Author Spotlight: Jennifer Adam
Sept. 10, 2021
We are excited to feature Jennifer Adam and her debut middle grade novel, THE LAST WINDWITCH (Harper Collins, 2021). Enter to win a copy!
|cover art by Cathleen McAllister, lettering by Gemma Roman, |
design by Alice Wang and Alison Donalty
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Well, first I want to start by thanking you for the opportunity to chat about my book – it's an honor to be interviewed and I really appreciate it!
I am a voracious reader, a history geek, a classical music fan, a fountain pen collector, a horsewoman, a crazy cat lady, a nature lover, a farmer's wife, and a mother of two. I didn't actually set out intending to write for children – in fact, I first queried an adult novel about an injured ballet dancer. Honestly, I began The Last Windwitch simply because I needed solace and distraction during a tough time in my life and Brida's adventures just filled my imagination. But I'd already sold a children's story inspired by one of my horses to CRICKET Magazine (called "Carrots for Ranger") so I suppose it was only natural that I would gravitate to children's literature. Also, I started reading aloud to my daughter and son when they were infants and even though they are now in college we still love sharing books out loud on long car trips.
Some of my favorite family memories involve stories we've read together, so it brings me great joy to think about writing books that other families might love and share. And I've already heard from some kid readers that they stayed up past bedtime to find out where Brida's journey was taking her, which is the best praise I could receive. I was definitely the kid hiding under a blanket with a flashlight to read late at night, so knowing my book has inspired the same curiosity and eagerness in young readers makes me so proud. Children have such vibrant, hungry imaginations – it's a privilege to be able to open the gates of a world I created and welcome them in through the page.
Congrats on your debut middle grade novel, The Last Windwitch! Tell us about the story & what inspired you.
Thank you so much! The Last Windwitch is about a young girl called Brida who is an apprentice hedgewitch, only her magic never seems to cooperate the way she wants it to. One day she gets caught in a terrible storm and sees a herd of mythical stormhorses running from pursuit. In her efforts to help them, she draws the attention of a wicked queen and is captured by the queen's Huntsman with his pack of not-quite-Hounds. Desperate to escape, Brida finds unexpected friends, faces Crow spies, and discovers that the secrets of her past hold the clues to her true power.
There were a lot of things that inspired me along the way: remnants of old myths, scraps of folklore, bits of half-forgotten fairytales. But mostly this story was inspired by my life on a working farm and my experiences with wild mustangs. One of the themes running through the book is our connection to the natural world, our dependence on the predictable turning of seasons, and the consequences of corrupt power on our climate. As a farmer's wife, my daily life is intimately connected to the land and the weather and I thought a lot about that while writing. My husband and I are deeply aware of our responsibility to nurture and protect our land, to leave a legacy for future generations. And we know how fragile the balance can be, how destructive the abuse of power is.
I was also directly inspired by my horses. Over the last fifteen years or so I have adopted five wild mustangs from the western rangelands. These horses were completely untamed when I met them and the process of gaining their trust and gentling them was incredibly rewarding. All horses are instinctive, reactive, and intuitive – but wild mustangs are on a different level. I learned so much about observing my surroundings and noticing subtle changes in the landscape from watching them. There is a magic in them, especially in that moment they first trust you enough to let you touch them, put a halter on them, and place a saddle on their back.
My current mustang is so sensitive and so in tune with me that she can literally read my thoughts from the saddle – if I think, "Let's speed up," she does; and if I think, "Easy now, slow down," she backs off. Of course, if I get nervous and tense up, she will too and that's sometimes an issue! But I created the stormhorses in this book after spending so many years with wild horses – they are powerful and beautiful and connected to nature, but they can also be destructive and dangerous if you don't know how to handle them. And those who have read the book may be amused to know that Burdock, Brida's mischievous pony, is based on one of my mustangs while Velvet, Mother Magdi's sophisticated and elegant mare, is based on my trainer's wonderful horse.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
This is a difficult question to answer because the truth is I spent a lot of time wandering around before I even found the road. I always knew I wanted to be some kind of writer, but it took me a while before I settled down and focused on writing a novel.
While my kids were young, I spent a lot of time writing short stories, poems, and essays because I felt like those were all I could concentrate on. I was busy with motherhood and my horses and helping on the farm, so writing was more of a hobby than a serious pursuit.
Once my kids were older and I decided I was ready to write books, I feel like the road straightened out a bit. My first book – the adult one mentioned above – was a scenic detour, but the journey with The Last Windwitch was faster than I expected. I signed with my dream agent just a couple of weeks after querying, and the book sold at auction just a few weeks after we went on sub so I've been incredibly lucky. I'm sure there will be some bumps and detours and wrong turns ahead, though. That just seems like part of the process!
What projects are you working on?
I am currently wrapping up copy edits on a second stand-alone fantasy called Lark and the Wild Hunt which will come out sometime in summer 2022. It also involves slightly magical horses and a brave young girl who must save the ones she loves, but it includes Fae folklore and lots of nasty tricks. I can't wait to share it!
I'm also working on a couple of concepts I can't say too much about, but one is a winter fantasy and the other involves the Pony Express and a spooky mystery. And I'm dabbling in some ideas for an older audience, too.
What are some favorite classic MGs? newer ones?
Oooh, I have SO many favorites! This is by no means an exhaustive list, but some that come to mind are Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series; Lloyd Alexander's The Prydain Chronicles; all the horse books by Marguerite Henry. And I love Sarah Prineas's The Magic Thief series as well as Kelly Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon.
Other recent favorites that might appeal to fans of The Last Windwitch include Cinders and Sparrows by Stefan Bachmann; Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe; The Gilded Girl by Alyssa Colman; The Forest of Stars by Heather Kassner; and Kingdom of Secrets by Christyne Morrell. I could go on for pages and pages – there are so many great MG books out there!
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
I would tell younger me (and aspiring writers, too!) not to be too afraid to try! I wasted a lot of time because I was afraid of failure. I knew that the odds of getting a book traditionally published were against me and for a very long time I let that keep me from even making an attempt. But I finally decided I wanted to write a book and see what might happen – and here we are!
Be willing to learn as you go. Stretch yourself. Dream big, reach high, and hang on.
And if you are an aspiring writer, learn by reading. Read as much as you can. Great books will teach you how to write if you pay attention. Also, know that every path to publication is different. Don't compare yours to someone else's – enjoy your own journey.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Hmmm. Well, I have a secret superpower! Here's the thing: I have a TERRIBLE sense of direction. Like, I can get lost on my own farm if I'm not paying attention. Maps just don't make sense in my head and I can't remember the way to a place no matter how many times I've been there unless I put the directions into words and memorize them. And yet my secret superpower is that I can end up right where I need to be somehow, even if it's a place I've never been to before and even when I have no conscious idea where I am. I can't tell you how many times I've been TOTALLY lost – like, panicking and near tears lost – only to take a random turn and find I'm at my destination by pure chance. It's a family joke now because it happens so often and I never know how.
Where can people find you online?
I don't spend a lot of time on social media because our rural internet connection is sometimes unreliable, but I do have a twitter account – @JenFSAdam – and an Instagram account - @jenniferfadam. And my website is at jenniferfrancesadam.com. (I know they're all different handles, but there are a legion of us Jennifers!)
When she's not hiking through the woods on her husband's family farm, floating in the lake, or riding a formerly wild mustang, Jennifer Adam can be found surrounded by books, fountain pens, and purring cats. She is passionate about nature, history, folklore, myth, classical music and ballet. She believes in chasing fireflies, dancing in moonlight, celebrating rain, and making wishes. THE LAST WINDWITCH is her first book.
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