The month of May brings Jennifer Niven, author of the tear inducing and heart wrenching All the Bright Places, to Manila for a signing courtesy of National Bookstore.
It never, never, never gets old. I mean that feeling of seeing an author walking straight towards you, all smiles and so excited to spend time and talk about writing books and the stories she'd written. Perfect example: Jennifer Niven. I love how she's so soft spoken, speaks with simple words and just makes so much sense.
As for what she said during the Q&A, check out the rundown below:
If Jennifer was to write a sequel for ATBP, what is in store for Violet Markey?
Violet wanders around New York, and she's going to NYU where she'd hope to go to a long time ago. She wanders around the world after she graduates and she will probably, one day, write a book about Finch. When people ask her what happens to Violet, Jennifer usually tells them what happened to her instead as she feels like she's like Violet in many ways. Violet has all these bright places with her where she will wander to and honor Finch with every day she has.
(At this point we were all starting to feel emotional, and it's only the first question!)
If she was given the chance to change the ending of All The Bright Places, would Jennifer change it? Why or why not?
Jennifer would love to change it and make it the happiest story. She thought about it while she was writing the book, as it is a personal story (for Jennifer) and Jennifer was really torn about just writing a happy ending. But she was writing what she knew in real life and she thought, that at the end of the day, she will write her experience and hopefully it will lead to a lot of happier endings for the people reading the book.
*cue more feelings here*
Was there anything any of the characters could have done to change the end of the novel/the fate of THAT character? Or was it, like Finch said, something that always had a built-in ending?
There's a lot that could have been done. The parents could've given better attention, especially the mother. Classmates could've been more accepting and less judgmental. And ultimately, THAT character could've been more responsible and could've reached out, let people in and asked for help.
*dump more feels*
All The Bright Places shed some light on some mental health issues that are relevant in today's society. How much research went into the novel for it to have such powerful and emotional portrayal of severe depression and was it difficult for Jennifer to take it all in while writing the novel?
Jennifer knows a boy like Finch and seen up close his struggle, everyday, to be seen in the world and to deal with all the things he's dealing with and try to make sense of them. It was what created Finch for her. Beyond that, Jennifer felt like she has this responsibility, as she was writing for Young Adult, to make sure that everything was as accurate as possible by talking to experts and people she knew who were suffering from depression, with suicidal tendencies to make sure that everything read as accurately as possible. At the end of the day, it was mostly knowing that boy and what he went through.
*oops, I accidentally added more feels*
What can readers expect from Jennifer's new book, Holding Up the Universe?
One thing: Fellow book blogger and the admin for @JenniferNivenPH, Jesselle (The Lifelong Bookworm) has a cameo as she is a character in the book. Jennifer was asked if All the Bright Places was a "ten tissue box" like book, and with Holding Up the Universe, it's a "five boxes instead of ten" kind of book. It's a little bit happier and fun for Jennifer to write. It was hard for Jennifer at first to get into Jack and Libby's voices as she (still) lives in the world of Finch and Violet so it was hard for her to make the separation, but once she did she had such a good time writing them and she hopes that it shows on the page. It's a story about learning one's place in the world and seeing others for who they truly are and not who people think they are. Jennifer hopes that readers get "all the feels with a little less tears."
(We calmed down a little on this part.)
(And then I just had to ask my question.)
As Jennifer's previous books were non-fiction, What made her transition into writing YA stories and how different is it to write for teens instead of adults?
Jennifer started writing non-fiction and then moved to writing novels for adults. She was in the middle of writing the fourth book in a series (for adults) and then in the spring of 2013, her literary agent passed away unexpectedly. Jennifer has been working with him for 15 years and his death turned everything upside down for her. She was feeling burned out because she was writing said series for adults and the last thing on her mind was writing a new project. After her agent died, she was talking to new agents and they were asking what her new project will be and she had to think of one and she kept coming back to the last conversation she had with her agent where he said "Whatever you write next, I want you to write it because you can't imagine writing anything else.". Jennifer felt like she needed to honor that and him and she took time to think about what her next project should be, and what she truly wanted to write. She kept coming back to this boy she loved all those years ago and she loved reading YA and has always wanted to write it so she thought that it was the perfect chance to do it. She talked to her fiance and asked if anyone would want to read that story and if there even is a story there and he said that Jennifer needed to write the book. And so she did.
How different or difficult was it for Jennifer to adapt her own book as a film screenplay?
