Interview with Janie Chodosh
Author of Code Red book two of the Faith Flores Science Mystery Series:
1. Where or how did you come up with the idea for this book and series?
In 2009 I was watching a documentary on the humane genome project, and I found out that scientists could patent new genes they discovered. I found this fact to be startling, and it led me to thinking of all sorts of subversive things a company could do if they had a patent on a gene. (In 2014 the Supreme Court changed this ruling, saying genes could no longer be patented.) I came up with an idea for a mystery and needed to find a population of people that sadly could be taken advantage of in terms of genetics, genes, and genetic testing, and I thought of junkies and addiction. Then I needed a strong young adult character who would investigate a complex crime with a strong scientific component, and I came up with Faith Flores. I also wanted my heroine to be unlikely, not mainstream, and someone I would want to read about
2. When you sit down to write do you have an idea where you are going or does it just happen as you’re sitting there? Or is it actually the Characters writing the story?
I have a sense of where it’s going, but it also happens organically. I think it has to be a blend of being totally open, but also maintaining control. I have followed my characters to some weird places and had to do a lot of revising. So I think it is a mistake to say the characters totally guide you because I think the author needs to maintain control and keep a lot of plot points and thematic design points in their control, while being open to the creative process.
3. What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
I really like the aspects of writing for young adults that deal with relationships. I like the emotion, the tension, and the process of discovery. I like going deeply into a character’s emotional journey and process, so whether that is a friendship, a relationship with a parent, or a romantic relationship, I love exploring and digging into a character’s psyche.
4. Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
I would argue that everything is in some sense based on real life experience because I can only write from my imagination and my thoughts and understanding of the world. However, all the scenarios and the plotting in my books are purely fictional. When a character is in a situation I have never dealt with, such as coping with a junkie parent, I can’t imagine the specifics, but I can imagine what I think the emotions would be, such as anger or loneliness.
5. What is your favorite quote from a book of fiction?
Oh dear, I am not sure I can give you one favorite quote! I have many favorite books, though. My taste in reading is quite diverse. I read a lot of natural history related books, as well as books for young adults and adults. I have a stack of books next to my bed that would make no sense to someone who did not know me. I would come back to one of my favorite books of all time, though, and mention this book instead of mentioning a quote. That books is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The recent controversy on “Go Set a Watchman” did not taint my love of the book.
6. On that vein who would be your favorite Author? What writers influenced you?
Again, a favorite author is so hard to pin down. I have many favorite authors. I love Michael Chabon and Isabel Allende and Zadie Smith. I love John Green. I love Annie Dillard. I am influenced by great story tellers who know how to write a sentence!
7 Do you have a favorite fictional character?
Going back to the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” I have always loved Scout. She is curious, funny, persistent, and I love her observations and tellings of them.
8. What five words describe you?
Passionate, driven, curious, goofy, emotional
9. What if any project are you working on now?(go ahead promote away!)
I just completed a nonfiction book about conservation called “Wild Lives, Leading Conservationists on the Animals and the Planet They Love,” with a foreword by Carl Safina and an endorsement by Dr. Jane Goodall. This book comes out with Skyhorse Press in April. I wrote the book, but I partnered 100 percent on the project with Lori Robinson who organized it. I am very excited about this book, as it blends my love of natural history with my love of writing. I am also working on a book for kids about elephants.
10. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
A reader told me that my book “Death Spiral” was too dark for her. I did not think of it as a dark book, so I really took that in.
11. What has been the best compliment?
One reader wrote to me after “Death Spiral” came out to say the book was personal as her mother was dealing with drug addiction, and after reading it she opened up and told her teacher what was happening at home. She had never before told anyone. I like the idea of anything I write touching someone and helping them.
12. Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
Yes. Of course. I have a middle grade novel sitting on my computer that I return to every few years. I love the feeling and the tone and the characters in this book, but I still feel like something is missing. Perhaps I’ll let it go, but maybe I’ll figure it out one day and get it into the world.
13. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I don’t hear from too many readers, though I love it when I do. The thing I hear most often about “Death Spiral” is that the reader could not put it down and they stayed up all night to finish it.
14. What do you think makes a good story?
Authenticity and truth. I want to believe in the world and the characters the author has created. I also want to care about what happens.
15. I think I know your answer but , what’s more important to you Characters or plot?
Both! Although both are equally important, I find it much easier to develop a character than a plot.
16. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to be outside and be in nature. I love to watch birds, go on runs and hikes. I love to play violin and travel and read.
17. How about a snippet from your book that will hook a prospective reader and make them want to read your book.
This is the opening of CODE RED… maybe more than snippet!
I should join the bevy of arts and academic interns bonding
in clumps of polite, socially correct conversation. At least, if
I’m going to be antisocial I should be harnessing the power
of positive thought and thinking, Wow! Here I am—St. John’s
College in Santa Fe, New Mexico! Or, wow! What an honor, out
of all the science geeks around the nation, the Salazar Center for
Plant Genomics chose me as their summer student scholar!
Instead, I sit alone in a window seat overlooking a confusion
of mountains and arroyos, no idea what to say to any of
the other interns who look so at ease and whose off-resume
experiences probably don’t include waiting in the backseat of
some beater while their mom scored a fix. Not to mention that
if I were to actually open my mouth what would come out
would likely have a high lab geek element. And then there’s
the nagging distraction of The Jerk, also known as The Sperm
Donor, sometimes known as my father, who I happen to know
was born here and could still be hanging around.
“Faith, cool name,” someone says.
I spin around, absolutely no idea how long I’ve been staring
out the window, to gape at a tall guy standing in front of
me who might be Hispanic, might be black, and might be in
competition with Jesse, my Philly boyfriend, for the cutest
boy I’ve ever seen. To make up for the fact that I seem to
have forgotten how to speak, I jam my hands on my hips and
demand an explanation for how he knew my name.
18. What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?
I think what stands out for me in terms of good writing is voice. It is hard to master voice. It is hard to teach voice, but it is the essence of any good piece of writing. How do you tell the story? Who tells the story? How do you stay in that voice? How do you write an original voice? For me, everything stems from the voice. Once you find it, stick with it for the entire book. It is very obvious if a character or an author strays from the voice they established and if this happens, it is very jarring for the reader.
19. How did you get into writing? Is this what you always wanted to do?
I have always loved to write. As a child I wrote plays and kept journals. I loved to record my observations on life. I have always been a writer, but it took many years to find the confidence to say so and to really go for it and commit to writing a book.
20. Any last thoughts for our readers?