Interview: Wendy Mass
Current Mood: pleased
Current Song: Jump to the Rhythm by Jordan Pruitt
I've enjoyed the novels of Wendy Mass for years now. I recently got in contact with her, and we discovered our mutual adoration of cats, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Ricky Nelson and his family, among other things. We spoke of things both serious and humorous. Here, take a peek:
While researching synesthesia for A Mango-Shaped Space, what did you find the most surprising statistic or attribute?
While I was researching the book I kept finding people with some form of synesthesia, practically everywhere I looked. I think it's much more common than people think. I went to conferences were there would be 50 synesthetes in a room arguing over the colors of letters. It was pretty entertaining.
I have one cat right now, Zoey. I've managed to get the names of my past cats into my books -- Muffin will be in my next novel, Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall, Merlin was the inspiration for the cat in A Mango-Shaped Space, and Fang, the one who stole my heart the most, had a cameo in Leap Day.
Fang once got lost when I used to live in Los Angeles. My roommates and I looked everywhere, posted signs, etc. Then, at around 3 in the morning on the third day he had been gone, we were sitting in front of the house after another late-night search and we saw his face appear in the window of our neighbor's garage. It would appear, then disappear, then appear again, like he was jumping! We ran over and knocked on the neighbor's door, and were greeted with the father, in his boxers, aiming a shotgun at us. The nerve!
Once, when I was sleeping, Fang and Zoey got into a fight, rolled over my face, and sent me to the emergency room at 4 AM with deep, claw-shaped gashes on my cheeks. I had to go to work the next day where my boss (the publisher of a small press) announced to everyone that two guys had gotten into a fight over me in a bar, and some glass hit me in the face. That was certainly a better story than the real one!
What song or story makes you cry? Is it because it is sad, because it is beautiful, or because it is sadly beautiful?
When I was in fourth grade, I discovered the song Seasons in the Sun, and I would play it over and over and just weep. It was the first time I realized that an artistic creation could make you cry. Then of course came the movie E.T., where I learned to always bring tissues with you to the movies. I used up a whole box at the end of Titanic.
I think the things that make us cry are the things that remind us of the frailty of life. When people tell me something I wrote made them cry, I know they're crying because it reminds them of something in their own life. As you said, there are different kinds of crying, like in Mango it was probably either sad or happy crying depending on the part of the book, and in Jeremy Fink, I'd like to think maybe it was more nostalgic crying, or sweet crying. Bridge to Terabithia was the first book to make me cry.
What made the plot of Leap Day spring to mind? Was its release in 2004 - a leap year - sheer luck or planned?
I wanted to write a book that showed how we never really know what others are thinking, so maybe we shouldn't rush to judgement. Also, I love the idea that we all effect the world around us, even when we don't realize it. Those two themes came together in Leap Day. I finished the book in August of 2003, and when I pointed out to my editor that the following year was a Leap Year, they decided to hurry it out in time. You've reminded me that next year, 2008, is another Leap Year. Hey, maybe as long as there are Leap Years, my book will stay in print. ;o)
Every chapter of Leap Day has two parts, utilizing first person and third person perspective in turn. Which point of view do you prefer?
I had a lot of fun writing the alternate 3rd person chapters, but I can't really write a whole book that way. I envy people who can, because I think it can provide depth to a story that 1st person can't. However, I seem to only be able to tell a story from the main character's P.O.V. I like the immediacy and closeness of it. I also can't seem to write in the past tense, no matter how much I try.
2008 is a leap year. What do you think Josie will do to celebrate her 20th/5th birthday next year?
I figure she'll be in college, and her friends will all think it's very cool to throw her a big party. And somehow Domino's Pizza will find her, too!
Your newest original novel, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, is being heralded by kids and adults alike. Have you ever received a letter from someone who loved and lost?
One of the first letters I received about the book was from a guy whose real name was Jeremy Fink! He told me he had lost his own father at a young age, and there were other similarities to the story, too. It was pretty wild. Since then another Jeremy Fink has written me. It's actually inspiring me to write an essay tracking down people with the real names of my main characters. But with Mango, many people have told me they can identify with different parts of the story -- either they have synesthesia, or are pet lovers.
Do you share any of Jeremy or Lizzie's quirks or fascinations?
One of the things I enjoy most about writing fiction is that you get to put things you like into your stories. I'm a huge candy junkie, so it was fun giving that to Jeremy. I also really love keys, and collecting odd things, and going to flea markets. And my childhood cat, Muffin, was a lot like Lizzie's cat, Zilla. We had an "Attack Cat" warning on our front door, and whoever didn't heed it, watch out!
Your new Twice Upon a Time series retells classic fairy tales. Which fairy tale is your favorite? How many more books are due in this series?
Before I started this series, I was never a huge fairy tale fan. They kind of creeped me out. I took a class in graduate school on them, and once you read about the deeper, psychological meanings behind fairy tales, it sort of takes the joy away. So I wanted to bring the joy back, to write fun stories that celebrated the reasons these age-old stories are still around. As for more books in the series, that's for my editor to decide. David Levithan, if you're reading this...
What can you tell readers about your next novel, Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall? Who is the target audience?
The Mall book is for teens -- I'd say 7th grade and up. I like alternating between writing middle-grade and teen books. This is my first (and I'm sure ONLY) book written in verse. Don't worry, it doesn't rhyme. It's about a girl who has a near-death experience during a dodgeball game at school and winds up at the mall. It's "edgier" than anything I've written before.
Which piece of your non-fiction backlist makes you the most nostalgic? Have you any plans for future non-fiction works?
Writing all those non-fiction books was a great experience. I love doing research, so I would pick topics that I wanted to learn more about, and that I thought kids would enjoy, too. As for a favorite, Great Authors of Children's Literature gave me a lot of insight into how these writers worked, and why they did what they did. Plus it led me to Judy Blume, who has become a special friend. I don't have plans to write any more though, but I've learned to never say never.
At your website, you have listed some of your favorite contemporary authors and stated that wrote your first fan letter to the very talented Rachel Cohn. Which of her characters and your characters would become pals?
I think her character Cyd Charisse from Gingerbread could be good friends with my character Tessa, from the upcoming Mall book. They both have a coolness to them, and a toughness, but a soft side, too.
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
I decided to go back to my childhood for this one because I really believe you never love books as much as the ones you read as a child. Those are the books you read over and over again 'til they become a part of you. In no particular order:
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Allegra Maud Goldman
Voyage of the Dawn Treader from The Narnia Chronicles
Half Magic (and all the Edward Eager books)
Harriet the Spy
The Phantom Tollbooth
The Artemis Fowl books (okay, so not my from childhood!)