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writers you love - author q&a

Jennifer Donnelly talks historical fiction and mermaids

We’ve been waiting for the latest from Revolution author Jennifer Donnelly for ages. And it’s finally here! Deep Blue hit bookshelves today, and it’s a huge 180 change in direction for this YA favorite. We asked Jennifer to tell us more about herself, her writing and those hysterical mer-heroines in her new novel.


Survey Says with Jennifer Donnelly


My best friends call me when they’ve spotted Kate Middleton. (They live in London!)

I found high school highly amusing.

And back then, I was at the opening of every horror movie

My favorite color is red.

I got my first kiss when I was not expecting it.

And he was a handsome blue-eyed boy, who’s still giving me kisses.

Never have I ever eaten a tarantula.

And I really, really want to live in a palazzo in Venice.

I am seriously crushing on Mycroft from Sherlock. I know! So weird!

I wish that all girls in the world could attend school without fear of being beaten or kidnapped. In 2014, is that so much to ask for?

My favorite book is Ulysses by James Joyce.

The best book I read in school was The Shining. (It wasn’t on the curriculum, but I liked it so much better than most of what was.)

And right now, I can’t wait to read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

The author whose work I read religiously is Jeanette Winterson.

I absolutely could not write without a pot of strong tea and my stash of dark chocolate.

If I wasn’t a writer, I would be stupendously unhappy.

But I knew I was going to write great things when…um, well...this is a bit of an immodest statement, and I try my best to feign modesty at all times, so I will say that I have wanted to write great things since I was in grade school.

My favorite punctuation mark is the controversial semi-colon.

The grammar rule I always mess up is…pretty much all of them.

One word I love is…folly.

One word that makes me cringe is…frugal. I HATE that word.

The best thing about writing is…all of it. Every bit of it. From the first electric pricklings of an idea, to seeing that idea in print. I think it’s the best job in the whole world.

And the worst thing, sigh, is…well, copy-editing isn’t exactly my fave part of the process.



Let’s talk shop! Below, Bianca tells all about her writing process…


Q: This is your first fantasy novel, right? How was it different from the historical fiction you’ve published?

I get to make up the rules in this series – and it’s so much fun!


Q: And mermaids. Literally, one of the comments on the Goodreads page for this book is: “What? Jennifer Donnelly is writing a series about MERMAIDS?” So, why mermaids?

Why not write about mermaids? There’s always someone trying to put you in a box. I don’t want to be in anyone’s box.


Q: You pretty much have six main characters in this series. How do you give each of them distinct personalities and voices?

By spending time with them. Asking them questions. Who are you? Who shaped you? Who do you love? What do you want? What do you fear? If you’re patient, and you ask again and again, and you listen carefully, the characters will tell you.


Q: It seems a lot of fantasy novels involve a heroine losing her mother. Why do you think this is such a popular trope—what does it do to or for the heroine?

We all lose our mothers. Even if we don’t lose them to death. Fathers, too. We have to, if we’re to find ourselves. We move away from them and strike out on our own. That separation, that standing, or floating as the case may be, at the borderlands of childhood is a process we all go through and, to me, a fascinating one.


Q: There is a lot of silliness is in this book—merlfriends, currensea, a catfish lady. Where does the silliness come from, and where do you draw the line between entertaining and too much?

From the fifth grader living inside me, I guess. I love silliness. My favorite character in Harry Potter is Peeves. I love when Percy Jackson fires a burrito at a skeleton attacker and knocks his head off. I think the Wimpy Kid books are genius. And I’m not sure I did draw the line!


Q: How did you go about building this underwater world?

By becoming the characters and seeing the underwater world from their eyes. From research – reading about oceans and rivers, and their creatures. By poring over photographs of marine life and environments.


Q: What’s the best advice about writing, editing or publishing that you’ve ever been given?

Write a good book. (A bit simplistic maybe, but impossible to argue with.)


Q: What advice can you give other writers who are hoping to get their work published?

No one can guarantee that you’ll get published, but only one person can guarantee that you won’t – and that’s you. So don’t quit. Don’t give up. Don’t tell yourself no.


Q: Like all writers, I’m sure you’ve had your share of tough reviews and criticism. What advice would you give to young writers facing the same thing?

Print your bad review out in 48 pt type, stick it up on your wall, and smile. You got smacked? Good. It means you’re in the game. And there’s no better place to be. You’re working. You’re writing. You’re publishing. That’s all that matters.


Q: When you’re stuck and have no idea what to write or how to solve a problem, what do you do?

I get away from my computer screen and get a pad and pen, and start asking myself questions. Then I write down the answers. That pen and paper combo and the physical act of writing always seem to help me get unstuck.

published May 06, 2014