Author Interview with Adira Rotstein

Author Interview with Adira Rotstein

Posted on December 10 by admin
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To kick off our teen fiction week, we have an author interview with Adira Rotstein, author of the Little Jane Silver series: Little Jane Silver and Little Jane and the Nameless Isle. Adira tells us about what she’s reading, her love of books, and her new project.

Caitlyn: Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

Adira: The most memorable response I ever had to my work was from my most important reader; my mom!  Mom read “Little Jane and the Nameless Isle” before anyone else did when it was still in a fairly embryonic stage.  She called me as soon as she finished it, late at night, out of the blue.  I didn’t even know she was reading it at the time, so her praise was really unexpected at the time.  It gave me a real shot in the arm to keep on working.  I was amazed that I could surprise her, even after all these years of her reading my writing.  She told me how proud she was of me for writing it and how it answered all the questions she had after reading the first book, which was good to know.  What touched me most was how she said it incorporated so many of the values she’d tried to teach me over the years and that she’d never knew I’d absorbed so fully.  It is strange to say, but writing this book really brought me and my mom even closer together.  I’d always hoped that she’d like the book, but I never expected such an intense reaction from her.  My mom is always brutally honest with me about what she thinks, so I knew her compliments were absolutely heartfelt, rather than her just trying to make me feel good about it.

Caitlyn: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Adira: The hardest part about writing is continuing to do it, even when you feel discouraged.  Sometimes the feelings of inertia can just take over when nobody seems to understand what you are trying to do or seems interested in your work.  I went through many years of rejection with this series of books and that was hard to take.   It’s easy for other people to tell you not to take it personally, but writing a book is about as personal a thing as you can do in this world.  All the characters in the book are like various aspects of myself and people I know and love, so rejection of course felt really personal.

Sometimes you catch yourself feeling silly, putting so much effort into a book like this.  It helps me to remember that even the greatest of artistic efforts can be made to look ridiculous at times.  I mean Michaelangelo must have said to himself at some point, “What are you doing, spending eleven years of your life painting a ceiling for people who are probably only going to glance at it for a second and then go right on praying?”  In researching this book I read transcripts of some of the letters of Admiral Nelson to find out more about seagoing life at the time.  I was surprised to find that even someone like that had moments of self-doubt, of feeling utterly ridiculous.  I think sometimes, we like to think that this sort of thing is a modern problem, and people in the past didn’t really reflect that much on these sorts of things, but I think it is an ancient human phenomenon.  Whether an action is ridiculously foolhardy or brilliantly brave isn’t always apparent to the actors at the time.  Chance always plays a role, even in the most well prepared campaign.  It’s part of human existence, but it can be very scary at times.

Caitlyn: Who did you read as a young adult?

Adira: As a child I read everything.  I read way more than I read now, because back then I had no distractions, other than school and let’s face it, that was really just a reading challenge of how long could I get away with hiding a book under my desk and reading it during math class before the teacher caught me.  I still read more than most people I know, but I also spend a lot more time on the internet now which didn’t exist when I was a child.  , It still involves reading, just not with the same narrative intensity and complexity.  I love listening to audiobooks when I’m in the car or drawing, which is another love of mine.  Few people realize it, but the original manuscript of Little Jane, which I self-published a long time ago in England to just 10 copies, was fully illustrated in colour by me.

When I say I read everything as a child I really mean it.  Anything with writing that came into the family home was read by me at a very young age.  This wasn’t always a good thing.  I used to read my mom’s parenting books so when she used strategies on us from the books I’d call her on it.  Also, I don’t think reading the newspaper at a very early age, before one has accumulated much direct knowledge about the world at large is always a good thing. When I was seven years old I had no idea that the odds of falling down a well, being kidnapped, shot or trapped beneath a fallen bridge after an earthquake are actually quite low. I was sure because they were reporting it in the paper, that meant it was happening all over the place.   To this day I think that the news media is rather irresponsible.  I feel the news cares more about terrifying people than informing them.

Caitlyn: What are you reading right now?

Adira: Right now I am re-reading “The Painter Knight” by Fiona Patton.  I rarely re-read books, because my memory for narrative is so good, I remember almost every story I’ve ever read, (though nobody’s phone number!)  I recently met Patton at the World Fantasy Conference and she signed my book for me. I’ve read a lot of fantasy, but most of it focuses on bards or warriors or sorcerers.  There aren’t a lot of books on how a visual artist functions in a fantasy world.  As someone who loves art, I think this is one of the things that makes this book unique.  Patton told me that her father was an artist and so the character of Simon, the artist in the book, is somewhat based on him.  I think the specificity of the descriptions of his craft really make it come alive for me.   The other thing I’ve always admired about this book is how she makes complex characters come alive.  They are all written in shades of gray with no one purely heroic or purely evil.  Everyone has complex motivations for what they do.   Also, she is very skilled at writing children.  One of the main characters in the book is a four year old princess.  Being able to write with a child’s voice is a serious skill that not all writers, even very accomplished ones can manage.  Some writers give children motivations that seem too adult or they go the other way and make the children so naïve that they seem stupid.  It is hard to write a smart child, who despite her smarts is still a child.  I work with children on a daily basis so I am a real stickler for this kind of thing.

Caitlyn: What is your new project?

Adira: I am switching gears and writing a science fiction novel.  I was looking for a challenge to interest me, so I decided to write a book where part of it is written from the point of view of a juvenile squid-like alien who can only communicate through the use of colour.   I wanted to see if I could make a reader sympathize with someone so unlike themself.  I really enjoyed researching cephalopods for this project.  They are truly like aliens living right here on Earth!  They are so completely different from us in the ways they eat, mate and communicate and the environment they live in, yet they are unquestionably quite intelligent.  The problem is because they are so different from us, we really have no way of measuring how intelligent they are.  One species of squid has the largest eyes of any creature to have ever existed on Earth ever!  This leads me to thinking that vision and colour-based communication is the primary way they interact with each other. We mainly interact through speech with some visual cues from facial expression and body language.  A purely visual method of communication might be hard for us to interpret.  Some of them also have ways of communicating through electrical currents because water is such a good conductor of electricity.  This is a physical sense human beings do not have. I was interested in exploring what a society created by such creatures might look like and how we humans might react to such a society.    I think a lot of problems between people are a result of miscommunication rather than evil intent.  Dealing with an alien society whose method of communication is so foreign to us seems rife with the potential for misunderstanding and misunderstandings of course, make for good drama.

Adira Rotstein has studied literature, writing, and film at the University of Toronto and the University of Southern California. Her creative output includes novels, screenplays, films, paintings, comic books, and illustrations. Little Jane and the Nameless Isle is the sequel to Little Jane Silver. Adira lives in Toronto.