Saturday, November 20, 2010

Author Sunday: Q and A with Jillian Cantor, author of Transformation of Things

What is the premise of THE TRANSFORMATION OF THINGS?

The Transformation of Things is the story of a woman named Jen, who is the wife of a prominent judge and who lives in an affluent suburbs where she appears to have everything she’d ever want: nice house, country club friends, handsome husband. But when her husband gets indicted and is forced to resign from the bench, Jen begins to dream things about her friends and family, things that allow her to see beyond the surface of their lives. And she soon realizes that nothing about their lives (or hers) is what it appears.

You've also written two young adult novels. Why did you decide to write an adult novel and what are some of the differences between writing for adults and young adults?

Actually, I never really decided to write a young adult novel! When I wrote my first novel, The September Sisters, I thought I was writing a novel for adults with a teenage narrator. However, when it didn’t sell to adult editors, my agent suggested a revision to make it young adult and then it sold that way (in an auction!). That book sold in a two-book deal, so I had to write a young adult book the second time around. Though I found I loved reveling in my teenage angst, I also wanted to get back to writing adult books again and so I began working on The Transformation of Things.

I honestly don’t think there are many differences for me in terms of writing for adults and young adults, other than the ages of the narrators. Of course, along with this comes different age-appropriate problems and conflicts, but when I write I’m always imagining myself in the shoes of my character, whether she is 13 or 33.

You have an MFA in writing. Do you thing writers need one and what's the most important thing you gained from the program?

No, I don’t think writers need an MFA. And to be honest I don’t think it necessarily helped me get published or succeed at a writing career (I’ve never published anything I wrote while in the MFA programs – lots of short stories, a novel, and a screenplay, which all currently reside in a drawer!). But what I did gain was the ability to revise and take criticism. There’s nothing quite like a fiction workshop, where 10 other writers spend an hour ripping your story to shreds! This has been an invaluable tool for me years later in being able to take and use constructive criticism from editors to revise my work.

You almost gave up writing all together. Tell us about that struggle.

Well, I think every writer gets to a place where they let rejection get them down at one point or another. I sent my first novel (the one I wrote in graduate school) out to about 100 agents and never got representation, which was probably for the best in hindsight since now I can see that the novel wasn’t really working. I wrote another book (what would eventually be The September Sisters), sent out to agents again, got rejected a bunch more times – though, several rejections were very close misses. Then I had a baby, and I just didn’t have it in me to go through more rejection. I put the book in drawer, figured I’d move on with my life, got my real estate license. But when my son was about a year and a half old, I suddenly had the drive to take the book out again, do one more revision and give things one more shot. I think it was because I realized that one day my son would ask me what I did for a living, and I wanted to be able to tell him I was a writer (or at least that I’d given it my absolute best shot.) About six weeks later, I had an agent!

Who are some of your influences and what books are on your nightstand or ereader?

In graduate school I loved the stories of Lorrie Moore and Ann Beattie. These days I mostly read novels. Anna Quindlen is one of my favorites – I just finished her latest, Every Last One. I also get really behind on my reading, especially if I’m working on a project since I don’t like to read while in the midst of my own writing. So I’m just now in the middle of The Help. Sarah’s Key is on my nightstand, just underneath that!

For you what is the most satisfying element of the writing process?

 I love typing the words “The End” at the end of my first draft. Even though I know I have lots more revision ahead of me and that the book isn’t technically anywhere close to “done,” I love the feel of accomplishing a complete draft, the feeling that I have created something from nothing.

Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University. She received her MFA from The University of Arizona and was the recipient of the national Jacob K. Javits fellowship. Her first novel, THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS, was called "memorable" and "startlingly real" by Publishers Weekly and was nominated as a YALSA Best Book For Young Adults. Her second young adult novel, THE LIFE OF GLASS, was released in February 2010, and her debut novel for adults, THE TRANSFORMATION OF THINGS, ia available now. She currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons. Vist her at

To view an excerpt of The Transformation of Things click here.


  1. Great interview- thanks! I have this one on my wish list and can't wait to get ahold of it and read it.

  2. I love this interview---so open and honest. And I'm loving The Transformation of Things, Jillian! Such a wonderful novel about what is and isn't and might be. Congrats! I want to get my hands on your two YA novels too.

  3. Hi, Jillian, and welcome! Loved the interview--I can definitely relate to parts of your journey . . . and I'm so glad you pulled that MS out of your drawer for one more try. Really looking forward to reading your new book!

  4. This is a great story of how perseverance pays off--and of how pursuing an MFA *actually* aids a writer.

    Like you, I got nothing from my program in the way of publishing connections or career advice, but I learned a great deal about what makes good writing and good storycraft, and how to handle editorial feedback and criticism.

    Very interesting to hear how your first book became a YA title; it seems so arbitrary, doesn't it, when there are other similar books with young narrators that were and are sold as adult fiction?

    Congrats on the new book!

  5. Hi Jillian! I enjoyed your interview and I'm looking forward to reading THE TRANSFORMATION OF THINGS!

  6. Thanks so much for the nice comments and congratulations!!

  7. What a wonderful interview! (And a GORGEOUS cover!!) I am hopping over to Amazon now to order all of these book-- this blog is very expensive for me.....