Jennifer Donnelly loves spending time in the company of old dead people. In fact, she often prefers it to talking with living ones.
When she was a kid, she never wanted to go to Disneyland. Mickey and Minnie held no allure. “Please, please, please can we go to Colonial Williamsburg this summer?” she would beg her parents.
She caught the history bug in third grade when her mother took her to see the movie Mary, Queen of Scots starring Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson. She loved the drama and the intrigue, to say nothing of the dresses and the jewelry.
She finds the only problem with a passion for history is that it makes it hard to live in the real world. “Who wants to do the dishes or vacuum the floor when you could be at the Battle of Agincourt instead?” she says.
Jennifer’s ideas for books all come from the past. “Something clutches at me and catches me. It’s usually a dark thing. I hear or see or read about someone or something, and it grabs hold of me and won’t let go of me—or maybe it’s that I can’t let go of it—and so to resolve my obsession, I do what writers do, which is make up a story,” she says. “At first it’s all ideas and imagination, which is exciting and wonderful, but then the ideas have to be converted into a book. I outline neurotically, blocking out each and every scene, fitting them together, taking them apart, smoothing and finessing, until I’m satisfied that there is indeed a story there and that it has a beginning, middle, and end.”
Jennifer also does a lot of research for her books. “There is nothing I like better than poking about in dusty old archives, reading yellowed diaries and notebooks and letters, hearing the voices of another time. A point eventually comes when I feel I have enough control of the facts to start writing, but I always have to stop researching before I want to stop. I like a certain level of richness in what I write and read. I don’t enjoy skinny books. I want to create believable human beings, and believable stories, and to do that, I need a lot of knowledge about the period in which I’m setting my story. It’s my job to create a seamless and compelling past. If I don’t, I won’t earn my readers’ trust.”
Writing is something that Jennifer has always wanted to do. “I don’t remember making a conscious decision to become a writer,” she says. “It’s something that was always there. Words have always been a part of my life. I was read to as a child and my parents and many members of my extended family were storytellers, and so it seemed natural to me to go from hearing stories to telling them myself.”
Jennifer Donnelly lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband and daughter. She grew up in New York State, in Lewis and Westchester counties, and attended the University of Rochester where she majored in English Literature and European History. Her first young adult novel, A Northern Light, was awarded Britain’s Carnegie Medal, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction and a Michael L. Printz Honor. She has also written a picture book for children entitled Humble Pie, and a series of historical novels for grown-ups, which includes The Tea Rose, The Winter Rose, and the soon-to-be published novel, The Wild Rose.
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