This month, we welcome young adult fiction author Jenny Elder Moke to our interview series. Her debut novel, HOOD, about the daughter of Robin Hood and Maid Marien, was released from Disney/Hyperion in the spring of 2020. She is represented by Elizabeth Bewley of Sterling Lord Literistic.
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I grew up right here in Austin, TX! Born and raised, which I didn’t realize was a *thing* until I went to college at UT Austin and everybody would make those little “Toy Story” alien guys noises whenever I said where I was from. You know the little guys who always go “ooooooo.” Anyway, it’s fitting that I’m answering this in such a fraught election cycle because the rest of my family is from small towns in Texas, so I got this big city upbringing but also spent holidays and summers in small Texas towns. So, I learned to be more open-minded, but I also learned you can’t take that kind of open-mindedness for granted.
Did you always want to be an author, or did that come later?
I think the answer is more that I never really knew I could be an author. I had lots of career aspirations as a kid—a doctor, a musician, a music journalist—but I always loved stories, and I was writing little stories for myself when I was young. I guess the idea to me at that age was that being an author was too incredible, too sacred for us mere mortals. Because books were that magical to me, I imagined that ordinary people or ordinary kids couldn’t possibly be the ones coming up with them. It wasn’t until after I graduated college that I … oh gosh, forgive the pun, I gave it the old college try.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
Lots of clutter, coffee, and naked butts—hahaha. I get my writing work done in the early morning these days, and then I’m corralling my two “wildren” children for the rest of the day (hence the butts). I DEEPLY miss writing in coffee shops, but it is nice to have my whiteboards always on standby.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
Well, with two little kids with very short attention spans, I always have to get to the point quick with them to keep them engaged in what I’m saying. And I think that comes through in my writing, that I try to move the plot along as quickly as possible with lots of twists and turns so the reader can’t help but keep reading on.
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
Oh man, the last two years of my career have made me so SO proud. Publishing a book and selling two more! And my first book, HOOD, got some incredible reviews and acknowledgements. A starred review from School Library Journal, a Junior Library Guild selection, part of the Mayor’s Book Club. And there’s even more great stuff I can’t talk about yet on my new series (but hopefully soon!). After working for 8+ years on my craft, finally seeing it out in the world and flourishing still feels so surreal.
What surprises you about the creative life?
Really? How mundane it is! There are some really fun, crazy aspects to it – like holding your book, or seeing your cover, or doing interviews like this! – but mostly it’s just the work. It’s planning, outlining, writing, revising. It’s all butt in the chair stuff. Which is kind of comforting, but also way less glamorous than most people would think.
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
I hope they find a fun escape that takes them out of the ordinary and sends them on an adventure. That’s what books were for me as a kid, and that’s what I hope to hand to the kids who read my work.
What is your favorite childhood memory which captures that “shining infinity of youth?”
Okay, this is very personally revealing and I’m going to almost regret sharing it, but I used to talk to the stars when I was a kid. Like, all the time. I’d go lay out at the end of my driveway and talk to the stars. I was very VERY into Sailor Moon as a kid, and I imagined that there was so much going on up there and I just desperately wanted to be a part of it. And when I talk about the shining infinity of youth, that’s what I mean. That edge of EVERYTHING, the hope that the rest of your life is just around the corner. It’s so fresh and clear and yearning, and I spent most of my childhood in that space.
What is one of your favorite Indiana Jones scenes or quotes?
Ohhh, good one! So the obvious ones are the big treasure hunt scenes – the ball rolling through the temple, etc. But really, after rewatching them recently, I think my favorite scene is when Indy first finds Marion in the bar in Nepal, because it’s the perfect adventure movie sequence. This young woman who’s rough and tough and absolutely his match, the tension of the romantic history between them, the introduction of the mysterious amulet, and then the big action of the bad guys swooping in and setting the place on fire. Such a perfect progression of events, and Marion is the only female I will accept in Indy’s orbit.
What is your favorite rare book?
Oh WOW. Well first of all, I did do a lot of research on rare books and book conservation for my new series, which kicks off with CURSE OF THE SPECTER QUEEN on June 8, 2021. And what I found is that “rare” is in the eye of the beholder. A lot of it comes down to age, and availability of the text, and how many first editions were printed, and if it’s signed or not, etc. But in order for a book to be worth all the effort to repair it and sell it, somebody has to want it. So for me, the “rare” book I hold most dear is a copy of ARABIAN NIGHTS I have from when I was a kid. It’s not rare by world standards, but it was a book I wouldn’t have had access to any other way as a kid and it consumed me so much that I took it from the library, hid it under my bed, told my mom it was lost and made her pay for a replacement copy. I don’t recommend this to any younger readers! Sorry librarians!!