An Interview with Anna Jarzab (And A Giveaway!)

courtneybooks, interviews

(Hey… psst! Wanna win a copy of Anna Jarzab’s spectacular debut, All Unquiet Things? Boy, are YOU in the right place!)

Is there nothing sadder than a book that has a beautiful cover and is lame on the inside? I cannot give you any examples of such a book, for that would be tacky, but I expect as soon as you read that question you didn’t have to think too hard to come up with an answer. And it made you sad. Seriously, it bums me out. Whenever I see a book that is GORGEOUS to look at, I expect it to be GORGEOUS to read. I have been so disappoined in this regard many, many times.


Gorgeous? Gorgeous (it’s like a beautiful lie–look at it once, and it’s a pretty girl on the grass! Look at it again and waitasecond!!!). How happy am I to say that what is inside is JUST AS GORGEOUS as it is on the outside? So happy.

I have used gorgeous too much in so few sentences right, but oh well.

I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of All Unquiet Things back in July of last year. My review then was these four words: “Wow. That is all.” And that’s how I STILL feel about this book. All Unquiet Things follows Neily and Audrey, two outsiders looking for closure after the recent death of self-destructive Carly (Neily’s ex and Audrey’s cousin). Neily is haunted by the phone call Carly made to him before she died and Audrey is determined to find Carly’s murderer because she knows in her heart the prime suspect isn’t who everyone else thinks it is–her father. Together, the pair become unlikely allies and in their quest for the truth and find out more about Carly and themselves than they ever expected they would.

All Unquiet Things is a really fantastic debut. The language is gorgeous and rich and incredibly transportive, which–in my opinion–is essential for any mystery (slash-thriller-slash-bildungsroman). Jarzab takes us into Neily and Audrey’s world so expertly, making it so close and so real, that you’d swear it’s all you’ve ever known, and she does this to great effect; as this tightly knotted mystery begins to untangle, you feel every new development, every gut-wrenching reveal in your chest, like they’re happening to you. Like YOUR secrets are on the line. And these secrets, these developments, are meted out perfectly. All Unquiet Things is on the longer side, just to look at it, but never once feels like a long book while you are reading it. It’s nearly impossible to put down.

Perhaps my favourite thing about All Unquiet Things, though, are the characters and their growth, their stories. Audrey and Neily are two distinct voices. The book starts out with hurt, loss, pain. The kind that really goes deep. The rest of the novel is sort of like taking the bandages off very slowly and revealing the kind of wound that is not healing properly (ok this is a gross analogy but I really mean it as the highest praise) and you have to take a REALLY GOOD LONG LOOK AT IT before you can see what can be done, how to fix it. Anna Jarzab’s take on this kind of pain, these kinds of emotional wounds, is unflinching and Neily and Carly’s ultimate path to healing is satisfying. The trip down that path, for a reader, is incredible, at times shocking, and always unforgettable.

And I am happy to report I was lucky enough to get a couple minutes of Anna’s time for an interview! Read on for her fabulous answers about the writing of All Unquiet Things and to find out how YOU can win a copy of this fantastic book (because believe me–YOU WANT TO).


Can you tell us about All Unquiet Thing’s journey to publication?

Sure! Well, I started this book like a zillion and a half years ago (truth: seven), wrote it once with an entirely different plot, abandoned it, picked it up again a couple of months later, gave it an entirely new plot and a bunch of new characters, and moved to Chicago to start graduate school at the University of Chicago. That’s where it got spicy. I decided to write the book (I’d mostly just plotted it out and done a lot of pre-writing) for my master’s thesis, which they let me do because I promised them I would never try to go get my Ph.D. I wrote the book in about six months, working with my preceptor (in my program they were sort of like camp counselors) and my adviser to make sure it was a worthwhile project. I guess it was, because they graduated me!

Anyway, when I finished the book I knew that I’d try to get it published someday, but at the moment I was concentrating on my “real” career. I wanted to work in publishing, and I got very lucky and was able to get an internship at Browne & Miller Literary Associates. Danielle and Joanna (the agents there) were awesome bosses and mentors, and they knew I’d written a YA novel. I was really embarrassed to show it to them, mostly because, you know, I respected them and didn’t want them to think I was a hack. So I didn’t show it to them until about six months later, when I was living in New York. I knew Joanna was looking for YA and I sent the book to her; she really liked it and wanted to represent me, so we spent from basically March to August of 2008 revising. Then in the beginning of September, Joanna submitted AUT to six editors, on a Tuesday; by Friday, my now-editor called Joanna to say she wanted to pre-empt and to expect an offer on Monday. And that’s the story! It’s not incredibly exciting as far as publication journeys go–no heated, crazy auctions or months-long, determined slogs through rejection filled waters. I was lucky all the way around, something for which I’m intensely grateful.

