Hi Jenny, BIG congrats on your debut YA novel and thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your writing journey and the release of Everything Must Go.
1. Writing a novel while in college sounds like a very difficult task, yet that’s exactly what you did. From a note on your blog, I saw that you focused on writing during winter breaks. Was it hard to stop obsessing over your story or characters when it came time to re-enter the semester and focus on other work? Or was the time away from writing helpful?
Jenny: It was definitely difficult to stop obsessing about the story once school started. There were times when I was in the thick of revisions that it was very hard to pay attention in class and turn in papers on time. But I often found that my schoolwork could feed into my writing and vice versa; it all became a sort of intellectual soup. I began to see all of the interconnections among what I was reading and discussing in class—medieval literature, psychological articles, plays—and the book I was working on. Being in so many academic classes also taught me, or maybe primed me, to think critically about my own work, particularly about the ways in which my novel puts satire, camp, humor, and exaggeration to use in order to deal with high-stakes issues.
2. As a New Yorker, do you embrace writing in noisy cafes or do you find quiet corners of the city to work in?
Jenny: I love working in cafés. My dad is a gym teacher and basketball coach, and I grew up doing my homework on the bleachers of gyms in which raucous games were happening—the final seconds of the game would be counting down, all sorts of things were buzzing, and people were screaming and cheering cheering, but I’d just be quietly outlining a history essay or something. So I’m very good at tuning things out. Lately, though, quieter spaces have begun to appeal to me: libraries, my bedroom, friends’ living rooms, etc.
3. Are you a plotter or a pantser when it comes to writing your first draft? Do you rely on friends or a critique group to help you craft revision strategies?
Jenny: For this book, I plotted everything. I had a big stack of index cards that outlined every single scene and kept rearranging them obsessively. It was a strategy that made sense for this book, because of how careful I had to be about revealing information and how complicatedly and trickily things happened in certain sections, but I’ve been trying to be more spontaneous in other projects. It’s begun to feel almost pointless to sit down to write a book that’s already been so thoroughly outlined.
4. Everything Must Go has a theme of self-discovery—Flora gives up the prep school life to attend a very hippie school in the hopes of wooing a guy that never shows up. She ultimately learns a lot about herself by living in a way she was previously unfamiliar with and clueless about. The novel is told “in a series of letters, emails, journal entries and various ephemera.” Why was it important to tell Flora’s story in this way?
Jenny: I was drawn to this form because of how much freedom I felt it could give me—freedom to enter other characters’ perspectives, freedom to withhold and reveal information in ways that I found exciting, freedom to digress from the central plot and create a winding, surprising story. This form lets the story breathe in a way that didn’t seem possible with another one. It’s almost diasporic in the way that it begins to spread across many perspectives. It also lends itself easily to satire and helped me begin to think through the ideas of collecting and archiving, which are central to the novel.
5. How did you celebrate the release of Everything Must Go?
Jenny: Somewhat ridiculously, I held two launch parties, one in Boston and one in Manhattan.
6. Have you started your next project yet? Any hints?
Jenny: I’m working on a new novel. Its protagonist is a peripheral character in Everything Must Go, but it’s a very different story.
To read more about Jenny Fran Davis and Everything Must Go, click HERE.