Wednesday, March 28, 2007
An Interview with Jeanne DuPrau
I am very excited to be able to introduce our next Shrinking Violet Interview with the incredibly talented Jeanne DuPrau, author of the popular (and hugely successful!) The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, and Car Trouble. Her books are adored by children and adults alike and captured the reading publics imagination four years ago when she introduced The City of Ember, “the only light in the dark world.” Jeanne has written both a sequel, The People of Sparks, and a prequel, The Prophet of Yonwood. A fourth book is forthcoming.
I first “met” Jeannie on a YA writer’s list I’m on and was struck by her quiet, writing-centered life. (She has assured me that this is merely an illusion, but one I am loathe to give up.) Since I have two teen aged sons and feel like I live in the middle of what seems like a testosterone tornado most days, I was beyond envious.
What I love about Jeannie’s story is how she’s a great example of writing such a terrific book, that all of the rest of it—marketing opportunities and promotional support from her publisher—pretty much fell into place. Yes, she still has to follow through on the obligations, but she doesn’t have to hustle them up or create opportunities of her own.
RL: Do you work with an agent?
JD: Yes. She has been wonderful. She does all the things that I would be terrible at--sending manuscripts to the right places, negotiating contracts, dealing with foreign rights, and dealing with numbers in general. I don't like numbers.
RL: How many years have you been writing and publishing?
JD: I've been writing more or less since I could read. My first publication was a magazine article, back in the mid-seventies, and I've been having things published ever since--mostly non-fiction, until the Ember books.
RL: Can you tell us a little about how you sold The City of Ember? Did your publisher express their enthusiasm right from the start? Or did it grow over time?
JD: I sent the ms. to one agent who turned it down and one publisher who turned it down. Then it was accepted by an agent (the one I have now), who submitted it to several publishers, and there was enough interest for an auction. This was so exciting to me that if I'd had heart problems I would have been in trouble. Random House made the best offer, with great enthusiasm, and my relationship with my editor there has been very good from the beginning.
RL: Where would you place yourself on the introversion/extroversion continuum?
JD: Pretty close to the introvert side, although not all the way, and I've inched a bit closer toward the other end of the scale as the years go by.
RL: How do you feel about the label "shy"? Does it fit for you? Or, would you describe yourself differently?
JD: Shy was definitely how I described myself for most of my life, and it still fits, although not nearly as much. I used to be terrified to speak up in a group, to nearly have a nervous collapse over oral reports and piano recitals, and to end up lurking in corners at parties. Those things have changed, but I'd say I'm still shy at heart.
RL: Have you ever felt pressured to take on a bigger promotional role (by your editor/agent/inner demons) perhaps one you were uncomfortable with? How did that go?
JD: My publisher wanted me to do a big national tour for my second book. It loomed in my future sort of like an execution date--the closer it got, the gloomier I felt. Other things were going on, too--back pain, for one, and an aging mother. At sort of the last minute, I decided I just couldn't face the tour, and I canceled. I think this was a pretty bad thing to do. The following year, the tour proposed was even longer, and I did the whole thing. It's never quite as bad in actuality as it is ahead of time in my mind. In fact, some aspects of it were rather fun.
RL: What do you do to promote yourself and your books?
JD: I accept invitations--some, not all. I put conditions on them. I won't speak at schools where the students haven't read my books. I have certain grades I like to talk to more than others. I won't drive great distances. I am sort of a pill about all this. On the other hand, I answer all my e-mails, I send bookplates to those who request them, I do free things locally. But if I had to depend on my own promotional activities to sell my books, my books wouldn't get sold.
RL: How long did it take you to settle on this balance?
JD: It took a few years of experience--of learning what kinds of events work out well and which ones are likely not to.
RL: What promotional situations are you the most comfortable in? The least?
JD: I wouldn't sit at a table in a bookstore and hope that people would drift by to have a book signed. The school book fairs I've been to have usually not been worth the time. The best events are classroom visits where the teacher has done a good job preparing the kids.
RL: What do you do to recharge after you’ve had a big dose of public contact?
JD: Come home (or back to the hotel), have some food and a glass of wine. Or if it's daytime, and I'm at home, I go out into the garden and putter around, deadheading geraniums or pulling weeds. Or I go for a walk with my dog. Or I read, or (if I'm truly wiped out) look at pictures in magazines.
RL: How would your best friend (or spouse) complete this sentence?
"Jeanne's idea of a perfect day is..."
JD: Work on writing for an hour or so in the morning and make wonderful progress; get lots of interesting e-mail; get a call from my agent announcing something exciting; spend the afternoon alternating between gardening and reading; and for dinner be invited to the house of a friend who's a good cook.
RL: How about favorite introverts? Who would you most like to dine with?
JD: Can't think of an answer for this one. Sometimes it's easiest for an introvert to dine with an extravert, who will take care of most of the talking.
RL: What's the best piece of promotional advice you ever got?
JD: I can't think of any. It never occurred to me when my book was published that I would have to promote it myself. Luckily, I haven't had to--that is, I haven't had to think up my own promotional campaigns and strategies.
RL: How has being an introvert helped or hindered you in the writing business?
JD: Writers have to be alone a lot, and I'm used to that and in fact need it. If I required constant company and excitement, I wouldn't get much done. I hadn't expected that having a successful book meant I would suddenly have to be a public speaker. But that has been the case--school visits and bookstore appearances and conferences have been offered, in fact more or less expected. I find that I can do them; I'm not nervous about them any more, and my teaching experience (brief) and the large amount of preparation I do helps a lot. But they are exhausting for me. I look forward to them as something to be gotten through.