As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

September 7, 2011

Interview with Author, WENDY MASS

Interviewed by Kim Thacker, Bookshop Talk Host
I love all sorts of fiction. From "fluff novels" to "life changers," my bookshelf holds it all. But I have a special place in my heart for books that, when all is said and done, make me feel a bit smarter for having read them. I am, after all, the mother of young children, and as much as I treasure I-Can-Read books about Strawberry Shortcake and Swiper the Fox, sometimes I need a little more meat in my literary diet.

When I first came across Wendy Mass's A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE, I was delighted. The copy I picked up had the silhouette of an orange cat on the cover! How wonderful! (By the way, if you keep reading, you'll find out what Wendy has to say about judging a book by its cover...) But my excitement went way beyond loving the novel's looks. This book introduced me to a topic I had never read about before, and I felt such sympathy for the main character. I gobbled MANGO up and moved on to another of Wendy's novels, then another, and yet another. Each of them left me feeling smarter, and I love that feeling.

Here's more about Wendy, from her website: Wendy Mass is the author of ten novels for young people (which have been translated into 13 languages and nominated for 46 state book awards), including A Mango-Shaped Space (which was awarded the Schneider Family Book Award by the American Library Association), Leap Day, the Twice Upon a Time fairy tale series, Every Soul a Star, 11 Birthdays, Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and Finally. Her most recent book is The Candymakers. Wendy wrote the storyline for an episode of the television show Monk, entitled "Mr. Monk Goes to the Theatre," which aired during the show's second season. She tells people her hobbies are hiking and photography, but really they're collecting candy bar wrappers and searching for buried treasure with her metal detector. She lives with her family in New Jersey.

Now, on to the interview!

Kim Thacker: Your novel HEAVEN LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE MALL is unique in many ways. First of all, it’s about a young woman who has a near-death experience after being hit in the head with a dodge ball (I always knew dodge balls were lethal). Secondly, it’s written in verse! How was writing this verse novel different from writing your prose novels?

Heaven Looks a Lot Like the MallWendy Mass: Once I knew the storyline for the book—that it would be broken down into smaller stories—it seemed like writing it in verse was a good match. It was definitely challenging, and I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to do it again too soon, but I really enjoyed it. 

KT: Not only have you written non-fiction, a verse novel, and prose novels, I recently discovered that you wrote an episode for the second season of the television series, Monk (one of my favorites!), called “Mr. Monk Goes to the Theatre.” What was it like to write a television episode? And although the TV story was fictional, how was writing it different from writing a novel?

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of LifeWM: A friend (Stu Levine) and I pitched a few different ideas to Andy Breckman, the creator of the show, and he hired us to write the story idea. Then one of the writers on the staff wrote the actual episode, so Stu and I have Story Credit. It was a really great experience, and even years later I still catch the episode on reruns.  

KT: Speaking of film, I was so excited to learn that what could be my favorite of your novels is being made into a movie! JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE is about a boy who receives a unique gift for his thirteenth birthday from his father, who died five years before: a treasure chest-type box that contains “the meaning of life.” The trouble is, the box is locked by four keys, all of which are missing. This is such a wonderful, exciting, heart-wrenching story! When can we expect this movie to come out, and would you mind telling us a bit about your experience with having your novel made into a movie? 

WM: The movie is coming out in early 2012, BUT Walmart has snagged the exclusive right to offer it in their stores much sooner, in fact starting October 4th! The movie-making experience was very surreal. It really took on a life of its own, quite apart from the book. The filmmakers were very faithful to the heart of the story and I hope readers will get a kick out of seeing Jeremy and Lizzy come to life. They did a great job with casting not just the young leads, but all the supporting characters, too. Check out this IMDB page for a listing: Jeremy Fink Movie. Or see the movie trailer here.

