Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Jenn Bishop, the author of
WHERE WE USED TO ROAM
When Emma starts sixth grade, things finally begin to change. She may still be in the shadow of her older brother, Austin, the popular high school quarterback, but she’s made artsy new friends who get her way more than her bookish best friend, Becca.
But things are changing for Austin, too. After undergoing surgery for a football injury, Austin has become addicted to opioid painkillers. By the end of the school year, everything blows up with Austin—and Becca. When their parents decide to send Austin to rehab and Emma to stay with family friends in Wyoming for the summer, Emma seizes the chance to get away.
Wyoming turns out to be a perfect fresh start, especially after Emma makes friends with Tyler, a kindred spirit who doesn’t judge her—then again, he doesn’t know what she did to Becca. Still, Emma can’t hide forever…or go back to the way things were with Austin or with Becca. But can she find a way to confront the truth and move forward?
Let’s talk to this delightful author about her excellent book!
This is Jenn. Everyone say, “Hi, Jenn!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Jenn! Tell us about yourself!
Thanks so much for having me! I’m a middle grade author based in Cincinnati, Ohio. All four of my novels (The Distance to Home, 14 Hollow Road, Things You Can’t Say, and Where We Used to Roam) are contemporary stories about kids with big hearts in tough situations.
What was the inspiration behind WHERE WE USED TO ROAM?
I knew I wanted to write something set in Wyoming, but it took me a while to figure out what the story was. Let’s just say this book looked very different at draft 1, 8, and the finished copy. It’s also inspired by something that was unfolding around me both in New England, which I’d just left, and Ohio, where I had just moved — the opioid epidemic.
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on WHERE WE USED TO ROAM?
A lot of the things I discovered while working on this book were craft-related — as well as lessons about myself. I learned that sometimes setting something aside for a little while is the only way to figure things out. I learned that it’s okay to completely re-write your book after the 9th draft — especially if you have good reasons and a plan. And I learned that some characters can get in the way of what you are trying to do and the only thing you can do is cut them out (and it’s okay because they’re fictional!).
That setting things aside lesson is KEY!
This is your fourth book! For our aspiring authors reading this, what are some tools that you use to help create a different voice with each new book?
This is something I am still actively working on. I think the biggest part is getting to know your character. It can take a while, and it certainly does for me — longer, it seems, with each subsequent book. But if you put in the time to consider the totality of a character–how they fit into their family, their personal history, how their friendships or lack thereof have shaped them, etc. — you will end up with a person. And just like how each person has a unique voice, so will your character.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
Ooh! You know, I’ve recently read a few MGs that have characters who would make great friends for Emma, the protagonist from Where We Used to Roam: Izzy from Jennifer Blecher’s Stick with Me and Georgia from Caroline Gertler’s Many Points of Me. Izzy and Georgia are both artists and would be real kindred spirits with Emma.
That sounds like an excellent crossover!
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
Middle grade books were the books that cemented my status as a reader. I fell in love with reading stories that made me feel big feelings, which is what the middle grade books I read as an upper elementary student did.
Any hints about your next book project?
While nothing’s been officially announced yet, I think it’s safe to say that I will have a fifth book coming out, tentatively in 2023. It’s a return to the sports world for me: a basketball-centered story set in Cincinnati with multiple POVs. I’m deep in the revision cave with it at the moment, just peeking my head out every now and then for fresh air.
Oooh, intriguing! Can’t wait to hear more when you can share!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
This is a hard answer, but in truth, it’s the attrition along the way. I have met so many writers with more talent than me who have given up or simply not had the same opportunities or luck. There’s a lot of failure in publishing, for everyone: so many more no’s than yeses, even many books into a career. Never mind everyone’s on their own journey — some with more luck than others. What looks like a drought can appear to be fertile ground years later. I’ll be curious to see what the middle grade landscape looks like five, ten, twenty years down the road.
What are you reading right now?
I have been on a nonfiction kick lately — right now reading two different grownup books: Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolkar and Sometimes You Have to Lie by Leslie Brody. The latter is a biography of Harriet the Spy author Louise Fitzhugh and the former chronicles an American family with 12 children, 6 of whom develop schizophrenia. I’ve developed a real interest in psychology-related nonfiction in recent years. Up next is Christina Soontornvat’s All Thirteen.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
Read! Read in your genre, but read outside of your genre too. Reading enriches us as writers, but it also can help give us some of the raw material we need for our stories. And in times like these, it can be such a comfort to settle into a good book. It doesn’t just feed your mind; it feeds your soul.
Yes, yes, yes! Exactly this. 😀
Thank you so much for joining us, Jenn!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out WHERE WE USED TO ROAM!
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Thanks for reading!