Author Interview: Jen Ferguson on Sophomore Books & Shaping Characters


By AJ Eversole

I am thrilled to have award winning author Jen Ferguson (Métis/White) today on Cynsations! We’ve hosted her previously to speak about her debut, The Summer of Bitter and Sweet (Heartdrum, 2022). The book went on to win many awards including the 2022 Governor General’s Literacy Award, the 2022 Cybils’ Award for Young Adult Literature, and was a 2023 Stonewall Honor Book. Today we are chatting about her sophomore novel, Those Pink Mountain Nights (Heartdrum, 2023).

Bailey Macabre (Plains Cree; Michif/Ukrainian) (Heartdrum, Sept. 12, 2023)

What’s the heart of Those Pink Mountain Nights?

Three teens, two who are Native (Métis and Cree), and one who is a white Canadian settler, realizing they have more in common than they thought. Even more, discovering they need each other in the fight against a certain kind of capitalism when Pink Mountain Pizza, a local independent shop gets put up for sale the day after one of the teens thinks she sees a missing Cree girl the police have stopped looking for.

Those three teens are the heart of this book because they just get up the next day—or, more realistically, pull an all-nighter—and keep fighting for a better world.

They make mistakes.

They apologize well.

They grow.

And they keep fighting.

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet, cover  illustrated by Reyna Hernandez with beading by Kim Stewart. Jacket designed by Laura Mock.

Was The Summer of Bitter and Sweet a tough act to follow? How are you navigating that?

Ha! It was terrifying. What does a writer do when every good thing that can basically happen to a book, mostly happens to their book?

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet received a Stonewall Honor Award from ALA, the Governor General’s Award, The Lambda Literary Award and was named a William C. Morris Award Finalist.

They worry so much about the next book. So so so so much.

Is it good enough? Will people wish it was more like their first book? Will people expect too much from it? Will it not get the same level of acclaim? Will it sell fewer books? Will it ruin the author’s career?

It’s a lot of will it, anxiety fueled, worse-case-scenarios playing out while you’re drafting, revising, promoting the new book.

Like I said, it’s terrifying.

Those Pink Mountain Nights is a different book than Summer. Where my first YA novel was a coming-of-age story in first person POV and a coming-out story in some ways, Pink Mountain has three points-of-view in the third person and it’s a story about three teens, a sort-of-mystery where nobody comes out but there are queer people living their lives. Both books are introspective. Both are nuanced. Both feature Native and queer characters on the Canadian prairies.

I’m navigating this by reminding myself that as a writer I want to write different books. I want to explore how storytelling can stretch and grow, expand and open up. And I never want my readers to get bored with what I’m offering, so while some ingredients will always be in a Jen Ferguson book, each book needs to be its own thing, in the world without the pressure from a success an author cannot, no matter how hard they try, recreate. I might need to get this tattooed on my body somewhere.

Jen at YALLWEST with the Epic Reads backdrop.

How does Native/Indigenous identity shape your characters?

My Native characters often have a different worldview than my settler characters, and that shapes everything.

It can be as simple as actively practicing an Indigenous language in their day-to-day life or as complicated as carrying the weight of the violence done to their ancestors, their family, their Nation, other Native Nations, and the land. It can be something fundamentally opposed to the “Western” worldview, like believing that all living things, including the land, are deserving of care and caretaking, and yes, have their own “beinghood.”

And since most of my point-of-view characters have intersectional identities—as Native, and sometimes white too, but also queer and fat and sometimes disabled—their identities and lives are always complex, where being Native is a part of who they are and influences everything but isn’t the only part of them. They are never going to be “perfect” in any way, and no one representation can stand in for every person of that identity. It doesn’t work that way.

My characters, I hope, feel real and messy in these books about Native teens taking on the world we have left for them.

A poster from ALA conference in June featuring Jen’s second book.

What do you want teens to takeaway from Those Pink Mountain Nights?

Whatever they need. Truly.

How do you celebrate success?

Cake for dinner.

And while it sounds impossible, one can actually get tired of cake for dinner. Young Jen would not believe this possible. Present Jen is living this life!

What are you working on next?

Next up is A Constellation of Minor Bears (2024). It follows two Métis teens who used to be best friends, until Tray is sorta-mostly-maybe responsible for an accident that hurts Molly’s brother. Even though things are not great between them, they go-ahead with their planned graduation trip to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. But their fragile bond is put to the test when a runaway from an abusive weight loss camp unexpectedly joins their hiking group. This book is about when you’re hurt so bad how you hurt everyone around you and after a while carrying all that hurt along with you is simply, completely, utterly exhausting.

Get ready!

Cynsations Notes

Jen Ferguson (she/her) is Métis/Michif and white Canadian settler, an activist, a feminist, an auntie, and an accomplice armed with a PhD in English and Creative Writing. She believes writing, teaching, and beading are political acts. Her debut YA novel The Summer of Bitter and Sweet (Heartdrum/HarperCollins) received seven starred reviews, won the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People’s Literature–Text, is a 2023 Stonewall Honor Book, an NPR Best Book of 2022, a School Library Journal Best Young Adult Book of 2022, a Chicago Public Library Best Teen Fiction of 2022, a 2022 Horn Book FanFare Book, a Kirkus 2022 Best Young Adult Book, a 2023 White Pine Award Nominee, a 2022 Young Adult Golden Poppy Finalist and a 2023 Morris Award Finalist.

Jen’s second YA novel with Heartdrum, Those Pink Mountain Nights, is about the hurt of a life stuck in past tense, the hum of connections that cannot be severed, and one week in a small snowy town that changes everything for three teens. It has three starred reviews so far and is a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection. Jen’s favorite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip and she always puts pineapple on pizza.

​Her first book for adults, Border Markers, a collection of interrelated flash fiction stories, is out now with NeWest Press. Her essay “Off Balance” was selected for the Best Canadian Essays 2020 and her novella “Missing” won The Malahat Review’s 2022 Novella Prize.

Jen lives on the traditional and unceded territories of the Meskwaki, the Báxoje and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ nations, and teaches fiction writing, among other things, at Coe College.

AJ Eversole covers children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing, and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She grew up in rural Oklahoma, a place removed from city life and full of opportunities to nurture the imagination. She is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and writes primarily young adult fiction. AJ currently resides in Fort Worth, Texas; with her family. Follow her on Instagram @ajeversole or on Twitter @amjoyeversole.