Interview: Julia DeVillers & Jennifer Roy
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I've got a double treat for readers today: an interview with authors Jennifer Roy and Julia DeVillers, who just so happen to be twins. Individually, they have written award-winning novels and non-fiction works for kids and teens; together, they are writing the Trading Faces series, where the main characters are twin tween girls. I got to know Julia better when I worked on a website for a group of authors, and she introduced me to her sister when Jen wanted a new look for her own website.
I love that this interview sounds like a conversation we had at a café...even though Julia's currently living with her family in the former soviet republic of Georgia, while stateside Jennifer and I are completely different time zones. I also love that Julia is calling this a "twin-terview." Portmanteaus make me happy, and these ladies make me smile!
Little Willow: Which of you was the first to say, "I want to be a writer when I grow up?"
Jen: Julia. Her first grade teacher told her she was going to be a famous author someday.
Julia: I was the lucky twin who had Mrs. Guest, who encouraged me by photocopying my illustrated stories to share with the class. Please do note that she never said I'd be a famous illustrator, though. In hindsight, my artwork was painful.
Little Willow: It was probably better than mine. My middle school history teacher asked me why I had depicted a dog pulling a cart. I told her that it was a horse.
Julia: But really, Jen and I both loved creative writing since we were really little. Instead of passing notes to each other, we wrote notebooks.
Jen: A lot of notebooks! But I thought of writing as more in the background. I went to college for psychology and education and became a teacher – first for special education, then for gifted kids.
Julia: I have a master's degree in journalism but I petitioned to take children’s literature in the education department as a 'minor.' (I had to petition because the journalism board didn't think children's literature was 'serious' enough. I won that battle.)
Little Willow: Congratulations!
Julia: I loved it. Jane Yolen came to speak and I wondered if it was too late to drop the journalism altogether and just live in the kid lit program. It was, but learning journo skills like how to meet a deadline serve me well.
Little Willow: Who suggested you write a series together? Was it your idea, or that of an
editor or friend? Had you ever attempted a novel-length collaboration before?
Julia: Trading Faces was our first collaboration. Once we both were published, people would ask: "When are you two going to write a book together?" I figured it could go either way: It would be super-smooth a la identical twins reading each others' minds or...we'd kill each other. Fortunately it was the former, and we've just finished the third book in the series.
Jen: We were individual writers before we co-authored the "Trading Faces"
series. Julia was the "Disney" twin - her novel was turned into the Disney Channel Original Movie Read It and Weep. And I was the "Holocaust" twin, for "Yellow Star". Okay, the comparison made me seem so serious and depressing. I was ready for something lighter and was excited to try writing with Julia. Our agents were really enthusiastic, too. (Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media is mine, Mel Berger of William Morris Endeavor is Julia's.)
Jen: Our whole twin series started when Julia and I made up a list of the Top 10 Twin Questions People Ask. We put it in "Trading Faces" and wrote responses from our characters, Payton and Emma. I'll repeat a few of them here and we'll give OUR answers. Question: If I smack you in the face, will your twin feel it?
Jen: Let's test it. Julia, thousands of miles away in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, slap yourself. (Jen pauses) Nope. Didn't feel a thing.
Julia: I think that answers another stupid twin question: which one of you is the evil twin?
Jen: Hey! Question: Do you like being an identical twin? Answer: I always have...with one exception. In second grade, my mom made me get a pixie cut, while my sister's hair was long. People would say, "How cute – boy and girl twins!"
Julia: I remember that fondly, myself.
Little Willow: For the Trading Faces series, Jen, you write for Emma, and Julia, you write for Payton. Do you plan the story out together, then write separately? Who ends up doing more of the editing as you knit the chapters together?
Jen: We come up with our characters first, and then brainstorm the plots together. Usually it has been long-distance, me in upstate NY, Julia in Ohio, unless we were visiting each other. I would write an Emma chapter, e-mail it to my sister...
Julia: - and it would be my turn to write for Payton. We really have been on the same wavelength. I mean, in some ways we lived the story together. All the stupid twin questions - If I hit you, does the other twin feel it? - to finding your own identity.
Jen: It's been really fun. My sister had me laughing so hard when I read her chapters. As for editing, I ended up taking care of the character’s class schedules, the days, the timing of the switches – making sure Emma and Payton's middle school lives made sense.
Julia: Yeah, I admit I have problems with the sequencing so Jen keeps me on track. I edit the "tween" stuff – like dialogue, technology, and all the current things tweens might relate to.
Jen: Hmm….that makes me sound like the serious one again. I do the boring logistics and Julia adds the girl stuff.
Julia: If you read the chapters by Emma, you know Jen is not boring! The hilariously smart interactions between Emma and her not-quite-boyfriend Ox are one of my favorite things about the book.
