Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot (with blogger/contributor Keri Heath)! Today we present another author feature: Jessie Ann Foley, whose debut novel, The Carnival at Bray, was named a Printz honor book by the American Library Association. In addition, the novel was named a Best Teen Book of 2014 by Kirkus Reviews, and was shortlisted for YALSA’s 2015 William C. Morris Award. She has had fiction appear in a variety of journals such as The Madison Review, Midwestern Gothic, The Chicago Reader, Great Lakes Cultural Review, and McSweeney’s. She is a native Chicagoan and teaches English at a public school in the city.
Jessie Ann Foley has loved and lived in Chicago since she was little. She studied English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and got a Master’s in Secondary Education from University of Illinois at Chicago. A few years later, she attended Columbia College Chicago to earn an MFA in Fiction Writing. During that time, she started teaching English and now teaches at the Chicago public schools. She also freelances and has had work published in several magazines. She lives with her husband in two young children in Chicago, and loves being a mom.
To learn more about Foley, visit her website at www.jessieannfoley.com or follow her on Twitter at @JAFoleyNWside.
Interview with Jessie
- You mention on your website that you always wanted to be a writer. How did you know that this was the path for you?
I think it’s because I’ve always been a reader. Ever since I was six years old and read Little House on the Prairie, I knew this was what I wanted to do. As the Italian writer Carlo Levi said and Cheryl Strayed reiterated in her amazing advice piece for The Rumpus, “the future has an ancient heart.” In deciding what I wanted to do with my life, I chose to do what I’ve always done since I was a kid.
- Do you have a writing routine of any kind?
Well, right now my daughters are two months and fifteen months old, so all I can do for now is write when I can. It’s hard, but if I go more than a week without writing, I get rusty, and then a difficult thing becomes even more difficult. That’s why, even if I only have fifteen minutes when both kids are sleeping, I’ll try to at least look at the piece I’m working on. I do a lot of dictating ideas into my phone so that I can come back to them later when I have time. I’ve learned the hard way that I have to write down my ideas as soon as they come to me or they’re gone. I have a terrible memory.
- What draws you to YA literature?
I’ve been a high school English teacher for ten years, and I think being surrounded by kids all day helps you, to some extent, never forget what it’s like to be young. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to those years, but I still think it’s such a cool age. When you’re fifteen, everything is new and fresh; so much life happens. You really feel the possibilities of your life ahead of you. The process of growing up has inherent drama; it lends itself to good stories.
- Your most recent book, The Carnival at Bray, is set in Ireland. Why did you decide to set a novel in this country?
The Carnival at Bray was originally a short story that I published in the Chicago Reader after visiting a forlorn carnival fairground in County Wicklow in 2010. I’m Irish-American, but as Maggie learns in the first chapter of the book, that identity can have very little to do with what it means to be actually Irish, and if I had known then that I was setting myself up for the task of expanding it into an entire novel set in Ireland, I might have made things easier for myself and kept Maggie in Chicago. Luckily, my husband Denis, who is from County Kerry, was a huge help. While I was writing the novel I tortured him with constant, nitpicky questions relating to word choice, slang, and authentic details: What do you call those bales of hale covered in plastic? What is the hurling equivalent of a quarterback? What kind of beverage would a young Irish kid drink if his father took him to the pub? Things like that. If there was a passage that contained lots of dialogue-Eoin’s long monologue about his mother comes to mind-my husband would read it aloud and help me figure out what needed tweaking. I was so nervous for him to read the first draft of the book, because I knew I was going to make ridiculous mistakes. But he was polite enough not to make fun of me.
Thanks to Jessie Ann Foley for taking the time to speak with “Fiction Reboot.”
ABOUT THE BLOGGER:
Keri Heath is a writer and journalist from Austin, Texas. She has written professionally for Austin Fit, Totally Dublin, Austin Woman, and ATX Man magazines. She has also seen her creative work published in NEAT and Straylight magazines, among others. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, run, and play mandolin. You can view Keri’s work at readkh.wix.com/keri-heath or by following her @HeathKeri.