About The Off Season

Interviews – lots of great info here! >>

Radio interview, "The Lake Effect," WUWM Milwaukee >> Click to hear

Author Interview, Shelf Elf, March 2008 >>

The Inside Story: A Conversation with Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Children’s and Teen Librarian, April 2007 >>

Author Talk, June 2007, TeensRead.com >>

Author Interview, TeensReadToo.com >>

Author Interview for GLBT Month, YA Books Central, Sept. 2007 >>

Click here for more interviews >>


Awards

  1. Ultimate Teen Reading List, TeenReads.com >> 

   over 250 of the very best books for teens!

•  Finalist, 2007 Cybils, the Children's and YA Bloggers' Literature Awards

•  “Best Young Adult Books of 2007,” Kirkus, 2007

•  Best Books for Young Adults 2008, American Library Association

  1. 2007 Spring Review Top 10 Titles (plus 2), New England Children’s Bookselling Advisory Council

•  2007 Summer Books for Children, BookSense


Questions on TOS courtesy of Houghton Mifflin

Dairy Queen was very well received, and readers fell in love with D.J. Schwenk and her family. Did this make it more challenging to write another story about her?

The challenge, I have to say, came much more from the responsibility of writing a second book at all. I've been told by several people that sophomore books are the hardest, and I completely agree. Dairy Queen I wrote as an exercise; I never dreamed it would be published and certainly never dreamed it would get such a positive reception. The sequel, however, came with all sorts of pressures: my editor's and agent's expectations, the fact that I was being paid (what if I screwed up? I'd have to return the money!), that looming deadline (I had no deadline whatsoever with DQ) . . . all of those made for a very painful experience. So the responsibility of treating D.J. correctly was incidental in some ways to all this other trauma. I knew that once I got through this agony I would treat her well — though whether everyone else will agree is another story.


How did the sequel to Dairy Queen emerge? Did you always intend to write a sequel?

Actually, I had no intention of writing any more about D.J. My mother finished an early draft of the book and said she couldn't wait for the sequel, and my response was "Oh, well." (But in a nice way, because she's my mom.) To my mind, there really wasn't much room for a sequel, certainly not for the dramatic character evolution of Dairy Queen. At the end of that book, D.J. was "launched," to use one of my favorite terms. She developed so much over those thirty-one chapters that I really considered her a full-fledged . . . well, not an adult because she's only sixteen, but a full-fledged human with an enormous capacity for mature emotional insight.

However, I did have a pang whenever I thought about Curtis, because I cared about him so much and I really wanted to make sure that he was going to be okay. And I felt bad about leaving Amber in the lurch like that — there she was with a new girlfriend, a pretty cool girlfriend, and that story just ended. And I wanted to know more about D.J.'s older brothers. (This is where my eight-year-old daughter would say, "But Mom, you already know about them! You wrote the book!" She still believes that authors are omniscient. Ha.)

So even though I considered D.J.'s story complete, I recognized that there were other stories left to tell. (And this doesn't even bring in what was going to happen between D.J. and Brian. I’ve received dozens and dozens of e-mails and questions from girls desperate to know the future of their relationship. That story didn't interest me quite so much, but it obviously interests others!) And then my wonderful agent called me in the middle of this publishers' bidding war over Dairy Queen — well, not a bidding war, really; more of a bidding skirmish — and asked if I'd ever be interested in writing a sequel because sometimes two books are easier to sell than one. I was skiing at the time, with my daughter between my legs because she's fearless and will shoot down the hill if I don't restrain her, and I'm holding her with one hand and talking on my cell phone on the other, and right when my agent asked if I had any ideas for a sequel, the thought of spinal cord injury popped into my head. And of course I immediately rejected it because it's so huge and tragic and would require so much work, but I said "Sure" to the sequel idea anyway. Over the next few days, that SCI idea (though of course I didn't know the term SCI at that point) kept coming back, taunting me to take it on, to take the sequel to a level far beyond the girl-meets-boy conceit of Dairy Queen.

Anyway, that's how the sequel began.


You’re not finished with D.J and her family, though – right?

Right. Front and Center completes the trilogy. I let her rest for a while after finishing The Off Season, but the whole issue of college sports recruiting – which I’d learned about while researching college football – kept nagging at me, and I finally had to write it down. Just as The Off Season begins the day after Dairy Queen ends, Front and Center begins just as D.J. is returning to high school after Thanksgiving, and finishes somewhere around Valentine’s Day. Whew.

The Off Season addresses the financial challenges many contemporary American family farmers face. Is this something you are concerned about?

Yes, it is, for a number of reasons — not only because I sympathize with the plight of small farmers but also because I have a lot more faith in small farms than in agribusiness. I'd rather eat a pig raised with two other pigs on table scraps than a pig raised in a warehouse and fed a diet of antibiotics. So I guess you could say that I'm concerned for very selfish reasons. If, after reading The Off Season, kids and adults think a bit more about what goes into their mouths and recognize that the decisions they make in the grocery store or farmer's market can have a profound impact, well, I wouldn't consider that the worst thing in the world.


