Tales Q&A with Jennifer Niven
I received a copy of All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven through the post thanks to Lovereading4kids and Penguin just before Christmas. At the time I was opening my book post round at my Moms (she lives next door)…she saw this book, read the blurb and quickly pinched it off me to read! My mom has not read a non fiction book since leaving school (she always reads autobiography’s) so I never thought much off it.
Fast forward to New Years Eve…..I walk into my Mom’s house and she is crying her eyes out! I mean totally sobbing and unable to talk! Thinking the worst I asked what was wrong! She merely handed me All The Bright Places back and cried a little more. She still can’t talk about it without welling up…
I finally got around to reading this book after far too long waiting and through teary eyes I can tell you it’s a beautifully, heartbreaking written book…. I’m not sure how I’m going to put my heart back together!
Once I find the words my review of All The Bright Places will follow soon *blows nose into tissue*, but first I am absolutely honoured, excited and rather speechless to say that I have the wonderful Jennifer Niven on Tales today who was kind enough to agree to a Q&A with me and answer all my questions!
Here we talk about Finch, Violet, playlists, writing, Jennifer’s upcoming UK events and Narnia!
Oh and you may need a packet of tissues *hands tissue to reader*
About Jennifer Niven
Jennifer Niven lives in Los Angeles. Even though she’s always wanted to be a Charlie’s Angel, her true passion is writing. In 2000, she started writing full-time, and has now written eight books. All the Bright Places is Jennifer’s first novel for young adult readers. As a companion to the book, Jennifer has created Germ, a web magazine for and run by girls (and boys) — that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between.
Hi Jennifer. Welcome to Tales Of Yesterday. Thank you so much for featuring on my blog…I am very excited and thrilled to have you here!
Firstly, thank you for writing such a wonderful, beautiful and also important book in All The Bright Places…..it took my breath away and broke my heart…just stunning and I know many people who have said the same too.
All The Bright Places is about a boy named Finch who wants to take his own life. A girl called Violet who, devastated by her sisters death, has stopped writing and enjoying life. They meet on the ledge of the school bell tower and their journey, where they can only be themselves when they are together, begins. What ensues is a story of love, depression, acceptance and being different. The beautiful writing and perfect quotes throughout the book will stay with you for long after you finish reading. *cries real tears*.
What inspired you to write the story of Finch and Violet?
In many ways, I wrote the story I knew. Years ago, I knew and loved a boy, and that boy was bipolar. I witnessed up-close the highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep, and I saw his daily struggle with the world and with himself. I knew Finch and Violet would have a love story because mine was a love story. As for Violet, she is struggling with loss, and that is something I know too well. I’ve lost both my parents, all four grandparents, and numerous other family members and friends, so loss is something I know inside and out.
[The following was a press release I received from Penguin for a release day promotion that took place back in January where myself, friends and family discussed our bright places – check it out here]
I wrote All the Bright Places the summer of 2013, following the death of my beloved literary agent of fifteen years. The last time I saw him, I was nearing the end of a series of books I’d begun writing in 2008 and was feeling depleted and ready—creatively— for something new and different. He told me, “Kid, whatever you write next, write it with all your heart. Write it no matter what. Write it because you can’t imagine writing anything else.” Neither of us knew what that book would be, just as we didn’t know he would be gone weeks later and that I would be making the transition from adult fiction to YA. We couldn’t have foreseen all that lay ahead.
After my agent’s death, part of me wanted to just stop. Stop writing, stop working. But another part of me said no, push through this, and don’t just push through it, make something great happen.
Years ago, I knew and loved a boy. The experience was life-changing. I’d always wanted to write about it—I just wasn’t convinced I would ever be able to.
But that summer of 2013, I thought again about this boy and that experience, and I knew in my heart that it was the story I wanted to write.
So I’m especially proud of this book. All the Bright Places was written about a very hard, sad, lovely time during a very hard, sad, stressful time— but in just six weeks, the book was born.
And now here it is in your hands. (I am still pinching myself that it even exists.)
Thank you, reader. To me, you are the brightest of places.
How important are names to you in your books? Did you choose the names Finch and Violet on liking the way they sounded or do they have some special meaning?
Names are important and some characters are easier to name than others.
When I sat down to write Finch’s first chapter, I heard his voice in my head saying, “I, Theodore Finch, being of unsound mind…” I never even thought about his name. It just appeared. (Probably unconsciously influenced by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favourite books.) I liked the sound of Finch. At first I experimented with calling him Teddy, but he wasn’t Teddy. He was Finch. Always Finch. Later on in the book, he tells the story of a cardinal that killed itself by smashing into the sliding glass door of his house that only made the Finch seem more appropriate. The name just worked.
