Interview with Jeanne DuPrau – Mon 8/17/09

Brazeale: You wrote the quartet, the City of Ember. The City of Ember is a science fiction story about a girl and a boy who discover their city, the only place on Earth that seems to still exist, is dying. Together they search for a way to save the people of Ember. The City of Ember is also accompanied by two sequels (People of Sparks andDiamond of Darkhold) and one prequel (Prophet of Yornwood). What was it like writing the City of Ember series, fun, difficult, or all of the above?

DuPrau: Definitely both of the above. I had been a writer for many years, but I’d never written a novel before I wrote The City of Ember. It was the hardest piece of writing I’d ever done. I had to write it over and over before I got it right. But figuring it all out was fascinating, and finally finishing it was wonderfully satisfying. You’d think that having done a first novel, I’d have an easier time doing the next ones. This didn’t turn out to be true. Each book in the series presented me with a new challenge–in fact, some of them gave me a tougher time than Ember! But there are always those great moments when something unexpected and perfect seems to spring from my mind. That’s when writing is fun.

Brazeale: The City of Ember has some memorable characters: Doon, Lina, Mrs. Murdo, Loris Harrow, Poppy, etc. What character was the easiest or most fun to write?

DuPrau: Lina was probably the easiest, because she is most like me. She likes to run (I did, too, when I was her age), and she likes to draw (I still do, though I don’t do it often enough). She uses her imagination, and she’s curious about things. She’s much braver than I am, though.

Brazeale: Were any of the characters based off of someone you know?

DuPrau: Doon and Lina are both like me in some ways. Doon likes to figure out how things work, he collects insects (I used to put caterpillars in jars and hope they would turn into butterflies), and he reads a lot. Grover, in The Prophet of Yonwood, was influenced by a young man I know who’s an expert on reptiles. But other characters in the books aren’t based on anyone specific. Certainly you can find people like the mayor if you read the news, and people like Tick and Mrs. Beeson. But I don’t take people from life, change their names, and put them into my books.

Brazeale: You say on your website that you actually didn’t plan on there being a sequel to City of Ember, let alone three other books. What inspired you to keep writing?

DuPrau: My editor suggested that since The City of Ember had been so successful, readers might want to find out what happened next. I was interested in finding out, too, so I continued the story.

Brazeale: You have announced on your website as a response to a bunch of fan mail that there will be no fifth City of Ember book, at least for the time being. What does it feel like saying good bye to these wonderful characters you have created?

DuPrau: It feels like the right thing to do. At the end of The Diamond of Darkhold, the main threads of the story are tied up, and the rest can be left to readers’ imaginations. I don’t actually have to say goodbye to the characters–I think about them almost as if they’re real, and I can meet them again by opening the books.

Brazeale: Speaking of fan mail, besides “Will there be a fifth book”, what is the most common question fans ask?

DuPrau: They ask, “Where did you get the idea for The City of Ember?” I put the answer to that on my website so I wouldn’t need to write about it over and over!

Brazeale: The City of Ember (first book) was been made into a movie in 2008. What was your involvement in the movie, if you had any at all? If you were involved, can you elaborate on your experience?

DuPrau: I had very little involvement with the movie. I read the script and commented on it, and a few of my comments were addressed. I could have gone to Belfast to see some of the filming, but my passport had expired and there wasn’t time to get a new one, so I didn’t make it. But some of the extras in the movie sent me e-mails describing their experience. That brought the process closer than anything. I did meet the director, Gil Kenan, and I was hoping there would be one of those glamorous Hollywood premieres with the red carpet and champagne where I could meet the stars. It didn’t happen–instead Walden Media (the movie company) put on a private premiere in my home town. I invited all my family, friends, and neighbors, and we had a great time.

Brazeale: Have you seen the movie of your book? If so, what did you think of it?

DuPrau: Yes, I’ve seen it. I thought the the city, although it wasn’t the way I’d pictured it, was quite wonderful, and I liked the costumes and the acting. My favorite scene in the movie is at the beginning, when Doon wants to trade jobs with Lina, and she says, “Yes! Yes!” and takes off running. Unfortunately, the movie left out scenes from the book that I thought were important, and it added scenes that I thought were unnecessary and confusing. I wasn’t happy with the monsters, or the very mechanized ending. So I guess I join the crowd of authors who have mixed feelings about movies made from their books.

Brazeale: I understand that you have written six nonfiction books. What were these books about and how did you become involved in those projects?

DuPrau: Some of those books were written on assignment from publishers who needed a book on a certain subject. These publishers do books used mainly in school libraries. I wrote about cells, cloning, colonial American history, and adoption–all of them subjects I didn’t know much about and had to research. I also wrote a memoir, now out of print, called The Earth House, about my experiences with meditation and housebuilding.

Brazeale: You have said on your website that you “find writing very hard.” If writing is such a challenge for you, why did you pursue this career? Do you have a creative muse that fuels your imagination?

DuPrau: Writing is hard in the way that any professional work is hard: that is, it takes a lot of knowledge and skill, and years of practice to do it well, in addition to some talent. No one thinks it’s easy to become a doctor, or a lawyer, or a professional musician or athlete. All of these take years of work. But many people think a successful writer is someone for whom writing “just flows.” Not true. I became a writer because writing was what I was most interested in and what I did best. I worked hard on my writing, and I still do. It gives me more satifaction than anything else.

Brazeale: What about your other book, Car Trouble? What inspired that story?

DuPrau: I read somewhere that librarians thought there should be more stories about cars for boys. For some reason, even though I know nothing much about cars, this caught my interest. Probably the reason had less to do with cars and more to do with having adventures while traveling. Car Trouble is about a boy who drives across the country, and a lot of unexpected and funny things, both bad and good, happen to him on the way. It hasn’t received the same attention as the Ember books, but it’s one of my favorites among the books I’ve written.

Brazeale: Your terrier, Ethan, is so cute. I noticed that your book,Car Trouble, features a terrier, Moony. Is Moony based on your own terrier, Ethan?

DuPrau: Yes, Moony was more or less based on Ethan, and so was the dog named Otis, in The Prophet of Yonwood. Ethan was with me for almost sixteen years; he died several months ago, to my great sorrow. I realized fairly soon that I didn’t want to be without a dog, and so I now have a Norfolk terrier puppy named Jockey. He is adorable and energetic and currently runs my life.

Brazeale: You’ve said that you plan to write more books. Are there any books in the works right now?

DuPrau: Yes, I’m working on a new book in the moments when I’m not working on puppy training. I’m still in the early stages of it, so I won’t say anything about the story–there’s always the possibility that it won’t work at all and I’ll have to throw it away. But I hope not; I’m really interested in it. I think the same readers who liked The City of Ember will like this one, too.

Brazeale: If in a cruel twist of fate you couldn’t have been an author, what would you have been?

DuPrau: If I’d had the talent, I’d like to have been either an artist or a singer. When I was young, my ambition was to write books and illustrate them myself. Later I discovered that I wasn’t all that good at drawing, so I gave that part up. But I think it would be a wonderful career. As for singing–I’d love to have a big, glorious voice. But I just don’t.

Brazeale: Finally, what is the number one thing you would like to tell aspiring authors?

DuPrau: Read for the fun of it, write for the fun of it, and as you go along, learn all you can about how to write well.

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