Donna Jo, how long did you work on HUNGER: A TALE OF COURAGE?
I'm answering this question because the answer is unusual for me. I normally get an idea for a novel, start into the research immediately, then write it. I'm quick about getting out a first draft -- then things slow down for me, since second and third drafts are very difficult for me. Totally, though, I tend to complete a book from start to finish in 2 years or so. With this book, instead, things progressed differently. I had a fellowship from Trinity College Dublin in spring 2012 -- so I was in Ireland for several months. While there, I visited prisons where rebels against the British had been kept, many of whom died. I didn't know much about Irish history, so I picked up books and started reading. And I kept reading. I didn't realize I was preparing to write a book, I thought I was simply falling in love with Ireland. But in 2015, my editor, Paula Wiseman, asked me if I wanted to write a book about the great potato famine. I was startled. That was the book I'd been preparing to write -- how on earth had she recognized it when I hadn't? So I set to work. A year later we had a draft that was worth editing. So we edited away. And thus was born HUNGER.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
This book taught me something I knew already, but that I seem to need to learn over and over. I think it's something that other writers, particularly budding writers, might benefit from hearing about. That is that what I put on the page does not always match what's in my head. I will think I've made it very clear what the character's feelings are or what the character's options are or what the complicating factors in the situation are. Then along comes my editor and she asks something that shows I failed miserably -- what I thought was obvious was not obvious at all. So I have to figure out where I was making assumptions that my reader won't necessarily share. Then I have to add information that supports those assumptions -- so that my reader has a chance of seeing what it is I'm trying to show. In other words, I benefit enormously from sharing my work with others -- friends, family, editors. Reading is a creative act -- and all readers will bring their own baggage to a story -- all will bring their own world-views to a story. I know that, and I'm not trying to interfere with that. But if I have a scene that is critical to the overall path of my story, I want to do my very best to help the reader see the paving stones I've put in place in that scene. I can't do it alone: I need my readers of those early drafts to help me.
What are you working on now?
I seem to be on a binge of writing about children in the middle of a massively destructive situation. The book I'm presently working on opens in autumn 1943 in Tokyo. The time tells you a lot -- this is World War II -- but it tells nearly everything when I give you one more fact: the main character is an Italian girl, living in Tokyo with her father and little sister. If you don't know what information that adds, I'm glad -- because I want the reader to be as shocked and horrified as my main character. This is a struggle for survival in a doomed world. It gives me nightmares. But in the present climate in our country, I can't not think about what war brings, particularly to young people.
ABOUT THE BOOKHunger: A Tale of Courage
by Donna Jo Napoli
Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Through the eyes of twelve-year-old Lorraine this haunting novel from the award-winning author of Hidden and Hush gives insight and understanding into a little known part of history—the Irish potato famine.
It is the autumn of 1846 in Ireland. Lorraine and her brother are waiting for the time to pick the potato crop on their family farm leased from an English landowner. But this year is different—the spuds are mushy and ruined. What will Lorraine and her family do?
Then Lorraine meets Miss Susannah, the daughter of the wealthy English landowner who owns Lorraine’s family’s farm, and the girls form an unlikely friendship that they must keep a secret from everyone. Two different cultures come together in a deserted Irish meadow. And Lorraine has one question: how can she help her family survive?
A little known part of history, the Irish potato famine altered history forever and caused a great immigration in the later part of the 1800s. Lorraine’s story is a heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive story of one girl’s strength and resolve to save herself and her family against all odds.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
At various times her house and yard have been filled with dogs, cats, birds, and rabbits. For thirteen years she had a cat named Taxi, and liked to go outside and call, "Taxi!" to make the neighbors wonder. But dear dear Taxi died in 2009.
She has five children, and currently lives outside Philadelphia. She received her BA in mathematics in 1970 and her Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures in 1973, both from Harvard University, then did a postdoctoral year in Linguistics at MIT. She has since taught linguistics at Smith College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Georgetown University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Swarthmore College. It was at UM that she earned tenure (in 1981) and became a full professor (in 1984). She has held visiting positions at the University of Queensland (Australia), the University of Geneva (Switzerland), Capital Normal University of Beijing (China), the University of Newcastle (UK), the University of Venice at Ca' Foscari (Italy), and the Siena School for the Liberal Arts (Italy) as well as lectured at the University of Sydney (Australia), Macquarie University (Australia), the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), and the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa). In the area of linguistics she has authored, coauthored, edited, or coedited 17 books, ranging from theoretical linguistics to practical matters in language structure and use, including matters of interest to d/Deaf people. She has held grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, and the Sloan Foundation.
Have you had a chance to read HUNGER: A TALE OF COURAGE yet? Have you written a story from research you were doing for fun? How do you get the image in your head on the page? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!
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