Jacquelyn Mitchard entered the national consciousness when Oprah Winfrey chose her debut novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, as the show’s first ever book club pick. But she stayed there because of the quality of her writing.
All of Mitchard’s novels have been greater or lesser bestsellers – and include The Most Wanted, A Theory of Relativity, Twelve Times Blessed, The Breakdown Lane, Cage of Stars, Still Summer, No Time to Wave Goodbye and Second Nature. Critics have praised them for their authentic humanity and skillful command of story. Readers identify because they see reflected, in her characters – however extreme their circumstances – emotions they already understand.
Mitchard also has written seven novels for young adults: Now You See Her, All We Know of Heaven, the trilogy of The Midnight Twins, Look Both Ways and Watch for Me by Moonlight, paranormal teen mysteries about identical twin sisters born on New Year’s Eve – one a minute before and a minute after midnight, one twin can see only events of the future and one can see only the past and its ghosts. Mitchard’s most recent teen series is the story of three teens who can never see the sunlight (not because they are vampires, but because they have the deadly genetic sensitivity to light called XP). They can and do see the secret landscape of the night – and one horrific secret in particular. What We Saw at Night premiered in January, 2013, and What We Lost in the Dark followed in 2014.
She is completing her next adult novel.
Mitchard recently became the editor in chief of Merit Press, a mature Young Adult imprint under the aegis of F&W Media. To date, she has acquired twenty novels, six of which have enjoyed substantial critical acclaim.
A longtime journalist, Mitchard is a contributing editor for More magazine. With an MFA in Creative Writing, she has taught at Fairfield University and Southern New Hampshire University.
At the local coffee shop, Mitchard is best-known as the mother of Rob, Dan, Marty, Francie, Merit, Mia, Will, Marta and Atticus – and she can repeat those names in sequence in the space of two seconds – the wife of sturdy Chris Brent and the best pal of the extremely photogenic and handsome brown poodle, Dante. For more on Jacquelyn, check out www.jacquelynmitchard.com.
Jackie, as she is called by friends, recently took the time to answer a few questions for us.
Interview Questions for Jacquelyn Mitchard
When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and then when did you actually put pen to paper and begin to write?
I wrote poems and stories (ALL mercifully lost to history; my dad’s first girlfriend after my mother died destroyed all of them) since I could write, since I could spell (and here’s my one bragging point. I could always spell hahahaha! I never misspelled anything.) I wrote my first hideously weird and sentimental stories in high school. When I began college, I was 16. I wrote what I would call my first real short story then. In my 20s, I wrote an autobiographical book that turned out to be quite a hit, but didn’t write my first novel until I was almost 40, almost 18 years ago.
What in your background prepared you to be a writer?
I came from a long line of people whose sole source of entertainment was trying to best each other telling stories. After the meal, after the cards, out would come the stories, each more harrowing and scarier than the one before. I didn’t take a writing class until the freshman elective in college, and I didn’t study writing, as such, until my graduate studies five years ago.
Your first book, The Deep End of the Ocean, was Oprah’s first book club pick and went on to be a tremendous success. How did such an enormous success with your first novel inform your writing? How did it inform your career?
I loved it! I LOVED it! It was the quick way to solidify my reputation as a writer and it gave me huge momentum.
Plot vs. Character. Everyone seems to have an opinion on which is more important to story. What is your opinion on this and why?
Character is more important than plot and plot is more important than character. They reign equally, the king and the queen of narrative. Plot without character isn’t a Sue Grafton novel (in which the character is quite wonderful) but a well … JA Jance novel, where what happens is everything. Novels in which characters simply ruminate are dull; endless event is dull, too, almost like pornography is dull. The meld of both elements is the sweet spot.
Who do you picture as your audience as you write?
Whatever friend or grown child of mine I told the story to … I follow them around saying, “This woman was dumped by her best friend, and she became obsessed. But she didn’t want to hurt her …”
What do you hope your readers take away from your books?
Ordinary people are caught in the headlights every day. It happens to everyone. The way we survive is what matters.
How difficult or easy was it to write second shift in the beginning of your writing career? What made you persevere as a writer?
All writers who have any success persevere, and refuse to take no for an answer. It’s a mark of their character. Those kind of people have an obsessional quality. They will simply not hear no. As an editor with my own imprint, I now write “second shift” again. And it’s really, really hard. And I wish I could just write, as much as I do love my job, and as proud as I am of the work I do there.
You are now also an editor, acquiring works for a publishing house. What do you look for in an author? In a book?
It’s called Merit Press, and I co-created it under the aegis of F&W Media. It’s an independent publisher, but part of a large media conglomerate. In an author, I look for a resilient personality and a willingness to get out there and create a platform. In a book, I look for a strong voice, because these are novels for teens, and voice is more important than either character OR plot. The voice is essential, because, to kids who read these books, those characters are real. Then I look for drama and mystery and a fresh, unexpected twist.
Who do you read? What authors have influenced your writing?
EVERYTHING. I read natural history and biography, memoir and poetry. The Brontes and Flaubert influenced my work, Nabokov and Shirley Jackson, Anne Morrow, Andrea Barrett, Stephen King. McKinlay Cantor, Rumer Godden, Hilary Mantel, Scott Berg, Lorrie Moore, Connie May Fowler, Most of all, Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and Truman Capote (In Cold Blood). Their great heart. Their immaculate prose.
What is the best advice you ever received as an author? And what advice do you find yourself giving to aspiring writers?
The best advice I ever received as an author is, you don’t have to tell everything you know. This is also the best advice I ever received as a person. When I teach, I tell writers, be simple; that is itself original. And if you aren’t obsessed with reading, reading at least four or five books a month, oh my gosh, why are you writing?
What is one fun thing your fans probably don’t know about you – and would be surprised to know?
I’ve never had a steak. I’ve never had a beer. Not even a bite. Not even a sip.