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Saturday, September 26, 2009

YA Author Spotlight Saturday Presents... Jeannine Garsee!!!

Hi there everyone!

I never imagined how interesting this foray into YA books would be. I never expected to find interwoven storylines and complex characters. The most complicated books I read in grade school were Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt and Go Ask Alice. Yeah, I was about 12 when I read Go Ask Alice. I was an advanced reader, sort of. I had a mind that needed challenging but a school filled with people not willing enough to challenge me. If Before, After and Somebody in Between and Say the Word, or books just like them, were available back in the 80s, I probably would have gobbled them up. But enough about me and my early teen reading habits. Let's get to our guest!

Jeannine GarseeJeannine Garsee has lived in Ohio all her life, grew up to be a psych nurse and lives with her family. She also writes books.

Before, After and Somebody in Between and Say the Word are two fabulous books that will stand the test of time. Because of the content and themes, there will always be an audience for these books, and not just among the young adult readers. These are novels that most adults can appreciate. They are well written and gritty with complex characters.

Before, After and Somebody in Between was published in 2007, which means it was accepted about 2 years before that and Say the Word published in 2009.

Before, After and Somebody in BetweenQ. Was BASB the first manuscript you submitted for publication? If not, what happened to that first one? Do you plan on reworking it to get it published or will you be giving up on it all together?

A. BASB was the first manuscript I’d ever submitted to an agent or publisher. I’d written 4 previous novels—3 while still in high school and then a gothic thriller when I was in my twenties. I call them my “practice” novels, and no, none of them will ever see the light of day. Writing them was a great learning experience, but when I read them over now I realize I had no idea what I was doing. But it was fun, and, as a teen, writing kept me out of trouble (well, for the most part J). I always knew I wanted to write to be published, not simply as a hobby. It just took me a lot longer to do this than I ever expected.

Q. How long in the making was BASB? How much research did you do and how did you do it?

A. It took me about 8 years to write BASB because I was working full-time, raising two kids, and also taking college courses. Then it took another two and a half years to find an agent because I hadn’t written BASB as a YA, but as more of a mainstream coming-of-age novel and I couldn’t understand why agents kept sending me rejections saying, “We don’t represent YA.”

Then I spoke to agent Andrea Brown at a writers’ conference who suggested that if the story was about a teen I should probably try to market it as a YA. After reworking the entire manuscript, and then querying the agents who did handle YA, Tina Wexler of ICM agreed to represent me. After the manuscript was acquired by Bloomsbury USA, I spent several more months working with an editor. When the book was released the following year, I figured it out: it took me roughly twelve years from beginning to end.

As for the research, because BASB takes place in Cleveland, Ohio, the city I grew up in, I had little research to do as far as the setting is concerned. I did need to learn a few details about the foster care system, and for that I relied on a good friend who’s had experience with this. I did enjoy running around the city taking photographs of many of the places Martha refers to in her story. These can be seen in my “Martha’s Cleveland” album on my Facebook page:

Q. What inspired you to write Martha’s story?

A. Well, my “real” job is that of an RN in an inner-city hospital. One of my patients, an African American lady named Judith, adopted a white baby girl named Tabitha after the baby’s mother, Judith’s friend, died. Judith was in and out of the hospital for years and Tabitha would often visit, along with her many adoptive brothers and sisters. You often hear of white families adopting black children, but as it rarely the other way around, BASB originally was going to be a story about that. However, “Martha” had other ideas (as characters often do when you’re writing) and BASB evolved into a completely different kind of story.

Q. The events of Martha’s life seem so real that it’s as if they are being told from someone with experience. So, I have to ask, are there any parts of Martha and her life that you can identify with? If so, which ones and why?

A. Although the majority of Martha’s story is pure fiction, I did slip in a few scenes based on my own experiences, particularly the bullying scenes. Several characters are based on people I either knew or met, like Wayne, for example (yes, that scumbag really exists) and Grandma Daisy. Also, growing up with two close family members who were alcoholics, I knew from experience what this does to kids and how they go to incredible lengths to protect their loved one. I understand how they feel roped into that endless enabling behavior, to say nothing of the guilt and shame that accompanies it. Some of these experiences will haunt them their whole lives. They need to know that they’re not totally alone even if it very often feels that way.