It was really scary at first for her, especially because it has been a while since she had written a screenplay. (Jennifer went to film school!) The director of the movie told the producers that Jennifer was the only one who could adapt the book. For her, it was intimidating and people actually listened to the director. But it has been a wonderful experience and an interesting one as film doesn't have much space as books do, and they have to cut certain scenes and make certain changes for the film to make the translation and it was tough at first. Jennifer would look at every scene in the book and tell herself no, that they were all really important and has to be in there but if that is the case, the director told her that they will be making a 12 part movie. The readers, for Jennifer, has always been the most important and as long as she can tell the story in a way that honors the readers and their experience of the book, then that is crucial. Very early on in the screenplay process Jennifer asked readers online what scenes they would absolutely love to see (as Jennifer would have to cut some for the movie) so she listened to the fans, seen the fanarts and know all the favorite lines from the book and she made sure they were in the movie as well.
The movie is shooting in the fall and by the end of the summer, everyone will meet Finch.
(Okay, now we're happy!)
What does Jennifer do on her writing break?
Jennifer writes A LOT and she works ALL THE TIME. But of course it is important to have balance and to have time for herself so she would play with friends, her family and she would dance. Jennifer loves dancing and she takes dance classes in a place near her home. She would also go hiking, as she lives in LA and she loves to be outside whenever she can. She would also travel. And she loves to read! She loves binge watching TV series and she's a huge fan of Supernatural. It's a great kind of escape and a way of recharging herself after writing.
(But then Leslie had to ask her question.)
Mental illness is still somewhat of a taboo in our society today. What made her decide that Finch and Violet's story needed to be told?
Jennifer started to feel that it needed to be told because it is something she had went through and has been carrying around for quite some time. But when she really looked back while in the process of writing the story, she felt like when she lost her own Finch in real life, she felt like she wasn't allowed to talk about it because of how he died as it made people very uncomfortable. She kept those feelings in and carried it around for a really long time so in some ways she wrote All the Bright Places because she had to talk about it and ultimately, she wrote it because people need to talk about it. When the book first came out, some adults took issue with it and said the adults were unrealistic and that it wasn't something teens need to be talked about it, and that it is something they need to learn later on in life. Jennifer's problem with that is the teens she hears from, a lot of them, are not being listened to by the adults in their life and they need to talk about it so they'll know that they're not alone and that they are going through things like it or not and people need to be there for each other. Jennifer didn't really know all of these until she was well into the process of writing the book.
(This is so true.)
How was the writing process for Holding Up the Universe different from the writing process for All the Bright Places?
Jennifer has written 9 books including HUTU and every book wants to be written differently so it didn't surprise her that both books had to be written differently as well. It was challenging for her as she mentioned, as she was still in the heads of both Finch and Violet and really stayed in their world since well before the book was written. Breaking free of that for Jack and Libby was a challenge so what she did to help herself was she made playlist for both the characters, which were very distinctive and different for both Jack and Libby. Jennifer usually doesn't write to music if it has words as it distracts her from what she was trying to write but in the case of HUTU, she wrote to words, played Jack's playlist and just write and switch to Libby's. It was a good way for her to drop into the emotion and the voices of the characters which became a fun kind of challenge for her to write the book in that way. She told herself not to think about it too much, that she will just listen to music, write and go where it takes her. One of the fun things writing HUTU for her is that Jennifer kept surprising herself. She would try to do the unexpected and the characters would do the unexpected as well it made the writing a lot of fun to do.
As if it wasn't enough, Jennifer had to give such an emotional message to her readers. And she cried, and we were so teary eyed as well!
Honestly, it was one of the most emotional Q&A we have had and still I wouldn't trade every moment of it. You can feel Jennifer's emotion throughout the whole thing and we just want to hug her!
Nevertheless, it was still a bright place for all of us that we get to spend some time with this amazing lady! I was able to ask her what her favorite quote was, while she was signing my book and you know what she told me? It would be very hard to pick, because as a writer, she loves every word from what she had created.
With that, I leave you with this photo, the highlight of every book signing we attend: #kaiselfie
I practiced so hard to have everyone fit inside the frame but fitting 24 people inside was just impossible. Please say hello to my forehead.
Thank you so much to National Bookstore for bringing in another amazing author for a book signing! Jennifer deserves so much love from her readers and I am so proud of all the Filipino bookworms who showed up today and gave Jennifer so many bright places!
What an amazing crowd for @jenniferniven! #JenniferNiveninPH @nbsalert @JenniferNivenPH pic.twitter.com/YZC640VxZL— Lyra Gill (@lygill) May 29, 2016
What an amazing day! Share your experience during the #JenniferinNivenPH signing!