Let’s talk about affluence, privilege. Neily and Audrey live in a very affluent place with very privileged people. Wealth can be an extremely idealized, glamorized thing in fiction. It can also be extremely unlikeable. Or both. It feels like it could be easy to veer off into the land stereotypes or sensationalism, but I loved the gritty way you presented it. It wasn’t always flattering but it felt very honest to me. Like, here it is, nothing more or nothing less. How difficult (or not) was it to develop that part of the story? Were you concerned about going too far one way or the other?

I mean, I love Gossip Girl. LOVE IT. Love it. And that show doesn’t shy away from showing shall we say the Dark Side of Wealth and Privilege, but even that Dark Side is glamorous and edgy and everybody’s wearing exquisite headbands all the time. That’s one way to do that story, but not my way. I never wanted to glamorize the choices my characters were making, that was something I was really concerned with. That aspect of the book really came from the questions of what a teenager with near-unlimited funds and freedom would do with it. Nothing good, is the answer, not if you were parented the way my teens are. It wasn’t that hard to show it, although you do worry about coming off heavy-handed or sensational. But I guess the way I avoided that was not to focus on the trappings of wealth (the clothes, the cars, the vacations, etc.) unless they were essential to the story.

I feel like I need to mention the epigraph/title here. The title was taken from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Originally, it just caught my eye and sounded awesome to me, and I thought, “That’d be a great book title.” Over the years, though, the book really grew in to the title in amazing ways. That whole passage is about the appearance of things versus the reality of things, about how powerful, wealthy, influential people are quite often rotten within, and if you could see what they look like on the inside you’d never in a million years want to be like them. That’s a constant theme in All Unquiet Things, how people seem to have perfect lives and then they either squander them or suffer under the pressure. My characters are always struggling to crawl up out of the moral quagmire of their circumstances.

I love the way you explored that theme. I also I loved the way Neily and Audrey’s friendship evolved. I think my default setting, when I read about two characters taking this kind of journey together, is to… you know. Ship them. It’s awful! But it’s the first thing I do! Especially when the characters are the types of characters Neily and Audrey are. Opposites, with strong (not always nice) feelings toward each other, loaded history included. As I read All Unquiet Things, I quickly realized this wasn’t a path they could go down and ultimately, I loved that they didn’t. When you were writing All Unquiet Things, did you ever worry that you should take them down that road or were you tempted to? Because of uhm… readers like me that might go in with that expectation… cough.

Oh, totally, me too–I’m a huge ‘shipper and I get annoyed when there isn’t a couple I can get behind. It’s funny, because when I was at home last year sometime my mother was like, “I like how they end up together at the end.” And I was like, “Um, Mom…they don’t.” Thinking: Did she even read it all the way through? And she looked right at me and said, “Oh, but they do.” And I thought that was so great, the way a reader can take ownership of the book and amend the story to suit themselves.

Anyway, when I was planning AUT I actually did have them getting together at the end. It changed for two reasons. First of all, that’s a pretty typical move, having the male and female protagonists end up together at the end, regardless of chemistry or how much sense it makes (I think of every Dan Brown novel when I say this). I think for Neily and Audrey it does make sense and there is chemistry there, but I decided against it for the second reason: that what they’ve been through has been so profound and so emotionally devastating that they would never have been able to sustain a real, healthy relationship with each other at that point in their lives. And they care about each other so much that they wouldn’t risk it.

But I think of it as an open-ended thing. It’s obvious they have great affection for each other, and that they’re attracted to each other, and that’s as far as I take it–but a reader could take it further in their imagination, and I wouldn’t discourage that. :)

Aaah! I love that story about your mom. I know you’ve said that the mystery in All Unquiet Things was a subplot and that the book is primarily about the character’s emotional arch and I definitely agree with that. I felt that as I was reading. This said: the mystery. I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING. What is it like shaping and developing that aspect of the story? Is it intimidating? Had you read a lot of mysteries before you started All Unquiet Things? Did you know it would be a mystery from the start?

I don’t know about other mystery writers, but that was by far the hardest part of the story. Even after I decided who’d committed the crime, then comes the great balance of layering the story with hints and clues that aren’t obvious but which, on reflection or rereading, seem to point to that person from the start. It’s seriously the most intimidating thing EVER, and it’s so hard to do because you as the author know everything, and so everything seems obvious to you. You have literally no perspective with which to decide objectively whether something is too much or too little. And I did have to work on that in revisions (there had been too little). I wish I could be sure that everyone who will ever read this interview ever has already read the book, because I’m so damn proud of the mystery in the book and I would love to talk about how it operates. There’s some hidden content on my website that points to that end, though, so intrepid readers should be able to find an enjoy it.

I reconcieved this book as a mystery, so I knew it was going to be that from the start. I’m not a huge mystery reader, although I sucked down Nancy Drew and then Agatha Christie as a kid and I’m a big, big, big fan of Tana French. I don’t read a ton of mysteries, but the ones I read are REALLY good and I love them. Anyone have any suggestions?

