Jenny spoke with Melissa Roske about her debut YA novel, which has just been published by Delacorte Press. Jenny’s part of the online group the Sweet Sixteens, for authors publishing for the first time in 2016; Melissa rolls with the Swanky Seventeens.
ABOUT THE NOVEL:
What if you discovered that Kurt Cobain is not only alive, but might be your real father?
After glimpsing him on a ferry from Seattle, 15-year-old Nico follows the man with the blazing blue eyes to a remote Vancouver Island cabin—and her life will never be the same.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Born in Toronto, Ontario, Jenny Manzer attended the University of Victoria’s writing program before working as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, and an investigative journalist. She now lives on Vancouver Island with her husband and two Nirvana-loving children, A.J. and Briar. Don’t ask Jenny to follow an instruction manual, wear high heels, or listen to Phil Collins. She won’t, no matter how much you beg. Jenny is represented by Kerry Sparks of Levine, Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency. You can find her at jennymanzer.com and on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.
TALKING ABOUT “COBAIN”:
Melissa: In SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN, 15-year-old Nico is convinced that Kurt Cobain—the Nirvana frontman who famously committed suicide in 1994—is her real father. What gave you the idea?
Jenny: When I was a student journalist in the nineties, I used to hang out at Harpo’s Cabaret, a legendary club in Victoria. All the important alternative bands of the day performed there – Pearl Jam; The Dead Milkmen; 13 Engines – before going over to play Vancouver. Years later, I read an article about how in March of 1991, a few months before Nevermind came out, Nirvana played a show in Victoria. Instead of playing Harpo’s, which would have been the logical choice, they ended up at this tiny, unimpressive heavy-metal bar called The Forge. The venue was dumpy, tucked in the belly of a hotel, and the crowd was small. Naturally, this got me thinking: Who was at this show? I then took it a step further and asked myself, “What if Kurt Cobain had had an affair with somebody at the show? And what if this person got pregnant?” From there, I started figuring out the plot – including what could have happened, and when. The book is designed so that the whole scenario is possible.
What is it about Kurt Cobain—the man and the legend—that made you want to write about him?
As I mentioned, there was that strange, sparsely attended Nirvana show in Victoria that caught my attention. But also this sense of unfinished business with Kurt Cobain. He died young, beautiful, and brilliant. He left behind a child. He had so much to live for, and so much work still to come. He also suffered a good number of the things many of us suffer. Despite his astonishing success and luminous good looks, he was lonely and insecure. He was a child of divorce. He took salvation in music. It’s as if he was both just like us as well as the world’s last great rock star.
There are many fascinating Cobain-related facts in this book. How difficult was it for you to keep the real Kurt Cobain from hijacking the story?
It was definitely a challenge. When I began to do research, I became quite consumed with Kurt Cobain. I read so much about him, and I thought it was important to include facts about his life and music; things fans and readers wouldn’t necessarily know. These details were equally important for the development of Nico’s character. The more she knew about Cobain as the story went along, the more convinced she was that he was her real father. I didn’t want the facts to come at the expense of the story, so when I did my second draft I put my books about Cobain aside and concentrated on Nico’s character arc. On her story.
Music plays a starring role in this novel. What is your personal connection to music?
I love music, and I’ve always hung out with people who love music. The kind of music you like says so much about how you regard yourself; who you are as a person, and how you view the world. This is especially true for teens, who see music as their lifeblood. In my book, I tried to make a statement about the healing power of music, and of art. Both can take us out of our situations and help us to better understand ourselves.
What is your writing routine like? I know you have a day job, so how do you juggle both aspects of your life?
I write when my children are in bed, anywhere from 9 to 11 pm. I’m typically not that disciplined, but I figured it was the only way I’d get any work done. I try to do about 500 words. I’ll dork around on the Internet for a bit and then buckle down and write. My process is to plow forward without going back. That way, I can get a first draft out. It’s different with editing, of course. You don’t want to rush it.
What’s your best advice for aspiring writers?
I’d say to chip away at it. Five hundred words a day—or even 300—adds up. For me, there are times when I don’t feel like writing, or think I have nothing to say. But that’s the magic of writing. You might find you really do have something to say, and all of a sudden a scene comes out and something important transpires. It’s equally important to remember that your novel is not a china doll. You won’t break it by having to delete something you’ve written. Try things out, and keep moving forward. And one more thing: you’d better enjoy the actual writing process, because at every turn, even once you have an agent and the book’s been accepted for publication, you’re going to feel anxiety – whether it’s about the book coming out, or whether your edits have been good enough. Make sure to celebrate every milestone and accomplishment!
Coffee or tea?
Coffee; it’s my constant companion. In fact, my kids often imitate me drinking coffee: “Oooh, my name is Mommy. I drink coffee!”
What were you listening to when you were a teen?
My early teens included quite a lot of ska and reggae, including Madness, The Specials, The Beat, and other British bands like The Clash, The Who, as well as classic reggae like Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. Then came New Wave: The Cure, Big Country, Depeche Mode. Later on, I enjoyed Manchester bands like The Stone Roses and Oasis, as well as female-fronted bands/singers like Liz Phair, Belly, Ani DiFranco, Michelle Shocked. I also adored The Pixies, which is reflected in SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN.
Birth order in family? Youngest? Oldest? Middle? Only?
I’m the youngest of two; I have an older sister, Trish. She’s a staunch supporter of my work, and she never thinks my writing needs revising. It’s a good thing I don’t listen to her. It does!
Do you listen to Nirvana when you write?
Of course! I also listen to the radio, or podcasts. I sing all the time, and I often find myself walking along and singing at the top of my lungs. I’m all lined up to be the crazy old lady!
What were you reading when you were 16?
Margaret Atwood, before she took her turn toward more speculative kinds of fiction. I read a lot of other Canadian writers too.
Do you write longhand or type?
I use a computer, although I do carry a Moleskin around so I can make notes and write bits of dialogue. Having been a journalist for so many years, my handwriting is terrible!
I’m very much a dog person, and have had several dogs over the years. My most recent dog was an adorable black lab named Bo Diddley. We inherited him from someone who was a blues fan.
Greatest writing influences?
I hope to learn something from everything I read, but I tend to enjoy contemporary, realistic fiction. A book I was smitten with recently is The Dept. Of Speculation by Jenny Ofill. I liked the idea of exploring the bread and butter of our lives—relationships and parenting—in an unusual form, and with an unconventional voice.
WHERE TO PREORDER “SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN”:
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER:
Melissa Roske is a writer of contemporary middle-grade fiction. She is represented by Patricia Nelson of MLLA and is a proud member of SCBWI.
Before hanging out with fictional characters, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she wrote for Just Seventeenmagazine, where she was later offered a job as an advice columnist. Upon returning to her native New York, she selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, wrote and contributed to several books and magazines, and got certified as a life coach. Melissa lives in Manhattan with her husband and teenage daughter. Her debut novel, KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN, will be published by Charlesbridge in May, 2017.