A Q&A with Mary Jennifer Payne

A Q&A with Mary Jennifer Payne

Posted on December 22 by Mary Jennifer Payne
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Pinterest

How did you get the idea for the Daughters of Light series?

The idea for the character of Jasmine originated from a student in my homeroom class who was being bullied so badly outside of class, she’d hide in her closet so that her mother would think she’d gone to school. This student’s mother had lupus, so the student didn’t want to worry her mum by telling anyone about the bullying.

I begin my stories by first developing the protagonist and then forming the plot around that character. I’ve always been interested in twins, and the science behind one twin in a shared placenta often receiving more of the nutrients. During one of my many stays in Havana, I became interested in  the Santeria beliefs around the power of twins, and that part of the story involving the Seers began to evolve.

I wrote the original draft of Finding Jade over five years ago, but my agent at the time felt it was too “Harry Potter-ish”, and so it sat in a drawer for a while.

It’s quite disconcerting to witness many of the fictional aspects of the story coming to fruition in the last couple of years. The Arab Spring uprisings were just beginning when I started writing the series, and, as such, the tragedy of the Syrian war and the subsequent refugee crisis were not even on the horizon. I based many of the climate change refugee issues (which — spoiler alert — intensify in the series’ later books) on what was happening in Darfur and the rise of demagogue leaders and the history of internments and genocide in Canada, Germany, Rwanda, etc.

Chris Cleaves’ amazing novel, Little Bee, also influenced my thinking about these issues. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s been profoundly disturbing to write the rest of the series during the dramatic political shift that’s occurred in the United States, particularly in light of the president-elect’s ideas about climate change, and the registration and restricted immigration of certain groups of people, and the rights of girls and women. 


Why did you set the series in 2030?

Initially, the series was set later, around 2050. However, it became apparent — as I went through the final revisions of the novel —  that climate change and its effects on our Earth are intensifying, and that precipitated the need for the series to be set closer to our contemporary times.


What would you like teen readers to take away from the series?

I’d love for young women reading the series to feel empowered. It is also my hope that the book might get teen and adult readers thinking more deeply about climate change and water protection, human rights violations, and the way “othering” and nationalism hurts the whole of humanity.


What are you reading right now?

Great question! It is so hard for me to get any reading in, and I miss it terribly. Between writing and teaching full-time, my reading is confined to the half hour I am on an elliptical machine at night. Currently, I am reading my good friend, Caia Hagel’s non-fiction book, Girl Positive, which I believe is an uber-important read at the moment. I’m putting the final touches on Solomon’s Ring, the second book in the Daughters of Light series, and hope to take a bit of a break afterward and will delve into Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, and Malorie Blackman’s Chasing the Stars. I sometimes wish I had a subway commute to work, so I could bring a book!