One more thing about the mystery: there is a character in the book that, upon further reflection months after I turned in my final draft, could TOTALLY have killed Carly, and I didn’t even see it until later. I was telling another interviewer the other day that the second someone asks me about that, I’m going to give them a big hug. I’ll do it, too.

Who was your least favourite character to write and why?

Hm, that’s a really great question. I think I read somewhere once that an author should have sympathy for all her characters, but I really don’t like Adam. I just don’t. My least favorite scene to write was the confrontation scene at the end. It’s SO difficult to make that not seem cheesy, like “I shall tie you up in this chair and tell you the reasoning behind my entire evil plan, giving you time to wriggle out of your bindings and escape!” I worked very, very hard on that scene, and the dialogue was torn apart on a word-by-word basis and reconstructed and calibrated so that it seemed natural (insofar as that is a natural situation, which it really isn’t). Still, I’ve read reviews about how cheesy that scene is. You can’t make everyone happy, but I’m actually very satisfied with it, for all the trouble it caused me.

If there is one scene in All Unquiet Things you would not change a word of, and could write over and over and over again, which scene would that be?

Probably my favorite scene in the book is one between Carly and Audrey, where they’re at their grandmother’s funeral and Carly asks Audrey, “How many people do we have to lose before the universe decides we’ve had enough?” And Audrey says that if she’d known then what she knows now, she would have answered, “All of them.” (I’m paraphrasing.) I love that scene, and I’m proud of the actual writing, what I choose to say. As favorite scenes go, it’s pretty small and quiet, but it gets right to the core of the story, I think. I also pretty much love any scene that has tons of dialogue between Neily and Audrey. I could write them sniping at each other forever.

I know All Unquiet Things has been a part of your life for some time now, from drafting to publication. How hard was it to let the stories and characters go? When you were well and truly finished, did you find yourself needing a period of adjustment?

Well, as soon as I was finished with it I started writing a sequel, so that’s how I dealt with that. LOL. I don’t really intend to publish it–maybe I’ll put it up on my website someday. Anyway, it’s so unfinished, but it helped with some of the adjustment. But you move on to other things. There are new stories that take over your life and drive you. I’m excited for the future, but this story, these characters, will always have a very special place in my heart.

I WOULD TOTALLY READ THAT SEQUEL. Just. So you know. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read a lot and write a lot–that’s how you become a writer. But I also think it’s important to hear another thing, which is that when you’re a young writer, there are going to be other young writers who might want to tear you down to build themselves up. Don’t listen to those people! It’s important to learn who you can trust to give you honest feedback (and you should be open to that feedback), and who you can’t.

Great advice. What is one thing that has surprised you about being a published author? What is one thing you think would surprise other people about being a published author?

Because I’ve been in publishing for a while, I don’t know that anything really surprised me flat out. I think what I was unprepared for was just how proud and excited the people around me would be. Everyone asks me about my book when I see them; family members I haven’t seen in years are writing my parents saying that they’re reading my book. Coworkers of family and friends ask them about it. To me it’s so run of the mill because I work in publishing and am surrounded by books every day, but I forget that to people who aren’t constantly in the thick of it, it’s an exciting, unusual thing.

What might surprise other people about being a published author is that getting published is the easy part. There’s tons of insecurity and self-doubt and fear and anxiety that comes post-deal. It’s hard not to compare yourself to other authors, even if you know that your book is at a great house that’s really behind it. It just comes with the territory. A good author has genuine perspective on their book and its place in the market and works hard on their book’s behalf and tries not to compare themselves to other authors–it really is a fruitless endeavor. Also, something that might surprise people is how important an author is in selling their book. No matter how hard a publisher pushes a book, if the author’s not out there doing their part, representing their book and caring about their audience, it could flop.

What’s next for you?

I have another novel coming out from Delacorte sometime in 2011, but it doesn’t have a title and I’m not finished writing it, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s about a teenage boy who disappears and his friends who go looking for him. I’m doing a large scale revision on it that I’m simultaneously excited and anxious about. I’m excited to be finished, but I do love this book and I’m hoping my readers love it, too.

I’m excited to read it! Where can we find you on the web?

Oh, just everywhere, but my main hub is Gotta be honest, the site is chock full of cool hidden content–lots of handwritten notes about characters, including THE KILLER!! (password protected, natch)–that people should check out, especially if they’re interested in what goes into one person’s writing process. I’m also on twitter (@ajarzab) and Facebook. Drop by and say hi anytime!

Thank you, Anna! If you would like to enter for a chance to win All Unquiet Things, it is as EASY AS COMMENTING ON THIS ENTRY. Yes, that’s right. Leave a comment. Next Thursday (April 1st–omg where is March going), I will do a random draw and then I will notify the winner and amend this post to include the winner’s name. If you can’t wait that long, I don’t blame you. Go out and get your own copy of All Unquiet Things today!

Dear FTC, All Unquiet Things was provided to me by its author and I was not compensated for this review. I just love talking about books I love. xo, Courtney