Sunday, June 3, 2012

Our interview with Jennifer Gooch Hummer, award winning author of Girl, Unmoored

“Love doesn't always mean rings and veils and walks down the aisle. Sometimes love means broken windows and broken hearts, and not being able to fix either. And sometimes love means telling you, there's not such thing as time in Heaven so don't rush to meet me. Stay a while, and pick, girl, the roses.”

Apron, remember that name. Girl Unmoored is an incredible YA novel written by debut novelist Jennifer Gooch Hummer. Back in April when we hosted the official book tour, Laurie wrote in her review, "Poignant, candid, and heartbreakingly unique, Girl Unmoored is the best debut novel I've read in 2012." Today we are running our interview with the author and announcing the multiple awards her novel has won.

Blurb: Apron Bramhall has come unmoored. It’s 1985 and her mom has passed away, her evil stepmother is pregnant, and her best friend has traded her in for a newer model. Fortunately, she’s about to be saved by Jesus. Not that Jesus—the actor who plays him in Jesus Christ, Superstar. Apron is desperate to avoid the look-alike Mike (no one should look that much like Jesus unless they can perform a miracle or two), but suddenly he’s everywhere. Until one day, she’s stuck in church with him—of all places. And then something happens; Apron’s broken teenage heart blinks on for the first time since she’s been adrift.

Mike and his grumpy boyfriend, Chad, offer her a summer job in their flower store and Apron’s world seems to calm. But when she uncovers Chad’s secret, coming of age becomes almost too much bear. She’s forced to see things the adults around her fail to—like what love really means and who is paying too much for it.

Our interview with Jennifer Gooch Hummer

Hi! We're suddenly stuck on an elevator and we begin to chat. When you tell me you're an author I congratulate you and ask you what your latest book is about. You say:
First, I might say I love your shoes because I’m always looking at people’s shoes. Then I would tell you that Girl Unmoored is about a young girl coming-of-age in Maine in the mid 80’s. Apron’s mother has just died and she’s looking for someone to save her from drowning in a sea of grief. It won’t be her father or her best friend though, it’ll be Jesus. (Here, I’ll smile) Not the real one, the actor who plays him in Jesus Christ Superstar. Mike and his boyfriend, Chad, show Apron what love really means and prove that even when your world is falling apart, good friends can save you.

Apron, what a cool and unusual name. Who was her inspiration?

I wish I knew. It would be so much easier to have a concrete answer about how Apron’s name came to be. But the truth is that when I was ten years old, Apron just popped into my brain. I started a notebook with A Girl Named Apron on the cover, which I still have. I’m so glad I saved it all these years because now I take it to my book readings as proof. I even wrote reviews on the back. “Sinisational!” I didn’t want to have to come up with a story about Apron’s name in the novel, I tried to just let it be. But my publisher insisted I give a reason. I hope I came up with the perfect answer.

I love the whole water and sinking imagery, especially in regards to teens, and the title is great. Was the title your creation or did it come from someone else?

The title took forever to decide on. My publisher (and I’m making him sound so tough, but he was right on this too) didn’t want the title to have the name “Apron” in it. Probably because it would have made it sound too much like a cookbook. So I had to come up with something else. First I came up with, “Pick, Girl, The Roses,” which is from Apron’s free verse poem, but that was nixed quickly. Then I came up with “Her Hair in a Hurricane”, another line from the book. My publisher liked it, but I couldn’t get past the fact that it was a line describing M, not Apron. I started noticing how many sailing terms I had used in the story, and from there I realized what a great word “unmoored” is. It can mean lost or freed, both of which describe Apron. Apron Unmoored was out, so tried “Girl.” It worked. I didn’t know titles were so difficult. Naming my three daughters was easier.

Why set your novel in 1985?

Well first of all, what was better than the 80’s? All that hair and lace and fluorescent clothing? Madonna rolling around on stage in a wedding dress? Although I came up with Apron’s name when I was ten, I had no idea what her story was going to be. Much later, in the mid 80’s, I met my friend Mike. Although the 80’s were totally rad, there was a dark side. All of a sudden AIDS was everywhere and so was intolerance. It was a scary time. No one really knew how the virus was transmitted and many gay people were shunned in their communities. I watched my friend Mike lose a lot of his friends. My Mike is not the same as the Mike in the book, but he too could sing with the best of them, and he too taught me a thing or two about courage. My Mike is gone, but he left me Apron’s story.

