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Interview - Jennifer Castle + Giveaway

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Today, I'm delighted to be interviewing with Jennifer Castle, author of The Beginning of After.

Book Synopsis
Sixteen-year-old Laurel’s world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all, there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel’s life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss, a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.
I've always been a writer in one way or another. I went from being the Poetry Geek in middle and high school to writing short stories in college, to setting out for Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. Even when I was working boring office jobs to pay the bills, I was always chipping away on a script in my spare time. I had an agent and went out on lots of meetings, and several of my screenplays came very close to selling, but nothing ever worked out. Walking away from that pursuit was really hard, because I felt like I was now a failure, but in retrospect I'm glad because it forced me to finally start working on a novel. I just wanted to finish it because I knew I had one in me, and I didn't want that deathbed-regret of feeling that I was so lame, I couldn't finish a book. Fortunately, that book got finished and was good enough for an agent to take on, and fortunately it was the right agent. Sometimes I feel bummed that I didn't go back to fiction much earlier, so that by now I'd have a few novel under my belt, but then again, I think "The Beginning of After" is the kind of story you have to grow into. Who knows what kind of awful crap I would have written in my 20's!

You've worked quite a bit with teen-related sites. How have your experiences with these impacted your writing?
Creating media for young people, whether it's content on a website or a book or whatever, forces you to stay tapped into that part of yourself that's forever sixteen years old. Most of my work has involved what they call "psycho-social issues" or "life skills," and I've learned a lot about the things we all struggle with emotionally when we're teens. Then, of course, you realize that you never stop struggling with many of these issues, you just get better at handling them or have new ways to deal. But they stay with you for life, and they continue to fascinate me. So I'm always interested in writing about the daily in's and out's of becoming who we really are, interacting with the people around us, discovering how we can lay down an authentic path in the world. It may not seem exciting, on the outside, as creating a dystopian future or alternate reality in fiction, but for me, the possibilities are endless.

The Beginning of After has evolved since its initial inspiration in 2001. How has Laurel and her story changed since you first came up with the idea?
Originally, I wasn't writing a Young Adult book. I was going to tell Laurel's story in three parts, spanning the years after the accident, through college, and into her early 20's. But I was really flailing and the story had no focus, except for the relationship with David whenever he dropped in. So I had an epiphany one day that Laurel's story could be told in a much shorter period of time because the most interesting part of it was the months after the accident. The story really changed from portraying Laurel's path into adulthood and a future shadowed by tragedy, into the aftermath of the accident and how Laurel's world was suddenly altered in every way. Which makes for a much better book, I think. Sometimes I feel that I prefer reading YA to "adult" fiction because everything in YA is so immediate. There's no B.S. It gets straight to the heart of things!

What did you learn while researching for The Beginning of After?
Well, the biggest and most important thing I learned is that everybody deals with grief differently. That gives you a ticket to freedom, as a writer, because I just had to focus on creating realistic characters, then be true to those characters in the way they grieve. The other big thing I learned, and continue to learn, is that people have amazing abilities when it comes to survival and hope and love. They find a way to go on after the most horrible, tragic things happen. It's incredible.

In the aftermath of Laurel's loss, people begin to treat her differently, and she falls into a depression. What difficulties did you encounter while developing her character and portraying her in a realistic and compelling manner?
In earlier drafts of the book, Laurel was pretty passive. Everything was happening "to" her. She just sucked it up way too well. Even though I wanted her to be bottling up many of her emotions in order to get through each day, and I felt this was realistic, as a writer you also have to think about what's going to annoy or frustrate the reader. So slowly, I let Laurel be angry, and selfish, and really lose it (especially when it comes to David). That ended up giving her a lot of dimension and an extra layer of realism, and I loved her so much more after she got a little more badass.

Laurel and David's relationship is complex, as they both grieve for their families, but it was David's father behind the wheel. The emotions they convey are powerful and relatable. What went into the dynamics of their relationship to help the two make a connection that is so real and there?
That's a tough question! This is going to sound really flaky but I think it was just a perk of having lived with the characters for so long and really knowing them. Whenever I put them together in a scene, they would just talk on their own and I was doing little more than taking dictation. While I was making Laurel a tougher and more assertive in later drafts, I was also making David more sympathetic. They had to match or complement each other at any given time, so going by that rhythm really helped me create the relationship.

