An Interview with Jennifer Gooch Hummer

I read the fabulous YA novel, Girl Unmoored, last summer and fell in love with the main character Apron, her story, and author Jennifer’s gorgeous way with words.

Girl Unmoored

Tell us about Girl Unmoored.
Girl Unmoored is about a teen girl growing up Maine who is drowning in a sea of grief after the loss of her mother. Until she meets Jesus. Not the real one, of course, but the actor who plays him in Jesus Christ Superstar. Mike and Apron and Mike’s boyfriend, Chad, become Apron’s new family and in so doing save her.

Apron is thirteen years old in 1985, when AIDS hit mainstream awareness. Did you sit down to write a story about an eighties teen?
No. I started writing the beginnings of this book when I was ten years old. It took until I met my real-life friend Mike, to find Apron’s story. I had her character all along, but I needed more than just Apron’s heartbreak at her mother’s death. I met Mike in the late 80’s which was just when the AIDS epidemic hit America.

What is the writing process like for you? Do you know where your story will go from the beginning? In other words, are you a plotter or a pantser?
For me, the toughest part of the writing process is the first draft. I live in fear of the blank page. So I allow myself to do what the great Anne Lamott always prescribes to other authors: write the worst first draft you could possibly write. Then, once I have the horrid first draft, the real writing begins.

I’ve read that next up for your readers is a middle grade fantasy. Can you tell us about it? 
Yes, middle grade fantasy is next. It’s a fairy-ish tale that will be a trilogy. Writing a fantasy was much different than writing contemporary fiction. I’ve learned so much about the importance of story world with this project. Writing about a place I’ve actually stood in, smelled and breathed is second nature. Writing about a completely made-up world that’s never existed in anyone else’s mind but mine really tested my dedication to the story.

Where do you get your inspiration? How much of Apron, Mike and your other characters are drawn from real life?
When people ask me this question about inspiration, I can never come up with the right answer. Whatever it is that inspires me to write, or an athlete to compete, or a painter to paint, is kind of magical I think. I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer. Always. I have three daughters and a husband and I dedicate myself to them completely. But I have to write and they know it. Sometimes I wish that I didn’t have to write… all that time I could have to do other things. But after three days away from writing I’m lost and confused. The world is weird; writing is my safe haven.

What are you reading right now?
I can’t read fiction when I am writing or even rewriting a book. I just don’t want someone else’s storyline to creep into mine. So I read memoirs or nonfiction. But when I’m in between projects or awaiting notes, I read YA. I was a script reader for many years so I can read a book faster than I can make dinner. And I have a book blog so I am lucky enough to get books before they are published for review.

What authors inspired you to become a writer yourself?
Judy Blume was my first favorite author. That dates me, but unless you were in that era you can’t understand how crucial she was for us. She was the only author any one of my friends ever wanted to read outside of required reading. Next came Hemingway. His sentences read like music, his cadence is perfect. And now I am in awe of David Sedaris.

If you could take only one book to a desert island, what would it be?
Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue. Derivations of words and language and story mesmerize me. I just absolutely adore “the story” and all the elements within it.

The Avon Ladies in Girl Unmoored made me laugh out loud. How did I come up with them?
My best friend Jessica and I really were Avon Ladies exactly like Apron and Rennie. We went on search missions to find anything packaged in any of our mother’s make-up drawers or our families junk drawers. Then we would go door-to-door with our products, rain or shine. We mapped out good customers and steered clear of the bad ones. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.

You can find out more about Jennifer at her official website: jennifergoochhummer.com

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