Q. I really would like to follow Martha’s story, find out what happens to her after Zelda picks her up at the phone booth. Is there any chance that you’ll continue her story? What about Danny, Nikki and Shavonne? Will you ever tell their stories? Why or why not?

A. People ask me this a lot. I still get e-mails from readers saying how much they cared about Martha, and asking if I plan to write a sequel. I’m not sure I can answer this one way or another. I doubt I’ll continue Martha’s story, only because she’s been through so much I’m afraid anything else I write will send her right over the edge. I’ve toyed with the idea of giving Nikki her own story (and haven’t completely ruled it out) but with so many other projects brewing, I doubt it’ll happen any time soon.

Q. As far as themes go, what made you choose alcohol, abuse, underage sex and addiction as themes in BASB? Did you have any particular purpose behind using them in your book?

A. I didn’t want to write about your average teenager from a nice middle-class family. But neither did I want to write a total downer of a story about a girl trapped in a bad situation with no way out. There are so many Marthas out there who are stuck with less than perfect families, many with abusive and addicted parents. They know what it feels like to step into their schools every morning knowing they’re pretty much helpless against the bullies who terrorize them daily. Teens who just want to feel loved even if it means having sex at a too-young age and who experiment with drugs or alcohol to help escape their reality. These teens need to know that they’re not alone; that they’re not responsible for their parents’ drinking and drugging, and to understand that making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad person. Most importantly, they need to find their own passion, something—like Martha’s love for the cello—that’ll keep them whole, and focused, and determined to succeed in spite of all odds.

Say the WordQ. Continuing with themes, teens dealing with at least one gay parental unit seem to be a popular theme in teen fiction today, why did you choose it as a theme in Say the Word? What inspired you to write this story?

A. Like BASB, STW started out as a different kind of book. Originally it was to be about a girl with a gay best friend and how it affected their relationship. This idea was loosely based on my own experience as a teen with a lesbian best friend.

About the same time I started writing this novel, the gay marriage controversy hit the media. I was interested in this subject because I’d written a paper for a sociology class about the children of gay parents and what happens to them when their parents split up; how, in most cases, the non-biological parent has no legal right to the son or daughter they’ve loved and cared for since birth and may [never] see that child again. Again, this story evolved into something else, which meant I was able to create Schmule, one of my favorite characters.

Q. I thought that your themes in BASB were deep, but in Say the Word, you delve even deeper then I would have expected for YA fiction. Shawna has some definite issues to deal with considering all she has seen by accident. You put the reader right into Shawna’s head in these instances. How much research did you have to do to determine these reactions? What kind of research did you have to do? Did any of your own life experiences come into play here?

A. I did a bit of research into the effects of gay parents on their children. Some of Shawna’s reticence at accepting her mother’s lifestyle came from this research, but also from my own experiences as teen growing up in the Midwest. She has friends, for example, who think having a gay parent is either “funny” or “disgusting.” In the scene at her mother’s funeral, several guests make some very nasty remarks about the openly gay mourners. As much as we’d like to pretend it isn’t so, homophobia still exists in less liberal areas of the country. Gay-bashing is not uncommon, even among teens who’ve otherwise been taught to be accepting of those who don’t share the same lifestyles or beliefs.

Q. Who or what inspired the character of Schmule/Sam? Why did you decide to take his story the way you did (ha, trying really hard not to give away a key point in the story!)?

A. Schmule pretty much “wrote” himself (and chose his own name, too). Characters who write themselves usually turn out to be my favorites; their words and actions come so naturally to me, very little is changed during the editing process.

However, some of Schmule’s actions are based on those of the young son of a very close friend (the scene, for example, when Schmule cuts his face out of the photos). My friend’s son suffered from serious depression, and I’m sorry to say it ended in suicide. Writing about this was very difficult for me, plus I was also concerned that this particular scene might upset my friend.

Me: You did it again, you made me care about a bunch of characters I never expected to, so here are some questions I would really like to know the answers to:

Q. LeeLee and Tovah are a couple I didn’t expect to want to know more about, but you made me want to know more about them. Do you plan on writing their story, what happens when they both get to New York? Why or why not?

A. I actually started a sequel, with LeeLee playing a bigger role, for my NaNoWriMo project last year, but I’m not sure if it’ll go anywhere. With LeeLee and Tovah older now, and in college, I may be pushing it as far as a YA audience is concerned.