Once I had Finch, I worked to find “Violet Markey.” I knew I wanted a classic-sounding name, and landed on Violet pretty quickly. Her last name took a bit more thought. I consulted the baby name guides and tried Violet This and Violet That, but nothing clicked. And you need a character name to click—at least I do—if I’m going to really be able to see that character. At the time I was writing All the Bright Places, I’d just wrapped up my second draft of American Blonde, which takes place in Hollywood in the 1940s. I did a lot of research for that book, and in that research I’d come across the story of an actress named Enid Markey, who played Jane in the very first Tarzan film in 1918. Something about the name stuck. It was different but didn’t seem to be trying too hard, and I liked the way it sounded with Violet. It ended up being perfect. I didn’t choose it so that Finch could call her “Ultraviolet Remarkey-able”—that was just creative serendipity.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters in All The Bright Places or have you used any of your own experiences in the story?
Because of the boy I loved, I feel as if I know Finch better, however I most identify with Violet. Like her, I hated my small Indiana town when I was living in it, and didn’t feel as if I truly fit in, and sometimes I kept my feelings too bottled up because I was always trying to be perfect. Also, of course, like Violet I knew and loved a boy like Finch.
What is a Bright Place?
It can be anything or anyone—a word, a book, a person, an actual place. Anything that makes you happy.
Where or what is your Bright Place?
Home. Anywhere my fiancé and cats are. And Los Angeles, where I live. I’m madly in love with my city!
Did you cry whilst writing All The Bright Places?
I did cry while writing it, but I also knew it was okay to cry because that meant I was accessing the emotion I needed in order to write the story. But then at some point, I stopped crying and really focused on Finch and Violet, these two characters, who were both outside of me and inside of me at the same time. Writing about fictitious characters helps a lot when writing something so personal because it gives you the distance you need to be objective— at the same time, all that feeling and real-life experience adds layers and depth to the characters and makes them ring more true.
I loved the Virginia Woolf, Dr Suess and Chronicles of Narnia quotes in All The Bright Places – do these have some special meaning or relevance to you to be so prominent in the book?
Virginia Woolf, here’s something I wrote about her writing and how I came to quote her in my book – here
As for Dr. Seuss, I’ve loved that book ever since a friend of mine gave it to me as a gift for my college graduation. It’s so deeply wise and true, and it could have been written by my parents because they taught me from childhood that my mountain was waiting.
And Narnia. That comes from the boy I loved in real life, the one who helped inspire Finch. The first time he called me, soon after we met, he said. “You make me feel like I just stepped out of the wardrobe and into Narnia.”
I hear casting rumours for an All The Bright Places film which is very exciting! Are these rumours true and have you had much say in the casting at all?
Yes! Elle Fanning is playing Violet, which is amazing because she’s amazing, but it’s also amazing because Elle was the one I pictured when writing Violet’s character. We haven’t cast anyone else yet, but the producers and director are being incredibly lovely about including me in the conversation. We all agree we need a remarkable actor to play Finch—someone charismatic and deep and probably unknown.
Could you tell us about your other books?
My first two books were nonfiction accounts of deadly historic Arctic expeditions, The Ice Master and Ada Blackjack.
I’ve written a series of historical novels about a girl named Velva Jean who grows up in the mountains of North Carolina and later becomes a pilot in World War II, a spy with the French Resistance, and a movie star in Hollywood. Those are Velva Jean Learns to Drive, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, Becoming Clementine, and American Blonde, which came out last summer.
I’ve also written a memoir called The Aqua-Net Diaries about my high school years in Indiana. That one was optioned by Warner Bros. and I developed it for TV with my BFF from high school and Charlie Sheen. (An experience that could easily fuel another book!)
I know at first glance my books don’t seem to have much in common, but I’ve always written the stories I wanted to read.
Growing up who inspired you into writing? Are there any Authors or books that inspired you?
My mother, who taught me to see the story in everything. She was also an author, and when I was little we had writing time, when she would work at her desk and I would work at mine. Back then, we read each other’s work and shared in the creative process, and we’ve done that ever since (until her death a few months ago). From the first time I tried setting words down on paper, I loved the feeling of stepping into a new world—one I created—and arranging the words so that the new world unfolded and grew.
When starting a new book or idea what does your writing process look like?
