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Interview: Janet Fox, Author of Faithful

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Don’t be fooled by the cover of Janet Fox’s new book Faithful. Though it shows a willowy girl in an emerald green gown, hair blowing in the wind as Yellowstone’s geyser blows in the distance, it is not a romance novel. The very fact that it boasts a romance novel-like cover minus the boy with the adoring eyes says much about the integrity of the story. Sure, romance is a big part of it (would teen readers have it any other way?), but I would classify it more as a historical coming-of-age story with a strong teenage protagonist in a spectacular setting.

The main character, Maggie, starts out as a spoiled girl in an established New England family. After the disappearance of her mother and a series of misfortunes, her father takes Maggie west, misleading her into thinking it is a short term trip. Through the adjustment to life in Yellowstone Park (her father works for the park as a architect) and in a different class, the acceptance of her mother’s death and the strengthening of her relationship with her father, Maggie grows exponentially. And we feel it all with her every step of the way. The setting is rough, dangerous and totally seductive (I would argue that Yellowstone is in fact a character in the novel) and you can see every craggy rock, every tip of green foliage. You fall in love with the rustic setting as Maggie does. And as the author Janet Fox did.

In fact, Janet has recently moved to Montana, where she and her family have a cabin in the mountains not far from Yellowstone. Her writing for children has appeared in Highlights for Children and Spider magazines; her award-winning non-fiction middle grade book, Get Organized Without Losing It, continues to be a top seller. And just this summer it was announced that Faithful is a nominee for this year’s ALA Young Adult Library Association’s (YALSA) annual award for Best Fiction for Young Adults. Janet has taught middle school and high school and has an MS in marine geology and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I talked to Janet Fox about the book, Yellowstone Park and what’s next. I hope you enjoy hearing from her as much as I did.

Why did you set the book in Yellowstone?

My husband and I have had a cabin near Yellowstone since before we were married. We’ve loved visiting there and do so at least once a year. When I began thinking about this novel I knew I wanted to write historical fiction, and I wanted to write about a girl whose mother has disappeared (relating to my own mother’s death). It seemed a natural progression to set the novel in Yellowstone — and as soon as I began my research, it was clear that Yellowstone was a perfect choice. I could incorporate that fascinating landscape with its wonders and history and animals into the story and give my novel added depth: Yellowstone is a place where new life (in the boiling hot springs) and death (in the dangerous landscape) mingle.

Historical fiction always necessitates research, but yours has the added factors of the location and one of the main character’s occupation as a geologist. Can you tell us about what kinds of research you did and what it entailed?

Since my husband is a geologist, I had a built-in model for Tom. And I have a master’s in marine geology, so I know enough to be able to be realistic about the geology. Once I decided to put Maggie in Yellowstone I spent quite a bit of time both in the Park and reading its history. There’s a wonderful new research center in Gardiner, and I spent time there digging through old records. And of course the Old Faithful Inn was built in 1904 (the year the story is set) so it’s kind of spooky to stand in the lobby and think that Maggie would have seen what’s there today.

Maggie is a strong female character, you could even argue feminist (given her choices at the end, I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the book). Did you set out with that intention or did she just turn out that way?

Maggie evolved as I was writing, but I always knew she needed to grow into someone who could be independent of the constraints of her contemporary society. What’s surprised me since the novel has come out is how many readers have told me that they were unaware how confining a girl’s prospects were in 1904. So although there are feminist undertones, it was really Maggie’s evolution that dictated the path of the novel. Mrs. Gale, on the other hand, was inspired by a real person (Evelyn Cameron), and she’s a character I really admire. She truly broke out of society’s expectations.

This past summer there was much talk about bears in the state parks, including Yellowstone. You were in Yellowstone this summer doing book signings — any bear encounters?

There have been tons of bears around this summer! We did see a few in the Park — there were a couple of grizzly sightings that we had to drive by because we needed to get to the Inn. But actually I’ve seen at least six bears this summer alone right here by our cabin, including a griz up on the hill above the house. I’ve heard that the pine nuts are not so numerous this year, so the bears are a little hungry. *shiver* But, you know, you have to be respectful. This is their place first, ours second. I try to be “bear-aware” and know that they have a right to be here.

Your first book was a self-help book of sorts for middle-grade students (Get Organized Without Losing It), and this novel is a historical novel for young adults. Do you prefer to write for a certain age? What about non-fiction versus fiction?

I have to admit I prefer fiction, although I really enjoyed writing the humorous bits in Get Organized. I recently completed a middle grade novel about a character I love and I tried to incorporate that same kind of humor. But if I had to choose… I love writing for young adults. That’s where most of my ideas for future projects seem to be heading.

Okay, describe the scene for us of what it was like when you received the news that Faithful was nominated for the American Library Association YALSA award… be honest…

I cried. Then I logged off the internet, and logged in again, and went back to the page and read it again to be sure I wasn’t imagining things. I probably logged off and on four times before I believed it was real. And then spent a lot of time looking at the incredible company of authors on the list.

So… will there be a sequel to Faithful? If so, when?

Ah! Well – yes and no. the sequel isn’t precisely a sequel. It follows the character of Kula, a secondary character in Maggie’s story rather than Maggie herself. It’s titled Forgiven and will be out late May, 2011

Tell us something that isn’t on the official bio.

I’ve been to the bottom of the ocean in a three-man submersible. The inside is about the size of a VW beetle. No, there’s no bathroom, and a dive can last as long as eight hours. (Hint: don’t drink anything.)

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal

  • bonnie j doerr

    Thanks for interviewing Janet. She’s pretty special. Love Faithful. Love the park. Bears, not so much. Saw lots and lots of them when I visited many years ago.

  • Ann Cardinal

    Thank YOU Bonnie! :) I love bears…at a distance. I haven’t been in Yellowstone but I sure saw them in Yosemite!

    Janet is indeed special. Can’t wait for the next book.