Everyone welcome Janet Fox, author of Faithful, a young adult historical novel set in 1904. Sixteen year old Maggie Bennet is looking forward to her debut as part of Newport, Rhode Island’s high class society. Her dreams are put on hold though, when her father drags her halfway across the country to Yellowstone National Park in search of her mother who disappeared the previous year. When she learns her father plans to stay in Montana, Maggie is furious with her father for dragging her away from her family, friends, and the only life she’d ever known.
1. Hello Janet. Welcome, and thank you for taking the time to stop by Damsels in Regress to talk with us. I really enjoyed Faithful. Maggie made a huge impression on me. So often when I read a book, the protagonist is “perfect.” She or he doesn’t really have any faults. Maggie though isn’t perfect. She does things that really do annoy the reader, but she’s so real and her emotions pure, so it’s possible to forgive her and understand her actions. She’s really well written. Did you have a hard time balancing Maggie’s snobbishness with her genuine good-heartedness and getting the reader to love her despite her faults?
Thank you so much! And thank you for being willing to appreciate Maggie’s considerable flaws.
Maggie was not an easy character to write – or to love. In my early drafts, I had lots of comments from my critique readers about how difficult it was to like her. I had to tone her way back, rein her in, so to speak. I was trying to balance her upbringing (in which she was really spoiled) with her conflicted feelings about her mother. Once the story took her to Yellowstone, and she began to open up her heart, I liked her more, and I think readers did, too.
The trick is always, when starting with a difficult character, to get readers to move past the opening pages when the character may not be likeable to the point when the character digs deep and admits her flaws. I know some of my readers couldn’t make it past that point – and that’s okay.
But I do like to write about nuanced characters, not perfect people. So ultimately I’d rather struggle to bring a difficult character to life than to write about someone two-dimensional, and I’d rather read that kind of book, as well.
And if it sounds like my characters “live” in my head, they do.
2. I love your setting! Yellowstone in 1904 is not a common time period or location you find covered in historical fiction. How did you decide to write a story set in Yellowstone?
Thank you! At the time I started the novel, my family was spending every summer in a cabin not far from Yellowstone (now we live here), and my son was of an age where we took lots of trips into the Park. I fell in love with Yellowstone, and it suddenly seemed a natural thing for me to write about the things I loved best and knew extremely well, including the setting. Which I find to be truly magical, in every sense.
And I have to say, I now see that there is a true need for an American “mythos” for teens – settings and times and cultural aspects of our country that are not often explored in YA historical fiction. So that’s what I’ve set out to do in my series.
3. As a follow-up to the previous question, what type of research did you do to find all the details you incorporated in the novel (which were wonderful and seamlessly worked in!)?
Oh, my, thanks again! After spending all that time in the Park, the research came very easily. We’d listened to lots of lectures by rangers and other experts, and taken tours. And there’s a wonderful new Research Center in Gardiner, just outside the Park, and I spent time there collecting data.
There are also scores of books about the history of the Park and the region, and I loved reading them. In other words, the research was a treat!
4. I know I get attached to certain scenes in my novels that end up getting cut. Was there any one particular scene that you especially loved but didn’t make it into the final novel?
Not really. There was a scene with Edward that I liked but it had to go because it slowed the early action. There was another scene with Kitty that I had to drop. But these were not scenes I truly loved. Those made it into the final novel. My favorite scene – the climax, with the bear (no spoilers!) made it in almost completely untouched by me, my editor or anyone. I wrote that scene in a frenzy of a few hours; it seemed to write itself. I think I would have dueled to the death to keep that scene.
But those attachments for me are few and far between. I will edit anything, because I really believe that no work is perfect. Except that scene with the bear. 🙂
5. Graybull is one of those characters you love to hate. Every time he was in a scene my skin crawled at his actions and I wanted to give him a piece of my mind. He came to life on the page! Was it fun to write him? Did you base his actions off anything you’d come across in your research?
Graybull was a hoot to write. I had a complete image of him in my head. He was based a bit on the European gentry of the time who traveled through the American west and carried with them a sense of entitlement – “oh, those poor ignorant Americans.” I read about one English lord who was thrown out of the country for shooting animals in the Park (against the law, but he didn’t care) and thought, “That’s George.” And it was also a matter of crafting a character who looked down on women, which many men did at the time.
I had to restrain myself from making him too one-dimensional…but frankly, I had a great time playing up his ickiness.
6. You have a sort of a companion novel Forgiven out and two more planned. Can you tell our readers a bit about them?
My second novel Forgiven, just out, follows Kula Baker from Faithful on her own journey. So that I don’t spoil either novel I’ll just say that Kula must go to San Francisco in 1906 in order to save her father, and there she finds love, and loss, and she encounters the great earthquake of April, 1906.
My third novel, Moll, is set in the mid 1920s, and it’s my current work in progress. It follows an entirely new set of characters through what I’m calling a “noire romance.” This story has many more elements of mystery – even a hint of the paranormal – while still being faithful to that history which encompasses the era of flappers, gangsters and Prohibition.
In the fourth novel, Paradise, I plan to bring back characters from all three previous novels and place them in Paradise Valley, Montana, just north of the Park, in the mid 1930s. I’m very excited about this one, and hope that it captures not only the time and place but a sense of epic quality. Here’s hoping.
7. Finally, I’m always curious to know what other authors are reading. What books are on your to-read list? And do you have a favorite historical novel?
Confession: I’m enthralled by The Game of Thrones series, and I’m reading book 2 now. But I did just finish Maggie Stiefvater’s Forever and adored it. And I loved Chime (Frannie Billingsly) and I’m reading, as I can tolerate its tormented characters and high tension, Tim Wynne-Jones brilliant Blink and Caution. Oh, and Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls – awesome. My favorite historical of recent reading is Judy Blundell’s gorgeous Strings Attached.
Thanks so much for having me!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us! We thoroughly enjoyed it!