Jen: It's fun to get fan mails from readers together; especially from twins or girls who say, "I'm Payton!" or, "I'm Emma!"
Little Willow: Jen, your verse novel Yellow Star was inspired by your Aunt Sylvia's life, and your new young adult novel MindBlind was inspired by your son. Do you have any advice for a young author who finds herself inspired by a relative's real-life story and wants to write fiction rather than a biography? How does one clearly distinguish between fact and fiction, and not step on anyone’s toes or feeling along the way?
Jen: Both Yellow Star and MindBlind were about topics that were personal, and I was reluctant at first to write them. I wasn't sure I could do the Holocaust or Asperger Syndrome justice. But once I found my characters' voices, I could write their stories. I think any young writer who chooses to write about a relative should not put pressure on him/herself to do it "perfectly." And getting feedback from the actual person would be a good way to make sure that (s)he is "okay" with how the story is told. As an adult, it's a little different – sometimes you have to write a painful truth. But I'm fortunate that my inspirations are positive people, and their stories were ultimately uplifting. (Jen pauses) Maybe the next book I write will be inspired by my twin sister. Kidding. Or maybe she can write one about me...
Julia: Eeps. (She shudders.)
Little Willow: You've each written your fair share of non-fiction works. How did you get involved with those imprints? Are you interested in writing more non-fiction, or are you focusing solely on fiction now?
Julia: My first book, Girlwise, was a nonfiction advice book for girls. After journalism school, nonfiction felt very comfortable for me. Fiction seemed like something my idols wrote. Then, one of my editors said he "knew" I had fiction in me, and I'm eternally grateful because it resulted in my first novel. I'm mainly writing fiction now, but I use my journalism skills for research. For example, when writing the Liberty Porter, First Daughter series, I immersed myself in first families and White House lore, and then visited the White House - and got to shake hands with the president.
Jen: Julia got me started in my writing career! She found some places where I could use my teaching background to get published. I started writing educational articles, curricula, workbooks, then "jumped up" to educational books, which were my bread-and-butter for a few years. So, my twin gets the credit for first showing me I could write and get paid for it! I think I'm done with non-fiction, but you never know.
Julia: I can take the credit for starting her but give her the credit for keeping me going during my challenging writing times. When I'm stuck, I can call her at any hour and say "Okay, help!" and she'll genuinely know how to fix my issue.
Little Willow: What are you currently working on?
Jen: I've been doing book signings for MindBlind. I came up with an event called "Authors for Autism." Our state senator, who has two grandchildren with autism and is a big advocate, was honored at the event. And I got amazing book basket door prizes donated from Marshall Cavendish and Aladdin/S&S. Also, Tom Angleberger ("The Strange Case of Origami Yoda") sent me a signed Origami Yoda to give away. So fun! Also, I homeschool my son and LOVE it, so that takes up some time. As far as writing? My son and I are doing NaNoWriMo, and we'll see if anything comes of that. By the way, he's way ahead of me on word count. Drat. Oh! And Times Squared, the third book in our Trading Faces series, comes out in January. I think it's the best one yet! And the cover? Let's just say, "Paige Pooler rocks!" And...yes, Julia and I are toying with another collaboration.
Julia: I'm in the early stages of an intense YA. It's different from what I've written before, but I'm really into it. I have another middle-grade project in the works, too.
Little Willow: Do you ever read each other's works-in-progress?
Jen: Yes, usually we do at least once when the book is being written. But mostly we just cheer each other on and "unstick" the other when needed. There's no rivalry – we're both excited when anything good happens to either of us.
Little Willow: Each of you, name your ten favorite novels, please!
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Chosen by Chaim Potok
The Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
The Stand, The Dead Zone, and It by Stephen King
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
Julia: Hmm, Jen covered a lot of my favorites, including my all-time favorite children's book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg. We really are identical. So may I laud some more recent books that have sparked me lately to share? These are ten books I've given as gifts to friends lately:
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Life as We Know It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summer
Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm
Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man
McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino
Sloppy Firsts series by Megan McCafferty
Bobby the Brave (Sometimes) by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat
...and I just pre-ordered Real Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart. That's a variety, eh?
Jen: Little Willow, I appreciate getting to do this interview with my twin sister-slash-amazing author-slash-best friend. Thank you!
Julia: Times two!
Little Willow: Thank you both!
Visit Jennifer's site.
Visit Julia's site.
Bonus: Sisters Booklist!
Follow the Winter Blog Blast Tour (WBBT) all week long! Here is today's schedule:
Kathi Appelt at Shelf Elf
Heidi Ayarbe at The Happy Nappy Bookseller
Julia DeVillers & Jennifer Roy at Bildungsroman
LeUyen Pham at Finding Wonderland
Paula Yoo at HipWriterMama