Emily Jenkins is the newest member of the Hamline MFAC faculty and so it seemed like a good idea to kick off our faculty interviews by tossing the spotlight on her newest release, The Whoopie Pie War, the latest in her Invisible Inkling series. It was released last month by Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins.
Please describe the book in under 50 words.
Brooklyn kid Hank Wolowitz has an invisible friend. No, he’s not imaginary. Just invisible. His name is Inkling and he’s a bandapat from the Peruvian Woods of Mystery. Anyway, this is book three in the series. The return of the killer unicorn head, 15 ways to make pumpkin ice cream, pygmy hedgehogs, romance, a league of supervillains, and moderate violence. What more could you want? Oh! Pictures by Harry Bliss. It’s got those, too.
As the story progressed from inception to copy-edited version, what were the major changes? How did those changes come about? When did you first begin work on it? When did you finish?
Oh, goodness, I have no idea. I really don’t it is all a blur. I wrote it a long time ago, right after writing book 2 in the series. Finish one, start the next. The later books in a series often go much more smoothly than the first book, because I already know my world, my characters and so on. I worked to add action sequences and jokes. I know I rewrote one big whoopie pie action sequence entirely and I also took a secondary character out of a pivotal scene near the end of the book, where he was clogging up the emotional arcs, even though it had at first seemed logical he would be there.
What research was involved?
I watched loads of videos of pygmy hedgehogs on the internet, and learned about their habits and behaviors. I ate a lot of whoopie pies. I live in the Brooklyn neighborhood where the Invisible Inkling stories are set, so there was not a lot of research to do there.
Without naming names, tell us who your first readers are (e.g., live-action writing group; online writing group; editor; agent). When do you share a piece of writing?
With this book, I shared it with a writer colleague who reads a lot of my stuff in manuscript form. She helped with plot and pacing. Then it went to my editor. My agent doesn’t generally act as a critic. She just gets the MS when the editor does.
What books do you love to teach or recommend to students?
In terms of young middle-grade, which is what the Invisible Inkling series is, I often recommend Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. I think the voice there is so wonderful, and the humor, and the stories are touching as well. There is a lot to learn from what Pennypacker is doing in that series. Her language is so specific.
What widely-loved or acclaimed book is one that didn’t work for you?
I had trouble with Moon Over Manifest, which won the Newbery. I can see its many merits. It is very skillfully written. But I didn’t feel emotional about it. That is quite an intangible thing to criticize, I know. I have a taste for first-person, possibly to a fault—because one thing I love about fiction is how it takes me inside the head and heart of another person. Moon Over Manifest didn’t do that for me—though everyone else in our mother-daughter book club adored it.
What’s your current favorite jolly word?
Spoon. I like its double-meaning.
Emily, what an excellent interview!
Right now I'm on a "magical realism" mission. Would your book(s) with invisible friend(s) qualify as magical realism? How would you define this kind of fantasy, if that's what it should be called?