Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sara Pennypacker "Pax" Interview

Local author Sara Pennypacker recently published Pax, a novel following the stories of a fox, forcibly abandoned by his boy’s grandfather, and the boy, Peter, who runs away from home to find his fox. The film rights have been bought by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, who plan to make a movie in the coming years.

Why did you turn to writing?
All the time, I was very interested in writing. When my children were young, I read a lot, and soon realized that it called to me more than painting. So, I did whatever it took to learn how to do it, and that’s what I did.

How did you get your first book published?
I went in the blind submission route, meaning I didn’t have an agent. I worked as hard as I could, received input from other writers. Then I submitted it, and luckily for me, the publisher wanted it.

What inspired you to write Pax?
There are two things: one, for quite a while, I wanted to write a book that dealt about adults who wage war, and it’s children who pay the price. We never count about how many children have to watch their village destroyed, or are injured, or lose a parent, or not get to go to school. We should be calculating those things when we go to war. At the same time, I wanted to write a book about the incredible bond that children can make with animals. It’s the radical acts of empathy that children understand and adults sometimes forget. By some chance comment, I realized it’s the same book, and I could write about both things.

Was there a reason you had the book alternating from Pax and Peter’s perspectives?
Yes. The book was about two themes, and I decided to do it as a dual narrative, and as I went along, I found it a fascinating way to tell a story. I especially loved telling the events from the fox’s point of view, and I enjoyed writing the understanding of the boy’s point of view. In the beginning, actually, the book was from the animal’s perspective, then I realized that there was more I could do if I added a different point of view to it.

Out of all the animals in the world, why did you choose foxes?
First, I narrowed it down to animals that could be released to the wild, and possibly survive. I looked at all the animals and auditioned them, and the criteria was how well would they represent a twelve-year-old kid. It couldn’t be tiny, like a mouse, and not too big. I later chose foxes for many reasons. They’re smart and very playful, their physical abilities are useful, they are so adaptable, they form great friendships, and they are very curious. In my mind, the fox was an inspired choice, capturing emotional feelings, how the world is threatened, how children feel when war comes. Foxes are conscious animals, not like a slug crawling slowly on the ground.

Was field research of foxes necessary?
Yes, it absolutely was. In the beginning, I wanted to just watch videos, but the more I learned, the more respectful I became, and I realized I wanted to get everything right. I contacted a naturalist, and he went over the whole novel with me, correcting some things I had gotten wrong about foxes. The most amazing thing, though, was that I thought he was going to say I went too far with the whole fox element, but he didn’t. I was also afraid that he would say that foxes couldn’t translate the human language, but he said that foxes have been known to translate nearly all languages.

Were the characters based on anyone you knew?
No, I drew a lot of Peter on how I myself thought about wild animals. I really wished I could make a bond with a wild animal. I know how helpless Peter would have felt if an adult told him to do something he did not want to do, and knew that he would be fiercely determined to do what he had to do to fix that.

Is there any demand for a sequel to Pax?
I am asked all the time, when I go to schools. In fact, I am asked every time. And every time, my answer is “not from me.” I wanted it to end where it ended, and for all my readers to create their own sequel, and most of them do. It’s nice to think of where each character went in the next few minutes after the book ended, or in the next days, or the next years. I really like the idea that there would be different sequels for different readers. When we find a movie deal, the film will be live action, and the foxes will be CGI. I don’t know if they will go farther with the story, or just hint at the direction that everyone takes, because I have no creative control over that.

Out of all the characters you’ve ever written about, which one is your favorite?
Without a doubt, it’s Clementine. The reason is, Clementine is built on my own two children. I have a son who was told to pay attention a lot, much like Clementine. My daughter was like Clementine, in terms of her attitude, and she also had a lot of confidence. Give or take, everything in the Clementine books is real, and to prepare for [book 2 in the Clementine series, The Talented Clementine] I watched several talent shows, and even some rehearsals here in Chatham.

Are there any plans to make the Clementine spinoff Waylon into a series?
Yes, Waylon will be a three-book series at this point. Right when I started writing it, I knew what I wanted to happen over a span of three books

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read, read, read, read, read. As you’re reading, think about what genres and books you like and identify with. If you like mystery, adventure, that is what you should be doing. If a book is one of your favorites, if it made you feel something, go back to those scenes and figure out how [the author] did it. Also, try to be a scientist. What was it about that word or sentence that called to you? Why did that author make me wait for three pages to make you figure it out? The more you read, the more the story forms, and it will become a pattern in your brain.

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