Jennifer Donnelly has enjoyed telling and experiencing stories her entire life. She developed this passion for storytelling into a career as an author in which she has published book such as Humble Pie, The Tea Rose, and the four novels of The Waterfire Saga. Donnelly’s most recent book is a tie-in to Disney’s recent Beauty and the Beast and is titled, Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book. Wanting to learn more about her career and Lost in a Book, Donnelly allowed me to interview her for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, when did you know that you wanted to become a writer? Was there a specific book or author that you feel inspired you the most to pursue this path?
Jennifer Donnelly: Very early on! I’m fortunate to have grown up with many storytellers, and they were my first inspiration. My parents told stories. My mom still does. My grandmother and great-grandmother did, too. So I was raised with this expectation of words and stories, and grew up with a belief in their power to inform, entertain, and delight. I wrote from a very young age. It’s always been in me.
Yanes: Your first book was The Tea Rose. It was published in 2007 and helped you get a literary agent. Given how much the literary landscape has changed in a decade, would you still submit a manuscript to lit agents or would you self-publish first?
Donnelly: I would absolutely submit my work to my literary agents – Steve Malk (children’s and YA books) and Simon Lipskar (adult books), both at Writers House. Steve and Simon are my business partners, trusted advisors, and friends. They know more about the ever-changing world of publishing than I could ever hope to know, and I rely on their knowledge and expertise when I’m making decisions regarding my work. I would not have my writing career without them.
Yanes: The Waterfire Saga encompasses four novels and is unlike anything else on the market. Are there any plans to revisit this world or adapt it into another media?
Donnelly: New work is keeping me very busy, but I do hope to revisit the Waterfire world one day. I love those characters, and their world, and I really miss them and often find myself wondering what they’re up to. There are no plans for other media at the moment, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
Yanes: Thinking about the order of the novels you’ve written, how do you think they mirror your emotional growth?
Donnelly: One thing that very much spurred my emotional growth was becoming a parent. My daughter kicked out the walls of my heart and made me see the utter vulnerability and innocence of children. She was the inspiration behind my YA novel Revolution, which is set in modern-day Brooklyn and late 18th century Paris. The story concerns, among other things, the cruelty suffered by Louis-Charles, the young son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, at the hands of the revolutionaries—the very people who wanted to give the very best things to the world: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. A deep sorrow over what happened to him, and to many children caught up in political violence, inspired the book, and reinforced my wish to incorporate messages of hope and resilience in my writing.
Yanes: You’re recent book is Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book. First, how amazing does it feel to be able to work with Disney on such a beloved property?
Donnelly: It was great fun to work with Disney on this project (and on The Waterfire Saga, too!). I got to read the script for Beauty and the Beast, and view stills and animation before the release of the movie—all with great cloak-and-dagger secrecy!—and I fell in love with the characters of Belle and Beast all over again.
Yanes: Lost in a Book has a prologue focusing on the sisters Love and Death playing chess. How did this idea to begin the story develop?
Donnelly: As I thought about the classic Beauty and the Beast tale, it seemed to me that the central conflict was not between life and death, but between love and death. The sorceress doesn’t punish Beast with death for his bad behavior, but with the loss of his humanity—a sort of death of the soul. And the only way he can break that curse is by learning to love unconditionally, and to be loved in return. I thought the most compelling way to represent that conflict was to personify it in these two sisters – Love and Death – and to show them actively engaged in their eternal battle.
Yanes: When people finish reading Lost in a Book, what do you hope they take away from the story?
Donnelly: I hope that readers understand the need to write the stories of their own lives and to never, ever hand that power to anyone else. Belle learns this, and so does Mattie, the main character in one of my YA novels, A Northern Light and Jo, too, the heroine of These Shallow Graves.
Yanes: Finally, what are you working on that people can look forward to?
Donnelly: I have just finished the final copyedit on Fatal Throne – a YA retelling of the story of England’s King Henry VIII and his six wives. This is a collaborative project, and I’ve had the great honor of working with six other writers on the book: M.T. Anderson, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Deborah Hopkinson, Linda Sue Park and Lisa Ann Sandell. We’ve each taken on one of the queens, or Henry himself, and are telling their stories in a first-person voice. I’m Anna of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife—the so-called ugly, dull one whom he divorced after six months of marriage. I’ve absolutely loved writing her, and I can’t wait to see what readers think. Fatal Throne will be published in May 2018 by Schwartz & Wade Books, a division of Random House.