The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list where members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries across the country nominate and choose their favorite books of the year. Nominations are posted on Celebrate Teen Literature Day, the Thursday of National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year.
The votes are in and the 2014 winners have been announced — and we’re featuring them here on The Hub. Today we bring you an interview with Janet Edwards, who is on this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list for Earth Girl (the first book in the Earth Girl Trilogy).
Do you have a special ritual or tradition to celebrate whenever a new book of yours is released?
The release of a new book is a time of high emotion for me, a mixture of celebration at the achievement and nervous tension as I wait to see what readers think of the book. I expected it to be less emotional with my second book, but it wasn’t. My special tradition is to treat myself to a small piece of jewelry. Later on, when the nervous tension stage is over, I can look at that and re-experience the feeling of celebration.
What do you like most about writing for young adults?
There are two things really. One is that the books that made the deepest impression on me, the ones I still think about many years later, were ones I read as a teenager. That makes it especially rewarding when I get a message from a teenager saying how much they loved reading Earth Girl. Some of those readers may remember Earth Girl the way I remember the books I loved as a teenager.
The second thing is that your readership isn’t limited to teenagers. Young adult books are coming of age tales, a type of story which has always had universal appeal. I’m delighted by the incredible range of people of all backgrounds and ages who have contacted me after reading my books.
In Earth Girl, the whole story is told by Jarra. In a future where people can portal between hundreds of colony worlds scattered across space, Jarra was born with an immune system problem that means she can only survive on Earth. She’s out for revenge against a society that dismisses her as a second class citizen, so she pretends she’s a norm and lies her way into a class of off-world archaeology students who’ve come to Earth to study the ruins of the ancient cities.
Writing solely from the view of one character, putting the reader totally inside their head, adds emotional immediacy, but always has its challenges. You can’t tell the reader anything that character doesn’t know. Facts. Events. Other people’s private thoughts. There’s also the complication that your character’s view may be distorted by personal bias. That’s especially true of Jarra at the start of Earth Girl, when she’s bitterly angry at the norms and saying some very unfair things about them. She’s also actively lying about her feelings at times, not to the reader but to herself, especially when she says she doesn’t care about her parents abandoning her at birth. She’s trying to convince herself that’s true, when actually the deep hurt of that abandonment is the driving force behind all her bitterness and anger.
But the most challenging part to write was the point where something dreadful happens that completely overwhelms Jarra. She blots out the reality that’s too painful to bear, and temporarily goes into a defensive fugue state where she starts believing her own lies. I happen to have encountered someone going into a fugue state after a traumatic event, but most readers won’t know much about this, and writing about it happening to your main character in a first person viewpoint isn’t just challenging but impossibly difficult. If I’d had the slightest idea that Earth Girl would be published, I’d never have dared to try it, but I thought I was just writing this book for myself. The feedback I’ve had tells me this part of the book doesn’t work for some readers, but works incredibly well for others, especially those who’ve had experience with stress. Obviously I’d never repeat such a distinctive incident in another book, so I shouldn’t be writing anything quite so impossibly difficult ever again.
Which of your book characters is most like you? (or most different)
My answer to that will sound very odd. All of my characters are both like me and totally different from me. I never base my characters on myself or anyone else in real life. They seem to come from nowhere, walking into my head like actors walking on to a stage, and then telling me about themselves. Sometimes I see something in a character that I could believe came from part of me, but the same character will be totally different from me in other ways.
Take Jarra for example. She’s a history geek, who looks at a ruin and gets deeply emotional at the thought of the people who lived there centuries in the past. I can look at that bit of Jarra, and think she’s like me, but other things about her are shockingly different. At the point where she gets her idea about lying her way into a class of norms, I’d stop and think about the consequences. Jarra doesn’t. She leaps into the situation and only starts thinking about the consequences when she’s already in deep trouble.
Can you share what you’re working on next?
Earth Girl can be read as a standalone book, but it’s actually the first book in a trilogy. The second book, Earth Star, was published in the U.S. this year. The final book is Earth Flight, which is where Jarra has to risk everything she’s fought for. This is already available in the UK, where readers seem to really love the climax to the trilogy. Obviously I’m looking forward to when Earth Flight is published in the States, too.
But I’m working on new things too, of course. There’s a novella. There’s the book I started writing at the start of November (If you’ve heard of NaNoWriMo, this was my project for that), which is set in the same future universe as Earth Girl but in a different period of history, and features one of Jarra’s ancestors. There’s also another book set in an entirely different and exciting future.
As well as all that, I’m posting a collection of free Earth Girl short stories on my website. These stories are set just before the start of Earth Girl, and each story features one of the characters from Earth Girl. The idea is that new readers can meet the characters for the first time, while existing readers have the extra fun of learning more about the characters they already know. You can read the stories at http://janetedwards.com/free-stories/.
Janet Edwards lives in England. As a child, she read everything she could get her hands on, including a huge amount of science fiction and fantasy. She studied Mathematics at Oxford, and went on to suffer years of writing unbearably complicated technical documents before deciding to write something that was fun for a change. She has a husband, a son, a lot of books, and an aversion to housework.
You can find out more about Janet and her Earth Girl trilogy by:
-Lalitha Nataraj, currently reading Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero