09 November 2007

A Conversation with Jennifer Rothschild

This week at Bittersweet, I talk with Jennifer Rothschild, who -- in addition to being a children's librarian -- is a fellow Grinnellian, originally from Wisconsin, and a total book nerd. I actually thought we might be the same person, until I discovered her deep dark secret...

Jennie, this is your first year (right?) doing NaNoWriMo, and you are thoroughly kicking my ass. What's that about? Seriously, how's it going?

Actually, this is my second year. I did it in 2005 with this piece that is still only 22,000 words. I was (am) trying to explore the concept of "home" in a globalized world when you tend to move every year until your late twenties. It's close to my heart, but it needs a lot of work and I'm a bit stuck on it.

This year is going pretty well. (Except school got in the way this week, so I have to write hard to catch up!) It's a funnier, lighter work that I'm really enjoying. Plus, it's about high school choir, so they sing a lot, which means I quote a lot of lyrics, which is a fast way to pad your word count.

The working/writing/school thing is odd. I use NaNo as an award-- if you write two paragraphs of this paper, you can write for fifteen minutes for NaNo! Which, honestly, I think is one of the reasons school got in the way this week. Oops.

You already contribute to about twelve different blogs. How is writing a novel different?

Well, I rarely write a 1,667 word blog post. Let alone a 1,667 word post every single day of a month. Let alone all more or less on the same topic!

Most of blogs I write or contribute to are very topic-specific (with the exception of Geek Buffet) so, in a way, that's easier. I just have to write however much I feel like about topic X. Plus, with the variety of blogs that I work on, I don't have to stay focused on one little thing. Also, when blogging, I tend to be reacting to something (This book rocked, here's why. This soap smells bad, don't buy it.) When novel-ing, I'm still reacting, but in a different way. My characters aren't me, so I have to think through how they would react, plus I'm also the one responsible for coming up with what I'm reacting to. I

It's definitely a different mind-space, but also a different process. I tend to analyze word-choice and phrasing and motivation less when blogging than when novel-ing. Blogging is much more off-the-cuff. I don't even remember to run spell check half the time, let alone double check to see if I made any sense. Even in the writing style of NaNoWriMo, where it's essentially literary diarrhea, I still think through it more.

I also do more research. I have a playlist on my computer (which I've burned to CD for my car) that is all the songs I think this choir is going to sing. So, I'll be in the car, hearing the tricky parts, the high notes, what solos are where and think about how my characters are going to react to this music and how they're going to make this music. Plus, it's really fun writing soprano smack-downs over various solos. Sopranos are such bitches.

They are! They're worse than violinists, because the violins can be divas, but at least they can read music. Were you an alto? Do you still sing, or is choir -- like eating too many pixie stix and driving around "just because" -- one of those things that you stop doing after school?

How many sopranos does it take to screw in a light bulb? Only one. She just stands there and the whole world revolves around her. The same thing works for first violinists.

That said, I sang alto for a few semesters in my women's choir in high school, but, I am totally a soprano. A first soprano, which is the bitchiest, diva-est type of soprano you can be.

I'm not singing in a choir right now, because of my work/school schedule, but I really miss it. One of the things I'm looking forward to when I graduate is joining a choir. I saw a sign this weekend for a community chorus that meets a few blocks from my house. I was sad for the rest of the day because I have to work the night it meets. I did get to sing one season with the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor. When the whole choir started warming up during that first rehearsal, the joy of singing in a large group again was overwhelming. I really miss it.

You were a soprano!? We can't be friends. No, I had the same experience when I sang the Messiah with a Lutheran church choir in New Mexico. The director was like, okay, “Many mumbling mice…” and I was like, OH MY GOD, I MISSED THIS!

Anyway….you were a History/Chinese Studies major at Grinnell, and now you're a librarian. Explain.

I worked at the library all through college--even the summers and really enjoyed my work there, especially in the archives. I knew when I graduated that I wanted to stay in the library field. Librarianship is great, because they need people from all academic backgrounds and weird things become helpful in unexpected ways.

Did you ever consider becoming an editor? I happen to know that you have a talent for it.

I would love to become an editor and it's a career I've thought about on several occasions. If I did, I'd like to work in middle grade or young adult fiction. Sadly, most of the jobs in that fields are in New York, and me (and school) are in DC, but I haven't ruled it out. If I could find some way to work from home in DC, that would be awesome. I'd even take the train up to NYC once a week or something. I would gladly read your slush and write your jacket copy and call/email my thoughts in.

Just mine, or everyone's?

Definitely yours, but if I could get paying gig doing it full time, I'd be happy. Or, if you started writing at a totally furious pace to occupy me full time. With salary. :)

Unfortunately, I write very slowly, as evidenced by my crappy Nano wordcount. Now, in fifty words or less, tell us every single detail of your recent trip to China.

Ha! It was amazing and wonderful. China's really changed a lot in the 7 years since I was last there. It was especially interesting to see it through Dan's eyes, as he's never been there and hasn't really studied the history, language and culture like I have.