Q. What about Shawna and Nabil? Will you tell what happens to them? Why or why not?

A. Same answer as above, although…can you imagine Shawna’s father’s reaction if Shawna and Nabil became involved in a serious relationship? I wouldn’t want to be within a ten-mile radius. Their cultural differences alone would be fun to write about, so say nothing of their basic personality clashes.

Q. Last but not least, Arye, Schmule and Fran. Will you ever continue their story? Why or why not?

A. I’d love to do a story from Schmule’s perspective—partly because I’ve never written from a boy’s point of view, and also because it’d give me a chance to explore what happens to the other characters, including Fran. Once I finish the projects I’m working on now, I seriously may revisit this idea.

Q. If none of these is on your plate at the moment, what is? What can you tell us about your latest manuscript?

A. I’m working on two right now—another contemporary YA that I’m revising now, and a YA paranormal that’s currently out to my beta readers. I hope to finish them both within the next couple months, with a possible sequel planned for the paranormal.

Q. How do you manage to find time to write between your work (which must keep you on your toes) and your family?

A. Luckily I have a very understanding family who doesn’t mind living in squalor. Housekeeping is always the first thing to go, and second is any kind of a social life. I work 4 days a week as a psych nurse, so on my three days off I generally try to spend 5 to 8 hrs writing. I also have a highly energetic puppy who takes up so much of my attention, I’m springing for doggie day care services to give me more time to write.

Q. What do you do to recharge your soul in between writing your novels?

A. Truthfully, I rarely need to recharge; writing is such a passion for me that even when I’m working on something, it doesn’t feel like “work.” Nothing relaxes me more than spending hours at my computer, obsessively playing around in the lives of my characters. I’m actually more tense when I’m not writing—does that make sense? No? I thought not. J When I do take an infrequent break, it’s usually to blog, or read, or watch some bad TV.

Q. Do you foresee writing becoming your main profession one day? Why or why not?

A. I would LOVE to be able to write full-time, but very few writers can afford this luxury. Publishing is a volatile, highly competitive business and there’s no way to predict who’ll be successful and who won’t. Because I’m not able at this time to quit my job and write full-time, I’m definitely at a huge disadvantage. Still, I have hope.

Me: Thank you for guest blogging with us and for writing two really terrific stories!

Thank you so much for having me!
xox Jeannine

8 Moonbeams (comments):

Molly Daniels said...

Wow Jeannine...your books sound awesome! My TBB 'Amazon/B&N' list is growing at an alarming rate. Fortunately, I have family who always wonders what to get me for special occassions. I think I'll divvie that list up and email it to everyone:)

Wonderful interview!

Molly Daniels said...

Carrie, the roses are making my house resemble a funeral parlor (BIG GRIN!). That's what I get for being a morning blogger:)

Carrie said...

Hey Molly! What's with the funeral parlor reference? That's a bit morbid, don't you think?

Wouldn't a florist shop be more appropriate? Or maybe even a Queen's garden? They are purple roses after all and purple is a sign of royalty! *bigger grin*

Jeannine Garsee said...

Carrie, thank you so much for this awesome interview! I'm posting it everywhere.

PS: I love the purple rose. It wasn't one of your questions--but "Six Feet Under" was one of my all-time favorite TV shows. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi :)
Thanks for this terrific interview. I hadn't been aware of Jeannine Garsee or her novels before. Now I have BEFORE, AFTER AND SOMEBODY IN BETWEEN and SAY THE WORD on my Get&Read list.
Thanks for sharing Jeannine.
All the best,

Molly Daniels said...

Sorry Carrie...brain wasn't totally awake! Was going to say 'pungent' until I looked up the definition. 'Funeral' was the only reference I could think of!

You're right...I'm about to open my own virtual floral shop:)

Melodye said...

Wonderful interview--thanks! I am a huge fan of Jeannine's books, and I love getting the inside scoop on her writing.

(BTW, Schmule and Martha are my favorite characters. Sequels, please, for both of them!)

jenny milchman said...

This is such a great interview, and I really appreciate hearing all the ins and outs and twisty roads you took! Twelve years--that is an inspiration! So glad it payed off.