Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Interrogation Room Suspect #14: Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Today, debut author Jennifer Shaw Wolf faces the (somewhat muted) glare of The Interrogation Room spotlight. Her young adult mystery BREAKING BEAUTIFUL (Walker Books for Young Readers) hit shelves on April 24. The novel has received praise for its emotional tension, its romance storyline, and its heart-pounding mystery plot. We figure that makes Jennifer a triple-thread, and we've hauled her in today to find out some of her writing secrets.

 Here's the summary of BREAKING BEAUTIFUL:
Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a horrible car accident—including her memory of the event. As their small town mourns his death, Allie is afraid to remember because doing so means delving into what she’s kept hidden for so long: the horrible reality of their abusive relationship.

When the police reopen the investigation, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free? Debut writer Jennifer Shaw Wolf takes readers on an emotional ride through the murky waters of love, shame, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

Jennifer grew up on a small farm in Idaho and now lives in Lacey, Washington with her husband and four children. She has a degree in Broadcast Communications and produces videos. Our sources tell us that she also started an underground newspaper back in sixth grade, which immediately put her at the top of our suspect list!

Here is the transcript of the interrogation:

Q: When you began writing BREAKING BEAUTIFUL, did you set out to write a mystery? 
A: Nope. I set out to write a story. It kind of evolved into a mystery. I fought it a couple of times, but that's the way it came out.

Q: What did you find most enjoyable about writing a mystery? Most challenging?
A: The most enjoyable thing about writing a mystery is when someone says to me, "You kept me guessing the whole time." Or, "I never saw that coming." The most challenging thing is keeping everything straight in my brain, especially when all sorts of new and exciting plot twists keep making me want to change the direction of the story.

Q: Did you outline or use any organizing devices to keep track of your mystery plot and subplots?
A: With BREAKING BEAUTIFUL I didn't organize much at all until it came down to working with an editor and fixing my pacing issues. With my current mystery I've tried to keep track of everything by using Scrivener and putting important points and clues in little files and trying to keep everything straight. Honestly, it's kind of made me crazy. I think I prefer the "discovery" that happens when I just write and keep everything in my head. When I do it like that, sometimes the characters and the storyline surprise me. That's not always the most efficient way to go about it, but it is a lot more fun.

Q: Allie is a somewhat unconventional sleuth. She is searching not only the crime scene and surrounding area for clues to the murderer of her boyfriend, Trip, but also her own memory. Did this type of sleuth make the mystery plotting easier or harder? Did anything about Allie surprise you as you wrote?
A: The hard thing about Allie is it took a long time before she was sure she wanted to know the truth. As often as she was actively searching, she was actively trying to forget, or trying to pretend like everything was normal. Because she was keeping her own secrets, I had to keep that balance. In any mystery, there has to be a reason the main character isn't just taking things at face value. In Allie's case, she already knew more than almost anyone involved, but she couldn't be sure whether the truth would make things better or make them worse.

Q: Andrew, Allie's twin, is a really appealing character, and their strong sibling bond is a huge part of the story. Why did you want Allie to have a twin, and in particular a twin who has cerebral palsy? What do you hope readers might take away from Andrew's character?
A: I wanted Allie to have an intrinsic connection with someone (like a twin) but I wanted that person to kind of be the other side of her outward physical perfection. Everything seems wonderful on the outside for Allie, but inside she's a mess. Andrew's physical limitations are visible to anyone who looks at him, but inside, he has more together than she does.

Andrew is one of the main reasons I wrote the story. I worked with a little boy with cerebral palsy when I was in high school and he continually amazed me with what was inside; his personality and the joy he had in spite of his limitations. I really hope that Andrew helps readers think about what kind of personality might be hidden in a less-than-perfect body.

Q: The small town in Washington State where the story takes place feels so real to me. I could easily picture the dramatic cliffs, the rough water, the whole landscape; I could feel the mist and damp on my skin. What a great backdrop for mystery and suspense. Did you start with the setting in mind? 
A: The setting came after the idea was hatched, although from the beginning I knew something important would happen in a shadowy, green woods. I've always loved the ocean, and the foggy, harsh, yet beautiful northern Pacific coast just seemed like the perfect place for a mystery. I grew up in a small town, so I get that kind of wonderful and yet sometimes suffocating camaraderie that you find when you grow up where everyone knows you.

Q: Blake, Allie's loyal and artistic friend with a checkered past, is so richly drawn and complex. Did this character come to you early on, fully formed?
A: Actually, yes. Blake was very real from the beginning of this story. I keep searching my memory to see how much I based him on a real person, and yes, there are familiar elements to his character, but really he was just a character that was ready to be written.

Q: Your story taps into a larger issue: domestic violence. The novel shows how it can occur in teen relationships as well as adult ones, and Allie's awakening to this issue is a powerful part of the story. Did you have the issue in mind when you began, or did it evolve out of the characters?
A: The issue was there from the beginning. When the first seeds of this story came into my mind, I pictured a girl in an impossibly horrible situation, one that she didn't feel like she could get out of on her own. As soon as I sat down to write, I knew that was what was going on.

Q: What's next for you? Will your next books be mysteries too?
A: The book I'm working on now is another mystery. It is tentatively called SHARDS OF GLASS and is due to come out from Walker Books for Young Readers in September 2014. It's the story of a girl whose best friend is murdered. The night she's killed she leaves a message for her that says they're both in trouble and that she can't go to the police.

I really like the plotting involved in creating a mystery, so I see myself writing many more of them.

Q: What writing secret will you only reveal under the harsh light of this interrogation room?
A: There's always a point when I write a mystery when even I don't know who dun it. Sometimes I don't figure it out until the very end.

Thank you, Jennifer. Your name has been cleared, and you are free to go write more wonderful mysteries!

It's no mystery where Jennifer Shaw Wolf hangs out online:
Her website
Her blog
Twitter: @jenniferswolf
The Class of 2k12

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. I just finished this compelling book and was curious about Jennifer's process in writing the mystery and coming up with the characters, so this was terrific to read.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...