Meet Jennifer Castle, author of You Look Different in Real Life and The Beginning of After at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival! Read her interview below by Bria Metzger, 15, of Warwick Valley High School.
BRIA: How did you come up with the characters? Are they inspired by anyone you know?
JENNIFER: The characters came to me in different ways. Of course, I thought about Justine first. I wanted her to be really talented and witty, but insecure and also a little bit angry. She’s not based on me, but I did give her my snark, my body-image struggles, and my love of sneakers! Rory was inspired by the many kids I know, of various ages, who have an autism spectrum disorder. The other characters were all “stereotypes” I wanted to put a twist on with an unexpected side. I see the five of them like puzzle pieces who fit together in different, fascinating ways.
BRIA: Did the characters change from your original thoughts? Did they evolve past your expectations?
JENNIFER: That’s a great question! Characters always change as you write a novel. You can only develop them so much before they start actually doing stuff in your story, and that’s why I don’t get too detailed in the beginning. You get the basics down, like their general interests and personality, their family situation and ethnicity, maybe their general physical appearance. Then they tend to start behaving in certain ways and saying certain things on their own as you write, and often surprise you. With YOU LOOK DIFFERENT IN REAL LIFE, that happened a lot, and I had to change some of my plans to allow for it. I feel like it makes for authentic, living-and-breathing characters in the end.
BRIA: Justine listens to the song “Heroes” in the car. It’s the only song that was named and not described. Why did you feel it was important to name that song, and what was its significance to you?
JENNIFER: I usually shy away from naming songs in my work, because I feel like it can alienate a reader if they’re not familiar with the music. But I took a chance by mentioning “Heroes,” because it was a very important song to me as I was writing this book. I always create a “writing playlist” of music I listen to when working on something — not when I’m actually writing, because that’s too distracting — but when I take breaks to brainstorm, usually going for walks with my headphones on. I’ve always loved David Bowie and this song in particular. I heard it randomly when I was first developing YOU LOOK DIFFERENT IN REAL LIFE, and it just struck something in me — this was the tone and feeling I imagined for the book. It’s an anthem, and I wanted the characters to have one by the end. Putting it in the narrative was my way of reminding Justine and her friends that yes, they can still be the heroes of their own stories. So can we all…
BRIA: Did you already have an idea of the ending when you started the book and work your way there? Or did it come later?
JENNIFER: I knew certain big things about the ending, but I left the particulars open so I could fill them in as I wrote my way to that point. It’s kind of like doing a connect-the-dots drawing. Your big story points are the dots. You connect them as you go, with lots of tiny but rich details along the way. Although the last chapter was something I added at my editor’s request, because she felt we needed to see more of what happens in the near future for these characters. It’s very hard to know when to end a book, especially this one, because I love Justine, Rory, Nate, Felix, and Keira so much I wanted to keep telling their stories!
BRIA: What gave you the idea to write this book?
JENNIFER: I’ve always been fascinated by what happens to reality TV and documentary film subjects after the cameras go away. Do they live their lives differently, like someone’s always watching? Does the way they’re portrayed on screen change the way they see themselves in real life? The possibilities of character and story seemed so juicy, I couldn’t resist. Then I started thinking about how the rise of blogging and social media has allowed pretty much everyone to make themselves the “stars” of their own documentaries. Every time we post a status, a photo, check in at a location…we’re building a narrative of our own lives. I think it’s scary-easy to share so much of ourselves, to think so obsessively about what we’re putting out there for the world to see, that we lose track of who we really are. I am also a big fan of the “Up” series of British documentaries that has followed the same group of people every seven years since they were kids, so that was a big inspiration as well.