A Mango-Shaped SpaceKT: One of my favorite things about your novels is that I feel like I learn something from each of them. When I read A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE, I learned a lot about synesthesia, (click here to read about synesthesia on Wendy’s website). When I read EVERY SOUL A STAR, I learned a lot about eclipses. As much as I learned about these two subjects, I felt that I learned even more about your characters as people. Mia (from MANGO) and Ally, Bree, and Jack (from EVERY SOUL) seem so real! In these two novels, did you choose a subject to write about, or were the subjects secondary to the characters?

The CandymakersWM: Hmm, a tough question! Basically I start with the story, the plotline, some topic that I am excited to explore and share. Then before I write it, I do a pretty thorough bio of each character. That way I feel like I know them even before the story starts. In that way, the two aspects of the book are pretty closely linked. 

KT: Your love of candy shines through the pages of your most recently published novel, THE CANDYMAKERS, which is about four children who have been selected to compete against one another to create the world’s best candy. Tell us, what is your favorite candy? 

WM: I’ve never met a candy I didn’t like. I am very easy to please on Halloween. :)

Every Soul A StarKT: EVERY SOUL A STAR and THE CANDYMAKERS, are written from three and four points of view, respectively. Another of your lovely novels, LEAP DAY, which is about a young woman who was born on February 29th, lets the reader into the minds of many characters. What caused you to choose a multiple point of view narration style for these books rather than one point of view?

Leap DayWM: In LEAP DAY I really enjoyed leaping into the heads of so many characters, and playing with the idea of surprising the reader with what the characters were really thinking (versus what the narrator thought they were thinking). So with the other books I decided to continue switching POV’s, but tried to mix it up each time in terms of format. It lets me get to really know the characters, and I hope the reader feels the same way.

KT: Your books have been translated into thirteen languages, which means they have been published with a variety of covers! Which cover is your favorite? And speaking of covers, what do you think of the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”?

WM: Since we see a cover before we see the inside, I really do think the cover matters. Of course it takes a lot for everyone to agree on what they like. My editors have come to expect I’ll complain about at least some part of each cover. J As for the foreign editions, it’s always a lot of fun to see them. The Indonesian cover of A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE is really fun and colorful and wacky. The German Jeremy Fink edition has dice instead of keys on the cover, so I admit that one confuses me a bit. :)

13 GiftsKT: 13 GIFTS, your newest novel and the third book in your “birthday” series (others include 11 BIRTHDAYS, and FINALLY) came out on September 1! Will you tell us a bit about it? Also, you recently revealed on your blog the title of your new work-in-progress: PI IN THE SKY. We would love to hear whatever you’re willing to divulge about this book, too!

WM: 13 Gifts revisits all the characters from the other two “Willow Falls” birthday books. It has a magical element to it, but mostly its about a girl trying to figure out what it means to turn 13 and find out that her life is very different from what she thought it was. PI IN THE SKY is my first attempt at a kind of wacky science fiction-fantasy story. It’s about the son of the overlord of the universe who accidentally destroys the earth and has to rebuild it. Told you it was weird. :) 

KT: Finally, one of our favorite questions to ask authors: What are the titles of your all-time favorite books?

WM: The ones I loved in my childhood are still my favorites. I think these books become a part of you when you read them so many times: The Narnia Chronicles, the books by Edward Eager, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Are you there God, It’s Me Margaret, Harriet the Spy.


Katie L. said...

What a great interview! I am definitely going to check out A Mango-Shaped Space and some of the other books mentioned here -- especially the novel in verse! Wow!

Amy Finnegan {} said...

These books sound like the  stories are actually tangible! Everything that the plots involve seems to bring the reader's senses alive. Very, very cool! I need to start reading this impressive list right away :)

Thanks to both of you for such a great interview!!

Karlee said...

Fabulous interview! I had no idea Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life was being made into a movie. I loved that book to bits! Thank you for taking the time to do this!

Kelli said...

Loved this interview! I am excited about Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life being made into a movie, as well! And, since Halloween is just around the corner, I think my kids and I may read The Candymakers aloud together -- sounds like a fun one!

Meredith said...

I just heard of her for the first time last week. And now I've heard how great her books are twice! I will have to check some out.