02 February 2010

Spotlight on . . . Jillian Cantor

Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight on . . . Jillian Cantor. I'm thrilled to be featuring Jillian today for a number of reasons. First, I've have read nothing but glowing reviews of her debut novel, The September Sisters (just check these out). Second, I'm currently reading her second novel, The Life of Glass (see my teaser), and Jillian's writing style truly resonates with me. Finally, she graduated from Penn State, which is just a few miles from my little town; who knows, we may have crossed paths!

Let's get to know Jillian a little better.

Beth Fish Reads (BFR): Both your books deal with loss and are told from the perspective of a young teenage girl. What attracts you to this theme and point of view?

Jillian Cantor (JC): My first book, The September Sisters, really stemmed from this idea I had to think about what my childhood would’ve been like without my sister. I wrote it at a time in my life when we’d just started to become friends (after many years of bickering). I knew The Life of Glass would be the follow-up, as The September Sisters sold in a two-book deal. So when I started coming up with ideas for the second book, I wanted something that could draw to a similar audience as the first one. Also, it was just after my grandfather had died, and so it just felt natural for me at the time to have Melissa dealing with her own loss.

As for the point of view, I feel very comfortable writing in the female first-person voice (whether it be a teenage girl as in my first two YA books, or a 30-something-year old woman as in my upcoming adult book).
BFR: You have wanted to be a writer all your life, but a less-than-wonderful high-school English teacher almost derailed you. How did that experience influence your own teaching style?
JC: Good question! I’m not sure that it did necessarily. I would say that my teaching style has been much more influenced by the good teachers I’ve had and learned from than the horrible ones. Honestly, by this point in my life I’ve blocked out most of that 11th-grade English class (and that teacher), so I can’t say that experience has had much of a lasting impact on my life. On the other hand, I can still vividly remember my amazing 12th-grade AP English teacher and class and the books we read that year.
BFR: I know that you graduated from Penn State, but did you also grow up in Pennsylvania?
JC: Yes, I did! I grew up just outside of Philadelphia, in Bucks County.
BFR: The September Sisters takes place in the Philadelphia suburbs, and although The Life of Glass is set in Arizona, the family travels to Philadelphia for medical treatment. What is the role of place (setting) in your work?
JC: Setting plays a huge role in both books! In The September Sisters, I used so much of my memories of the setting from growing up—from the snow and ice and the snow days to the feel of the neighborhood and the communities. And this setting also reflects a lot of the mood of the book—the frozen world, the cold—it has a lot to do with how Abby and her family are feeling in the aftermath of her sister’s disappearance.

In The Life of Glass, the setting and the landscape of the desert also play a role—mirroring, in a lot of ways, the way Melissa feels about herself and the idea of beauty. The desert, somewhat like Melissa herself, is a place that might not always look stereotypically beautiful, but underneath, it is. The beauty is there—if you know where to look for it.

As for the idea of traveling to Philadelphia in The Life of Glass, I chose that because I wanted it to be somewhere cold, somewhere far away, somewhere completely different than the desert, and, having lived there myself, it always comes to mind as a possibility!
BFR: Do you have any favorite Pennsylvania authors (living or dead)? Or perhaps a favorite literary site in the state?
JC: Two of my favorite YA authors happen to live in Pennsylvania—Beth Kephart and Cecilia Galante!
BFR: Can you tell us a bit about your next project, or is that top secret?
JC: No—it’s not top secret! The next book I have coming out is my first book for adults, and it actually takes place in Pennsylvania, in a fictional suburb of Philadelphia! It’s called The Transformation of Things and is the story of a woman who, after a fall from grace, begins dreaming about her friends and family, only to learn her dreams might be real and the life she thought she knew might all be a lie. It’ll be published by Avon/HarperCollins this coming fall.

I just finished working on a new YA book, that is now out on submission with editors (so cross your fingers for me!). It’s about a girl from Philadelphia who is sent to live with her grandmother in a small town on the US/Mexico border for the summer. The book recounts her summer, where she not only falls in love but also learns that nothing on the border is what is seems.
BFR: When you were an undergraduate at Penn State, where did you hang out? Favorite bar or restaurant? Favorite place to get a cup of coffee and read or write?
JC: Oh! Such a great question!! I have great memories of going to The Corner Room, The Deli, and, on weekend mornings, The Waffle Shop. I didn’t have a laptop in college, so I did all my writing in my dorm room and the apartment, but I do remember on beautiful sunny warm days (of which there weren’t that many), I used to love to lay out on the lawn by the Pollock commons and read a book. I also worked at The Writing Center as a tutor, so I remember spending a lot of time there as well.

Thanks so much Jillian!

I'm always fascinated to see what experiences inform an author's work, it's interesting to see that both personal events and location can have an influence. Okay, I have to say it: I don't know about you, but now I'm not only looking forward to finishing Jillian's current novels but I can't wait for the next two to come out.

And for those of you who have never been to Penn State, let me say that she just named three of my favorite places to get a cup of coffee. You're always bound to see someone you know.

Here are the covers to Jillian's current novels:

Jillian Cantor at Powell's
Jillian Cantor at Amazon
These 3 links lead to affiliate programs.

Jillian Cantor received her MFA from The University of Arizona and was the recipient of the national Jacob K. Javits fellowship. Her first novel, The September Sisters, was called "memorable" and "startlingly real" by Publishers Weekly and was nominated as a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults. Her second novel, The Life of Glass, will be available from HarperTeen in February 2010, and her debut novel for adults, The Transformation of Things, will be available from Avon/HarperCollins in Fall 2010. She currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

Be sure to visit Jillian's website to learn more about her and her work.

For more posts in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page. Thanks to Michelle of GalleySmith for hosting this fabulous project.


Julie P. 2/2/10, 7:52 AM  

Excellent interview. I thoroughly enjoyed THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS and I'm looking forward to THE LIFE OF GLASS. It's always fun to see such a successful Penn Stater!

Anonymous,  2/2/10, 9:32 AM  

I enjoyed this interview very much and will be on the lookout for the books. I have relatives that live in State College and so even though I've only been there a few times, it was somewhat familiar territory for me. Thanks for putting this author and these books on my wishlist!

Sandy Nawrot 2/2/10, 10:19 AM  

Jackie just did a post this morning about how to make an author interview interesting, and not ask the same old questions over and over. I think you should go over there and impart your wisdom. This was an excellent interview, very tailored to the author. Nice job!

bermudaonion 2/2/10, 11:39 AM  

Great interview! You always ask the best questions!

Edward Collins 2/2/10, 11:54 AM  

Nice interview, I always read them with interest.

I've read none of books authored by Jillian Cantor so far but I think it's time to start.

What would you recommend to read first?

Beth F 2/2/10, 11:59 AM  

Edward: I started with The Life of Glass, but I don't think it matters.

Jan von Harz 2/3/10, 9:32 AM  

Beth, I loved your interview and your questions were spot on. I have never read Cantor's books, but am putting them on my must read list now. Thanks for sharing.

S. Krishna 2/3/10, 4:04 PM  

Great interview! I need to put her books on my TBR list.

Amy 2/3/10, 4:34 PM  

Really enjoyed the interview too! I'll be adding this one to my TBR. Thanks!

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe 2/3/10, 11:50 PM  

So happy to discover another Pennsylvania author! I haven't read Jillian's books, but she's now on my official TBR list. Great interview.

Michelle 2/7/10, 8:25 PM  

I'm excited to add both of these to my TBR pile! I love that she wouldn't let her less than entheusiastic English teacher bring her down. It's amazing how sometimes negativity can result in such positivity.

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