Each year, YALSA awards one debut novelist with the prestigious William C. Morris YA Debut Award. The winner will be announced on January 23, but the finalists are in right now: Rae Carson, with The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Jenny Hubbard with Paper Covers Rock, Guadalupe Garcia McCall with Under the Mesquite, Ruta Sepetys with Between Shades of Gray, and John Corey Whaley with Where Things Come Back. We’ll be running Q&A’s with all these talented writers in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned!
Today’s Morris Award finalist is Jenny Hubbard, the author of Paper Covers Rock, about a tragic drowning at a boys’ prep school. The protagonist of the book–good, solid kid Alex–witnesses the drowning with a friend, but, for many reasons, they lie about what they saw. Alex navigates the aftermath of tragedy while plagued by guilt and indecision, making Paper Covers Rock a fascinating character study and an addictive read.
Congrats on being nominated for such a prestigious award! How does to feel to be a William C. Morris finalist?
Thank you! I’m certainly a lucky one. It feels surreal. And a bit frightening, as in, “Uh-oh. Now I have people paying attention to what I write next, so it had better be worthy.”
What do you like about writing for teens?
I taught teenagers for 17 years. They can sniff out dishonesty–in a person or in a piece of writing–in three seconds flat. I enjoy the challenge of honoring the authenticity of a teenager’s life. Reading played such a crucial role in my life when I was a teenager; books helped me to figure out the person I was, and the person I wanted to be. I would like to write books that help young readers in the same ways that, say, Judy Blume helped me.
What advice can you give to aspiring young writers?
a. Write regularly. Treat it like exercise or practice. Just as it takes years to be a competitive golfer or a concert pianist, it also takes years to be a published writer.
b. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. The first draft is always a beginning–never an end. Complete a draft, put it aside for a few days, then re-read and mark it up with your fresh insights and suggestions.
c. With your third or fourth draft, write the entire story over in a different point of view. So many open windows! So many cleared paths! Finding the right voice, the right narrator, is key. Point of view isn’t everything, but once I land on the best one for the particular story I’m attempting to tell, I’m ready to fly.
In Paper Covers Rock, main character Alex expresses himself through his journal. Do you keep a journal? What do you think are the benefits to journal writing?
I don’t keep a journal unless I am traveling. I wish I did, but I am lazy in that way. There are so many benefits; you think you’ll always remember what it feels like to be thirteen or fifteen. I’ve forgotten what it felt like, for example, to have my whole adult life ahead of me, but if I’d kept a journal, I would be able to get some of that back and, as a result, recreate that feeling more accurately on the page.
You’re also a playwright. How does writing novels differ from writing plays? Would you ever consider adapting Paper Covers Rock for the stage?
For me, it’s entirely different. For starters, I have an intermediary between me and the audience in the director of the play, who interprets the words, the characters, and the setting and who then executes his or her own particular vision of my story. It may not match the vision I had when I wrote it, but at this point, it’s out of my hands. And that can be scary, but it can also be wonderful when the director (or an actor) discovers something that adds depth and meaning to my original intent.
Because the setting is such a crucial part of Paper Covers Rock, I would never attempt to adapt it to the stage. I just don’t think it would “translate” to such a confined space, but I do think it would translate beautifully to the screen. If there are any screenwriters out there up to the challenge, I’d love to hear from you!