the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Jenn Bishop's 14 Hollow Road

Posted by Amanda West Lewis on Tue, Jun 13, 2017 @ 14:06 PM

We're here to celebrate today's release of Jenn Bishop's middle grade novel 14 Hollow Road.

14 Hollow Road

The night of the sixth-grade dance is supposed to be perfect for Maddie: she’ll wear her perfect new dress, hit the dance floor with her friends, and her crush, Avery, will ask her to dance. But as the first slow song starts to play, her plans crumble. Avery asks someone else to dance instead—and then the power goes out.

Huddled in the gym, Maddie and her friends are stunned to hear that a tornado has ripped through the other side of town, destroying both Maddie’s and Avery’s homes.

Kind neighbors open up their home to Maddie’s and Avery’s families, which both excites and horrifies Maddie. Sharing the same house . . . with Avery? For the entire summer? While it buys her some time to prove that Avery made the wrong choice at the dance, it also means he’ll be there to witness her morning breath and her annoying little brother.

At the dance, all she wanted was to be more grown-up. Now that she has no choice, is she really ready for it?

Jenn, this is a fabulous premise. Can you tell me where the story came from?

I’m an avid listener of This American Life and years ago remember listening to a very memorable episode about a tornado interrupting a prom in the heartland. One minute, you’re dancing the night away, experiencing this seminal life moment, and the next, everything changes. Fast forward several years to 2011, and an unlikely tornado crossed the street where I grew up, and where my parents still live. Thankfully they and their home were spared, but the experience lingered with me. What if there had been a dance that night, but for middle schoolers? The first 15-20 pages flew out of me as I imagined these events happening in a hometown like my own in rural Massachusetts. I brought those pages to my next-to-last workshop at VCFA, with A.S. King and Alan Cumyn. I loved using the first 15-20 pages of a new story idea as a workshop piece—it served as a great litmus test for whether or not the concept really had legs.

I remember that This American Life episode! How fabulous to take that idea and play through the "What ifs" scenarios. As you developed the story, who became your favorite characters to write, and why?

I had a lot of fun writing the middle school boy characters in this one, particularly Gregg, the boy in Maddie’s class who has a bit of a crush on her. There’s something about boys that age—I spent a lot of time around them as a teen librarian, serving grades 5 and up. They can be so self-assured at times, and usually with hilarious results. We see that with Gregg, but we also see the flip side with Avery, the object of Maddie’s crush, who she ends up living with for the summer. There’s a tender core to boys and their emotional experiences that I think our culture is uncomfortable around sometimes. On the outside, Avery tries to live up to the cultural standards, but in his downtime, he’s crumbling a bit under the pressure and struggling with his uncertain future, having lost his home in a tornado.

Your affection for that "tender core" is clearly an important motivating force in your creation of these endearing boys. Can you tell me what was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

This was the first project where I had to really reshape the entire middle of the book in revisions with my editor, which seemed scary at the time. Plotting still doesn’t always come easy to me, and my editor, rightly, pointed out that the friendship thread in 14 Hollow Road needed to build to a satisfying climax instead of just being filled with momentary tension. To rectify this, I ended up changing the relationship between the three girls (Maddie, her best friend Kiersten, and Gabby), so that Gabby was now the new girl who threatened Maddie’s longtime friendship with Kiersten. So now, not only was Gabby, in Maddie’s mind, going after the boy she liked, but she was also gunning for her best friend. I tend to struggle with seeing the way the parts of my book create a whole—I think that I’m often just too close to see it—so it was a good challenge to have to reframe a plot thread.

Clearly you are continuing to challenge yourself as a writer, and to keep learning. When we're at VCFA, we are encouraged to read like a writer. Tell me, when you are reading other authors, who do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?

Sentences: Lois Sepahban. Her debut last year, Paper Wishes, was so spare and lyrical and moving. For plot: Rebecca Stead. I’m in awe of When You Reach Me and Goodbye Stranger. And finally, character is a toughie. There are many writers who do character well, but one I keep coming back to is Elizabeth Strout.

On the subject of VCFA, you graduated in January 2014 as part of the M.A.G.I.C. I.F.s. Can you tell us what was special about your graduating class?

Can my answer be everything? My VCFA classmates are simply the best. It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than three years since graduation. I’ve had the chance to see many (most?) of them in the time that’s elapsed. What’s particularly impressive about our group is that we show up. We support each other, trekking across the country to celebrate each other’s launches and convening for writing retreats. I feel so fortunate to have met this amazing group of writers.

Lastly, what advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Try everything. That was the advice given to me by alums and it is something I adhered to as much as possible. Still, I wish I had spent a semester focused on picture books. You know there’s something in the water in Montpelier when just a few years out of the program I’m already crossing my fingers to someday come back and do the picture book semester. (Once I’ve paid off my VCFA loans, I tell my husband. Only then! Promise.)

Thanks so much Jenn. Congratulations on 14 Hollow Road!

 

Jenn Bishop

 

Jenn Bishop is also the author of The Distance to Home, a Junior Library Guild selection and a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book. After many years in Chicago and Boston, she now resides in Cincinnati, OH. http://www.jennbishop.com

14 Hollow Road is published by Alfred A. Knopf/ Random House.

 

 

 

Topics: middle grade, Random House, Knopf, 2017 release, Jenn Bishop, Alfred A. Knopf

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, 2016 release, Jenn Bishop

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