Ann Jacobus, a 2007 graduate of VCFA and proud member of the Whirligigs, is on the Launchpad with her new book, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, a YA thriller published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin/Macmillan!
Eighteen year-old Summer Barnes is ready to end it all. Even though she’s now in Paris, the most romantic city in the world, she’s been kicked out of yet another boarding school for drinking, smoking, snorting and flunking.
Then Summer meets a great guy named Munir (nicknamed Moony), at the Paris American International School where they’re both seniors; and mysterious Kurt while she’s out scoping a celebrity cemetery. He’s so hot, he’s out of her league.
Moony barely survived a horrific car crash as a kid. He’s totally upbeat about life and he wants Summer to embrace her own, maybe starting with a little less solo champagne drinking? Summer needs Moony’s friendship desperately, but no way will he put up with her bad choices much longer.
Kurt, on the other hand, is all about self-destructive fun. It gets harder and harder for Summer to resist him. He wants her to understand that life, and death, are in her own hands.
Ann, who was your favorite character to write and why?
My character Munir Al Shukr was my favorite character to write. His nickname is Moony. His father is Kuwaiti and his mother is American, although he has grown up in Paris—a third-culture kid who is comfortable just about anywhere. He is also partially physically disabled from a serious childhood car accident that he was given a 5% chance of surviving. He is kind-hearted and befriends my difficult-to-like protagonist, then patiently if sometimes gruffly puts up with her because he sees beyond her bluster. In fact, he falls for her. He is spiritual and almost hyper-positive because he fully understands the value and fragility of life. He’s stoic as he’s battling a number of physical problems related to past surgeries and the accident. Too perfect, you say? Well, he harbors some secrets.
What was the spark that ignited this book?
On the last day of 2002, New Year’s Eve Day, when my family and I were living in Paris, my young daughter and I were on a Métro train in the Étoile station (a major meet up of four lines beneath the Arc de Triomphe) when someone ended up on the tracks and was either gravely injured or killed. I dragged my daughter from the platform and the freaked-out crowd as fast as I could. There was no mention of it in any media for the next few days, which led me to believe it was a suicide (generally not reported and unfortunately not uncommon) as opposed to a homicide or accident. Although I don’t know for sure to this day. And so began, “What if?”
Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?
I started this story my last semester at VCFA (fall of ’06) with Tim Wynne-Jones. It was rejected many times and went through many revisions. Okay, many means scores. The last revision was sent by my agent, Erzsi Deak, to one editor exclusively and she passed (on the ms., not away). Meanwhile, Erzsi had lunch with Kat Brzozowski at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s and pitched it successfully. Kat read it that evening, a Friday, and made an offer the following Tuesday. It was too late California time to reach me, so Erzsi got me the next morning during my annual doctor’s check-up. Since I almost fainted, it was nice to have medical personnel at hand.
Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does your son or mom read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?
I am so lucky to be aligned with so many excellent VCFA writers and count on them heavily. Beyond the Margins is the name of our critique group here in San Francisco that includes alums Frances Lee Hall, Annemarie O’Brien, Sharry Wright, Helen Pyne, Linden McNeilly, and Christine Dowd, I also exchange mss. with many Whirligig class members such as Stephanie Greene, Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, Miriam Glassman, Nancy Bo Flood, Dianne White, Candy Dahl, Bruce Frost, Jen White, as well as Caitlin Berry Baer, and Deb Gonzales. Besides being outstanding critiquers, for the record many of these writers make wonderful drinking companions, too. I have enjoyed being part of a debut novel group, the Fearless Fifteeners and a sub-group, the Fall Fifteeners. We can ask each other any question and commiserate freely. My four kids on the other hand, young adults themselves, beg to be excused from reading any and all YA manuscripts penned by their mother, full as they are of angst and awkward sex scenes.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
The inimitable Alison McGhee, Marc Aronson, Margaret Bechard, and Tim Wynne-Jones.
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
Like asking a reader to pick her favorite book, it’s impossible to pick just one VCFA memory. A montage plays in my head when I think of VCFA rezes: sitting on stage in the chapel during graduation as light streamed in before and behind us in that sort of blinding way it does; loitering in Noble with everyone late at night awaiting the new advisor list; sitting in rapt attention and barely noticing the bad chairs as faculty read from their magical WIPS, or shared their astute insights into the craft of writing; frozen nostril hairs tickling as I walked to breakfast in subzero twilight; and shuffling through the serving line for surprising NECI fare which I usually didn’t badmouth since they were cooking and I wasn’t. I also have fond, if dim memories of the wine pits.
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