Jennifer Bradbury's debut novel, Shift, is about two graduating high school seniors who ride their bicycles across the United States, but only one of them returns. It's a story about friendship, adventure, and independence-- full of mystery and intrigue.
Recently Jennifer and I discussed her novel along with what's next for her and even her experiences on the game show Jeopardy. Here then is our discussion.
Carter: How did you go about putting yourself in the mindset of two high
school boys? Were there any particular challenges and how did you go about addressing these?
Jennifer: As scary as it was to try, writing from a male point of view was actually a lot easier than I expected. I owe a lot of that to the fact that I spent several summers working at a boys camp in North Carolina, where sometimes my coworkers and campers forgot I was a girl. And teaching high school guys certainly helped. But most of all, I think the big ideas at the heart of the book are ones that transcend gender. In that respect, the really important stuff came easily. In the end though, my favorite compliment came from my brother in law, who read an early draft of the manuscript before submission and wrote to tell me: "I always knew you'd make a great guy." So I guess there's a little bit about the way I communicate or see the world that naturally lent itself to these characters.
C: How much of your own journey across the U.S. were you able to include in the book? Did any of the people you met along the way work themselves into Shift?
J: I'd say more than half of the incidents on the road are based on experiences I had when touring. We did spend a night in jail very much like the one the characters experience, fell into some odd church services, and honestly got chased by a coyote. The really fun part of writing this book was synthesizing these incidents in a meaningful way that served the story. And there were a lot of other stories that didn't make the cut!
C: Why young adult novels? How'd you get here?
J: I fell in love with YA when I started teaching high school English and was desperate to get my kids reading. And I'd always loved writing but never entertained the thought of writing fiction until my husband suggested that I'd read so many novels that I must have reached some sort of critical mass and needed to express it somehow. It was several more years after that moment that I tried my hand at writing one.
C: In Shift, it seems that the landscape of the United States plays
such an important role in the book. How did you go about picking the places where you focused on in the writing?
J: A lot of that route is borrowed from the same one my husband and his best friend took when they graduated high school. And I think they chose it because the southern route would have been too hot in the summertime. But I did alter the route a little, while still trying to get them to their destination as quickly as possible. I went in knowing I wanted a few things to happen in specific places, wanted to write a little bit about the area where I live, and wanted each setting to play off what was happening with the lives of the characters. I'm pleased it worked out the way it did.
C: In Shift, we're virtually in Chris' head the whole time. But there
was so much to Win that I want to know more about. There was so much more to his story. Any thoughts on doing a follow-up novel centered on Win?
J: Thanks! I have thought about doing some kind of spin-off, but I'm definitely not ready to write it now. But revisiting Win and the girl he meets toward the end of the story feels like something I might try one day.
C: Who are some of your favorite authors? Books? and perhaps could you fill us in on one particular influence?
J: I love Chris Crutcher. The way his books still stand up and endure in popularity and substance is such a testament to his talent and respect for his readers. I'm also devouring just about everything I can find by Kenneth Oppel and Markus Zusak. And I love Joan Bauer, Laurie Halse Anderson, and too many others to list. And before I discovered YA, I adored all the stuff I was ever asked to read for my English courses—particularly Dickens, Austen, and Charlotte Bronte. And I've a big crush on Flannery O'Connor's stories and novels. On our bike trip across the south, I insisted we detour through Milledgeville so I could take a picture of her old home and check out the reading room at the college library there.
C: What's next?
J: My second book for Atheneum is titled APART (2009). It deals with a family dealing with the fallout of a father's mental illness. And I just sold another book to Atheneum tentatively titled WRAPPED (2010). That one's a big sidestep for me into historical fiction. I'm describing it as Jane Austen meets ALIAS meets Indiana Jones. With mummies.
C: Tell me about your Jeopardy experience. What was Alex like? What was the winning question?
J: Its funny that that ended up on the book jacket, but I think my editor knew it would be something quirky people might latch on to. Jeopardy was a lot of fun. It was all such a lark, and I got very nervous, and was very surprised when I won, but it was a blast. Alex was very, very nice and when the tape wasn't rolling he was joking around with a group of school kids in the audience.
I missed the final Jeopardy question on both days, but on the first day, the other players did as well. I don't recall the exact wording, but on the first show the answer was Captain Bligh and on the second it was Vaseline. That day I had no clue and wrote a little shout out to my college roommate and ended up looking very silly.
C: Any advice for potential authors out there reading?
J: I don't know enough yet to give any advice other than the standard stuff: read a ton, write for the sake of writing, and tell the stories that won't let you ignore them.
Thanks Jen for the great interview. Good luck with what's next.
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