Q&A with Jayne Pupek, author of TOMATO GIRL

Jayne Pupek, whose book Tomato Girl I reviewed here, graciously agreed to answer some questions about the book and writing in general. Thank you to Jayne for her beautiful responses and her engagement with this blog! I know I am looking forward to your next book, whenever it comes out.

Tomato Q. Was it difficult to stay consistently in the head of an 11-year old girl as you were writing Tomato Girl?

A: Staying inside the mind of an eleven year old girl was both the biggest challenge and also the most interesting part of writing Tomato Girl. Most of my adult life has been spent working in mental health, where getting inside the minds of other people is a necessary skill. The difference in writing is that Ellie is not a flesh and blood child in my office, but a voice inside my own mind and of my own making. As adults, we sometimes forget what innocence is like and how complicated relationships can be, especially in situations like Ellie's.
Q. Tell me about Clara and the decision to include a taste of the supernatural in what was otherwise such a realistic book.

A: Superstitions and the supernatural are such a part of the rural South that it seemed to me that it fit the story and culture well. I don't think I'm particularly good at writing magical realism, but I admire writers who do it well. I love the book (and the film adaptation) of Like Water for Chocolate, which relies heavily on magical realism. Alice Hoffman, another favorite writer, uses a lot of magical realism in her work. I also have a close friend who is a modern shaman, so she is an easily accessible research tool for me.
Q. Are you sympathetic to, or critical of, Rupert? Can you justify the actions he took?
A: As Ellie's father, Rupert's job was to protect her. He put his own needs first and failed his daughter, which can never be justified. At the same time, he was also a victim of both his wife's overwhelming mental illness and society's failure to intervene. For those reasons, I feel some sympathy for him. In the real world, people are seldom all good or all bad, but some combination. As a writer, I try to keep that in mind.
Q: Were you emotionally affected by Ellie's story as you were writing it?

A: It would be impossible not to be moved while writing a story like Ellie's, but I wasn't as deeply affected by it as readers usually are. I had the advantage of knowing that I would leave Ellie in caring hands. I've also spent a lot of years listening to darker and more painful stories in the places I've worked: battered women's shelters, prisons, and homeless shelters. Ellie's story, by comparison, contains a lot of hope.
Q. What are you working on now?

I'm nearly finished with my next novel, which focuses on the life of a severely disabled child and the effects it has on her family. The story also explores the role of an afterlife. It's told in alternating voices and set again in the rural South. I don't talk much about works in progress because I think of it as opening an oven door while a cake is baking.
Q. I've noticed that you've done a lot of engagement with book bloggers (which we very much appreciate!). Do you spend a lot of time reading blogger reviews? How do you find book bloggers to be different from traditional book reviewers?
A: I love to read reviews by book bloggers. While I appreciate traditional reviewers, too, I have never relied on them much as a reader. I'm always adding books to my wishlist after reading reviews on blogs, or on Amazon, or on a site like GoodReads or LibraryThing. In terms of style, I think traditional reviews differ in tone from reviews written by bloggers. Traditional reviews are often more objective and detached, and provide more literary analysis. I certainly think that traditional reviews appeal to many who read and rely on them. I'm rather down to earth. What I really want to know is if a book is worth my twenty bucks and the hours it will take to read it. I find that book bloggers answer that question more directly and intimately. As a writer, it makes sense to bring my book to the communities I've relied on as a reader.

Thanks again to Jayne Pupek for taking the time to answer these questions!