Author Interview: Jennifer Donnelly

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Jennifer Donnelly:

Jennifer Donnelly is the author of three novels: A Northern Light, The Tea Rose, The Winter Rose, and Humble Pie, a picture book for children. She grew up in New York State, in Lewis and Westchester counties, and attended the University of Rochester.

Jennifer’s first novel, The Tea Rose, an epic historical novel set in London and New York in the late 19th century, was called “exquisite” by Booklist, “so much fun” by the Washington Post, a “guilty pleasure” by People and was named a Top Pick by the Romantic Times.

Her second novel, A Northern Light, set in the Adirondack of 1906, against the backdrop of an infamous murder, won the Carnegie Medal, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Borders Original Voices Award, and was named a Printz Honor book. Described as “rich and true” by The New York Times, the book was named to the Best Book lists of The Times (London), The Irish Times, The Financial Times, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and the School Library Journal.

The Winter Rose, her third novel and the second book in the The Tea Rose trilogy, will be published in the United States on January 8, 2008 by Hyperion.

Jennifer lives in Tivoli, NY with her husband, daughter and two fat rats, who were bought as dog substitutes when the family’s last greyhound went over the rainbow bridge, but have since become beloved pets in their own right…but still, it all feels a bit Addams family. As a child, Jennifer loved to write and often inflicted really dreadful poems and stories on her family and friends. She loved to read, too, and the high point of her grade-school week was a Saturday trip to the library.

It still is. --Goodreads
  • What influenced you to write this novel, Revolution?
Revolution got started ten years ago, although I didn’t know it then. I was reading the New York Times and saw an article – “Geneticists’ Latest Probe: The Heart of the Dauphin.” It showed a picture. Of a glass urn with a heart in it. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The article said that a human heart, very small and very old, that had been in a glass urn in the Basilica of St. Denis in Paris, had just undergone DNA testing and had been found to be the heart of Louis Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

I knew, as I’m sure you all do, that during the French Revolution Louis and Marie Antoinette were imprisoned and eventually guillotined by the revolutionaries – who were at that point led by Robespierre. What I didn’t know, though, was that after the king and queen were executed, their children – fourteen-year-old Marie-Therese and eight-year-old Louis Charles, the dauphin, were kept in prison. Marie-Therese would survive her imprisonment and would be released in 1795. Louis-Charles was not so lucky.

As heir to the throne, he was seen as a threat by the revolutionaries. It was rumored that powerful people were plotting to free the child and rule in his name. To prevent this, Robespierre and his crew essentially had Louis Charles walled up alive. He was kept in a small dark cold cell. Alone. Without books and toys. Without enough food or a fire. He became sick. And he went mad. And eventually he died. At the age of ten.

Needless to say, that article really upset me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Couldn’t stop wondering how the idealism of the revolution devolved into such cruelty. I went to bed thinking about it. Woke up thinking about it. I recognized the feeling – it’s how I feel when a book is starting inside me. But I couldn’t act on that feeling because I had other books due at the time. Nonetheless, the story stayed with me. Time moved on. I finished the other books. And I had a child. Which changed my life in many wonderful ways.

And in one not so wonderful way – after I had my daughter, I somehow lost my protective shell. The one we all have. The one that enables us to hear a horrible story on the news and still go on with our lives. When my daughter came along, suddenly every news story about an abused child destroyed me. The dreadful pictures of maimed soldiers and civilians coming out of Iraq made me weep. Reports of atrocities in Darfur undid me.

As a new mother, I knew what a child was in a way that I had not before. I knew how fragile and innocent children are. And that someone could hurt them, that they could starve in a famine, or be injured by a bomb….well, I could not understand that and I couldn’t bear it and I wondered, as I never had before, what kind of world is this that allows it? How do we manage to live in it? How do we raise children in it?

These questions were haunting me and I had to find answers. So I set about trying to do that the only way I know how, by writing a story.
  • Andi's life, in Revolution, revolves around her music. Besides writing, what else does your life revolve around?
My young daughter and my husband, and too many animals! A greyhound, a rabbit, and seven chickens. And the small farm we are starting.
  • What are you working on now?
I am actually about to take a bit of a break and venture out into the world for two weeks. No computers, no emails, no work. Just travel. I'm very much looking forward to it. When I return, I'll be sitting down with a few YA ideas that are rattling around in my head to see if I can turn any of them into a book.

I hope you enjoyed this lovely interview with Jennifer Donnelly.  Want more of her greatness?  You could visit her on her website, check her out on Goodreads, and stalk her on Twitter.  But don't forget to read my review of Revolution

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