Last year, I read A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt and truly enjoyed it. I was pleased that it was a finalist in the Young Adult Fiction category of the Cybils Awards, for if this book had been released fifteen years earlier, I would have checked it out of the library multiple times alongside the likes of A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry and Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. It's just that kind of story: poignant, thoughtful, and dramatic without being unbelievable.
When I got the opportunity to interview Dana Reinhardt as part of the Summer Blog Blast Tour, I took it.
A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life, your first novel, deals with family, religion, loss, and hope. Which topic was the hardest to address?
I guess I'd have to say loss. When I started writing the book I knew that Rivka was going to die. That was the plan from the beginning. I simply couldn't fathom writing a book about faith that didn't deal with death.
But when I got to the point in the book where it was time for Rivka to reveal to Simone that she's dying, I almost backed out. I thought to myself I'm having such a great time writing this story. Why ruin things? I worried that introducing Rivka's illness would suck the life out of the rest of the narrative. So the task after this point became not allowing the book to become too maudlin or sappy, to preserve the lightness while also dealing with tragedy, and this proved to be challenging.
Was A Brief Chapter the first full-length novel you had ever written? How long did it take to write it?
Yes. This was the first time I attempted writing a book, if you discount my aborted efforts when I was nine. It only took me only two and a half months, but I've now written three books and each has taken longer to write than the one before it. And then there's the matter of revision. That can go on forever if you let it. I still find that I can open a book to any page and there's something on it I wish I could change.
Harmless, your second novel, deals with lies and choices. How much of the story had you planned out before you started really writing it?
By the time I sit down to write a book, I know where it begins and I know (roughly) where it ends, and the journey of writing is figuring out everything that happens in between. I find that even if I think I know what happens in the middle, it usually changes, because the story goes off in unexpected directions.
A Brief Chapter has one narrator while Harmless uses three voices. What type of narration do you prefer to write? What is your favorite type to read in other people's stories?
I don't know if I have a preference for a type of narration, but I can say that I think writing three voices is harder than writing only one. It's almost like writing three novellas. But maybe that's just me. Some people think short story collections are for people who can't write novels, but I think short story collections are much, much harder to write. All those narrators! All those stories! So much work!
Likewise, I don't know if I have a favorite type of narration to read. I like stories that feel intimate and personal and honest and astute and I think these qualities can be found in first person or third person or any narrative as long as the story is well written.
Do you think of yourself as a young adult author?
I do think of myself as a young adult author. So far, it's the only genre I've written in and it's what comes most naturally to me.
Are there other age groups you'd like to write for, or genres you'd like to tackle?
I'm not sure if I'll write for other age groups. I think maybe I'd like to at some point, but for now I'm tremendously enjoying digging in to writing for young adults.
At your website, you share that you had difficulty writing a mini-autobiography. What is something you wish people knew about you without your having to say it?
I've probably had to write 15 different little bios since I started publishing books. After a while, it becomes difficult to come up with new things to say about yourself. And dull. I don't consider myself particularly interesting terrain. That's why I write about other people. I also find it tremendously challenging to describe my own books.
Maybe that's what I'd like people to know without my having to say it: I'd like them to have their own ideas of what my books are about.
If you could only pick ten books for your list of all-time favorites, what would you pick?
Wow. This is harder than having to write about myself.
I'll give it a shot, though, but I'll do so with the caveat that if I answered this question on a different day, I might come up with an entirely different list. And also, for me at least, so much of loving a book has to do with at what moment in my life I read it, and how it spoke to me then.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Harper Lee (Whatever the day,
this book would always make my list.)
THE GREAT GATSBY F. Scott Fitzgerald
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA Katherine Patterson
ALL THE LITTLE LIVE THINGS Wallace Stegner
THE BOOK OF DANIEL E.L. Doctorow
DISGRACE J.M. Coetzee
SACRED HUNGER Barry Unsworth
THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY Michael Chabon
THE EXECUTIONERS SONG Norman Mailer
And for current YA, or current books in general: THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak is unparalleled.
Also check out my archive of author interviews. Over 100 interviews in the past year and still going strong!
Today's SBBT Schedule
Tim Tharp at Chasing Ray
Justina Chen Headley at Big A, little a
Ysabeau Wilce at Shaken & Stirred
Dana Reinhardt at Bildungsroman
Julie Anne Peters at Finding Wonderland
Cecil Castellucci at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Bennett Madison at Bookshelves of Doom
Holly Black at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Justine Larbalestier at Hip Writer Mama
Kirsten Miller at A Fuse #8 Production (Parts One and Two)
Tomorrow, Justina Chen Headley finishes out the week at Finding Wonderland.
2010 Update: I had the honor of working with Dana on the redesign of her website, DanaReinhardt.net - Check it out!