Your blog Biblio File is all about books. We know that you're an extreme reader (X-treme Reading! should be a sport), but are you a book hoarder? Are you still hanging on to copies of Kristy's Great Idea, because you just can't bear to get rid of them?

I am a total book hoarder. Last time I got rid of a bunch of books, I later found out that a series of them were out of print and going for hundreds of dollars on Ebay! I've been sloooooooooooowly recollecting them.

But, I'm starting to get review copies of things, and I really don't have the space, so I'm carefully weeding again. But it's always a really hard decision. This time, I'm just putting my weeds up on BookMooch.com, so I know they're going to someone who wants them and then I can get more books.

Getting rid of books is terribly painful.

What was your favorite book in 1992? How about 1995?

1992? I think Remember Me by Christopher Pike
1995? On the Road by Jack Keroauc. Which is interesting, because 1995 is when I first read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, which is one of my favorite books NOW.

You were reading Christopher Pike, whose novels were quite, um, mature, at 12. What are your feelings about the recent trend in YA literature toward subjects previously considered taboo, from teen swearing to rape to bjs? I recently saw criticism of John Green's books for portraying the teenage characters doing naughty things (smoking, drinking, awkward sex) without suffering any grave consequences, thereby sending the message to teens that they can do bad things all they want. Do you agree or disagree with this criticism?

I actually started reading Christopher Pike in about fifth grade. I am a big fan of YA lit including salty language and mature themes like sex and drugs. Books need to reflect reality and the themes I see in books today are all things I was dealing with as a teen, which was um, a while ago. And even then we did some stupid things and didn't always have to suffer consequences. Sometimes, adults need to get over that not all undesirable behaviors have consequences. Yes, you can get an STD if you give someone an unprotected blow job, but it's not a guarantee. Plenty of girls go down on guys all the time without damage to their reputations, emotional well being, or health.

Luckily, I was able to (usually) make some smart decisions and was blessed with circumstance, so I didn't have to experience a lot of these issues first hand, but the kids around me were. I would have felt very cheated by a literature that pretended reality didn't exist, to the point where I might have stopped reading contemporary American fiction all together.

But, I mean, reading all these mature themes never made me want to inject my half brother with an air bubble to kill him. [Reference to Pike’s book Remember Me.] If anything, it made me more responsible. After reading lots of books with teen drinking, did I start drinking heavily? No, I stayed sober to drive my drunk friends home.

I also want to point out that people discussing YA lit tend to forget that there is a lot of stuff out there that still appeals and doesn't deal with these issues. Not all books are for all readers, not all readers are for all books. And, to quote Margaret A. Edwards, the grandmother of YA librarianship, "One swallow doesn't make a summer and one book will neither destroy nor save a reader."

What are the top three books you're always pushing on people?

Only 3? And personally, or professionally? Personally,

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging (and the subsequent sequels) by Louise Rennison
Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (and sequels) by Kirsten Miller

Professionally, the following three books are all on the reading list (not all the same grade) and tend to be sure-fire hits with the kids:

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Magic Tree House (series) by Mary Pope Osborne (time travel and secretly educational!)

Do you remember the first time you and I met? Because I do.

April (?), 1998-- Admitted students weekend, in the Forum. I was excited by your chalice necklace.

That’s right! Sorry if I was weird to you. My dog bit me on the boob the night before we left for Grinnell... it was a rough time for me. So much of my adolescence can be summed up by the words "awkward and embarassing."

I don't recall the conversation as being any more weird or awkward than any other "hi! we just met but we maybe might go to college together" conversation that I had that weekend.

That’s a relief. And… we did! Neat. Okay, last question: what question did I forget to ask you, and what's the answer?

Hmmmm.... how about... what are your current musical obsessions? To which the answer would be the Putumayo Lounge series of CDs and Six Degrees compilations. I just got "Boys and Girls" by Ingrid Michaelson and "The Reminder" by Feist. I've been listenng to them nonstop. Also the song "St. Peter's Bones" by Girlyman, and as the weather turns colder, I always turn back to "Asleep" by the Smiths.

Awesome. Thanks, Jen!

Check out Jennie's many blogs: Biblio File, her book blog; Puffery, the beauty blog; and Geek Buffet, the nerd blog.


Natalie said...

This conversation is funny. I dont know this alleged Jennifer Rothschild, but I like her on paper. Or... glass screen as it were.

Nice work, ladies. I was truly entertained.

Margaret said...

Hey! I have to object to your soprano comment. Which is slightly ironic because I also kind of agree with it. I feel fine about these two conflicting items because I am NOT, and never have been, a 1st soprano. Never sang it in high school, and at this point in my life, if I were to sing that part I'd over-power the whole choir. And what's choir about, if not balance?

Miss you two ladies.

Jennie said...

JCR's the one who told me the lightbulb joke.

Soprano is clearly the best section, but we also have way too much drama.

Margaret said...

It's true. Here's another good soprano joke:

What's the difference between a seamstress and a soprano?

A seamstress tucks and frills.