Which character spoke to you first? Which was your initial scene?

Apron spoke to me first. Then she had to wait around for two and a half decades for me to come up with her story. My initial scene was in the hospital cafeteria where M tells Apron and Dennis that she’s pregnant. The first line of the book was: “I thought my dad would save it, it looked like he would…” But after a particularly heart-breaking rejection from an agent I so wanted to be mine, I chiseled out a piece of his advice. He suggested I switch around a few chapters to create a quicker pace. I knew right away that this was a good idea, and that “Jesus was in his underwear” should be the first sentence.

Sadness. How do you create a character who has to deal with such sadness without making her too morose?

I had many more scenes with Apron feeling sad and alone without her mother but they didn’t propel the storyline forward so they had to be cut. It was excruciating to take out these pages. But I think when writers cut their beloved words, the gem of that same scene comes through somewhere else. It may show up in one sentence or one line of dialogue, but the same poignancy is there. There are a few cases in the book where Apron thinks about her mother in one line, that was once an entire chapter. Also, truthfully, Apron’s just not the morose type. She’s too quirky to sit around feeling sorry for herself. Apron’s only thirteen but already she sees the absurdity of life and understands that the only true thing in this world is love. A sense of humor is a close second.

Do you have any favorite scenes from the story? Which ones truly got to you?

I still can’t read a few of the scenes without crying. My husband used to tease me about it because I’d be rewriting the manuscript for the thousandth time and still sniffling. Then he read the novel. On a plane. Let’s just say he had to ask the flight attendants for a few napkins. I am especially fond of the scene between Reverend Hunter and Apron in the church when he tells her that love is the opposite of fear, and every minute of every day we chose between the two. The scene where Grandma Bramhall assures Apron that she is as beautiful as her mother gets me every time too. And then of course, there’s the scene with Chad.

If a movie version was being made, who do you imagine playing Apron? Mike? Chad? Margie?

A younger version of Ellen Page in Juno would be the perfect Apron. She’d need red hair and freckles though. Someone told me the other day that they thought Sofia Vergara would be the perfect M and I love that! Ewan McGregor would be a sweet Mike, and Chad…. that’s a hard one. I haven’t been able to come up with anyone so maybe it’s someone who hasn’t made it to the big screen yet. But Grandma Bramhall? That’s Shirley MacLaine all the way.

Thanks so much for your fun questions. I am thrilled to be on your site!

About the author: Jennifer Gooch Hummer has worked as a script analyst for various talent agencies and major film studios. Her short stories have been published in Miranda Magazine, Our Stories, Glimmertrain and Fish. She has continued graduate studies in the Writer’s Program at UCLA, where she was awarded the Kirkwood Prize in fiction. Currently, Jennifer lives in Southern California and Maine with her husband and their three daughters.

Jennifer has won eight awards and finalist categories for her critically-acclaimed YA novel Girl Unmoored (published in March by Fiction Studio Books), a coming-of-age story set in 1985, has cross-over appeal for young adults and those who came of age in the 1980s. It’s been compared to Judy Blume’s 1970 novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret due to the engaging way it tackles tough issues such as death, grief, infidelity and intolerance.

Girl Unmoored has earned:
Winner, Cross Genre, National Indie Excellence Book Awards;
Winner, Best YA Fiction, Paris Book Festival;
Winner, Best Teenage Fiction, San Francisco Book Festival;
Winner, YA Fiction, Next Generation Indie Book Awards
Finalist  for Best Cover Design, Next Generation Indie Book Awards
Finalist  for Chick Lit, Next Generation Indie Book Awards
Finalist  for YA Fiction, International Book Awards
Finalist  for Best New Fiction, International Book Awards

Hummer will attend the Next Generation Indie Book Awards reception June 4, at the Plaza Hotel, New York, during BookExpo America. There, she’ll accept the award for 2012 Winner, YA Fiction.

We congratulate Jennifer Gooch Hummer and thank Book Sparks PR and Fiction Studio Books. 

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