We have a guest, o loyal devotees of the great EMU in the sky! Ammi-Joan Paquette is a lovely individual, a world-beater of an agent, and a crazily prolific and eclectic author who is in the midst of a whole cavalcade of publishing-related debuts. Disclosure: Joan is my agent. Oh wait, that’s not actually a big secret, is it?
Today she’s here to talk about her debut as a middle-grade author, made possible by the very recent release of her exquisite novel NOWHERE GIRL (Walker/Bloomsbury). Here, slug down this shot of jacket copy:
Fourteen-year-old Luchi is anything but an ordinary American teenager. Born in a remote country prison in Northern Thailand, her mother’s death pushes Luchi into the outside world–and into the web of secrets that was her mother’s past. A coming-of-age story that follows a compelling character on her journey across continents, and oceans, and into a future she cannot begin to imagine.
People of the interwebz, say hello to the indomitable Ammi-Joan Paquette!
MJ: I didn’t expect NOWHERE GIRL to have such a thrilling, high-octane plot, but it’s a page-turner! It’s also a fascinating mystery and a multifaceted fish-out-of-water story. Did you start out with all those layers of storytelling, or were they worked in over time?
AJP: My first drafts tend to be very slim—I definitely write short and return to add in layers afterward. In the case of NOWHERE GIRL, I knew where I was going and the basic story arc from the start. Beyond that, though, when it came time for revision there I definitely had to tease out and amplify certain plot lines, particularly with the goal of maintaining a strong arc and solidifying the internal story tension. Because this is a rather quiet story at heart—really, at its core, it is a coming-of-age story about a girl trying to discover who she is and find her place in the world—it was important to keep the momentum and stakes high enough that the readers would care about Luchi and her journey. So I did revise with a particular eye to layering in the mystery and tension for maximum readability. (Imagine my surprise, then, when Publishers Weekly called it a “memorable thriller”! Me, writing a thriller? Who knew!)
MJ: You’ve done quite a bit of globetrotting over the course of your life. How did your experiences traveling to and living in different parts of the world inform Luchi’s story? Were you already familiar with the people and culture of Thailand when the idea for this book first came to you?
AJP: In crafting this story, I definitely drew on my experiences visiting Thailand and traveling to various other countries over the years. For me, so much of the travel experience is rooted in awe and wonder—the world has so many rich, astounding, and surprising places, and there’s something about a deeply location-based story that lends it a special weave of magic. I love being able to immerse myself in a place and make my readers feel as if, even for just a moment, they have set foot on that ground too. What could be better than that?
MJ: One of the things about NOWHERE GIRL that appeals to me the most is its very nuanced look at the psychological, perceptual, and interpersonal complexities faced by individuals with a very specific cultural background who are in the process of leaving that setting to start a new life in an entirely new context. Did this present any particular challenges during the writing and editing processes?
AJP: Tricky question, Mike! (Let me pause a second to go back and read that again…) I don’t know how much of an intellectual process I subjected the actual writing to… in this case, I really just tried to immerse myself in Luchi’s world, put myself in her head if you will. While there are so many ways we as human beings are different, one thing that I believe remains constant is that wobbly, insecure feeling of first setting out upon something that is utterly foreign and new. No matter what you’ve personally left behind, what you’ve known in the past, and what you are moving on to experience—and certainly, every one of those elements work to affect how each person approaches and relates to and identifies with their new surroundings—still, there is some core element which I believe co-echoes within just about every person in a moment like this. And that’s the emotion I tried to draw upon in relating Luchi’s experience.
MJ: You’re not new to the world of published authorhood (Joan’s picture book THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES is a useful resource for fairy-observant kids everywhere), but NOWHERE GIRL is your debut as a middle-grade novelist. What similarities and differences are there between the two debut experiences?
AJP: Similarities: You’re delivering a brand new book-life into the world of publishing. What will people think? What will reviewers say? Will it find its readership? I don’t think those questions and insecurities ever go away, no matter how many books you’ve had published. That said, every book birth is slightly different, and between picture book and middle-grade there are certainly unique elements as well. With THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES, I was delighted to find a very responsive and easy-to-define market: parents of young children, children who love fairies, adults who love fairies. I have been invited to do readings at fairy festivals, have done combination reading-and-fairy-tracking adventures, and held my own spot-the-fairy activity events. But with a more serious novel geared to middle-school readers (and up!), it’s a whole new readership and a brand new experience. The truth? I’m still figuring it out as I go along! Every debut is an adventure, and I’m very much enjoying the process of finding NOWHERE GIRL’s readership niche and expanding its audience.
MJ: You’re also scheduled to make your debut as a young adult author with PARADOX, which will be pubbed by Random House in 2013. Do you have any inklings about how your YA debut might differ from your picture book and MG debuts?
AJP: As with above—I think the readership for my YA novel will be, yet again, completely different, targeting teen readers directly, as well as science fiction enthusiasts, and perhaps others. Who knows? Right now I’m fully focused on NOWHERE GIRL, but talk to me again in a couple years and I’m sure I’ll have lots to say on the subject!
This is now Mike just blogging and not interviewing anymore: A round of applause for Joan! *applause* She’s a force of nature, really – if you’re like me, you want to work with people who set a high bar, and Joan sets that sucker way up high, in just about every respect.
Okay, funny story now – I pre-ordered NOWHERE GIRL a number of weeks ago, and was waiting for it to arrive at Pegasus Books when I received a gift certificate to a different indie, Diesel a Bookstore. When I went to Diesel, drooling and ready to buy the first 8 things that I found even remotely appealing, what did I see but NOWHERE GIRL in stock! Three copies! I just had to buy one right there off the shelf, of course. But I didn’t want to stiff Pegasus on my pre-order. Thus, I now have 2 copies. So hey, you want one? Joan’s gonna scribble a personalized autograph on it, so yuh huh, AAAAAWESOME prize, babies, awesome. Leave a comment here, we’ll do a random drawing sorta thing to pick who gets it. READYSETGO!
ETA: I guess we need a deadline on entries, huh? Err, yeah. I knew that. Let’s say Friday at 11:59 PM, hokey dokey?