This article originally appeared in PW’s Children’s Bookshelf.
By Kate Pavao — Publishers Weekly, 2/4/2010 12:40:00 PM
Carrie Jones has been spending lots of time with pixies, shape shifters and other fantasy creatures—and it doesn’t look like she’ll be stopping anytime soon. Her books Need and Captivate, about a smart girl being stalked by a pixie, have struck a chord with readers; in January, both books landed on the New York Times bestseller lists. Now the series could be as many of five books. Here, Jones talks to Bookshelf about how she became enchanted by pixies, what comes next in the series, and why teen readers need fantasy books right now.
Can you talk about where the idea for Need and Captivate came from?
It’s kind of random and a little weird. There’s this huge organic fair in Maine and there are multiple ways to get in to the fairgrounds where it is held. One of the ways is to stroll in through the woods, My daughter and I were on this trail and it’s windy and kind of creepy because the trees were all bare. As we were walking in, there was this guy wearing corduroy: corduroy pants, shirt and blazer, all in earth tones. That’s kind of freaky in itself, but he also had this huge fabric tail scrounging out from the back of his coat. I kept staring at it and staring at it. He smelled really bad too, like clothes that hadn’t been washed in ages and ages and ages.
Emily, my daughter, kept saying, “Mommy, stop staring.” But I couldn’t help it, He just gave off this weird vibe—his vibe was just bad. And I don’t know if it was how the sun hit his eyes, but they looked silver to me. Eventually, Emily made me drop back because it was so creepy and I have no sense of self-preservation. But that was what inspired me. I thought, “Maybe he’s some evil pixie thing.”
A pixie king was born!
Only a not-so-good-looking one, with bad taste in clothes.
How did you take it from there?
I was writing other stuff at the time and I just thought, this will be fun. When I was at Vermont College of Fine Arts, in the masters program in writing for children, one of the big things they tell you is that you have to experiment. Especially when you’re a student, that’s the best way to learn, And so I just thought of writing Need as this experiment. I had written realistic contemporary fiction that was a lot more character-driven. This time I just thought, “It doesn’t matter how awful it is! It’s plot-driven!” It was kind of freeing, and, yeah, it was a blast.
What do you make of the popularity of YA fantasy right now?
There’s a sort of larger-than-life aspect that really tails into what novels are often about: giving people hope and a place to escape. I live in fairly rural Maine, and I know locally there are more teens having more issues in school because there are more issues at home. Parents are stuck trying to heat their homes in 17-degree weather and they’re not getting as many hours at work or bonuses or cost of living increases. Fantasy is so much fun and it lets us escape—gives us a little more hope some times.
What did it feel like when both of your books hit the New York Times list?
Three people called from my publisher’s office on speakerphone. I was terrified because I am this terribly negative person who always expects the worst to happen. To say I was surprised would not be an accurate way to explain. I basically jumped into the air and started pacing around in circles like my dog does when she’s excited about something, like if there’s a turkey or a bobcat outside. I kept trying to think about how a professional is supposed to sound when she suddenly gets two books on the New York Times bestseller list. I knew I probably shouldn’t swear, and since I was on speakerphone and my publisher was there, I probably shouldn’t shriek too loudly. And so basically I hyperventilated a lot and kept giggling.
When I was little, my grandmother would always say, “You don’t want your obituary to be too short, Carrie. Try to have an arrangement of things.” And that day I thought, “Oh yay! My obituary will have another line in it.”
Your main character, Zara is good hearted, strong—and sarcastic. Why did you give her this streak?
I think this harkens back to a college psychology class where the professor was talking about how people deal with stress. He talked about how men, especially, tend to deal with really intense, stressful situations with humor and sarcasm. It was considered to be this highly evolved way of being. So when I was creating Zara, I wanted her to be like that. I wanted her to be this cool, highly evolved and sort of kick-butt heroine who can see the bizarreness when she tries to deal with intense things. Because how bizarre is it for human-sized pixies to be stalking you—or even to exist?
You’ve returned to your characters before: you wrote a sequel to Tips on Having a (Gay) Ex-Boyfriend called Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape). Do you like writing sequels?
For me, it’s really fun. I get really attached to my characters, I would happily write about the characters in Tips on Having a (Gay)Ex Boyfriend until they’re 97 years old and in their rocking chairs. It’s incredibly different to vaguely note in your head what happens to them than it is to write out the details and live out the story with them on the page.
What are you plans for the Need series from here?
I just wrote the rough draft of book three, which I think they are planning on releasing in December The series starts off pretty narrowly focused—mostly about Zara, a couple of relatives, and three of her friends. In Captivate, the world expands a little more, It expands even more in the third book—there are definitely more revelations.
I had originally tried to smoosh book three into the last quarter of book two. My amazing editor, Michelle Nagler, said, “Carrie, honey, I think we’re trying to rush everything a little bit.” I said, “I only have a two-book contract!” I was incredibly happy when she said that we could make the contract a little bigger. I am not sure yet if there will be four books or five.
And what else are you working on?
I am working on the fourth book, even though I haven’t obviously revised the third book yet. I also co-wrote an older young adult novel with Steve Wedel, an adult horror writer I met at a convention in Oklahoma. We’re calling it Ghost Sickness and in it someone gets possessed.
So you’d write a chapter and then he would write one?
Yes, we wrote it so quickly because we both were so addicted to finding out what would happen. We’d say, “Hurry up! It’s been a day!”
I also have two nonfiction picture books that are supposed to come out. They’re both about spies.
That’s a change of pace.
It’s all about that experimenting thing.