105 Ways to Give a Book

Summer Book Club: Jenny Han Interview

Two weeks ago, my seventh grade Girl Scout troop talked about Shug. The girls came up with interview questions for the author, Jenny Han, which I am pleased to share with you today.

Did you write the book based on your twelve-year-old self?

No, I didn’t. There were certainly some emotional themes that played out in my own twelve-year old life, but for the most part, it was complete fiction.

Did you write the book to “help” preteen girls going into Junior High?

I wrote Shug with the hopes of telling a good story from one girl’s point of view — a glimpse into this girl’s life, a snapshot of this little moment of growing up. I definitely hoped that girls would connect with it. That is the icing on the cake!

What do think is the worst problem facing middle-school girls today?

I think the worst problem is believing all the bad stuff people tell you about yourself and not enough of the good stuff.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

I have always loved writing, always considered myself a writer, but I didn’t think about doing it as a profession until after college. At the time, being a writer as a career sounded about as likely as me being J.T.’s backup dancer. (That’s Justin Timberlake for those not in the know!) But it’s funny — I was at home in Virginia last week, visiting my family, and I found an old yearbook of mine. My fourth grade teacher wrote, “I expect to see your name on a book one day. Keep writing.” Life is funny! You never know where you’ll end up. I was lucky enough to end up here.

How did you decide on the names that you used, and what is the pronunciation of “Mairi”?

I spend a lot of time picking out my characters’ names. It is an obsession that harkens back to a time where I agonized over what I would name my first-born daughter. For Shug, the name Annemarie came easily enough. I had some trouble with Jack’s character — originally, his name was Ray Tweedy. As I continued to write the story and he took on a bigger role, I realized it was a terrible name for him and just didn’t sound like a boy you’d ever want to kiss. Jack (also the name of my dog) sounds like an annoying, rascally boy — but also potentially cute. As for Mairi, it is pronounced plain old Mary, but I imagined her mother wanting to give her some unique sparkly kind of spelling.

Where did you get the idea for the small Southern town?

The setting for Shug just was what it was — it was the way I saw it from the very beginning. Those are the easiest kinds of decisions, the ones that come to you naturally, organically.

Do the characters in the book remind you of people in your real life?

My best friend Aram swears that Elaine is based on her, mostly because she moved to our town in middle school as well, and also because Elaine is “cool.” The truth is, everybody in this book is fictional, but there are certainly little traits here and there that I borrowed from people I know. Celia, for instance — I had an older cousin who I saw very much the way Shug sees Celia. There is a certain kind of glamour in older-sister types.

Much thanks to Jenny Han for answering our questions. I’ll be sharing the interview with the troop this afternoon when we meet to discuss Happy Kid! by Gail Gauthier. Join me for the online discussion tomorrow.


jama said...

Great interview. Love Shug!

Vivian Mahoney said...

So funny Jack started off as Ray Tweedy. I have to admit, I was hoping for a sequel to find out what happens to Jack and Shug.