Friday, August 5, 2011

Interview with Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best author Maria Padian

Hey gang! Not that long ago, author Maria Padian got in touch with me. She'd read my review of her fantastic novel, Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best, and wondered if I'd like to do an interview and giveaway. OF COURSE I said yes! So, enjoy! Contest details are below.

Jersey Tomatoes are the Best is a strong story not only about friendship, family, tennis, and ballet, but also eating disorders. Can you tell us a little more about your inspiration for this novel?
I wanted to write a story about teens under pressure; specifically, a super-talented, gifted teen, and the pressures and expectations which result from having an extraordinary talent.  I live in a town which is home to an international summer music festival, where "prodigies" from around the world come to study with some of the best teachers around.  I remember seeing this 12-year old girl flawlessly perform a Beethoven concerto, and I thought, "Wow. What must her life be like? What must it be like being her parent?" 

I play tennis, so I thought it would be fun to write about a girl with a gift for tennis.  As the story progressed, her best friend, a gifted dancer, began.

Your author bio indicates that you play tennis and are a fan of ballet, but was there any additional research you had to do for this novel?
Oh, yeah, lots.  For the tennis, it was easy and fun to write the descriptive scenes because I play and continue to compete. But I also toured the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Florida, and spoke to a representative there about how they train young players.  Evert takes a pretty wholistic, healthy approach to educating and training youth, unlike the fictional "Chadwick Academy" in my book!

The ballet was hard, because I not only don't dance:  I can barely touch my toes!  I relied heavily on interviews with young dancers, how-to videos, books, and biographies of my favorite dancers. For the descriptive scenes, I would "dissect" a section of a dance, say, from "Swan Lake," and work with a dancer to help me accurately describe what the steps were called and what the body was actually doing. 

Re. the anorexia sections:  I've never had an eating disorder, but I've known many people throughout my life who have, including some family members!  As a result of my conversations and contact with them, plus a great deal of reading, plus visiting a few hospitals and treatment facilities, I was able to write knowledgeably about this illness.

Setting is very important in this novel. The girls live in New Jersey but are separated for the summer when Henry heads to tennis camp in Florida and Eva goes to New York for ballet. Why did you choose these particular states for this story?
I live in Maine now, but I'm originally a Jersey Girl, and the title is from a tee shirt I owned when I was a teen.  Florida worked perfectly not only because it's an accurate location for a tennis academy but I've spend some time there and also really wanted to have some fun writing about Miami.  The character of Yolanda is completely fictional, but Calle Ocho is a real place and ... if you want ... I can tell you the restaurant where you can find that roast pork I describe in the book!
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
For the most part, I've always wanted to be a writer.  When I was in high school I had a brief love affair with Biology and considered becoming a doctor, but I faint at the sight of blood so I abandoned that notion.

Can you share a typical writing day? Are there any must-dos while writing--silence, music, coffee, chocolate?
Hmm.  A typical day begins with a brisk dog walk.  I have an insistent, energetic Australian Shepherd, and if she doesn't get out she'll pester you to death.  As it is, most of the day, while I'm writing, she's watching me, waiting for me to get up and play with her.
While I walk, I usually think about what's facing me on the page that day.  I do a little pre-writing, sort of imagine what's going on with my characters at that point, so when I return home I'm ready to dig right in.  Here's what I have to avoid: 
email.  Facebook.  Twitter.  If I dive into any of that stuff first, I can lose a lot of time and momentum.  It's important to get right to work.
I'll usually write until noon, break for lunch, and if I've still got some energy ... or I'm on deadline and have to push myself, I'll work until about 2:30 or so.  Some days I'll take a break for exercise, like tennis, but then I'll have to get back to work later in the day.
Coffee in the morning and one small taste of chocolate in the afternoon are a must.

Would you share your road to publication, and why you choose to write for young adults?
It was a complete surprise.  I'd abandoned fiction for years, and had been writing essays, a.k.a. creative nonfiction.  Then, one day, I simply heard her:  this 14-year old kid, in my head, telling me her story.  She was funny, she was a real smart-aleck, and even though she constantly messed up she had a good heart.  That's how my first novel, "Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress," began.  With that 14-year old voice. 
My road to publication was pretty straightforward.  I began writing "Brett" and fifty pages into it gave it to an editor friend and a writer friend for a "reality check."  They had some criticism, but were encouraging, so I finished the book.  Another writer friend suggested I send it to her agent, who signed me on.  She suggested some revisions, and when I had a good draft ready she sent it out to a few publishers.  Within three weeks Knopf bought it.

Does anyone get to read your work in between draft and final project? If so, who?
I don't have many readers, but the few I do have are gems and they deliver the "tough love."  First:  my daughter.  She keeps me in line in terms of all things contemporary with teens, plus she's got GREAT instincts about books.  Second, my agent.  She's tough, and doesn't pull any punches.  My husband takes a look, although usually after a few revisions because he's so tough I can't let him see the crummy, early drafts!  Finally, my editor at Knopf, who is very wise, insightful, and gentle.  She doesn't ever tell me how to fix things, but points out all the places where she's got "questions."

I've also relied on friends who are published, experienced writers, but frankly they are very nice people and reluctant to be overly critical. Here's the bottom line: if you want real feedback, you've got to hunt for someone who wants you to succeed and is willing to tell you the truth.  My daughter has a saying: "Friends don't let friends write badly."  Amen.

What are some of your favorite books?
The list is too long to be complete!  I'll say that I think E.B.White's "Charlotte's Web" is my favorite children's book, ever.  I think it is a perfect novel.  Lately I've been reading an Irish author, Sebastian Barry.  I think his novels are lyrical and haunting, and I keep coming across sentences that are so amazing that I read them out loud, underline them, and fold down the corner of the page.

What are you reading now, or just finished?
I'm trying to read Maine authors this summer!  I just finished Paul Doiron's "Trespasser."  Next on my list is "Show Me Good Land" by Shonna Humphries, and "Father of the Rain" by Lily King.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on now?
I just finished a manuscript for a third young adult novel.  It's set in Lewiston, Maine, and it's about the friendship that develops between two boys who play on the same soccer team.  One is a white boy of French-Canadian descent, and the other is a  Somali-Muslim boy who is a recent refugee to the United States.

The NJ question! What is your favorite New Jersey place or memory?  Long Beach Island, and summers spent on the Jersey Shore!!  Oh, my goodness ... nothing like it when you're a teenage girl, strolling the beach with your friends, meeting guys, riding waves.  I got way too tan, fell in love for the first time ... sigh.  Best.  Summers.  Ever.

Thank you for the interview, Maria! And now on to the giveaway! Maria has graciously offered to send one reader a signed copy of Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best. All you have to do is share a *meaningful* comment below, along with your email address so I can contact the winner! Contest ends on August 19th.

Enjoy your reading!


  1. Well, speaking as someone who lives on the Jersey Shore...I can agree that Jersey does have the best tomatoes. Sounds like a fun book..though I must say that the novel she's working on now sounds fascinating as well!

  2. This book sounds so good. It kind of reminds me of my best friend and I, the dancer and the athlete (cross country, instead of tennis). But I am pretty sure we have a picture just like the one on the cover. Good times!

    Thanks for the giveaway.

    candicerjames [at] gmail [dot] com
    GFC: candice

  3. I think all girls should have a best friend that is so similar to themselves. I think it is great that you allow your family to see the rough of your books. So many writers don't. I do have a question though. Do you prefer to call yourself a writer or author or both?

    hootowl1978 at gmail dot com

  4. How gracious of Maria to offer a signed giveaway of her book! I noticed my indie book store had this book next to Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and said, "If you like this, try this." I wondered why since Wintergirls was such a grave, serious novel and this one looked rather lighthearted based on the cover. It makes sense now that I know it deals with anorexia.

    beths0103 at yahoo dot com


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