I love animals and was drawn into Laurel's experience at the Ashland animal hospital. Did you always plan for her work with animals?
I did. When I first started thinking about this story, I was heavily involved with cat rescue in Los Angeles. I knew what working with animals did for me, and I saw what it did for many of the other volunteers who devoted time and energy -- sometimes their whole lives, it seemed -- to this passion. In some cases, I got the sense that the work with animals was compensating for a lot that was missing in someone's life. For me, personally, it gave me great rewards and fulfillment at a time when my professional life was not going so hot. So I wanted to explore that theme in a novel: the ability of animals to give you whatever it is you need, even though that's different for each person.

Could you tell us a little bit about your upcoming novel You Look Different in Real Life? How did you come up with the title?
But of course! It's about five teens who are the subjects of a documentary series that peeks in on their lives every five years. Now they're sixteen and the cameras are coming back for another film. What would you do? Would you change your life so it looked better on camera? Would you feel you were living for yourself, or for other people's expectations? And how does a documentary film affect the relationships between the people who are the subjects? Hmmm. The book is a chance for me to explore all that, and also to write in a totally different, much funnier and sarcastic voice. Nobody dies in this novel, but there's plenty of drama. The title was something my husband suggested after a very long and crazymaking struggle to find one that fit the tone of the book. "You look different in real life" is something people might say to these characters and the characters to one another, but it's also something that applies to all of us. We all live partly in the media -- on Facebook or YouTube or blogs, etc. The version of ourselves that we broadcast to the world doesn't always resemble the version we see in the mirror. Ah, this stuff is so juicy. I'm really excited about the new book and can't wait for it to come out next summer!

Me too. I loved The Beginning of After and cannot wait to read You Look Different in Real Life!


Jennifer's Website | Facebook | Twitter
Jennifer Castle's first novel, The Beginning of After, was a 2012 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selection as well as a 2011 ABC New Voices "outstanding debut." When she's not writing, you will often find her in a swimming pool, underneath a cat, or speaking before thinking. She lives in New York's Hudson Valley with her husband and two daughters; her second novel, You Look Different In Real Life, will be published by HarperTeen in Summer 2013.




Jennifer Castle has generously donated a signed copy of The Beginning of After for one lucky international winner! The giveaway is open through September 3rd.

To enter, follow Imaginary Reads and leave a meaningful comment on the interview, then fill out the form below. Extra entries for tweeting about the giveaway and commenting on my review of The Beginning of After. Do not leave your email in the comments section.

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39 comments on "Interview - Jennifer Castle + Giveaway"
  1. thanks for the interview to give us about the side of the author and their writing and love to know it and always wonder with their imagination and skill in writing :)

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  2. Great interview! The Beginning of After sounds like a great read! Thanks for the chance to win!

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  3. I love how there are animals in the book and how volunteering at an animal shelter is part of her recovery.

    Jennifer's new book sounds so good:)

    Thanks so much:)

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  4. It's interesting, the way your character developed her layers. I find depression a (sad but) fascinating condition because of how differently everyone deals with it. Thanks for the giveaway and the chance to win!

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  5. Thank you for the wonderful interview. I volunteer with an animal rescue shelter in my area, and that part really makes me want to read this even more!

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  6. Thank you so much for this fantastic interview. Really. These questions were tough and smart and I enjoyed digging deep for my responses! I just re-read your review of "The Beginning of After" from last summer (back when I was still reading reviews!) and I totally remember it, and being so happy that you 100% "got" the book. Keep up the terrific work on your blog, and I can't wait for you to get an ARC of "You Look Different In Real Life"!

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    1. Thanks Jennifer! I also really enjoyed interviewing with you and reading your response to these questions. The Beginning of After is a wonderful book that I will definitely be keeping and rereading. I can't wait to read You Look Different in Real Life!

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  7. Great interview and review. I can't wait to read this book. It sounds very good.

