I’m excited to have author Jenn Bishop with us today. Her newest middle grade, 14 Hollow Road, hits shelves June 13.
The night of the sixth-grade dance is supposed to be perfect for Maddie: she’ll wear her new dress, hit the dance floor with her friends, and her crush, Avery, will ask her to dance. But as the first slow song starts to play, Avery asks someone else to dance, and then the power goes out. Huddled in the gym, Maddie and her friends are stunned to hear that a tornado has ripped through the other side of town, destroying both Maddie’s and Avery’s homes. Kind neighbors open up their home to Maddie and Avery’s families, which both excites and horrifies Maddie. Meanwhile, she must search for her beloved dog, who went missing during the tornado. At the dance, all Maddie wanted was to be more grown-up. Now that she has no choice, is she really ready for it?
Jenn, what inspired you to write 14 Hollow Road?
I’ve been chatting a lot this past week with classes that have used The Distance to Home as a read-aloud and so many of the students have been curious about whether elements of that story are autobiographical--particularly, did I have a sister that died? While that book is entirely the product of my imagination, 14 Hollow Road in many ways hits closer to home. For one, it’s set in a small (fictional), rural Massachusetts town very much like where I grew up, with a regional junior high and high school. When I imagined Maddie and her world, especially the dynamic between her friend group and some of the boys in her class, I was drawing on my own memories of that time. Sixth and seventh grade were pivotal years, but they were also trying times. It’s not just that your body is changing, but that it feels like everything is changing. The way you relate to adults is changing, how you see the opposite sex is changing, and then, oh right, there’s the real world, too, which in Maddie’s case means a very unexpected weather event throwing a wrench in her best laid plans. I never thought I would write a book about a tornado, given that in New England they aren’t exactly common, until the summer of 2011, when a rare EF3 tornado crossed the street on which I grew up, and where my parents still live. While their home was spared, many others were not so fortunate, and the familiar landscape of my childhood now bears the scars of that the twister. I wondered how my own transition into a new school—amid all of the hormonal changes of being a seventh grader—might have been changed by such an event.
The main character, Maddie, feels so real—her first-crush feelings toward Avery, her conflicting emotions when her BFF starts hanging with a new friend, and her utter horror when her monthly period starts on the day of the 6th grade pool party. As a writer, how do you manage to capture the innermost feelings of an almost-seventh grader? Any advice for writers hoping to develop authentic middle grade characters?
I think the key to getting back into that headspace is remembering the feelings of that age in real time. No adult reflections allowed! Now, I am one of those people who has a hard time of letting go of ephemera. I still have boxes in my closet of notes and photos and ticket stubs and all that jazz. Thank goodness! Perusing that stuff brings back so many memories—including cringe-worthy moments I’d like to forget. There are other ways to get back to your middle school self, too, of course. Re-read the books you loved then. Re-watch the movies you VHS-taped off the TV (child of the 1980s and 90s here). Listen to the soundtrack of your childhood. Reading contemporary books that dive into those muddy waters also helps. Two of my favorite middle school books in recent years are Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail and Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. While the times have changed since our own emerging adolescence, so many of the essential emotional experiences have stayed the same.
This is your second book for middle grade readers. How did writing this novel differ from drafting your debut, The Distance to Home?
I wrote the first draft of The Distance to Home when I was in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. In my second semester with Rita Williams-Garcia, I wrote the entire first draft. Well, turns out you can’t just have Rita Williams-Garcia as your regular beta reader (what a dream, right?). 14 Hollow Road was the first book I started after finishing my MFA, which meant that I was the one holding myself accountable. In truth, though, the drafting process was still quite similar. I’m a very linear thinker and a pantser, so I pretty much just banged the draft out over a few months. That said, the revision process was challenging. This is the first thing I’ve written where I pretty much had to re-write the entire thing because I didn’t like how Maddie “sounded” in the first draft. My critique group was also essential—so willing to read various drafts. They provided some great big picture feedback that helped me reframe a lot of the events of the story. While the key scenes in The Distance to Home never changed in huge ways, much of the latter 2/3rds of 14 Hollow Road was drastically reshaped in revision. I guess what they say is true: each book teaches you how to write that book.
Thanks so much, Jenn!
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