Interview: Jane Mendelsohn
Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: I Saw by Matt Nathanson
I was recently able to pick the brain of author Jane Mendelsohn via the GoodReads website. Mendelsohn's critically-acclaimed stories include I Was Amelia Earhart, Innocence (a novel I highly recommend and hope you will read before you see the movie), and American Music. Here's my quick Q&A with Jane:
Did the premise for any of your novels arrive in a spark of inspiration? Any stories behind the stories?
Yes, the premise for my first novel, I Was Amelia Earhart, came when I read an article in the paper saying someone had thought he'd found a piece of her plane. The article mentioned that she'd had a navigator, which I'd never known. The idea of Earhart and navigator flying and crashing together immediately got me thinking and sparked my imagination.
My second book, Innocence, actually began as a horror script. Before Amelia was published I was asked to write a horror story about a teenage girl. I worked on it after the publication of Amelia, which was a thrilling success but also a very unexpected and a somewhat traumatic introduction into the world of commerce for me, so I poured a lot of my feeling about that into the writing of what was for me a very metaphorical vampire story.
The story behind the stories of my most recent novel, American Music, is that I had two ideas that wove together. The first was when I heard that there was a secret formula for making cymbals, centuries old but still used today. That got my imagination going on many levels -- I imagined someone fruitlessly searching for the secret to making symbols (I liked the pun/double meaning). In the end, the novel really did become about that, about symbol making and storytelling and their inextricable relationship to love.
The second spark of inspiration came from an anecdote someone told me about a man who would never lie on his back. I instantly imagine a soldier, and starting weaving a story about his secret, his reason.
As you just mentioned, the protagonist of Innocence, Becket, is a young teenager. What were you like when you were Becket's age?
When I was Becket's age I was similar to her in that I was living in the somewhat psychotic world of adolescence, where things are changing so quickly and the brain is evolving so much that the relationship between fantasy and reality can be, or appear to be skewed. But I was Becket's age in an earlier time, and what I was trying to convey with her story was, in part, the difficulty of being her age now, when popular, consumer culture is more than ever feeding off the minds and wallets of teenagers, like a vampire.
Your writing style has been described as lyrical. Do you find your narrative voice wholly different from your daily voice, or do you write how you naturally speak or think?
I don't speak the way I write, as you can perhaps tell from these replies. I think I would drive people crazy if I spoke in the way I write! But I probably do write the way I think. It's an interesting question. In my writing I am trying to get at the rhythms I hear in my head and the intensely visual way I experience the world, while attempting to achieve a level of abstraction that doesn't interfere with the story. For me, the book is a lot about the experience of reading and writing the book, the simultaneous experience of losing yourself in a story while still being conscious of the storytelling. I am always trying to combine opposites and create startling juxtapositions that are beautiful and interesting, and this applies to ideas, stories, images, language.
To learn more about Jane Mendelsohn and her works, visit her website.
Radar Recommendations: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn