Jandy Nelson was nice enough to let me interview her the week her book, The Sky is Everywhere, was released. Anyone who is interested in reading the Sky, or has read it, will love this interview.
Thank you, Jandy! We love you!
What inspired you to write The Sky Is Everywhere?
I had this image in my mind of a grief-stricken girl scattering her poems all over a town, writing secretly on walls and benches and trees, and I went from there. I’d lost someone very close to me suddenly years before and I wanted to write about that kind of cataclysmic and deeply transformational life event. I wanted to explore the intricacies and complexities of grief. But I wanted to explore it all through a love story . . .or two—because what’s a love story without a little complication? I guess I wanted to write a story in which joy and sorrow, grief and passion cohabitate in very close quarters.
How long have you been writing YA fiction?
This is my very first time writing fiction. Before this, I’d only ever written poetry and The Sky Is Everywhere actually started as a novel in verse, but I very quickly realized the story had to be told mostly in prose, which absolutely terrified me! Luckily, I was mentoring with Deb Wiles, who was my advisor at Vermont College of Fine Arts where I was getting an MFA at the time. She was so brilliant, so encouraging, and with her there standing on the shore cheering and making certain I didn’t hit my head and drown, I just dove into the world of fiction. It was so exciting! I never thought I’d write a novel. I went to VCFA to study and write picture books!
You’re an agent as well, right? What do you enjoy most about that?
The best part about agenting is working with writers I adore on work I love and believe in and want to champion and help bring into the world. It’s totally exciting and challenging and ever-changing work, but the absolute best part is making the call to a writer saying that I’ve fallen madly in love with his or her book and want to represent it—that’s such a joyful moment, as is making the call to an author that there is an offer or offers from publishing houses—it’s just crazy gleeful. It’s such a gift to share in those “dreams coming true” moments with clients. I also like rolling up my sleeves and working editorially and developing work and there is the wonderful adrenalin of auctions and these amazing literary relationships that build over years. It’s a pretty great job.
What’s your favorite part about being a writer? What’s your least favorite?
My favorite part about being a writer is being totally lost inside a story, so immersed that your fictional life overtakes your real one. I love the madness of that, when the story is pouring out and you feel this crazy urgency to get it down before you lose it. It’s totally euphoric, and yes, completely wacko. I also love playing with words, fiddling endlessly. I like to kind of just stare zombie-like at my computer screen for days living inside a particular sentence or scene or section trying to make it better, to bring it to life. My least favorite part is self-promotion. As an agent, I’m used to promoting other people’s work and I like that, but I find it a little awkward and embarrassing when it’s my own. I think lots of writers feel like this, like they’d rather focus on the work than how the world perceives their work. At the same time it’s absolutely so wonderful to hear from readers–so the whole thing is kind of complicated and it’s all so new to me—my book isn’t even out yet!
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I like to celebrate not working , to go out to dinner and eat really good food and drink champagne, and be in love, and go walking in the woods and along the beach, and to France, and to the movies, and look at art, and read a ton, and hang out with my friends and family and laugh a lot, and stare out the window or at the ceiling or sky and daydream. Oh, and a secret: I indulge in some really trash reality TV!
I love trash reality TV, too! Twinners! Ha ha! What are your 3 favorite YA/ Middle grade Novels?
Can I have four? Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block, and Carol’s The Chosen One.
What do you enjoy writing most? YA or poetry?
I love both! But I think I like writing YA novels a bit more because when writing a novel, I can live in the world of it longer and more deeply/fully than I can in a poem. I think I learn more and just all around have more fun. It’s like a really long vacation as opposed to a weekend jaunt.
What are you working on now? May I please read it?
I’m working on another YA novel called The History of Luck and Other Odd Beliefs/The Invisible Museum. It’s the story of twins Noah and Jude and it takes place in two time periods and alternates point of views between them—it’s full of secrets and heartbreak and romance and very strong passions. It’s really like two novels in one. I’m anxious to get back to it—I haven’t worked on it in a few weeks. That’s a weird feeling—I felt it with Sky too, like I want to call the manuscript on the phone when I’m not with it! And yes, of course, it’s all yours as soon as I write the thing!
What made you decide to get an MFA in children’s writing? You already have one in poetry, right?
Yes, I have an MFA in poetry from Brown. I decided to go to VCFA because I got obsessed with picture books, kept finding myself hanging out in the children’s sections of bookstores. Picture books are incredibly difficult to write and I wanted to study them and learn how to write them, to crack the code. But when I got to VCFA, I was blown away by everything else that was going on in the world of children’s literature too—I had no idea! I’d been an agent for a while, firmly rooted in the literature for adults but had no clue about the incredible voices of children’s lit—the first book I read was the gorgeous middle grade novel Walk Two Moons. Then I quickly fell in love with the lively buoyant voices of contemporary YA writers and discovered the verse novel. That was it and I started Sky. The whole experience at VCFA was a revelation—it changed my life.
I had one last question, but Jandy was way too humble to answer it. Let me just assure you all, Jandy is getting some of the highest of compliments about her first novel, The Sky is Everywhere.