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Interview: Maria Padian

July 14th, 2011 (06:43 pm)
thirsty

Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: City Traffic Puzzle by The Hush Sound

Maria Padian's most recent novel, Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best, follows one summer in the lives of two best friends: Henry (short for Henriette), a fantastic tennis player, and Eva, a gifted ballerina. Opposite in many ways, the girls are fiercely loyal to one another. Henry and Eva's time at separate summer camps specializing in their professional passions will test their minds and their bodies, but their friendship will prove to be unbreakable.

I couldn't put this book down. "This is what Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is supposed to be," I thought. Being a dancer myself, I am drawn to (and very critical of) stories about dance. I was so impressed by Maria Padian's book that I invited her to take part in the Summer Blog Blast Tour, and I was thrilled when she accepted. Read on!

When plotting out Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best, which of the main characters came to mind first, and how quickly did the other follow?

This began as Henry's story. I simply wanted to write about a talented girl dealing with a lot of pressure. I gave her a best friend (Eva!) who was equally talented but in a different way. Before I knew it, Eva was creeping up on me and elbowing her way into scenes. So when Henry was set to go to her tennis camp in Florida, I commented to my teenage daughter, "My editor isn't going to like this. I'm about to abandon Eva in New Jersey!" My daughter, who at age 17 is a pretty incredible "editor" herself, sighed in exasperation, gathered an armload of her own books and threw them on my bed, declaring: "You obviously need a two-narrator novel. Take a look at these." The entire novel changed at that point.

Kudos to your astute daughter! I loved the dual narrative. Which aspects of Eva's personality are similar to yours? And which of Henry's?

I don't think I share any personality traits with Henry and Eva... except... I do get pretty mad when someone makes a bad line call during a tennis match... I've played tennis since I was in third grade, and still play on two women's teams competitively, so the sections with Henry were a LOT of fun to write. I enjoyed getting into her skin and pretending to be really, really good! As for dance: wow. I can barely touch my toes, let alone perform all the amazing things ballet dancer can! I have always loved the ballet, however, and when I was young my mother would often take me to Lincoln Center in New York to watch performances. Like Eva, I was entranced by those crystal lights. So, maybe that is something I share with Eva: a sense of almost childlike wonder about beautiful things.

How did you balance the lighter aspects of the book with the heavier?

Humor. Tone. It's very important when you're writing about a depressing topic, especially for young readers, to throw in a few laughs. While I was writing TOMATOES I attended a performance on Broadway of AUGUST, OSAGE COUNTY, and if you're familiar with that play you know it deals with an extremely dysfunctional family and some very, very dark themes. It is also laugh-until-your-sides-ache funny. I remember thinking that the writer brilliantly tempered the darkness with humor, and I always work hard to do the same in my books.

Did you attend any artistic, athletic, or academic summer camps as a camper or as a counselor?

I never attended any camps...but my children did! My perspective on camps comes from a parent's-eye view.

Were you involved in the making of the book trailer? Did you help with casting, script, editing?

The trailer is truly a "young adult" production! I worked directly with filmmaker, Jasper Lowe, who is a 19-year-old award-winning filmmaker in my town. I wrote the copy and gave him some general ideas of what I wanted, but Jasper chose the visuals, did all the filming and editing and selected the music. The young women who play Henry and Eva are, respectively, an athlete and a dancer we know, and we felt they matched the descriptions of the girls in the book. I notice that young readers are really put off when the actors in a trailer don't match the characters in the book, so we were thrilled to find girls who did!

Kudos to Jasper and the girls! What do you love most about living in New Jersey?

I grew up in New Jersey...and the small, bucolic town I lived in was easy driving distance to New York City. I loved having the best of both worlds: a small town where I could ride my bike everywhere, with a sprawling woods behind our house, but all the culture and excitement of a big city nearby.

Your first novel, Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress, has an eighth-grade protagonist. Do you approach writing for different ages/audiences differently?

It's interesting: with each book, my characters get a little older! I wonder if it's because my children are getting older? Perhaps eventually I'll write one for adults... I don't, frankly, think much about the age of my audience as I write. I try to write in an authentic voice given the age of the particular narrator. I try to make sure whatever movies they are watching, music they are listening to, technology they are using, etc. are accurately geared to their age. I do notice that my older narrators swear while my younger narrators do not. My older narrators have more mature sexual relationships with their "love interests," while my younger narrators are more innocent.

Are you currently working on another novel?

Yes! I just sent a new manuscript to my editor, and am waiting to hear back from her. It's an idea/concept Random House has already expressed interest in, so I've got my fingers crossed that they like what I've come up with. It's another young adult novel, although for the first time I'm writing a male point of view: my narrator is an 18-year old boy from Lewiston, Maine.

Have you noticed changes in your writing style or routine from book to book?

Hmmm. I've noticed an ENORMOUS change from writing my first book, BRETT MCCARTHY: WORK IN PROGRESS. I had no idea of pacing and length when I started BRETT, and literally kept asking myself, "Is this a novel?" At 50 pages into it, I sent it to a few writer and editor friends for a reality check, and got some encouraging advice which prompted me to finish. For TOMATOES and for this latest manuscript, I simply knew how it felt to write a chapter, and I had a sense of the story arc. I can only compare it to practicing a shot in tennis, or a dance move: the more you do it, the more you know how to do it.

As for routine: pretty much the same as ever. I write in the mornings after I walk our dog, who is a very insistent, busy Australian Shepherd, who would glare at me from the couch all day if she didn't get her morning walk. That glare can be pretty distracting, so rain or shine, the doggie goes out first and the writing follows.

Say hello to your puppy for me! You've visited schools via Skype. Do you enjoy these virtual events?

I love the ease and access of Skype ... but it's HARD to keep your eyes focused on the little light of the web cam (if you look at the screen, it appears that you're staring into your lap at the other end!) and it's hard for me to keep my head still as I speak. I like to move around a lot and wave my hands, etc. I would have been an awful anchorwoman.

What do you like the most about in-person school visits and book signings?

I love, love, love to meet readers! I love to visit schools where the kids have read one of my books and hear what they say about the characters. It's absolutely fabulous, because my characters have become (almost) real to me, and it's a thrill to see others get to know them as well. There's really nothing like it, and it's absolutely why I write stories.

List your top ten favorite books.

Wow. This is the hardest question you've asked. I love to read and I like so many books ... but here are ten books which have been special to me or made an impact on me both as a child and an adult:

Charlotte's Web (I consider this a perfect book and I still weep when Charlotte dies); Johnny Tremain; The Witch of Blackbird Pond; Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson); The Secret Scripture (Sebastian Barry); Beloved (Toni Morrison); The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie); Middlemarch (George Eliot); Dubliners (James Joyce); Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy) and I'd have to say I love anything written by Tim Tharp (The Spectacular Now) and Ian McEwen (Saturday).

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I hope you all enjoyed our interview - and I hope that you always make sure to warm up properly before you play any sport. Yes, that includes dancing. Dance is a sport. And if you read or listen to audio books while you dance, rehearse, compete, or work out, leave me a comment below and let me know what tracks are on your summer playlist!

To learn more about Maria Padian, please visit her website.

Check out the other interviews on today's SBBT:

Thursday, July 14th
Tessa Gratton at Writing & Ruminating
Micol Ostow at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Maria Padian at Bildungsroman
Genevieve Cote at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Vera Brosgol at lectitans

Click here for the full week's schedule.

Related Posts:
Booklist: I Am a Dancer
Booklist: Hey There, Sports Fan!
Booklist: Multiple Narrators