Today, Hartford Books Examiner extends a warm welcome to debut author Anna Jarzab.
A child of the suburbs (first living north of Chicago, and then, as a high school senior, moving to San Francisco’s East Bay area), Anna developed her love of reading at an early age. The recipient of a double degree in English and Political Science at Santa Clara University, she also served as the Fiction Editor and Associate Editor of the university’s undergraduate-run literary journal, the Santa Clara Review. Anna later earned her Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago, where she completed All Unquiet Things, which served as her thesis project. Currently living in New York City, Anna works in the book publishing industry by day and is writing her second novel by night.
All Unquiet Things was released in January by Delacorte/Random House and has received high praise from both critics and readers. (You can read Hartford Books Examiner’s full review here.) Publishers Weekly called the book “a slow-building, slow-burning mystery,” and said, “The author’s confident, literary prose make for a tense and immersive thriller.” Further, Booklist raved, “The story hooks readers immediately, propelling them through a serpentine path of secrets and lies.”
From the publisher:
Carly: She was sweet. Smart. Self-destructive. She knew the secrets of Brighton Day School’s most privileged students. Secrets that got her killed.
Neily: Dumped by Carly for a notorious bad boy, Neily didn’t answer the phone call she made before she died. If he had, maybe he could have helped her. Now he can’t get the image of her lifeless body out of his mind.
Audrey: She’s the reason Carly got tangled up with Brighton’s fast crowd in the first place, and now she regrets it—especially since she’s convinced the police have put the wrong person in jail. Audrey thinks the murderer is someone at Brighton, and she wants Neily to help her find out who it is.
As reluctant allies Neily and Audrey dig into their shared past with Carly, her involvement with Brighton’s dark goings-on comes to light. But figuring out how Carly and her killer fit into the twisted drama will force Audrey and Neily to face hard truths about themselves and the girl they couldn’t save.
Now, Anna unravels some of the mysteries behind All Unquiet Things…
1) ALL UNQUIET THINGS was written over a period of several years and finished as your thesis project at the University of Chicago. Where did the idea come from and how did it evolve throughout time? Also, to what do you attribute your perseverance?
The book itself has changed almost entirely since I started it about seven years ago. The idea, such as it was, was basically to write a story about a bitter, angry boy (Neily). I didn’t know why he was so bitter and so angry, and the first version was an exercise in melodrama. I reimagined the story (with some characters–Neily, Carly, their parents, Mr. Finch intact) as a murder mystery, and it really took off from there. I remember it as taking a long time, but being relatively easy, although now that I’m deep in Book 2 I’m not so sure. My perseverance mainly came from the fact that back then writing was what I did to relax, even when it was my thesis. I just wanted to write all day, every day. Now it’s a little bit more complicated than that, because once you’re obligated, writing is more likely to feel like a chore. But you still have to power through, and that’s what I try to do every day.
2) In addition to being a complex mystery, AUT is also very much a character study. Did you find that one element came easier than the other or did they both develop naturally? Was there one character that spoke to you more than the others? If so, why?
Definitely the characters came easier than the mystery. Mysteries are hard! They require intricate plotting and so much balance, and it’s hard to know if the solution is completely obvious or if it just feels that way because you know the outcome. Characters are sort of my thing; they’re the reason I write, because I find exploring their minds and hearts so fascinating. Neily came pretty naturally to me, which probably says something about how much of me is in him. Audrey was a nice break, though, because she came later in the process. I’d been living with Neily for almost four years by the time she came into the picture, and it was pretty awesome to discover this whole new person with a whole new set of things to say. Getting to know a new character is really refreshing.
3) Part of the story is told through Neily’s point of view. What challenges did writing from a guy’s perspective pose? Additionally, your narrators alternate between the past and present. Why did you choose this method and how did it help you to further the story?
I honestly never thought about writing Neily as writing from a guy’s perspective, or if he sounded like a guy or whatever, when I was originally writing him. Later I had to be very aware of whether or not his voice was realistic, and of course there are some people who’ve told me that it isn’t, but most people think it is so that’s good enough for me. Voice was hard for me in this novel because I wrote Neily and Audrey naturally as they came to me, which then opened me up to the criticism that they sound too similar. I’m struggling with that in my current book as well. I sort of chafe at that criticism, though, because I find that when authors try to differentiate voices they end up becoming caricatures. I’m not the sort of person who’s going to write an over-the-top unique voice, because I think it’s distracting. I preferred to have a consistent tone throughout the novel. Of course, if you really look at what Neily and Audrey say–both to each other and to the reader–they’re dramatically different, and the content of their narration and dialogue really reveals character. That’s more important to me than killing myself to make them sound super different.
The flashbacks were born of necessity, but I think they provide a narrative richness to the story. I think Carly would be incredibly unsympathetic without them. It’s one thing to have, say, Neily and Audrey talking about Carly’s emotional decline and another thing entirely to see it for yourself.
4) Your target demographic is teen readers. How do you go about capturing authentic voice and circumstances for your characters? Also, do you ever find yourself conflicted between writing a realistic portrayal of teen life and a more sanitized, “reader friendly” version? If so, how do you rectify the two?
I touched on this above, but I really could not be bothered to worry about what was “authentic.” You drive yourself crazy with second guessing that way. I just write what comes naturally and fix what doesn’t work in revisions, but I think I have a pretty good teen voice because I, um, still think of myself as being eighteen-years-old. Circumstances are a little different, because many of the characters lead untypical teen lives, BUT I still think that at the core their issues are exactly the same as any other teens, and there are teens with lives like these.
I really respect people who can write fun, compelling teen novels that are “clean”, as we say in the biz. I really like reading them, too, but my authorial instinct is always to gravitate towards the hard stuff, the grittiness and the darkness. There’s a lot of meat in that part of life, and a lot of complex stuff worth exploring. I write to my comfort level, and I figure that the market will sort out what is too much and what’s not enough.
5) Your day job is in book marketing. How do you find this benefits you as a writer? Also, how do you balance the two?
I work day to day doing online marketing for young readers’ books, which means a lot of YA, so I’m completely surrounded by it. This is good and bad, I think. I’m exposed to so much great stuff, but the behind-the-scenes of the business can be a little hairy at times and I’m trying not to get disillusioned. I’m also trying not to get burned out. As for balance, I’m still figuring that out.
6) You are currently at work on a second book. What secrets can you share about it? (We promise not to tell!)
Haha, not to tell who? This is going to be on the Internet! There’s not a whole lot I can say about my second book because it’s being pretty heavily revised (I like how I say that like I’m not the one doing the revising–subconscious detachment!), but it’s about a teen boy who disappears and his friends who try to track him down. I wish I could tell you the title, but it doesn’t have one. That’s about all I can definitively say at this point!
With special thanks to Anna Jarzab for taking time out of her writing schedule to be today’s distinguished guest. Readers are encouraged to visit Anna through her web-site or blog.
A related article from Hartford Books Examiner:
All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab (Book review)