Welcome to my blog about books and the classroom.
A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

Interview with Jennifer Bradbury

Thanks so much for agreeing to an interview, Jennifer. I’ve been so excited to offer this review to readers, and I just wish I would have read it sooner, so I could have ordered lots of copies when I had a grant. But not to worry, I’ve got my eye out for more grants to bring awesome YA reads like SHIFT into my classroom! For all my readers out there, trust me: you want this one on your shelves.
Alright, Jennifer-from-Kentucky, here are some questions:
1.) To write extensively and believably about any sport or hobby, usually authors have some experience in that field. Since SHIFT is a story revolving around cross-country biking, what experience do you have with biking? How did that shape your story?
My own bike touring adventures certainly informed what happens in SHIFT. When I started thinking about writing the story, it was sort of an effort to combine some of the anecdotes from trips that I’d taken with my husband (cross country from SC to LA, in AK, and little trips around WA), and the trips he’d done before he met me with his best friend. So the biking stuff all comes from those experiences. Plus, I go to spin class once a week, and still haul my two little kids around in the trailer attached to my bike.
2.) When you were writing SHIFT, did you come to any proverbial flat tires? If so, how did you push through?
I love the way you phrase this question, but not really. At least not many I can remember. From the beginning, I felt like I had something that was really working with the book, and it really pulled me along at a steady pace. The closest I think I came to a flat tire would probably be near the very end of the publication process when I was going through those last passes and copyedits. At that point I’d read and reread and revised the manuscript so many times that just getting through the text was hard, because my brain kept playing tricks on me regarding what was there and what had been at some point in the manuscript.
3.) How did you find the inspiration to create Chris and Win? What methods did you use to characterize them so flawlessly?
I’m so glad they are convincing characters for you. I was actually really hesitant to write about guys, as before I’d only written from a female perspective. But I borrowed a little from the dynamic of my husband and his best friend at that age, and then played around with the personalities. And I just tried to make them sound like guys I’d observed in my classes as an English teacher, or guys I hung around with at camp when I used to work at Rockmont in NC. But at the core, I think the emotions and challenges the guys face are pretty universal. After that it was a matter of making the ways they communicated with each other feel authentic.
4.) While I was not confused in the least as a reader, I can’t imagine how you didn’t get confused as the writer. What kind of pre-writing did it take to “shift” back and forth between the present and episodic memories without losing track of time?
I plan stuff out really carefully, and the book blocked out that way from the beginning. At one point I did pull out the post it notes and have a big flowchart on the wall. Now I’m into using Scrivener, which would have been really handy when I was working on SHIFT. But honestly, it was really fun to sort of puzzle the book together.
5.) Because I’m always so excited to read great books from Kentucky authors, can you discuss how living in Kentucky affected you as a writer?
Can I just say how flattered I am to be considered a KY author? I’ve read enough Bobbie Ann Mason and Jesse Stuart and Wendell Berry to feel really, really honored. And KY is certainly a huge part of who I am. And spending time studying English at WKU, where I really felt like I gained confidence as a reader and a writer was a big part of that. And I think there’s just a bit of that love for story and storytelling that is so strong in that part of the country. And even though Chris and Win are from WV, there’s a lot of overlap in my mind regarding that quality. They’re also just very normal kids, and those are the ones I was around growing up—nothing like the crazy, stylish, superadult kinds of kids on TV. Speaking of KY, I’m really excited to tell you I’m working on a couple of books set in KY, one a historical and one contemporary–but it will be a long time before they’re ready.
6.) I’m a writer, too (though I’m unpublished as of yet), and in my current ms, the mc is a golfer. Sometimes I’m afraid that I’ll disinterest my reader with my golf language. What advice to you have me, and other writers who need to incorporate lots of jargon?
I always kind of like to read that jargon, particulary because it makes me feel like I’m getting a bit of a truer glimpse of a lifestyle that may not reflect my own. I think for me the key is not using it for its own sake, that is, not throwing it in to try and gain credibility with the reader. It should be natural, it should be part of how the character thinks or speaks. I don’t think it even matters that much if the reader can get from the context what you’re talking about so long as it feels right. My editor is always saying to write for your smartest reader, the one who’ll get everything. If readers don’t know what a derailleur is, chances are it won’t make them put the book aside, but if I spend a ton of time having one of the characters explain what it is, then that might.
7.) What are the last five books you’ve read? Why those?
Right now I’m nearly through with Bill Bryson’s At Home. I don’t read much non-fiction, but he’s a writer I really enjoy and the book is pretty fascinating. Before that, I read M.T. Anderson’s The Game of Sunken Places (because they had it on display at the library and I hadn’t read that one yet!). Let’s see, the one before was The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise. Honestly, it had a cute cover and was about the Tower of London, so that’s all I really needed at the moment. I also recently read the final book in Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. I gave a lot of his books away as Christmas presents this year. And also recently I read Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson, which I liked even better than Chains.
8.) On your website (<http://www.jennifer-bradbury.com/bio.html>), I see that you were in English teacher in your “former” life. This makes me happy! I love hearing of teachers-turned-writers and their journeys. Could you tell us a little about your transition from a teacher to a full-time writer? (I bet you miss the kids; I know I would!)
I do miss the kids, but my own (5 and 2 years old) keep me really busy. I taught for ten years before leaving to spend more time with my kids and try to write a little more regularly (which means when they take naps). But I only stumbled into writing YA fiction (and really, writing at all) because of my time teaching. I read so much YA over a couple of years when I first started in an effort to have books I could recommend to my students, that something in me made me want to join in the fun. And I even read chapters aloud to my ninth graders in writing workshops, and got great feedback.
9.) Can you tell us about your next YA novel and when we can buy it?
WRAPPED is a historical adventure set in 1815 London. My husband calls it Pride and Prejudice meets Indiana Jones meets Alias. It releases on May 24, 2011.
10.) Would you share some reader responses to SHIFT with us?
My favorites are usually the ones where readers are writing to tell me they want to learn more about bicycle touring. Those always make me smile.

All of these bonus round questions take place on a lonely highway in North Dakota in June. You’re on your bike and you can take…
One person with you? My husband.
One luxury item? My espresso machine? Or maybe just a Starbuck’s card.
One book? Whichever one I’m working on. Can I cheat and say my MacBook?
One food? Dark Chocolate.
One picture? One with my kids in it.

Alright, Jennifer. Thanks so much for participating. I can’t wait to get SHIFT into the hands of my students not only because it’s great, but also so we can beam with pride at another successful Kentucky author!

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