I’m so excited to have J.L. Jusaitis for my first interview. This interview series focuses on Young Adult novels, and while Journey to Anderswelt is sometimes categorized as Middle Grade, it’s great for younger teens, and the sequel will move more into Young Adult territory. In Journey, an otherworldly adventure full of vibrant description and real, memorable characters, thirteen-year-old Lulu and her three friends must save the fragile environment of Salzburg, Austria. Amidst the mystery and the challenges, they discover their power to affect change, in themselves and in the world.
Journey to Anderswelt is full of adventure. Did adventures in your own life lead to your writing this book? Or did reading other adventurous books?
Both. As a child, I read lots of fairytales and classic fantasy. Also, The Bobsey Twins Mysteries, Nancy Drew, the Betsy/Tacey Lovelace series, the Adventures of Tarzan, were all adventures to me. The fact that it was an adventure in a haunted house or in some faraway land didn’t make any difference. Mysteries are adventure. Travel is adventure. Taking risks is adventure.
At ten years old, three friends and I had a secret adventure club. We took turns planning the adventures that consisted of activities like hikes in the back hills of our town, walking the railroad tracks to the next town, going ice skating, and exploring the giant sewer pipes. Our imaginations magnified every little happenstance of the “adventure”, which fueled the stories that came post adventure. We were legends in our own minds.
How do you think your years of teaching helped you to understand teens, and what they like to read?
Much of my teaching was with middle grade students who like to read up in age. I encouraged them to explore different genres and discover books that spoke to them. I spent lots of time in the library with my students, in lit circles, and in writers’ workshop. They are always ready to tell you what they like and what they don’t like.
Later, I chaperoned teens on several European tours, and experienced, first hand, the challenges they met while finding their way in foreign places when they were clearly out of their comfort zones. Taking risks was part of their adventures. Some took books with them and at times I was surprised by their literary references in regards to their observations.
In Journey to Anderswelt, and in the sequel that I’m currently working on, I used some actual occurrences and dialogue that I observed on those trips.
Do you have a favorite character in Journey to Anderswelt? Why or why not? What can we expect from the sequels?
My favorite character changes as the novel progresses. In Journey to Anderswelt, I started out favoring Lulu, the POV. She’s independent, fiercely loyal to her friends, and brave when she needs to be. As the story progressed, I found that Chloe and Greg amused me. Now, in this sequel, Chloe has the POV and I’m loving her, but Greg is emerging as a real favorite. He has his own wacky brand of heroism. Morey has been relegated to the handsome, wise, reliable anchor. I think it’s sense of humor that wins me over, and I never know where that’s coming from. The characters’ personalities just seem to spring from them onto my page.
In this new book, the four travelers are older, in their mid-teens, and the subject matter is darker and more sophisticated. For that reason, I’m finding it hard to label it a MG or a YA. It’s somewhere in between.
What advice do you have for others writing young adult books?
You must have tenacity and patience. For me, it’s a long process, so it’s important that I love the characters and the setting. I have to live with them. So, choose something that intrigues you. Find a setting that is perfect for your story, a character or characters that will keep you interested, and check in regularly with your audience.
I’m not around my audience every day, like I once I was. So I make school visits as a volunteer or with my books, and find opportunities to talk with kids and eavesdrop on their conversations. They are my best critics and my best champions.
Early, while writing Journey, I had the luxury of a MG critique group. One 11 year old had trouble with “the authenticity of the dialogue” in the first chapter. What a gift!
“So tell me. Help me!” I pled. And they did.
Journey to Anderswelt is available on Amazon.