On Connections by E.B. Vickers and Jenn Bishop

The Nerdy Book Club is a community built on connections—between educators, authors, and especially readers. I was lucky enough to form a Nerdy connection with middle grade author extraordinaire Jenn Bishop, whose latest book, Where We Used to Roam, is gorgeous and heartfelt and beautifully written. When I realized all the connections between Jenn’s book and my upcoming YA debut, Fadeaway, and then made the connection that they were being released ON THE SAME DAY, I knew we had to make the most of it. So here we are, in conversation—but hoping to connect with YOU, dear reader. And off we go. 

Jenn, will you share with us where the idea for Where We Used to Roam first came from?

Jenn Bishop (JB): For all of my books, there’s always some element of personal connection to the feelings, if not the exact situation of my characters, though I don’t always notice it until later. Maybe even after publication! With Where We Used to Roam, I knew I wanted to write about a girl who spent a summer in Wyoming, but per usual, I was finding my way into the story in the dark with a flashlight. Really, just feeling around. Somewhere in the early drafting, I realized that Emma’s big brother Austin was struggling with an addiction to opioid painkillers. Years ago, I worked for a while on a YA manuscript that touched on the opioid epidemic, which featured a character named Austin. Though I eventually abandoned the project, all of that research was still with me, and found its way into this new version of Austin. Finally, I find that every book is a chance to fold in one of my favorite things, and in Roam, it’s surely my love of bison, which I’ve gifted to Emma.

Elaine, what was your inspiration for Fadeaway? As a fellow writer, I so admire the way you’ve structured this book from so many different points of view. Could you talk about that, and if that format was there from the start?

E.B. Vickers (EBV): It is absolutely fascinating to me how many parallels and connections there are between these two books! It sounds like aspects of your MG were a YA in an earlier life; on the flip side of that coin, Fadeaway is a YA that began as a MG. This story came to me as a character first: an 11-year-old boy who was missing his brother. Where was he? What happened to him? He didn’t know, and neither did I. Over the next few months, we figured it out together–and met the rest of the characters along the way. I wasn’t sure when I started whether you could have an 85-year-old POV character in YA, but he’s one of the characters who seems to resonate most with early readers!

Of course, another parallel between the two books is the theme of addiction and the opioid crisis. I find that I struggle sometimes with the balance between addressing tough topics in realistic ways–but also leaving plenty of room for grace and love and hope. I thought that was something you did beautifully in Where We Used to Roam. Is that something you’re conscious of as you write? And for this book in particular, I LOVE the ending (I always love your endings) and find that I’m curious whether you always knew how the book would end, or whether that changed along the way?

JB: Writing feels more subsconscious than conscious to me, if that makes sense. And there’s always so much revision–around the ninth draft of Where We Used to Roam, I threw out 75% of the book and started all over–that it’s hard to remember what came in where. What I always try to do is stay as true to life as I can and to hew closely to a twelve-year-old’s perspective. Not to suggest that teens and grownups don’t have the capacity for grace and hope, but the way a twelve-year-old’s heart can just swell with both. As for the ending, it too evolved a lot. In several early drafts, Emma wasn’t even an artist! 

I find it fascinating to hear that Fadeaway began as a middle grade novel told from the POV of Jake’s little brother. His were some of my favorite sections to read–partly because they’re told in verse and I have such a soft spot for verse novels and sibling stories. How did you decide to ultimately write it as a YA novel?

EBV: Thank you! Luke’s sections were some of my favorites to write, and I’m also a huge fan of novels in verse. In terms of the transition from MG to YA, it happened pretty early, to be honest. It became clear within those very first few poems that the story wasn’t just Luke’s, but Jake’s as well–and Daphne’s, and Kolt’s, and Seth’s . . . 

That, ultimately, is one of the things about this book that’s so important to me. I wouldn’t be the right person to write a book about what it means to struggle with or overcome opioid addiction, as I’ve been lucky enough not to have faced that challenge in my own life. But I think this is a crisis that affects all of us and a battle we’re all in together. So I wanted to explore things from as many perspectives as possible: family, teammates, coaches, friends. All the people in our lives who can let us down–or lift us up. Again, it’s that power of community and connection, I think.

JB: That’s so true, Elaine, and a huge part of why I wrote Where We Used to Roam from Emma’s point of view. Another thing I appreciated about Fadeaway is how well you captured the complexities of Jake’s family life. I always try to capture in my books how very much kids today are dealing with. For Jake, it’s not just his battle with substance abuse, but complicated family matters and the pressure of playing sports at a high level, anticipating a college career. I’m so excited for Fadeaway‘s publication because so many kids will see aspects of themselves in Jake and his extended community.

Like you, I debuted as a middle grade author in 2016 and I have been so grateful to have found a wider community in the Nerdy Book Club: readers who understand the wide range of books that kids need access to, and who help forge these all too important connections between students and the books that provide mirrors and windows.

Though the pandemic has made it harder to get together in person, it has really strengthened our online communities. I think I speak for both of us when I say that I feel constantly inspired by the work that the Nerdy Book Club community has done for students in this trying year-plus.

Elaine and I will be in conversation virtually with King’s English Bookstore on April 1, at 8 pm EDT, and we’d love to talk with you. Register here to join us.

Elaine/E.B. Vickers grew up in a small town in the Utah desert, where she spent her time reading, playing basketball, and exploring. Several years and one PhD later, she found her way back to her hometown, where she now spends her time writing, teaching college chemistry, and exploring with her husband and three kids. She is the author of middle grade novels Like Magic and Paper Chains and the forthcoming picture books Thankful and How to Make a MemoryFadeaway is her first novel for young adults.

Jenn Bishop is the author of the middle-grade novels Things You Can’t Say, 14 Hollow Road, and The Distance to Home. She grew up in Massachusetts and as a college student spent one incredible summer in Wyoming. She has been obsessed with bison ever since. After working as a children’s librarian, she received her MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Jenn currently calls Cincinnati, Ohio, home. Visit her online at jennbishop.com.