's that I don't get in my own way. I refuse to believe in writer's block and feel very comfortable plowing through messy first drafts. You can't work on making something better if it doesn't exist, so might as well make a big mess on the page, right? 

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I worked with Elizabeth Partridge, Rita Williams-Garcia, Sarah Ellis, and A.S. King. I spent half of my time at VCFA working on two middle grade projects and the other half on a young adult novel, and all of them taught me so much. I'm so grateful for their mentorship and inspired by their careers.
 
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
 
There's so many to choose from! What will stick with me most, though, were the workshops my first summer. Mark Karlins and Louise Hawes were the workshop advisors, and when it was your day to be workshopped, you got to decide if you wanted to be workshopped outdoors or inside. There's a special creative energy to being outdoors -- at least, it's a place where I feel inspired. As a kid, any time a teacher took you outside for class was a good day, and that's how that summer workshop felt. Like the kindest teachers, taking the class outdoors. I had so many aha moments in workshop over my two years at VCFA, but that workshop was a time when I felt like I really started to understand what the reader needed from a story, and what I'd need to do to achieve that experience.
 
Thanks for dropping by, Jenn!  The Distance To Home is published by Alfred A. Knopf / Random House and it's available in bookstores everywhere. You can learn more about Jenn at her website http://www.jennbishop.com.

 

Topics: Knopf Books for Young Readers, middle grade, Jenn Bishop

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