Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Five Questions for Author Jamie Pacton

I’m thrilled to welcome Wisconsin author Jamie Pacton to the blog today to chat about her delightful new YA novel, Lucky Girl. Fortuna Jane (whose name I adore) has just won $58,000,000 and change in the Wisconsin Mega-Wins lottery. WOW! What could be more exciting! She could take all her friends to Disney World! No worries about college loans or car payments. Well, except for one small problem. She’s seventeen, and it wasn’t exactly legal for her to buy that ticket. Uh oh. 

JENNY CHOU: Welcome to the Boswellians Blog, Jamie, and congratulations on the publication of your second book! Fortuna Jane has a lot going on in Lucky Girl, besides that small matter of being too young to win the lottery by two weeks. 😣 Tell us about her many challenges.

JAMIE PACTON: Thank you so much for having me here-- and for making Lucky Girl a Boswell Staff Pick! Poor Fortuna Jane faces a *lot* of challenges in the book. I think the official copy says it best:

58,643,129. That’s how many dollars seventeen-year-old Fortuna Jane Belleweather just won in the lotto jackpot. It’s also about how many reasons she has for not coming forward to claim her prize.

Problem #1
: Jane is still a minor, and if anyone discovers she bought the ticket underage, she’ll either have to forfeit the ticket, or worse…

Problem #2: Let her hoarder mother cash it. The last thing Jane’s mom needs is millions of dollars to buy more junk. Then…

Problem #3: Jane’s best friend, aspiring journalist Brandon Kim, declares on the news that he’s going to find the lucky winner. It’s one thing to keep her secret from the town, it’s another thing entirely to lie to her best friend. Especially when…

Problem #4: Jane’s ex-boyfriend, Holden, is suddenly back in her life, and he has big ideas about what he’d do with the prize money.

As suspicion and jealousy turn neighbor against neighbor, and no good options for cashing the ticket come forward, Jane begins to wonder: Could this much money actually be a bad thing?

JC: I want to talk a lot about your characters since I want to be best friends with most of them, all the way from her actual best friend, Bran, to her grandma. Before anyone even knows Jane has won the lottery, one character after another wants something from her. Even super sweet Bran, whose determination to find the lottery winner unintentionally exasperates her.  It’s really no wonder she doesn’t want to tell a soul about her jackpot. You did such a great job of keeping all these characters likeable, or at least intriguing in the case of ex-boyfriend Holden. What’s the secret to writing characters we all want to meet for coffee and spend the afternoon catching up with after the book is finished? 

JP: This is a great question, and I’m so glad you liked these characters. I want to hang out with most of them too! (Especially Jane’s grandmother). I’m not sure there’s a secret to character creation; but, for me, creating characters is an unfolding process. As in real life, I can’t know a person deeply with one quick meeting; so too in writing does real knowledge take time. I try to be gentle with my characters as I’m figuring things out, and I also like to dig for small details that might reveal a lot about them. This is a list of some of the things I brainstorm when creating characters:

*Who are they? (Age, family, home life, etc.)
*Small details: What did they eat last? What did they do for their 5th birthday? What would they grab if their house was burning down? Are they a good dancer/ a bad singer/a pet person/someone who hates a certain type of music or movies? What’s on their bedside table?
*What is their biggest wound? What is their biggest misbelief about themselves?
*What are they afraid to do/afraid of? Why?
*Who is their favorite person in the world? Why?
*Who is another person they act completely different around? Why?
*What would they do if they won a million dollars?
*What do they look like? How does their appearance affect their character or how they move through the world? In what ways?

Some of these questions  get answered before I start writing, however, a lot is revealed as the book develops and I get to know the characters better and try to figure out why they’re making the choices they’re making. 

JC: Did you have Lucky Girl planned out from start to finish before you started writing? Did any of your characters suddenly do something of seemingly their own free will that took you by surprise? We’re there any characters whose roles unexpectedly expanded? 

JP: I sold Lucky Girl on proposal, which in this case meant a short pitch, a detailed synopsis, and then the first chapter. Because of that, I had to have this book much more tightly planned and structured than I might normally do before I started writing. (I do love planning books, but I’m also always open to discovery as a writer.) Even with this very detailed plan, however, the characters surprised me. Bran’s motivations for finding the winner changed a lot; Holden went from a sort-of not-great ex-boyfriend, to a cartoonish villain, to the absolute jerk (with a realistic backstory motivating him) that he ended up as in the final version of the book. Figuring out his motivations was quite a journey, and my amazing editor pushed me a lot to get him right. I also learned a lot about Jane’s wounds and misbeliefs as I wrote, which became the heart of the story (especially with things like her not feeling like she was enough for anyone in her life). 

JC: Lucky Girl is set right here in Wisconsin, which is, of course, a great choice! What makes Wisconsin and also a small town the perfect setting? 

Ahhh, I love Wisconsin-- I moved here in the 90’s from East Tennessee to go to Marquette; I met my husband at MU; and, although we moved around a lot in the years between, we keep coming back to this state. I’m always trying to share my love of WI love with others. In Lucky Girl, Jane and Bran take road trips to Madison and Milwaukee; and, in my debut, The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly, there’s also a road trip to Milwaukee. Although I’ve lived in both Madison and Milwaukee, currently, I live in a small town in rural Wisconsin (which is a lot like the small town I grew up in). On the surface, mine is just another slice-of-Americana town with a cute downtown, a little lake, a carnival in the summer + an ice festival in the winter, and dozens of other Rockwellian touches, but underneath that surface, it’s deeply and thoroughly weird. And I love that. In Lucky Girl, I wanted to charm readers with the setting, and then subvert that experience by making the town a bit menacing/odd. On a thematic level, this underscores my point that appearances can be deceiving and it also highlights the complex relationship we can have with a place we love (or a person we loved) which might not be right for us forever. 

I will also add that the fictional town’s Facebook group in Lucky Girl contains some conversations inspired by my own town’s riot of a FB group. (Where, truly, it’s at your own peril to mention the prospect of a municipal swimming pool, turtles crossing the road, or the smell from the chicken farms west of town). 

JC: So, at the end of the book does Jane figure out a way to cash in her lottery ticket and take home $58,000,000? Ha ha. Just kidding. Don’t answer that. The Boswellians do not believe in spoilers. Blog readers, if you’d like to find out if Fortuna Jane gets her jackpot, all you have to do is click this link and a copy of Lucky Girl can be yours! So instead of giving away the ending, let’s imagine you get to be an Indie bookseller for a day! What new or upcoming titles would you recommend? 

JP: Hooray! I’m a voracious reader, and I love recommending books. First, allow me to fling some of my friends’ books your way: 

*For YA I highly recommend Joan He’s sublime, breathtaking new YA SciFi, The Ones We’re Meant to Find. Beautifully written and full of twists, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. (Note from Jenny: I totally agree that this is one of the best books EVER.)

* I’d also recommend M.K. England (writing as Remi K. England)’s forthcoming YA contemporary, The One True Me and You, which is a queer, joyful, hilarious story of a beauty queen and a fanfic writer finding love in a whirlwind weekend.

* I also loved Sheena Boekweg’s forthcoming A Sisterhood of Secret Ambitions, which is a fiercely feminist, inclusive historical revisionist story that’s incredibly smart and engaging. 

On the adult side, I also just finished reading The People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry and I adored every part of it from the crackling banter to the gorgeous sensory writing to the truly loveable, very human characters. 

Please join Boswell Book Company on Zoom on Thursday, May 27th at 7 pm when we host Jamie Pacton in conversation with Elise Bryant, author of Happily Ever Afters. Click right here and register now!

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