New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Donnelly’s first young adult novel, A Northern Light, was awarded Britain’s prestigious Carnegie Medal, as well as the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction, and a Michael L. Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Her second, Revolution, was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal, awarded an Odyssey Honor by the American Library Association, and named Young Adult Book of the Year by the American Booksellers Association. She has also written a picture book for children entitled Humble Pie (illustrated by Caldecott medalist Stephen Gammell), and a series of best- selling novels for adults that include The Tea Rose, The Winter Rose (New York Times Bestseller), and The Wild Rose.
The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.
Jennifer Donnelly: Richly imagined. Beguiling. Action-packed. Funny. Touching. Sinister. Suspenseful. Aquariffic.
TPP: What inspired you to write Deep Blue?
JD: The dark genius of Alexander McQueen. I saw a retrospective of his work at the Met, and was blown away by it and came home totally inspired to write about the sea. And then, the minute I walked through the door, my husband told me to call my agent, who said that Disney had a project involving mermaids and they wanted me to write it. Totally true story. And to this day, I believe AM sent me a gift from that fabulous catwalk in the sky.
TPP: Was it difficult to create and write this underwater world compared to writing about characters who live on land?
JD: Yes, it was. The mer live, move, and breathe differently than we do, and seeing and experiencing their world, its beauty, and its dangers was a huge challenge, but also a huge thrill and great fun.
TPP: Looking at reviews on Goodreads, a majority of readers loved how empowered the female characters in your novel are. Was that something you set out to do or was it just the way the story wanted to go? How did you balance their empowerment with the other elements of the story like romance?
JD: Female empowerment was definitely a theme that Disney stressed in its outline for the project and one that appealed strongly to me. Making that empowerment genuine—something that the characters earn, not something that’s just bestowed on them—was the challenge. One of the characters, a river witch named Vraja, tells Serafina, a teenage mermaid, that we are not born leaders, we learn to lead. I think that’s a very important message for young readers to hear. It takes trial and error, and falling down, and failure to teach us how to become strong and sure. It’s a tough and painful process, but one we need to go through if we’re to gain confidence in ourselves and our abilities.
There was no conscious balancing act between empowerment and romance, or any other elements. Finding one’s strength, falling in love, suffering setbacks, enduring heartbreak—these are all valid and important parts of a life lived in full, be that life human or mer.
TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your book?
JD: I want them to see and value their own abilities, and to believe in themselves. I also want to share with them my love of the oceans and freshwaters, and my conviction that we need to protect these vital, beautiful and fragile ecosystems and their inhabitants.
TPP: What advice would you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?
JD: Never, never, never give up. Many people can, and will, tell you that it’s hard to become a writer, hard to get published, hard to make a living as a novelist. That’s true, but so what? Everything worth doing well is hard. No one can guarantee that you’ll ever get published, but only one person can guarantee that you won’t—and that’s you. By giving up on yourself. So don’t.
TPP: Name 2-3 songs that would be on the soundtrack for your book (can be songs that inspired the novel).
JD: “Sirens” by Pearl Jam, “Come Down the Coast” by Camper van Beethoven, “Cornflake Girl” by Tori Amos.
To learn more about Jennifer Donnelly, visit her website!