Harmoney Hachey of Signal Hill Elementary felt a strong connection to Sharon Jennings’ Connecting Dots and was thrilled to get the chance to interview the author of the book she’d most like to see win this year’s Red Cedar Award for Fiction.
SJ: Thank you for your email – it made my day! Writers spend so much time alone that it is always nice to hear how our books are received by readers. I feel deeply touched that this story spoke to you and mirrored something of your own life. Maybe you should write a book!
H: Are you considering making a sequel to this book?
SJ: Before I answer your first question, I’ll explain a bit about Dots. I don’t know if you have seen the book, Home Free. Leanna tells the story about meeting Cassie when she moves in next door. By the end, she finds out that Cassie isn’t an orphan, but she still doesn’t know the whole story.
My publisher asked me for years to write about Cassie, but I just couldn’t come up with all of Cassie’s story. I knew she had a hard life, and it took me some time to piece it all together in my head. The tricky part was when Cassie and Leanna meet each other. I couldn’t repeat the same few chapters, and then I realized that no two people ever tell the same story the same way. I took liberties, and if my readers compare that chunk of both books, they’ll see that both girls embellish things a bit. Who is telling the truth?
I wrote a third book, and my publisher wasn’t too keen on it. But my agent loves it! So I changed the names and no one except you [and you!] will know that the famous actress in this story is Cassandra all grown up! Hopefully it will be published soon.
H: How long did it take you to write Connecting Dots?
SJ: I mentioned that it took me a long time to figure out Cassie’s story, but when I got started, it took me about 5 months to write it. Then a few months of editing back and forth with the publisher, and publication about a year and a half after I started writing.
H: How did you include so much detail? Is the book based on a personal experience or that of a close friend? Did you make connections to Cassie?
SJ: Both of these books are very autobiographical. I set the story when I was about the same age, and I could remember many details. I still had to research, however, to make sure that I knew what movies, songs, etc. were popular, in case I had dates mixed up. I am a cross of both Leanna and Cassie – I wanted to be a writer and an actor and I wrote plays and put them on in the backyard. I did want to marry David, and I did work in Inner Foundations as a teenager and saw the women with the Holocaust tattoo.
My father died when I was 16, so I understood what Leanna felt. I also wanted to be an orphan like Anne Shirley – my very favourite book! I had some Irish relatives and they were as awful as the characters in the story – mean, biased – and one aunt knit me a sweater and called me a monkey because my arms were ‘too long’.
My neighbour was a nurse and gave her daughters enemas – I did not make that up! Of course I flushed my yucky spinach down the toilet.
When I give classroom visits, and talk to students about writing, I always tell people that anything that happens to you can go into a story/book. The more detail you can add, the more realistic your story will feel.
H: What made you choose to write about this topic? When in your life did you decide to write this book?
SJ: I wrote this story at the urging of my publisher, but when I got going, I really wanted to let kids know that they can survive anything. Bad things happen, but a young person can find the strength to see adult nonsense and shortcomings for what it is, and become strong. Just look at Harry Potter!
H: Is being an author your only job? How did you come to be an author?
SJ: As well as writing, I teach writing to adults who want to write for kids, I edit and evaluate manuscripts, and I do a lot of volunteer work with writers’ organizations.
I am going to Vancouver for the awards ceremony – even if I don’t win! It is important to me to meet my readers and answer even more questions. I also love to inspire others to think about writing. I wrote my first school play in grade 4 and haven’t stopped.
-Interview by Harmoney Hachey, Signal Hill Elementary
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