Author Jennifer Longo has already seen YA success with her 2014 novel Six Feet Over It, which centered around a girl who was surrounded by the dead. Now, she’s back with a brand new novel that focuses on life — and the pursuit of it. Up to This Pointe, which was released in January, is a novel of daring adventure and of knowing that it’s okay when things don’t go according to plan. Up To This Pointe promises to take you on a journey just as moving and fulfilling as its heroine’s, and it’s already being hailed as “A moving love letter to dance, dreams, and San Francisco, and a look at how embracing personal passion leads to fulfillment (even if it wasn’t part of the plan)” (Kirkus Reviews).
Synopsis of Up to This Pointe from PenguinRandomHouse.com:
Harper Scott is a dancer. She and her best friend, Kate, have one goal: becoming professional ballerinas. And Harper won’t let anything — or anyone — get in the way of The Plan, not even the boy she and Kate are both drawn to.
Harper is a Scott. She’s related to Robert Falcon Scott, the explorer who died racing Amundsen and Shackleton to the South Pole. Amundsen won because he had a plan, and Harper has always followed his model. So when Harper’s life takes an unexpected turn, she finagles (read: lies) her way to the icy dark of McMurdo Station . . . in Antarctica. Extreme, but somehow fitting — apparently she has always been in the dark, dancing on ice this whole time. And no one warned her. Not her family, not her best friend, not even the boy who has somehow found a way into her heart. It will take a visit from Shackleton’s ghost — the explorer who didn’t make it to the South Pole, but who got all of his men out alive — to teach Harper that success isn’t always what’s important, sometimes it’s more important to learn how to fail successfully.
What inspired you to write Up To This Pointe?
Every story I write, in any form, always somehow begins with a place. This book began with my love of Antarctica. In 1998 I was in graduate school studying Playwriting, and I was doing research for a play when I came across the stories of the Age of Exploration — Of Roald Amnudsen and Robert Falcon Scott and especially Sir Ernest Shackleton and his photographer, Frank Hurley. I became obsessed with Antarctica as a place, for it’s terrible beauty and the unbelievable diversity of life it hosts, and as a monument and challenge to human resilience and endurance. Part of my MFA thesis was a full-length play about Shackleton and Antarctica. Years later my daughter was born, and Antarctica was foremost in my mind as a parenting guide — meaning, it focused me on how important it is for humans, as we navigate this world all our hopefully long lives — to learn to fail spectacularly. Because life is about as unforgiving as The Ice. A new story about human resilience and endurance took shape, and the unifying element of Antarctic exploration welcomed the mirrored endurance and struggles of the brutal but beautiful world of Ballet, and of the gorgeous phoenix of a city that is San Francisco.
How was the process of writing Up To This Pointe different than writing Six Feet Over It?
I love this question! They were totally opposite processes. Six Feet Over It began with events I had lived, and then finding unifying meaning behind those events. Up to This Pointe was all about creating fictional events to illustrate the ideas and meaning that I began with. Six Feet Over It was also a play first, then my first attempt at a novel. Figuring out how to use less dialogue, chapters instead of scenes and acts, contemporary novel structure vs. Aristotelian and Feminist play structure — that was all part of the difficulty of writing Six Feet Over It. I was a little better at that with Up to This Pointe, but my poor agent and editor still had to guide me toward needing things like… a plot.
Up To This Pointe centers around a girl who goes exploring in Antarctica. Have you ever traveled there? Would you say that you, like Harper, are an adventurer?
I have never been to Antarctica and desperately want to go! I applied for two NSF Artist grants to conduct research at Mc Murdo, but I was not approved. I continue to apply because I want to spend time there living, not just get on a cruise ship and stand for five minutes on the ice with tourists. Not that that wouldn’t be great too — it’s just not the experience I’m hoping for. I am definitely a person who loves to explore; my husband and daughter and I all are. We are intrigued most of all by the natural world, so when we travel, we make sure we hike and camp in the natural beauty unique to that part of the world. Travel is our number one priority and the thing we save all possible pennies for.
If you could travel to one place in the entire world, where would you go and why?
Antarctica! Because who wouldn’t?
What novels have inspired your writing?
Specifically germane to YA writing, I love and will forever be heavily influenced by novels I read when I was a young adult — A Summer to Die by Lois Lowery, The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson, Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, and everything Laura Ingalls Wilder ever wrote. (You can hear her especially in my way-too-long descriptions of weather and the various states of the sky. My poor editor…)
Do you have a process for writing? For example, sitting alone in a room with absolutely no noise, or at a bustling coffee shop?
I have four hours per day blocked for writing, and as long as I’ve got noise-cancelling headphones sending Enya into my brain (Don’t judge! I love that woman!), I can write anywhere. I love meeting with friends once a week to write together in Seattle, but mostly I’m at home in The Cave of my office or sometimes at the kitchen table — just to switch it up and make things fancy.
Do you have a favorite quote about writing?
Another question I love. Thank you! One of my very favorite playwrights is George Bernard Shaw, who was not only an unbelievable writer and storyteller who made the English language even more beautiful, but he was a great humanitarian and fellow vegetarian, and most of all, that man had an enviable, glorious work ethic. One of his plays, the four act Man and Superman (A philosophical comedy which posits, among other crazy ideas, that women are the central, integral figures in humanity’s move toward a Neitzsch-esque betterment)… but anyway, he dedicated the play to his fellow writer and NY Times theater critic Arthur Bingham Walkley. In the dedication, Shaw said this:
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
Isn’t that perfect? It’s true about writing, and about being a person in the world. A writer can really get bogged down with ego and whine about how hard it is, how impossibly difficult publishing is, and how unfair. And yes, clearly there are aspects about publishing (hello, diversity) that definitely need to change. And that will never happen if we are lazy and just don’t do the work. Laziness (i.e. not actually writing, not actively committing to bringing diversity to fruition in any way we each can) will not bring change. Or joy. True joy is the understanding that it is up to us to make our lives worthy of the rest of humanity and ourselves. I’ve had these words tacked to a wall in every house I’ve ever lived in for the past twenty years. What an amazing privilege and responsibility it is to write, and have people read what we write, and know our book maybe matters to someone the way a book we love matters to us? Combine that with the odds that any of us was ever born in the first place? That fortune should fuel a passionate work ethic and gratitude, and anything less than working to be a useful, benevolent force of nature to me is straight-up blasphemous.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to become an author someday?
Write. Don’t worry about publishing, or getting published, or what other people are doing, or writing what you think is on trend right now. Write what you are compelled to write. Don’t talk about it a whole bunch; don’t feel like you need to spend a bunch of money you don’t have on conferences or retreats. Just write. Get it done, and see what you think. Revise. Read what you love. Then write some more. That’s what I think. The rest, publishing, is it’s own separate thing and has nothing to do with the actual writing. Just write — that’s how you’ll get better. That’s how you’ll find your voice. Write. And don’t let your ego get in the way. No one owes any of us a book deal; we have to write books that earn them. And you will. Think of the books you cannot live without, and then write your story. Because maybe there is a person in the world who needs it.