D.J. is a very responsible young woman. Do you think this is typical of teenagers today?

Yes, I believe she is more responsible than many kids, but in large part that's because she's forced to be. The entire second half of the book, when D.J. is basically on her own dealing with this tragedy, comes about because her mother is incapacitated. If her mother were present, it would be a very different story. You can't rise to the challenge if the challenge isn't there. She didn't want that responsibility, but she had no choice but to take it. That's an important lesson, I think.

That said, I've heard from several mothers who use D.J. as an example to their own kids. And I once found my son in the basement washing the floor with a mop (so that he could set up his toy soldiers). "Am I like D.J.?" he asked. Yes.


You used your screenwriting experience when writing Dairy Queen. Did you do the same with The Off Season?

Absolutely. For one thing, don't mess with success, and for a second thing, it's the only form of storytelling I know! I'm sure I sound like a broken record, but screenwriting is such a phenomenal way to learn the craft of telling a story well. When I was first studying screenwriting and my kids were little, I'd have these epiphanies as I read aloud to them: Curious George is three-act format! The Three Bears is three-act format! "Three-act format" is screenwriting jargon. It simply means that the first quarter of the story is used to introduce characters, make us care about them, and present their foibles; the middle half of the story entails an escalating series of conflicts in which the main characters have to confront their foibles; and the last third has a glorious resolution (heartily unrealistic, because what in real life ever gets resolved?) in which the main characters become better people. Or monkeys. Or bears. Not that all these details are in fairy tales, mind you, but screenwriting in its purest form is simply a rarefied and highly structured form of storytelling. The dialogue has to be tight — you don't have five pages to wander through pointless conversation; you have perhaps eight lines total. The descriptions have to be evocative and brief — one or two lines to make a character compelling and tangible. And of course screenwriting is for that most visual of media; learning how to write visually is critical, especially these days. So, yes, I did use my screenwriting lessons in The Off Season, and to this day I think of several of the scenes more as film scenes than book scenes.


How do you know so much about spinal cord injury?

Research, research, research. Thank heavens, once again, for the Internet — I found several blogs that helped enormously, and through those Web sites two critical books: Travis Roy's autobiography (he broke his neck in a college ice hockey game), and the story of Adam Tagliaferra, a Penn State cornerback with a C4 injury. Originally I'd intended to base The Off Season at a specific hospital, but those people turned out to be so snotty about it — not to call a spade a spade — that I ended up creating a fictitious hospital, which was much better. And then I connected with Magee Rehab in Philadelphia and had the best experience there. When I was writing Dairy Queen, I very much wanted to make sure the football was accurate, and the farming. But spinal cord injury is another level altogether. It mattered intensely that I be correct in every possible way — I cannot stress this enough. My fear of failure led to months of incapacity (this is why I've never managed to assemble a photo album, by the way), and another complete novel (see below), but in the end I did hunker down and get something written.


Did you always know D.J. and Brian's relationship would end the way it did?

That was probably the second hardest part of The Off Season, after the medical research. No, I didn't know how their relationship would play out except for a vague sense that it needed to go beyond "happily ever after." Naïve and optimistic though I am, I do recognize that two people from such different worlds would have a challenging time making a go of it. And frankly, I'm not sure myself what's going to happen in the future, where they'll end up.


The book jackets for The Off Season and the paperback edition of Dairy Queen feature photographs instead of artwork. Do you like this?

I love it. When I first began working with Houghton Mifflin on Dairy Queen, I was insistent that the cover not feature a girl, because I didn't want that face to be D.J. I wanted everyone to come up with their own D.J. Now I recognize that the cover model is simply one representation of her. Every reader will still have her own internal portrait.

That said, I am intensely jealous of the eyebrows of the girl on the paperback Dairy Queen. As someone who has always been eyebrow challenged, I find it a bit annoying, the same way I feel about people with naturally curly hair: do you have to show it off like that?


What did you work on after The Off Season?

A wonderful, delectable fairy tale featuring a princess locked in a tower, an evil queen, a handsome prince . . . the whole works. I came up with the idea one Sunday morning while I was supposed to be writing The Off Season and wrote the first draft in sixteen days — it just poured out of me. (Can anyone say procrastination?) It's too bad, actually, how The Off Season suffers from middle-child syndrome. As I was writing The Off Season, I was also intensely involved in early promotion efforts for Dairy Queen. Then, when I should have been focused on promoting The Off Season, I became enraptured with Princess Ben. Not that I don't love The Off Season as well, but it has never had my undivided attention.

Chapter One   •  questions for readers   •   reviews

Bookshelf >>Bookshelf.html

I just finished The Off Season today, and love, love, LOVED it!!! It was just as good as the first, and I think also better (which is saying a lot, since the first one rocked too)! D.J. is so easy to relate to (even though she, unlike me, is not a vegetarian ;D) and I just adore her tone and voice throughout the story. The twists were unexpected and done so well. And the Brian story... I'll admit the ending to it was rather sad, because I was hoping for a happy wrap-up to their relationship, but I guess from reading your website I can see why it had to be that way. Still, it tore at my heartstrings.


- Lily

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