Q & A with Joanne Rendell: author of Out of the Shadows

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Today I'd like to welcome to my blog, Joanne Rendell, author of Out of the Shadows, Crossing Washington Square, and The Professors' Wives Club.

Thanks for being here Joanne!

1. So, tell me... why Frankenstein?

It’s a wonderful gothic novel, but it’s very thoughtful, daring, and extremely prescient too – even now, two hundred years after it was written. In the novel, Mary Shelley dared to ask “what if?” She looked around at the emerging technologies of her time and she considered their darker sides and how they could turn monstrous (and even make monsters!). I still find it amazing that she wrote such a daring and thoughtful, poignant and provocative novel when she was just nineteen. Not only that, she was living in early nineteenth century Europe when young girls weren’t supposed to think about monsters and science, let alone write about them!

2. Tell me about the first time you read Frankenstein.

I didn’t read the book until I was at college. It was an assigned text on a “Philosophy and the Novel” course. I remember being blown away by the book. The story was a real page-turner, yet at the same time the book is so rich with questions about progress and technology, hubris and grief, life and love. It’s not an understatement to say that the book hugely influenced the direction I took after I graduated. I went on to do a PhD in literature and even though I didn’t study Shelley I was still very interested in many of the questions her most famous book raises.

3. Did you find anything surprising during your research?

I think the most surprising thing was Mary Shelley’s lost journals and letters. It’s believed that all her personal writings and correspondence were accidentally left behind in a trunk when she eloped to France with Percy Shelley. The moment I found this out I knew I’d found an important plot catalyst for my book!

4. Was it difficult for you to write the historical part of the story?

It was definitely a new challenge, but I ended up loving it! With historical writing you have do lot a lot of research before you can start writing. But doing research is second nature for me. As I said, I have a doctorate in literature so I know a lot about spending hours in dusty libraries!

5. Now that you've written characters in both modern day and historical, which do you like better and why?

Oh, that’s a tough one. Since writing historical characters in this book, I’m itching to try it again in another book. At the same time, I still love contemporary stories. I think if I ever tried historical fiction again I would weave past with the present as I did with Out of the Shadows. I enjoy exploring important stories and lessons from our past and how they still resonate today – and how they speak to our future.

6. There were some surprises in Out of the Shadows. Did you outline it ahead of time or did you start writing and let the characters take over?

I did outline ahead of time, but the outline was pretty rough. As I got further into the story, I found that my characters led me in new and very surprising directions. The book builds into a quite a thriller near the end, and some of the outcomes were not what I originally imagined.

7. Are you working on anything new?

I just finished writing a middle grade novel with my friend and co-author, Dina Jordan. Brave Angel tells the story of a twelve year old girl who must save her best friend, and the world, from a fallen angel. Writing middle grade fiction was a new challenge for me – but an incredibly fun and rewarding one. I hope to write more in this genre, but I won’t be forgetting women’s fiction. I have a number of new book ideas bubbling away…

8. All of your books have had a literary tie in... what is your favorite book? (that you've read, not of yours) =) And if you could choose one author to spend time with who is no longer alive, who would it be??

I’m so hopeless at this question. I like *so* many authors, all for very different reasons. Mary Shelley, of course, is one of my all time favorites and thanks to writing Out of the Shadows I now know that she wasn’t just a great writer but she was also a fascinating, strong, passionate, sad, loving, acutely smart, and perceptive woman. A librarian recommended Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books recently. I read the first two in less than a week! (I haven’t gotten my hands on Mockinjay yet). Like Shelley, Collins’ asks “what if.” She looks at our current world with its huge divides between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” its obsession with reality TV and spectacle, its thirst for violent images and films, and then she imagines the logical extreme of such a world. The dystopia of The Hunger Games is horrifying and gruesome but, when you think about it, it’s not completely outside the realms of possibility.

9. Have you read any of the new literary mash-ups? (ie. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Sleyre, Wuthering Bites, etc.) What do you think? I'm a little scared to!

I keep seeing these books in the bookstores, but haven’t yet any of them yet. I love the concept and have them in my “to be bought” list!

10. Sort of off topic -- you home school your child and are often on fun adventures in the best city in the world! (According to Facebook anyway). =) If you don't mind, tell us more about that experience. What made you decide to home school? How do you keep your home schooling ideas fresh and new?

We decided to homeschool for a whole mishmash of reasons: a desire to spend more time with our son; a want for an education that’s a little different from the norm; the simple reason that our situation allowed it. Also, when Benny was just a baby, we met a couple of homeschooled teenagers who impressed us beyond words with their self-motivation and their ability to see adults, not as authority figures, but as peers. Most of all, we chose to homeschool because we thought it would suit our family. It would be a continuation of the pre-school years that were already working so well for us. “Homeschool” is somewhat a misnomer, though, as we spend a relatively small amount of time schooling at “home.” We live in New York City so are lucky enough to have an amazing array of fun and educational places on our doorstep. Benny and I, together with his homeschooled friends, are always out on trips to the Metropolitan Museum, the Natural History Museum, aquariums, zoos, galleries, libraries, and parks. When we’re not out and about, Benny and I love to read – either together or separately. Benny is already a voracious reader at seven years old and I’m so thankful he loves books as much as I do!

Thanks again for stopping by, Joanne, and for the thoughtful answers!
I don't read much middle grade, but I will have to check out Brave Angel. =)


Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great post! I'm very curious about this book.

Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

Thanks for the terrific interview ladies. I enjoyed Crossing Washington Square, and this one definitely looks intriguing. Though I don't know if I'll ever revisit Frankenstein. I read the original novel by Mary Shelley in college and found it terribly depressing.

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