Today we are delighted to present an exclusive Q&A with Revolution author Jennifer Donnelly. Thanks so much to Jennifer for answering all our questions — and to Lauren & Noreen at Random House for arranging everything!
On your website you talk about the story behind Revolution, and the news article that essentially sparked the idea. But tell us … how did you end up combining a modern character with an historical character? What sparked that combination of new & old?
Well….the book started out as a straight historical novel, told from Alex’s point of view. But it wasn’t working. The story felt thin and two-dimensional. I told myself I’d solve this problem eventually, but then a bigger problem happened – Andi. She walked into my head, much as Alex had some months earlier, and she wouldn’t leave.
I didn’t want her in my head. She was messing things up. She made me think I’d been all wrong about my book. I tried telling the story solely from her point of view – in the present – but again it felt wrong. At this stage I was really warring with these two girls, wishing one would surrender. But neither did. So eventually, I surrendered. I gave up and gave in and gave the story to both my characters, and when I did that, when I got out of the way, the story finally started to live and breathe.
While Revolution specifically focuses on the French Revolution, the theme of war is certainly something modern readers can relate to, considering the state of the world we live in. How do you think your book can help them relate the past to the present?
By juxtaposing the stories of two teenage girls – one who lives today and one who lived in the late 18th century – Revolution shows the reader that the brutality of the world never stops. Human beings were doing rotten things to each other in the 18th century, and we’re still at it in the 21st. Which is really depressing. Devastating, actually. Andi and Alex realize this, and it tears them apart, but they finally learn, as I did, and as I hope my readers do, that though we cannot change the fact that the world is a brutal place, we can change ourselves. And maybe that’s enough. Enough to save ourselves. Enough to have a positive impact on a handful of people around us. Maybe I’m naïve and idealistic, but I
like to think that maybe one day this idea will become contagious and occur to everyone.
Then it will be enough to change the world.
In your author video for Random House, you talk about history being a character in Revolution. How does this enhance the story? How would the book have been different without that “character”?
The book wouldn’t exist with that character. History inspired it and history carried it through. And one thing I really want my teenaged readers to understand is this: We are because they were.
History isn’t dry facts. It’s not all names, dates, and places. It’s flesh and blood people. It’s our ancestors. It’s us. It’s why we find ourselves, at seventeen – most of us here in America, that is – in school at 8:15 a.m. And not dying on a battlefield in some king’s army. Not working in a mill at eight years of age. Not married at twelve. Study history, and you begin to understand your world, the people in it, and yourself.
On your website, you explain that the title for Revolution is two-fold – in that it addresses both the war itself (the French Revolution) but also the “revolution inside.” Why do you think this is such an important topic for readers, especially teens?
Because teenagerhood is such a transformative, tumultous, emotionally explosive time. Teenagers are making that irrevocable transition from childhood to adulthood. They’re separating from the family, discovering their true identities, throwing off authority (or trying to), and declaring their independence. If that’s not a revolution, I don’t know what is.
I can only imagine a lot of research went in to writing Revolution. Tell us a bit about this process.
A ton of research went into the book. I did two kinds – the scholarly kind that entails reading mountains of books, digging around in archives, and spending days in museums, and the decidely unacademic kind that finds me sitting in cafes listening to voices and watching faces, or strolling through graveyards talking to the ghosts of the revolution. I love researching. What I find inspires, delights, and horrifies me. If there was no such thing as a deadline, I’d still be researching for this book.
For readers looking to learn more about the French Revolution and the stories specifically addressed in Revolution, what books or resources would you recommend?
Simon Schama’s Citizens, Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution: A History, and Deborah Cadbury’s The Lost King of France.
Above all else, what do you hope readers take away from reading Revolution?
I hope that readers see that though the world – as the Duc d’Orleans says – goes on as stupid and brutal tomorrow as it was today, we, as individuals, do not have to. We can reject the violence and the brutality and despair. We can move past whatever has happened to us, what has been done to us, and move toward something better.
And now to lighten things up a bit … here are Novel Novice’s traditional flash questions:
If you could trade places with one person for a single day, who would it be & why?
I’m not swapping! No way! I worked long and hard to become a writer, and I love what I do, and I don’t want to trade places with anyone.
What was the last movie you saw?
Spirited Away. It blew me away. It’s absolutely wonderful.
Biggest TV addiction?
Boardwalk Empire. I take an inordinate amount of pleasure in seeing Steve Buscemi finally get the leading-man recognition and success he deserves.
Jackass. (Shh! If the Carnegie people find out, they’ll take the medal back!)
Fruits or veggies?
Fruit, of course. Raisinets.
I don’t do Karaoke, and trust me – you don’t want me to start.
Favorite childhood toy?
Playdoh. I always wanted to eat it. I still do.
Thanks once again to Jennifer! And tune in tomorrow & the rest of this week for more goodies on Revolution!