Author Interview: Deborah Lynn Jacobs on Choices

Deborah Lynn Jacobs is the author of three books for young people. Visit Deborah at MySpace, and read her LJ!

The Same Difference (Royal Fireworks Press, 2000) is about a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, and her struggle for identity and self-acceptance.

Powers (Roaring Brook, 2006)(author interview) explores the various aspects of power from the multiple viewpoints of two teens who develop very special abilities. Too bad they nearly destroy each other before they come to terms with their powers. Powers has just been released this spring (2008) as a paperback. Powers was nominated as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, was a Sunburst Award honorable mention, and is on the Wisconsin AR list.

Choices (Roaring Brook, 2007) follows Kathleen as she shifts between alternate realities, trying to find a world in which her brother is still alive. It’s a quick read, with plot twists and turns, and a touch of romance. Choices is an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and received a starred review from Kirkus.

Debbie is an avid reader, a somewhat rabid gardener (meaning she gets a little crazy this time of year, when everything bursts into bloom) and a sane mother and wife. (Mostly sane. Most days.)

We last spoke in March 2007 about the release of Powers (Roaring Brook, 2006). Do you have any updates to share related to that title?

Yes! Powers was released in paperback on April 1 (2008.) I’m very excited about that, as it has a new cover and will be more affordable for teen readers.

Also, Powers received an honorable mention by the Sunburst Awards Committee. The Sunburst is a juried Canadian award, given for outstanding speculative fiction novels. Speculative fiction can include science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism or surrealism.

Congratulations on the release of Choices (Roaring Brook, 2007)! Could you tell us a little about this new title?

On one level, Choices is about Kathleen, a seventeen-year-old whose life fractures after the death of her brother. At first, Kathleen thinks she is suffering post traumatic stress, or perhaps multiple personalities. Her world becomes unpredictable, changing from one day to the next. Today, her hair is shoulder length and brown. Tomorrow, it’s two inches high, spiked, and blue.

When she meets Luke, who introduces himself as her brother’s friend, she is offered an alternate, mind-blowing possibility—she is shifting between alternate universes. Each choice she makes causes her reality to split, leading to infinite “Kathleens” living out an infinite number of lives.

On another level, Choices is about love—love for your sibling, love for your parents, and love for that one person who helps you make sense of your life.

Choices is on the 2007 ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I have trouble answering this one, since I’m not a good record keeper. From what I can reconstruct, it took about a year to write Choices. I had a workable draft, labeled Choices 10, by Feb. 2005. The “ten” indicates it was my tenth draft.

I took this draft to a novel revision workshop in April 2005. This SCBWI-WI sponsored weekend featured Darcy Pattison (author interview) as the workshop leader.

I revised, and sent it to my critique group. (Either that or I sent it to my critique group before the novel revision workshop—I can’t remember!)

After another revision, I sent it to my agent (Steven Chudney (agent interview)) and my editor at Roaring Brook, Deborah Brodie. I believe Deborah and I did three more revisions, but the last two were fairly minor. Choices was released in September 2007.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

There were two challenges. One was to keep the timelines accurate. I had to know what was going on in each universe, even when Kathleen wasn’t “there.” I had a big flow chart, which started the night Kathleen’s brother died, and ended up splitting into eight universes. I didn’t write about each of those eight universes, but I had to know what was going on as the result of each choice Kathleen made.

The second challenge was to blend quantum mechanics theory into the narrative without boring the reader. There was one scene, which I labeled “the omelet scene,” where I had to balance quantum mechanics theory, Kathleen’s attraction to Luke, and Kathleen’s suspicion of Luke. I spent at least two weeks revising that scene.

I kept sending new versions to my editor, who would write back saying, “better, but not quite there yet.” Finally, we came up with something that satisfied us.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Don’t expect your road to publication to be fast or easy. It can take years to bring your writing to publishable standards. I’d recommend being part of a critique group, especially a small online group where you critique whole manuscripts at once. If one critique group doesn’t work for you, join another, or form your own. It can take time to find the right combination of people, but when you do, it’s magic.

I also recommend reading books about the craft of writing, and joining SCBWI. Through SCBWI, you can find a critique group, attend both local and national conferences, use all the resources on their website, and bring your writing to a more professional level.

What would you say on the topic of writing young adult fiction?

I love writing young adult fiction! At the age I write for, 12 to 18 or so, there is so much emotional and intellectual growth. Unlike a child, who accepts what they are told, a teen begins to question everything—what their teachers and parents tell them, authority in all its forms, including government, right and wrong, justice…even the ultimate questions of what is reality, is there a God, and why are we here? It’s such an exciting time, but confusing as well.

I love writing novels that challenge readers to entertain new ideas—what if teens developed powers, what if multiple universe theory is real? It’s so exciting to think that my “what if?” will unlock something in the mind of a questioning teen.

I love reading young adult fiction because it is generally so well crafted, and because it explores universal and important themes.

What recent books would you suggest for study and why?

For “how to” books, I recommend anything in the Writer’s Digest Series, especially any written by Nancy Kress.

About books similar to my genre, I’d suggest any books by Stephenie Meyer (author interview), Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Neal Shusterman, Gail Giles (author interview)…

And on fantasy specifically?

You’ve got me there! Although my books are often called fantasy, I don’t agree. I prefer “speculative fiction,” which is a term that comes into favor and goes out of favor about every decade. Speculative fiction is the “what if” story, and can include fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, horror, supernatural, paranormal, etc. When I think fantasy, I think “high fantasy,” with wizards, invented languages, orcs, trolls and so on.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

Badly. (Big grin.)

I have trouble juggling it all. I guess that isn’t uncommon. What I try to do is keep to a schedule—one hour to check and respond to email, one hour to do marketing/promotional stuff (such as setting up school or library visits, posting on MySpace or LiveJournal) and four or five hours of writing.

Of course, if I’m caught up in writing, I let the other stuff slip. And, if I have a month with more appearances/visits, I’ll do less writing.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’ve written a new novel. I’m very excited about it, but don’t like to jinx it by talking about it too soon!