Wendy Mass grew up in Livingston, New Jersey, about 45 minutes from New York City. She was an English major at Tufts, and after graduation moved to Los Angeles where she worked for a literary agent, a television casting company, and became a script reader for a film producer. After a few years in LA, she decided to go to graduate school and realized what she really wanted to do was write for children and young adults. She moved back east and while writing on the side, began a career in publishing as a book editor at various houses in New York City and Connecticut. When an opportunity presented itself for her to write nonfiction, she took it, and over the next six years, published eight books for teenagers on different educational topics. Her first fiction for young adults was A Mango-Shaped Space published in April, 2003 by Little,Brown.
Q. Your books tend to deal with every day life—no vampires, dragons or murders. Why the real world instead of the fantasy or the big adventure?
I think kids are so hungry for books that reflect their own experiences, and that’s what I’m drawn to writing about. I think other genres can achieve that same thing though, and I do enjoy writing things with a “fantastical” element, too.
Q. Although your books do deal with “normal” kids with “normal” parents, the books also have a wonderful sense of the extraordinary—deep experiences with strong spiritual overtones. What attracts you to that type of story?
I think we’re all trying to imbue our daily lives with a sense of something deeper. I like writing books that explore those things, and that hopefully open up the reader’s imagination and understanding.
Q. Have you had “spiritual” experiences similar to the characters in your books?
I’ve had a few lucid dreams like Jack does in Every Soul a Star and a few failed séances like Jeremy Fink.
Q. When you write a book with different narrators are you concerned about the flow of the book? Do you worry that one narrator might not be as interesting to read as the others and that readers might skip over that narrative thread and how do you try to prevent that?
That does worry me, yes. I try to make each character appealing in different ways, and hope that the reader is equally interested in all of them.
Q. Is it hard to plot out a book with multiple narrators since the narratives have to interconnect, see the same event from different angles and all reach satisfying conclusions? And do you outline these books more thoroughly than your others?
For Every Soul a Star I made up a big chart with each of the three characters, then a little summary of what each one was doing in each chapter. This helped keep me on track and showed at a glace what was happening in the story.
Q. In Every Soul a Star, there is a thrilling description of a solar eclipse. In fact, the description is given from the point of view of all three narrators. Have you seen a solar eclipse yourself and if not what kind of research did you do to create such convincing descriptions?
I’ve only seen lunar eclipses, which are pretty cool, but nothing like a solar one is supposed to be. To learn about them, I read a lot of books, talked to people who had seen them, watched videos. One day I’ll see one, and I hope my description of it in the book will have been accurate!
Q. Do you have your own telescope and a strong interest in astronomy?
I loved learning about astronomy in order to write the book, and yes, I have my own scope, but no idea how to use it! I’m going to take lessons this summer though.
Q. In Every Soul a Star, one of the girls wants to be a model. She seems to have quite valid reasons for wanting to be a model and the possibility for success at the occupation, yet it seems in the book there is a bit of a prejudice against that choice for an occupation and again I was wondering what your thought process was in dealing with the girl’s desires and that particular type of occupation.
You know, that’s a really good point. Bree really DID seem like the kind of person to make that dream come true. Maybe I was too hard on her! I think supporting her was just too much of a leap for her scientist parents to make. I’ll have to see about fixing that in the sequel (if there is one), because I really do want to put across the importance of following your dreams, no matter what other people think of them.
Q. What are you writing habits? Do you write every day? How many hours a day do you write? How many drafts do you generally do on a book? How long does it take for you to write a book?
It all depends on how close to a deadline I am, and how research-intensive the story is. It could take from 5 months to 2 years. I usually have a 10 page a day goal, but I don’t always reach it. One day I wrote 27 pages (Twice Upon a Time: Rapunzel), and my wrists had to be bandaged afterwards!
Q. I actually listened to Jeremy Fink and Every Soul a Star on CD and enjoyed both very much. Do you listen to books on CD yourself? Do you have any hand in picking the readers? And has listening to a book on CD, if you do listen to books that way, affected your own writing in any way?
I loved the Every Soul a Star audio book, and the one for 11 Birthdays. I thought they really elevated the stories. They are the only ones I’ve listened to fully. I always have an audio book playing in the car, and I think yes, they do affect my writing. I think hearing every word (rather than reading so quickly that we miss a lot), highlights the importance of choosing the right words and finding the right balance between narrative and dialogue.
Q. Many books for young adults seem to deal very cavalierly with factual data. You seemed to take a great deal of pains to be factually accurate. As a reader and writer do such inaccuracies bother you?
I do try really hard to be factually accurate, but even so, mistakes squeak through. It took till the 3rd printing of Jeremy Fink to fix one of the science facts that had gotten messed up in the copyediting stage. I try not to judge other writers though, especially since I know first hand how these things can happen.
Q. What’s your new book Finally about and how did the idea come to you?
It’s about a girl who turns 12, who has been keeping a list of all the things she’s now allowed to do. I think it’s a pretty universal story, based on things that real kids told me they were looking forward to doing. It was fun writing a book that’s intended to make the reader laugh, without realizing they’re also learning something about not rushing through life.
Q. The two books of yours that I’ve read were excellent, yet so many books are published every year every author has to spend a lot of time marketing his or her books after they’re written. What do you do to get your books known?
It’s so hard to know what’s really effective and what isn’t, so basically I just do the types of events I enjoy. Like I love going to outdoor book festivals, so those are the events I try never to miss.
Q. What’s some of the best advice you’ve been given as a writer and what advice do you like to give?
Write the types of books you wish you could read. –Ray Bradbury (the master!).
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