After reading Kelly Jones’ wonderful book, we decided to ask the author some questions about her writing and her inspirations. Kelly kindly responded–take a look:
1. Your author’s note says you keep chickens. How did you get into poultry farming?
2. How did your (presumably normal) chickens inspire the unusual characteristics of Sophie’s super chickens?
3. Are any of the characters based on people you know? Is Sue?!?
4. What was your favorite book when you were 12 (Sophie’s age)?
For me, characters show up, rather than being deliberately, consciously built. That said, they do come out of somewhere. For years before I wrote this book, I was working with a diverse group of people who spoke frankly about what things were like in their families and communities, and how race and ethnicity factored in, in small ways as well as big ones. Race was often a part of these conversations, but rarely the only part. I don’t think I would have been able to hear Sophie’s voice without having heard conversations like those.
But even when Sophie showed up, I didn’t know if I could write her story. Could I do a good enough job? Would I understand her well enough, when her background was so different from mine? I didn’t want to write a story that didn’t feel authentic to kids, especially Latina kids and multi-ethnic kids. But how could I refuse to write about a character who showed up and asked me to tell her story, just because she wasn’t white like me?
I read a really helpful book called Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. Then, I took a deep breath and decided to try, but promised myself I would ask other writers whose background was more similar to Sophie’s for their feedback. That was a scary thing to ask for help with, but it was the best thing I did for this book. I am so grateful for all of their help.
6. Why did you decide to write an epistolary novel? Do you write lots of letters by hand?
7. If you could choose three people, living or dead, to write to, and were guaranteed a response, who would they be and why?
But, really, if I had the chance, I would write to my own three grandparents who died before I wrote this book. I wish I could tell them they were right: I could do anything, if only I worked hard enough. I wish I could thank them for always believing in me, encouraging me to be who I am, and valuing and celebrating the things that mattered to me. I know they would be so proud of me.