Q & A

Evidence Of Things Not Seen is an unusual title. How did you come up with it?

The title comes from a quote in the bible: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) I have my editor Joy Peskin and associate publisher Angus Killick to thank for coming up with this perfect title which captures the notion that all of us, every day, must live with faith because we have no idea what might happen from one moment to the next. When Tommy goes missing, it tips the world of this town off balance so that everyone has to grapple with mystery and faith in their own lives.

What was the inspiration of this book?

I woke up from a dream where I saw a child standing in the middle of a pull out. I got up and wrote a story, which later became the section Comic Book. I got fascinated by this pull out by the side of the road, how random that patch of dirt is and yet so many people know it by name, stop there, use it, etc. That’s when I started exploring the world of that pull out. Who came there? What were their stories? In an early version, I wrote a section about Tommy disappearing and realized it had a bit more heft to it. I revised the whole novel so that Tommy’s disappearance—he was last seen at the pullout–became a connector for all the threads. I have to say that Kathi Appelt’s Kissing Tennessee, Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street, Cynthia Rylant’s The Van Gogh Café , Janet S. Fox’s Sirens and Norma Fox Mazer’s The Missing Girl were also inspiration for me in terms of structure. Writers who step outside the traditional narrative structure allow us to pad along behind them.

Speaking of structure, you weave first person point of view with and third person. Why did you do that?

I have to give you a long answer so bear with me. First, I have a theatre background. I graduated from Hampshire College with a BA in Theatre Arts. I wrote and produced several plays after I graduated. Dialogue is my first language so the first person voice of these kids talking to the sheriff about Tommy came very naturally. Also I wanted these sections to be more immediate and visceral. Second, I had an advisor at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Julie Larios, who suggested that the way I wrote was very reminiscent of Alexander Calder’s mobiles: light enough to catch air but well balanced, forming a whole structure. I love that Julie gave me permission to go with my natural inclination of writing sparely. Probably each of the third person point of view sections could be novels but that wasn’t what I chose to do. I kept them lean and sharp. I leave a lot of white space so the reader brings her own emotion and connection. Last but not least, I’ve been noticing how movies and television shows are weaving more and more and story lines into a main arc. I feel that readers are getting more sophisticated in terms of being able to hold lots of plotlines in their head, make connections and appreciate the weaving. I took a risk. I hope it works. 

Do I need to understand physics to read this book?

Omigosh, no. The way physics is talked about and interpreted in the novel is through Tommy’s fascination with it. No science lessons. I think the ideas and theories in physics are a total mindblow for kids. For a bright kid like Tommy, physics sort of set his brain on fire.

Where is Tommy?

Out there. Somewhere. I went to see the documentary Particle Fever recently. It’s about the Large Hadron Collider and the discovery of the Higgs Boson Particle. Fabulous movie. I kept wanting to pause the movie so I could scan the crowds of scientists and see if Tommy was somewhere there.

What genre is Evidence of Things Not Seen?

It is a young adult novel of contemporary realistic fiction.

Can you give a one-sentence description of the novel? 

Okay, I’m not very good with the elevator pitches but here goes:

Evidence of Things Not Seen is about the events that occur in a small Texas town during the year after a boy disappears; it exploresthemes of connection, loneliness and faith and asks readers to consider what role we play in creating our own realities and how we deal with this mystery called life. Ooops, I had to use a semi colon.

How long did it take you write this novel?

Well, that dream which resulted in the section called Comic Book happened in 2010. I began sending out the novel to agents in February 2012 but I pulled it back a few months later when I figured out the ending had a major flaw. After I fixed it, I signed with Erin Murphy in March 2013 and she sold it to Joy Peskin at Farrar Straus Giroux (BYR) two months later.

Did you have to revise it after it was sold?

Yes and no. I didn’t have to revise what I had written but I added 25,000 words. Gulp. The hazards of being a spare writer. Young adult novels really need to be about 60,000 words, otherwise they look a little slight on the shelf. I have to say it was fun to go back into the world and expand it.

Q&A with Editor Joy Peskin

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