Sep 1 2009 3:56pm

Jumping In

I was pretty excited when Tor invited me to blog over here. I’m the new kid on the block, with only one science fiction book to my name, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which came out last year, and one sort of fantasy book, The Miles Between, that just came out this month. I say “sort of” because even in their review, Kirkus wasn’t sure what genre it fit into. The Miles Between does have an element of fantasy, more along the lines of slipstream or magical realism, a certain surreal quality, but it is not full-blown fantasy. It will be interesting for me to see how it is categorized. I am usually surprised.

Genre classifications can do that to me, because most books, including my own, seem to be part of many worlds. I don’t think about genre as I write. I am thinking about the character, their world, and probably the pickle they are in and I’m trying to understand what they are thinking and feeling, and heck, what are they going to do next? Usually I feel more like an observer watching a story unfold than the person pulling the strings trying to make it fit into one genre or another, and I am quickly trying to transcribe what I am seeing and hearing. It is almost an out-of-body experience . Hm, does that make the writing process itself, sci-fi? Could be.

For instance, the other day I was driving along and a revelation about my current work-in-progress hit me when I got some insights into one of the secondary characters. It was an aha! moment where I literally said to myself, “So that is her secret. I never would have guessed! Wait until [the main character] finds out.” This revelation came completely out of left field. It wasn’t a question I had even been wondering about, but it made perfect sense. So either there really are muses whispering into our ears or our brains love keeping these secrets from us until just the right moment. (Though sometimes they keep secrets much too long–I think they forget we’re all on the same team.)

Anyway, I'm actually kind of surprised I didn’t venture into the science fiction and fantasy realm sooner. I grew up rabidly watching The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Star Trek, Lost in Space, The Prisoner, Dark Shadows, Wild Wild West, Batman, The Time Tunnel, and more, and adoring books like The Velveteen Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland, The Crystal Cave, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Fahrenheit 451 and still later, The Giver, Tuck Everlasting, House of Scorpion, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and so many more. 

I think all fiction tweaks the real world so we can see it more clearly. Sometimes subjects are too close to us and we gain that distance we need by seeing it through someone else’s eyes, or someone else’s world. And maybe science fiction and fantasy ups that one by giving us more distance or perhaps a unique perspective that helps us see our own real world with fresh eyes. Or maybe it gives us glimpses into how far we, as human beings, can rise up or fall short and where we hope we might fall in that continuum.

So that is what happened with me in writing The Adoration of Jenna Fox—by taking place just a mere fifty years in the future, it gave me the distance I needed to explore the questions that niggled at me. For me, it really couldn’t have been written any other way, and I think The Miles Between—do I dare admit this—echos my own quirky perspectives on the curves life throws us, and how utterly insane and wonderful it can be at the same time. And in many ways, the tinge of fantasy that surrounds this book, really doesn’t even seem like fantasy at all when you look at the real world. Life is, as they say,  way stranger than fiction.   As writers, I think we pass up a lot of juicy material all the time because no one would believe it.  I mean, look at Octomom.  Can you imagine that as a fiction proposal?  Although there was that old woman in the shoe . . .

Thanks for letting me hang out in your digs. I’m looking forward to many conversations about books, reading, and writing, and who knows what else.

Mary E. Pearson is the author of five novels for teens, most recently, The Miles Between  just out in September, and newly out in paperback, The Adoration of Jenna Fox which has been optioned by 20th Century Fox for a major motion picture and translated into thirteen languages, both from Henry Holt Books.

Eugene Myers
1. ecmyers
Welcome! I enjoyed reading Jenna Fox, and I like the new cover for the pb. I'll look for The Miles Between.
2. MaryPearson
Thanks for the welcome, EC. Glad you like the new cover. I do too. I always hold my breath on those things.
3. Other Alias
Loved Jenna Fox - superb book. I am looking forward to reading Miles Between, now too.

"Unclassifiable" books are so interesting - one can really get locked into genre expectations without really noticing it. Reading something that breaks some or all of those expectations is a refreshing change, I think.
4. Kazimak Tempest
The quandary of what label to put on a story strikes me as silly. I know the publisher has got to put a label on it so they know where to market the book, but classification and labels are such slippery things. You’re right OA, some of the best stories are the ones that don’t get stuck in one genre. When you label something you limit it, and one certainly doesn’t want to limit one’s imagination.
5. Martha Flynn
I was given The Miles Between by a friend of mine - loved it - and think it should be shelved under Awesome.
Mary Pearson
6. MaryPearson
Martha, you have seriously made my day. I will have to go tell my local librarian about this new shelf in the Dewey system.

Thanks OA, so glad you liked it.

I agree about the labels being slippery things. Even the classification of YA is very murky.
7. Alyson Beecher
Mary - I loved the "Adoration of Jenna Fox". I have been recommending it over and over again to my teacher friends. I know that technically it falls in the sci-fi category but it really fits several categories. And I think it is a great multi-generational book. Adults, especially parents, can really connect with the struggles and decisions that Jenna's parents have to make and teens can connect with Jenna's struggle to discover herself. It was very moving. I can't wait to read "The Miles Between". - Aly
Mary Pearson
8. MaryPearson
Thanks for spreading the word, Aly. It is very much appreciated. I'm glad you think it is multi-generational. It does seem to be crossing age-boundaries. Maybe because the adults in the book have more than a walk-on role? Hope you enjoy Miles too.

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