Let me say from the start that the author of NOWHERE GIRL, AJ Paquette, is also my agent. That said, I truly did love this book! It will be released on September 13, 2011, but is available for preorder now.
NOWHERE GIRL tells the story of a girl named Luchi, born to an American mother and raised in a Thailand prison. After her mother’s untimely death, Luchi is suddenly released into the world, knowing almost nothing of her family’s past. As the daughter of an American, she doesn’t belong to Thailand. But as a girl who knows no other life, she doesn’t belong to America either. She truly is a nowhere girl.
Now to the interview with AJ Paquette:
In a most wonderful way, NOWHERE GIRL is so different from other books that are out there. Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of this plot? Where did this idea come from?
At its most basic level, NOWHERE GIRL first grew out of my desire to write a story that was not fantasy-based (as all of my writing up to that point had been). More specifically, the core of the idea came from reading a news article about a young boy who had grown up in a Thai prison alongside his incarcerated mother. The thought both flabbergasted me and got me thinking: How would a child come to be in such a place? And what would his or her life be like? How do you ‘move on’ after something so all-encompassing?
You write about Thailand as if you know it well. Is that the result of detailed research or have you spent time traveling there?
I visited Thailand many years ago, and I retain from that time an overall feel for the country and culture. For the specifics and more up-to-date details, though, I did a ton of research: reading non-fiction books and novels set in Thailand, poring over travel guides, and tons of internet research, including watching specific YouTube video clips (for example, ‘motosai ride through downtown Bangkok’; it’s amazing what you can find!). I also had several Thai friends read through the manuscript, and each of them provided me with invaluable feedback on both tone and accuracy.
One of my favorite things about this book is your use of symbolism, which is woven throughout the book. In particular, Luchi’s comparison of herself to a tree growing outside the prison compound. Is the use of symbolism instinctive to your writing or did you make the active decision to incorporate that for this story?
You know, it’s a little bit of both. The first line of the story proper (“There’s a tree that grows just outside the prison compound…”) came to me early on in the writing process, and at that point it was little more than a vivid starting image. But the more I wrote on, the more I realized that something about this image captured the heart of the story I wanted to tell, and at that point I went back and more consciously wove the symbolism throughout the story. So, while much of the symbolism’s final application happened in revision, its actual seed was very organic to the story itself and grew and developed right alongside it.
How do you feel your role as a literary agent has impacted you as an author?
I think that my work as an agent definitely informs my writing. The greatest effect I’ve seen is that essential step of being able to step back and objectively assess a given project, which is so difficult to do with one’s own work. There comes a point now with each of my writing projects where I have to try and view it from a distance and ask myself, “Is this really any good? What does it need to get it where it needs to be?” The flipside, of course, is that this critical agent’s eye gives me a very hard time while I’m producing those ubiquitous crappy first drafts!
What can you tell us about any upcoming projects from you?
I have several new novels in the works, but my next projects to be published are both picture books: Next spring will see the launch of THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO CHASING MERMAIDS (Tanglewood, 2012), a companion to my first picture book, THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES. And the following year I am so excited for the release of a fun, gently spooky picture book: GHOST IN THE HOUSE (Candlewick, 2013).
Jennifer Nielsen is the author of The Underworld Chronicles, with the most recent release of that series, Elliot and the Pixie Plot, now available online or in stores. Learn more about her at www.jennielsen.com.