Welcome to the debut post of The Debut Club, in which the Swanky Seventeens interview our counterparts, the Sweet Sixteens.
Swanky Seventeener J.M.M. Nuanez recently interviewed Marieke Nijkamp, debut author of the contemporary YA novel THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS (January 5, 2016 from Sourcebooks Fire, an imprint of Sourcebooks).
About the Author
Marieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she is more or less proficient in about a dozen languages and holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. Her debut young adult novel This Is Where It Ends, a contemporary story that follows four teens over the course of the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire in January 2016. She is the founder of DiversifYA and a senior VP of We Need Diverse Books.
About the Book
THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS takes place over the course of the fifty-four minutes of a high school shooting and follows four teens, who all have their own reasons to fear the boy with the gun.
J.M.M.: Congratulations on your debut novel! It’s a heart-stopping read (I finished it in one day!) that features a diverse set of characters. How do you identify? What pronouns do you use? How has that affected the way you create stories and operate as an author?
Marieke: I identify as neurodivergent, physically disabled, and queer/ace. I use she/her pronouns. And all of that actively informs how I write and who I am as author. I was a bookworm growing up – still am – and although I read hundreds if not thousands of books, I rarely ever found myself represented. There were handful of books with disabled characters, but they were mostly there as prop or they got magically healed. For a long time, all queer books ended in tragedy. I started writing to find myself, because I wanted a story too. And that still informs my writing. I believe everyone deserves a story. Besides, we live in a super diverse world. To not reflect that would feel dishonest.
J.M.M.: I hear you speak a lot of languages. What languages do you speak and does your multi-language abilities affect your writing process?
Marieke: My focus these days lies on Dutch and English, since those are the two languages I use most regularly. I also speak German, French, Latin, Japanese, though they’re growing a bit rusty. I can read Spanish and Italian reasonably well, and have a very basic understanding of Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew, but not well enough yet by a long shot. Beyond that, I’m pretty comfortable with symbolic formal systems too, since I have a background in logic, and I always thought of math as a language too.
I think it affects my writing process mostly in the sense that most of my language studies are focused not only on the rules of a language, but on how the language affects culture and world, and conversely, how world and culture affect language. Somewhere between those two, I write my stories.
J.M.M.: School violence, especially gun violence, seems like a difficult subject to write about. What was the genesis of this story? Did the characters come to you first? Or the incident the book revolves around? Or something else?
Marieke: It came to me after a long conversation with a friend, about gun violence, school violence, and school safety. And that conversation happened on the heels of several high profile school shootings. So the story came first, but the characters followed not long after, mainly because I had a deep longing to understand not only the situation but especially the human aspect of it. I wanted to understand the stories of a school shooting. And THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS allowed me to create and explore those stories.
J.M.M.: You were born in the Netherlands and currently live there. Why set your book in the state of Alabama, in the United States? Also, what is it like publishing in the US while living in another country?
Marieke: My online life is so very much interwoven with the US YA community that it never really occurred to me to set the book anywhere else. Besides which, with a small exception, school shootings are a uniquely American issue. And I wanted to understand and explore that.
J.M.M.: How did you find your agent/editor? What was your submission process like? On your journey to publication, what kind of responses did you get to a book about a school shooting with a diverse set of characters?
Marieke: My agent found me, actually! I pitched the manuscript on Twitter, during PitMad, and she requested I query her. And we just clicked, on so many levels. I love having Jen in my corner. J
As for submission: we went out in May and sold in Oct/Nov. It was mostly very smooth! And the response was altogether great, both during querying and submission. I read all the rejection letters (I also read reviews. I’m too curious.) and what stood out to me most was and is how passionate everyone is about books. I never once felt like editors or agents were looking for an easy no; they were all looking for a yes. That’s one of the things I love about being part of this community!
J.M.M.: I love that this story is told from multiple points of view. Why did you choose to do this? What was your process for telling the story in so many points of views (as well as including bits and pieces pulled from social media)? Was this a difficult thing to pull off?
Marieke: It was important to me to show the many different sides and the many different stories of a shooting, because it feels like these events are often the culmination of many stories—the genesis of the shooter, the stories of the victims, and our interpretation as outsiders (which, in the intersection of social media and news reporting can also lead to a sort of dehumanization). It was a difficult balance to keep, at times, but I am a plotter at heart, so it helped me to have a massive spreadsheet that tracked all the on-page characters minute-by-minute, so I never got lost in the tangle of the situation.
J.M.M.: You made every character – including the perpetrator – so human and well-developed. What is your advice for writers writing diverse, yet real, well-rounded characters?
Marieke: Do you research and listen hard. I talked to a lot of people in the process of writing this book, and again in the process of editing it. And with every step you take outside of your own experience, the best thing you can do, the first thing you need to do, is keep your mouth shut, stop interpreting others, and listen.
J.M.M.: So far, what’s been the best (or most interesting) thing about being a debut author?
Marieke: The community. I have always experienced the kidlit community as super welcoming and warm, but this past year especially I have met so many fantastic people: authors, bloggers, readers, publishing folk. It truly is a privilege to be part of this world of booklovers.
LIGHTNING ROUND QUESTIONS:
Favorite writing snack? Drink?
Strangest job you ever had?
I once volunteered at a small convention in a castle in Belgium. The day before the event, we had to prepare everything, which mostly involved sweeping the floors with old-fashioned brooms while blasting Castle On A Cloud, loudly.
What were you reading when you were a senior in high school?
Harry Potter. Lots of old school SFF.
Planner or Pantser?
What’s your favorite thing to do for fun? (besides reading, of course!)
You are a self-identified geek. What are the three things that you geek-out about most?
Medieval history, Doctor Who, and (surprising absolutely no one) language.
Also, these days, Hamilton.
About the Interviewer
J.M.M. Nuanez writes novels. In her spare time, she likes to read, knit, garden and cook Korean food.
She is represented by Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency and is also a proud member of SCBWI. Despite being a nomad at heart, she loves connecting with other writers because it makes the very solitary endeavor of writing stories truly come alive. Additionally, she is a committed fan of cats, pizza, her husband, and YouTube. Find her at jmmnuanez.com and Twitter.
MY PERFECT ME is a middle grade contemporary novel. After their mother’s suicide, Jack and her little brother Birdie had to move in with their uncle Patrick who’s never been very welcoming, and now that Birdie insists on wearing girls’ clothing, Jack is afraid it may cost them the only home they’ve ever really known. Publication is scheduled for summer 2017 from Kathy Dawson/Penguin Young Readers.