It changes somewhat from book to book, but these are the things I always do: work in Scrivener (the best writing program ever!) to create character profiles and organize any research; use Scrivener index cards or actual index cards or post-its to write down scene ideas and plot points; remind myself that so much of writing is play because that takes some of the pressure off; try to write a certain number of pages every day; try not to edit as I write. I’m also really careful about what I let myself read while I’m in the middle of a project because I don’t want to unconsciously mimic someone else’s style. And I always, always read my last draft before submission aloud. I’m completely hoarse by the end of it, but it’s amazing what you hear even when you think there’s nothing left to edit.
Do you have any strange writing habits?
I have three cats—my literary kitties—and they love to be with me while I write. Because of this I keep multiple baskets and boxes on and near my desk so that they don’t have to fight over space. I’m at my desk for hours and so I try to give myself quick breaks now and then. I’ll go onto Twitter or ebay or Germ Magazine (www.germmagazine.com, which I created based on the one Violet creates in the book) or I’ll stalk Jared Padalecki on facebook.
What is your favourite part of the publishing / writing process and the least favourite part?
I love creating new ideas. I love dialogue and characters. I love creating the world those characters live in. Middles are rough for me, but I love writing endings. I don’t like editing but I’m good at it, and it’s so very necessary. I love the people I work with—my editor, my agent, the publishing team at Penguin Random House and all my foreign publishers. I love the librarians and booksellers and, most of all, the readers. But reviews are scary, which is why I don’t read any of them except the positive ones my editor/agent/fiancé throw at me. And the business part of writing—all the non-creative author businessy stuff that takes up most of my time—can be exhausting.
Over on Tales Of Yesterday I have recently been asking YA authors if music has any influence to their writing and/or characters. Is there a particular song that influenced All The Bright Places and/or it’s characters and if so how or why?
While I can’t write to music (the words distract me), I always create a playlist that I can listen to when I’m not at my desk—when I’m exercising or driving or doing things around the house. Sometimes I can be stuck on a scene or a plot point at the computer, but then I step away and listen to music, and I’m seeing it.
There are actually several songs that make me think of All the Bright Places, and it’s hard to tell if the writing influences the songs I choose to add to my playlist or if it’s the other way around. For some reason, the very first song I started listening to that made me think of the book was “I Got You” by Split Enz. There’s something bright but frenetic about it, and it always, always makes me think of Finch.
For Violet, it’s One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.” The song makes me think of who she must have been before her sister died. I have blasted the hell out of that song pretending it was for research.
Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” and Peter Gabriel’s “My Body is a Cage” were the two songs I listened to over and over as Finch was starting to unravel.
And Goldfrapp’s “A&E” takes me directly into Violet’s last chapter, kind of sparkling and bittersweet. But there are so many songs—I have something like 125 songs on the playlist I listened to while working on the book.
There is this one though—“Sometime Around Midnight” by the Airborne Toxic Event. I hear that, and suddenly the movie unfolds in my mind. I can see Finch running and Violet wondering what on earth is happening to him…
[You really need to check this band out if you haven’t before…I listened to the whole album whilst typing up this Q&A and they are amazing!]
I’ve created playlists for the book, Violet, and Finch:
Listen to Violet’s playlist – here
Finch’s Songs That Will Change the World – here
All the Bright Places soundtrack – here
What’s next? Any exciting plans that you are able to reveal?
As soon as I finish touring, I’m going to really start in on my second YA novel. It’s about a boy who can’t recognize faces and a very visible girl who feels invisible. It’s about seeing, being seen, and learning to recognize what’s important. It’s about what makes us love someone.
This sounds fantastic!
Thank you so much Jennifer for taking the time to answer these questions and feature on Tales Of Yesterday. It really is an honour and I look forward to reading more books by yourself, meeting you and hopefully the All The Bright Places film!! Eeeeeekkk! 🙂
PS – Please cast Nicholas Hoult as Finch….perfect person! 🙂
You can meet Jennifer Niven in the UK at the following events – click here for links to the events
You can buy Jennifer’s books, including All The Bright Places here
Also there is a fab All The Bright Places page on Jennifer’s website Extras! here
I also asked some blogger what their bright places are here
Checkout the Penguin Random House New Zealand Trailer below
Don’t forget to join in on twitter using #allthebrightplaces
Here, thanks to Penguin, are what some readers had to say about All The Bright Places!
Have you read All The Bright Places? Did you enjoy it as much as me and my Mom? What is your bright place? I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave a comment using the reply button at the top of this page or why not tweet me using @chelleytoy
Be lovely and burn brightly!