On our blog today, we have Jaye Robin Brown, author of NO PLACE TO FALL (Harper Teen). Here’s a synopsis of the book:
Amber Vaughn is a good girl. She sings solos at church, babysits her nephew after school, and spends every Friday night hanging out at her best friend Devon’s house. It’s only when Amber goes exploring in the woods near her home, singing camp songs with the hikers she meets on the Appalachian Trail, that she feels free—and when the bigger world feels just a little bit more in reach.
When Amber learns about an audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she decides that her dream—to sing on bigger stages—could also be her ticket to a new life. Devon’s older (and unavailable) brother, Will, helps Amber prepare for her one chance to try out for the hypercompetitive arts school. But the more time Will and Amber spend together, the more complicated their relationship becomes . . . and Amber starts to wonder if she’s such a good girl, after all.
Then, in an afternoon, the bottom drops out of her family’s world—and Amber is faced with an impossible choice between her promise as an artist and the people she loves. Amber always thought she knew what a good girl would do. But between “right” and “wrong,” there’s a whole world of possibilities.
Hi and welcome! Congrats on your debut! Now onto our questions…
Amber is an empathetic character who makes some questionable choices. Was it hard for you to write the moments where Amber makes mistakes?
Not really. I wasn’t perfect as a teen. The students I teach aren’t perfect. Things happen and you either sink or grow stronger from your mistakes. Amber was actually much more flawed and manipulative in early drafts, so she seems almost angelic to me in the final version!
Amber is a singer. As a reader, I longed to be able to hear her on stage. Did you listen to music a lot while writing this novel? Is there a famous musician who sounds like Amber does? Are you a singer yourself?
I can’t listen while I write, because I get sucked into lyrics, but I definitely listened to a lot of music to and from my day job. When I think of Amber’s voice, I think of great singers like Gillian Welch, Allison Krauss, and in particular, Emmy Rossum in the movie Songcatcher. That was probably the voice I heard most in my head. Though the version of Amazing Grace that I listened to over and over is Patsy Cline’s. Absolutely gorgeous. Sadly, I am not a singer. Correction. I sing all the time, but there aren’t many who would want to listen. I think writing Amber was my chance to finally belt it out and live that imaginary dream.
You do a great job of creating a complex family dynamic. They are all relatable and flawed in their own ways. Did you ever do any free writing from the perspectives of Amber’s family members? If not, how did you get to know them so well?
Oh, thank you so much! You know, I definitely have done free writing for other manuscripts, but with No Place To Fall, these characters were so ingrained inside of me already. As a transplant to the Appalachian Mountains, I’m always watching and listening and soaking situations in. Though none of the family was directly modeled on any one person I know, they were definitely stitched out of some pretty special cloth. Plus, with this being my first published novel, I probably had more time with it than people do with later novels and through each revision I got to know the characters on deeper levels. But mostly, they came to me pretty fully formed. I sure wish it was always like that.
The relationship between Amber and Will starts in a controversial way, although you also feel the deep connection between them as a reader. Did you know when you began the book that Will would be the central romantic relationship?
I’m so glad you asked this question! Actually no. When I first started the book, I thought Kush was going to be the love interest. I had a picture of the actor, Avan Jogia, that I’d pulled for inspiration and I even thought there might be a bit of Devon versus Amber stuff going on. I quickly realized that would be a terrible set up in a book. In another version, when Sean was pretty different from who he is now – a foster boy with totally different foster parents, Amber dates Sean but as a more manipulative move to piss off her father. But with each draft, the heartbeat of Will took over and it was like Amber was telling me, “Um, author lady, he’s the one I want.” (Best news…there’s going to be a Will’s perspective novella that follows some of the same timeline as the novel – his side of the story!)
That sounds awesome!
What was your writing process like for this book? Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser?” When you began, did you know what you wanted the book to say?
I’m a plantser? I have major beats in my head but the rest is the muse and intuition. Unfortunately, that meant a bunch of major revisions, but my process is my process. I can’t say I knew exactly what I wanted the book to say, but the word longing was always attached to it. As was family and loyalty. Mostly I wanted to write a story about the area I’ve adopted as home, and show the strength of family in the face of flaws and ugly humanity. I’m also attracted to that moment as teens when we realize we are not our parents and we don’t have to be like them when we grow up. I think that’s one of the real revelations of entering that time of your life. It tends to show up in most of my stories. And of course the sweet simplicity of friends that get you, no matter what. Those friendships were important in the book.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about No Place to Fall?
Um. It’s awesome. You should read it. I can’t believe I just typed that. But you know what, I’ll keep it 🙂
Do you have any other writing projects in the works? I noticed that you are an art teacher. Do you have any dreams of illustrating one of your books?
I’ve been working on a couple of contemporaries and my agent, editor, and I are trying to figure out which one will be the follow up to No Place To Fall. You can be sure it will have a largish cast of characters, themes of family, finding one’s way in the world, and kissing. Because kissing is good.
As for illustration, no. I’m a doodler of ARCs, but the mediums I’ve dabbled in for money have all been of the three dimensional variety. Clay, silversmithing, a little bit of silk screening. Being a high school art teacher is a bit like being a jack of all trades and true master of none.
Lastly, as this community is fearless, what is something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of?
It is? That’s good to know because I often think writing is about the scariest profession on the planet. Okay. I am not afraid of speaking my mind. It took me years to get here but if I have a problem, I will go to the source and work it out directly. I am scared of ignorance and those who choose not to do the research to find out the big picture and make well-educated decisions about the world. That, and snakes. Ugh.
Thanks so much, Cordelia for the great questions!
Jaye Robin Brown, Jro to her friends, lives on a fourteen acre farm in the mountains north of Asheville, North Carolina. She is fond of dogs, horses, the absurd and the ironic. She truly believes laughter and music are the best medicine. When not writing you can find her in the art room of the high school where she teaches.
|Cordelia Allen Jensen was Poet Laureate of Perry County, PA in 2006 and 2007. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches creative writing in Philadelphia, where she lives with her husband and children. Cordelia’s YA Novel in Verse, SKYSCRAPING, is forthcoming from Philomel/Penguin in June 2015. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. You can find her at www.cordeliajensen.com and on Twitter @cordeliajensen|