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Interview: Young Adult Author Jo Treggiari

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Born in London, England, Jo Treggiari started writing stories for her little sister when she was about eight. Jo would rework fairytales so that the princesses had a little more grit. Then she would write them out on white paper, roll them up and tie with a red ribbon. In high school she penned personalized naughty limericks upon request.

Jo used to work in the music industry and eventually owned her own indie record label. The first CD the label ever put out was by a gangsta rap group. The label also did alt rock and punk.

Jo’s first book, a middle-grade fantasy The Curious Misadventures of Feltus Ovalton came out in 2006.  Jo’s current release, a  post-apocalyptic adventure Ashes, Ashes published by Scholastic Press is in stores now. Jo recently finished a punk rock YA, Fierce, and is working on an urban fantasy, Briny Deep.

What are the greatest challenges to you as an author?

Fighting the procrastination monster. I fear that at heart I am lazy and would rather not have to work at writing. Unfortunately genius doesn’t spring from my head.

Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?

Both. The characters are very important to me. I write down in-depth descriptions of my characters before I start writing a book so that I have their motivations clear and in mind, but obviously if they just sit around and don’t do much, the story is going to get boring. It’s a fine balance. Ashes, Ashes is quite action-driven, but at the beginning we are alone with Lucy and in her head. I just finished a manuscript which is absolutely character-driven, the action is almost incidental.

What do you feel are the essential elements of a great story?

Just like in life (but with slightly less talking and less boring parts), a story should encompass the great highs and lows — gain and loss, love and hate, happiness and grief — and your main character should be challenged and grow in some way by the end of it all.

Could you tell us about your current projects? What can readers expect to see in the coming months?

I have two completed manuscripts on submission and I’m about 1/3 of the way through a first draft of another. They’re all adventure YAs, though one is a historical coming of age, another is an urban fantasy, and the one I’m working on at the moment is a neo-gothic horror.

Could you share a bit about how you write – do you outline your books (or at least know where you’re going with them), where do you write, how many drafts do you usually do, etc.?

The best advice anyone ever gave me was to sit my butt in the chair every day, so that’s what I do. I outline, sometimes exhaustively, sometimes less so — it depends on the story. I have an office with a great view out my window and a door I can close in my kids’ faces. This is a recent development. Until recently I wrote in the bedroom on a very small coffee table. I write directly into the computer but my notes are all hand-written. I keep folders with notes, pictures and character descriptions, and I have a bulletin board next to my desk where I pin up a few inspiring photos.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being a published author?

My favorite part is being able to write, and I love meeting readers and other writers. My least favorite is the business side of the publishing world. Although my agent handles most of that, it’s still easy to get bogged down in sales numbers and rankings. I try to just concentrate on writing the best books I can.

If you could not be a writer, what would you be?

I always wanted to be a naturalist like Farley Mowat or David Attenbororough or Jane Goodall and study animals in the wild. I’d also like to be a wood furniture-maker.

What are some must haves when you sit down to write?

In the morning — coffee. Other than that I just need my computer and my view. Oh, and I can’t write if there are a bunch of dirty dishes in the sink. A certain amount of peace is nice, but I often have to write while my four-year-old is home from daycare,and I’ve gotten pretty adept at squeezing in work around her interruptions.

What do you feel are the benefits of the new electronic readers to the literary environment?

I don’t own one (yet), but I feel that anything that makes it easier and fun for people to read, is a good thing.

What impact do electronic readers create on the bottom line for authors in the end?

This is something that has only affected me with Ashes, Ashes (which has only been out for three months), so I don’t know yet. I do know that pirating hurts authors a lot.

Do you feel they have a negative impact or positive, or no impact at all that you can see?

I’d say both negative and positive.

What sort of things influence you into naming settings and characters from your books as they are named?

Once you start writing all the time, everything influences you. I lived in and around NYC for a long time, so it seemed like the perfect setting for Ashes, Ashes. Both my new books are set on the West Coast — where I also lived — and my current work in progress is set somewhere completely mythical, though it is humid there, so it’s probably somewhere on the East Coast. Character names just come to me; sometimes they’re directly linked to a real person, and sometimes they are made up.

Have you always been into reading and writing?

Yes. I started reading at a young age and afterwards there was nothing I loved doing as much. I have my nose buried in a book in many of my childhood photos.

What has been your favorite part of the writing and publishing process so far?

Talking with people about books and writing and reading. I especially love to write and talk with young adults, and I’ve led a lot of writing workshops for kids. Having fans is really cool and weirdly surprising as well but I LIKE it!

Did you write as a teenager?

Mostly very bad poetry. Also limericks in high school which were personalized for classmates. I kept a journal and filled it with ego-centric moanings and wild dreams.

What, or who, has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?

Other writers and books I have loved and new books I discover. And my kids and family. And the beautiful place I live.

Do you see any of yourself in any of your characters?

Sure. Usually their weaknesses are something I can directly relate to, and their finer qualities are what I aspire to. I think of all my main characters as heroes, and it’s hard to be heroic in real life.

What does your writing space look like?

It’s a small room opening onto a sun-room with lots of windows overlooking the front harbor. I live on the coast and the ocean is right there. One wall is floor to ceiling bookshelves and houses just my Kid’s lit collection. I have stacks of books that don’t fit anymore. I am a book-buying addict, though I go to the library weekly as well. My computer rests on a big, heavy farm table my dad made, so I have lots of room for my notes and stuff, and then on the other side is a wall covered in bulletin boards. One is my work in progress board. And the other has notices for upcoming events or interview requests.

List a few books that you think nobody should miss?

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill, Unwind by Neal Shusterman, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

What was the last song you got stuck in your head?

“Paparazzi” (unfortunately).

 

Click here to read my review for Ashes, Ashes.

For all the latest on Jo and her adventures, please visit her website.

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About Diane Morasco