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  8. Great interview! it made me even more interested in this book! and thank you for the great giveaway!

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  9. I enjoyed the interview thank you. It's almost like you had a light-bulb moment or two.

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  10. Interesting interview, I enjoyed it and it really intrigued me to read The beginning of After which sounds really good!

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  11. I have been wanting to read this book FOREVER but my library doesn't have it so I hope to win :)

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  12. This sounds like a very deep and compelling book! One I would sit down with and not want to put down until the last page was turned.

    Thanks so much!

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  13. I put the wrong thing in my tweet box. Here is the actual tweet link:

    https://twitter.com/TexasBookLover/status/238657476633980928

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  14. When first reading the excerpt of this book I thought I won't like this but as I kept reading about the story and then the interview with the author I will now have to go add this book to my TBR list because it sounds like a pretty good read! :)

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  15. I cannot wait to read ANY of your books!!!

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  16. I really like the title of Jennifer's upcoming. It's quite catchy.

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  17. Thanks for the amazing interview and giveaway. The interview really gives us a deep insight on the book and how Jennifer Castle experienced the processes of creating it.

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  18. Thanks for the great interview!! Sounds like this is a very good book. I'll have to add it to my tbr list : ) Thanks for the giveaway!

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  19. I want to read this book so badly! Thank you for the giveaway :)

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  20. Great Interview! I've been wanting to read this for a while...thanks for the chance to win :D

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  21. Great interview. I've had this book on my wishlist for quite a while. It sounds really interesting.

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  22. Laurel sounds very real as a character. She would be easy to relate to.

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  23. I don't understand how when someone dies, people start treating the people that lost them like their breakable, and that the death should be defining their lives. But it shouldn't. People die. And if you let it define your life, your world will never ever heal.

    I thought that Laurel was a character I could relate to when I read this, but I want to see if my opinion needs re-evaluated.

    When is You Look Different in Real Life coming out? Did I miss something? Anyways, great interview, and I always loved cats too. :)

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  24. I love the importance of working with animals! I've been a vegetarian for over a decade, so I love animals. Haha I definitely want to check this book out!

    Thank you for stopping by!

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  25. I can't wait to read The Beginning of After. It sounds like such a tearjerker! I don't know what I would do if that happened to my family!

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  26. Cant wait to read this book! Love the cover and definitely sounds like something that could make me cry :')

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  27. Thanks for the awesome interview! :) I love being able to see what authors think about their books and characters. its fascinating!x

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  28. Interesting that she used stuff from her life and incorporated into the book (the animal thing). AND WOWIE, her upcoming book sounds AMAZING. Need to get my hands on it when it comes out :D Thanks for the great interview and giveaway!!!

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  29. Sounds very interesting! Can't wait to read it!! :]
    Thank you for the giveaway!

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  30. Jennifer Castle is a very cool person, I'm sure i'll enjoy her book. Thank you for this amazing interview!

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  31. This sounds like such a heart-wrenching read

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  32. I've wanted to read this book for a while now! I didn't know Jennifer was a screen writer before, that makes me want to read it even more. I've noticed that screen writers tend to have excellent pacing and often write such engaging reads.

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  33. This looks like a must read, hope I win!

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  34. What a great interview! I love hearing about what inspired the writing of the story and I'm also a huge fan of YA! This books sounds fantastic! Thanks telling us about it and having the giveaway. I will definitely read this book!;)

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  35. Love the interview! It's nice to know that an author also learns a lot in the process of writing their novel. I have read stories with tragic accident and I'm curious as to how this book is different from the others. Thanks for the chance to win! :)

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  36. It's so nice to see there are still people who care about animals. Last year some idiot with a gun killed my dog.

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  37. Great interview, ladies! You asked some interesting questions! I am very excited to learn about Jennifer's upcoming novel, You Look Different In Real Life, sounds like a great story and I'm a total sucker for contemporary novels with more meaningful themes! Thank you so much for taking the time to interview Jennifer, it's always so fascinating to learn more about the person behind the book :)

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  38. Sounds like an awesome book. Wonderful interview, very interesting and unique questions. I love the title of the book. Thanks for the chance to win.

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