Saturday, June 12, 2010

INTERVIEW: Jillian Cantor - Award-Winning YA Author of "September Sisters"

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Jillian Cantor. She is the author of YA novels, “The September Sisters” which was nominated for the Rhode Island Teen Book Awards and YALSA Best Book for Young Adults.

She has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from the University of Arizona, where she was a recipient of the national Jacob K. Javits fellowship.

Her first novel, The September Sisters, was called "memorable" and "startlingly real" by Publishers Weekly. September Sisters is now out in paperback.

Her other novel, THE LIFE OF GLASS was published February 9th 2010 by Harperteen.

Ms. Cantor’s debut novel for adults, THE TRANSFORMATION OF THINGS, will be released in Fall 2010 by Avon/HarperCollins.

Jillian Cantor lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

E.I. Would you share some early self-reflection to give us a sense of who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give your readers three “Good to Know” facts about your first job experience, the inspiration for your writing career, any fun details or anecdotes that would enliven your page. Also tell us about Jillian Cantor today -- the woman behind the author.

Jillian Cantor: As a teenager I loved to read, but in high school I mainly concentrated on music. I played clarinet competitively and spent most of my time practicing or at some band or orchestra rehearsal!

I majored in English in college because I didn’t want a career in music, and English was a subject I’d always enjoyed. I thought I’d be a journalist, and my first job was an internship at a newspaper, the summer after my freshman year in college. I hated it! I got bored very quickly, writing the truth, and I realized what I enjoyed about writing was the creative side, so when I returned to college in the fall, I took my first fiction writing class. That was the point when I really seriously thought I wanted to become an author.

Today, I’m a mom to two little boys, who take up the majority of my time. In any free moment I get, I’m writing!

E.I. What is it about the art form of writing YA Novels that enchants you, and gives you the enduring passion to continue in such a demanding profession?

Jillian Cantor: Well, I do write books for young adults and adults, and I enjoy writing them both. But I think the short answer to your question is that YA speaks to me because I love writing stories that are “coming of age” stories, and I think the teenage years are when these stories most often take place.

E.I. Please tell your young readers about your novel “The Life of Glass.” What was it that sparked your imagination? What were your favorite aspects about this book?

Jillian Cantor: The Life of Glass is the story of 14-year-old Melissa. It takes place about a year and a half after her father dies and follows Melissa through her freshman year of high school as she must deal with her mother dating again, her beautiful and obnoxious older sister ignoring her, and her best friend Ryan abandoning her for the new beautiful girl at school. Also, she begins to unravel a mystery about her father’s past, and begins to wonder how well she really knew him.

The idea for the book came from this image I had of a girl wearing a pink prom dress and riding her bike through the desert. I tried to think about who this girl would be, where she was going, what she was doing, what kind of person she was. It was clear to me she would be somewhat of a tomboy, not caring much about beauty in the traditional sense, and the story came from there. I had it in my mind that this prom dress/bike scene would be the last scene of the book, and I wrote towards that. (It did not, by the way, end up in the book, but you will definitely see pieces of this image near the end.)

My favorite aspects of the book are, as is always true with my books, the characters. I loved writing Melissa and her sarcastic wit. The supporting characters were fun too, and in a lot of ways brought me back to what it felt like to be in high school.

E.I. How do you weave so much information while writing and creating the character ‘Melissa’? Did you work her out in advance, or did she evolve as you wrote the story?

Jillian Cantor: When I write, my characters become like real people to me. So when I thought of Melissa that way, it wasn’t hard to figure out the details of her life. As I started to write her, as I could hear her voice in my head, the details evolved from there. And as I said in the previous answer, really the idea for her came from that image I had. The rest did evolve as I wrote the story.

E.I. You've created a cast of so remarkably captivating and really interesting characters: Melissa, her best friend Ryan, her bitchy older sister Ashley, her aunt Julia and the manipulative new girl Courtney? How did you decide what level of details your readers will accept? How does your creative process work that your readers definitely clamor for more?

Jillian Cantor: Thank you! I’m glad you found them captivating. I don’t think I decided consciously what level of detail to include or what readers would accept. When I wrote the book I tried to tell the story I felt I needed to tell, with the characters I felt needed to be there. I try not to think about how readers will react or what they’ll think when I’m in the process of writing, but rather just to tell the best story I possibly can, in a way where I would believe it and I would want to read it, as a reader.

E.I. In any of your novels, how do you imagine audience as you are writing? Do you try to do character development, chapter outlines, various novel-related brainstorming? Do you have sheets of newsprint covered in a story boards all over your walls?

Jillian Cantor: Well, as I said above, no I really don’t try to imagine the audience as I’m writing. I try to write for myself, to write what I love, and then after I have drafts done and I show the book to my agent or my editor, I get some input that might be more geared towards audience or the market. But as a writer, I don’t worry about any of this in the initial drafts.

I’m not much of an outliner, I’m afraid. Usually I’ll have a general sense of where a story will begin and where I’ll want it to end, and maybe a few key plot points in between to kind of guide the story. Most of the plot comes to me as I’m writing, or even, after I’ve finished the first draft. When I begin I usually have a premise or a hook for the story and some idea of who the characters are. And no, I don’t have storyboards on my walls! Usually I’ll begin with a Word document that lists my cast of main characters, their names, their roles in the story, etc. and a few plot points.

E.I. If you were asked to read a page from “The Life of Glass” is there one that you would personally select to share with your fans? And why?

Jillian Cantor: When I do readings from The Life of Glass, often I’ll choose to read the first chapter. The first chapter takes place about a year and half before the rest of the book, and I think in a lot of ways, it almost stands on its as somewhat of a short story. I think you really get a sense of who the major players in the novel are here – Melissa, her sister Ashley, her mother, her father, her best friend Ryan.

E.I. If you were allowed total control of the Hollywood version of “The Life of Glass” who would be in it? And in your opinion who do you think should direct?

Jillian Cantor: Well I think Kristen Stewart would be great for Melissa and Michael Cera would be the perfect Ryan. I’d say Ashley Judd for Melissa’s Mom and definitely Dianna Agron (Quinn from Glee) would be the perfect Courtney. I’m not too up on my directors to say who should direct, but hey, if anyone wants to, I’m willing J

E.I. And finally what’s next with Jillian Cantor? Can you give your fans a sneak peek about your upcoming book?

Jillian Cantor: My first book for adults will be out on November 2nd from Avon/HarperCollins. It’s called The Transformation of Things and tells the story of a woman who, after her judge-husband is indicted, begins dreaming true things about her friends and family.

E.I. Ms. Cantor, Thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers all over the world?

Jillian Cantor: Thank you so much for having me! A tip I have is not to give up. There’s a lot of rejection in publishing, but if writing is what you love, keep at it, keep revising, and keep trying to get your work out there.

Photo of Jillian Cantor, "courtesy of the author"
To find out more about Jillian Cantor, please visit her website.
To purchase her books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble.

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