Interview by: Rosie
R: What inspired you to write and where do you get inspiration?
JD: For this book [I Know You Remember], I knew that I wanted to write something set in Anchorage, so that was sort of my first thing. I grew up in Anchorage and it’s a really diverse town, it has a lot of crime, and it’s kind of a weird place to grow up, so that was kind of the first thing that I wanted to take inspiration from. And then I just started thinking about a homecoming story and how when you leave home and then you come back after a long time it’s kind of a mystery because you are going through projecting what used to be there over what is there, just clocking all the changes and trying to remember what used to be there. And so I just wanted there to be a homecoming. I wanted there to be things that had changed, and then I just really got invested in this female friendship from there. You know, there’s a missing girl so Ruthie is literally looking to unravel that mystery but she’s also like piecing together the mystery of her friend’s disappearance.
R: What was your favorite book or series when you were a teenager?
JD: You know what, when I was a teenager, I actually had a period of time when it was really hard to find stuff. We didn’t have YA as an industry when I was a kid so I was too old for the kid’s section and too young for a lot of the adult section although I read a lot of the adult stuff. But so there were a couple of years there that I just remember not reading a lot of anything because of that. I was sort of stranded between worlds, but probably the most I read as a teen was Stephen King.
R: What is one book that you think every teen should read?
JD: Right in this moment I think The Hate U Give is the most important thing to read. At other moments there may have been another. I mean the thing about The Hate U Give is that it’s topical. But it’s also not just topical, it’s good. There are plenty of ‘issues’ books out there that aren’t good or fun or interesting. The Hate U Give is heavy. There’s something to get your teeth into there but it’s also a well-written, good book. So I think that’s my answer.
R: When did you start writing and what were your first stories about?
JD: I started writing in elementary school really, my first sort of attempts to put together stories were late high school, early college. I kind of had a long identity crisis trying to figure out what to write about for a while. I knew I liked making up imaginary people. I didn’t always know what I wanted them to be doing. I’ve always been interested in true crime. I think it’s an interesting way to talk about what makes human beings tick. And so at some point those two things just came together for me.
R: Have you read Harry Potter and if so, what house are you in and why?
JD: I have read Harry Potter. I’ve read them with like the book in hand once each, but I’ve probably listened to the Jim Dale audiobook ten times all the way through because his voice really just makes it for me. And my house is probably Gryffindor-Ravenclaw, I’m definitely bookish and not the most active person but I also have a contrarian streak that I think is very Gryffindor.
R: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
JD: A librarian.
R: Do you have a secret talent? If so, what is it?
JD: Here’s the thing, I’m a Leo and so any talent I have I tell everybody about all the time and make sure everyone knows. Probably the talent that is the least lucrative or least monetizable is that I’m fairly empathetic and so I’m pretty good at sitting with people and helping them make room for their feelings. I think that’s really important.
R: How do you create characters for your books?
JD: I’ve been thinking about that a lot because they kind of come together piece by piece. But when they actually come together by the time you finished the book, it feels like they came out of your head fully formed because you’ve been sitting with them for so long. That’s why authors are like, “Oh, she just spoke to me. She just appeared to me,” like probably she didn’t show up in their head fully formed, but because over the course of the book you’re getting to know them so intimately it can feel that way. I really like prickly unlikable people or people who are difficult to get to know. I like imagining, because I myself, I want to be nice. I always want to be nice, I’m non-confrontational. So for me there’s something appealing about a character who defends their boundaries sort of intensely. So that’s where Ruthie came from. She’s just prickly but likable. She’s a person who’s been through some traumas and had her personality adjusted around those traumas. Some of coming up with characters is what the story needs goes in there. That’s the first layer and then kind of as you’re working with that they do start to talk to you and by that the ways that you identify with them or the things you like in another person or the elements you like or don’t like start to weave themselves around this outline a little bit.
R: What is one piece of advice you would give your teenage self or teenagers in general?
JD: Really commit to self compassion early. Sometimes that means wake up. You have to literally wake up every morning and say, “You know, I’m worthy of being loved and I don’t deserve to be hurt.” And you have to say that to yourself. You have to make a deliberate statement, because so many of our default settings are to be cruel to ourselves to be judgmental to be perfectionistic.
Really commit to self compassion early. Sometimes that means wake up. You have to literally wake up every morning and say, “You know, I’m worthy of being loved and I don’t deserve to be hurt.”
R: If you could live in any time and place where would you choose?
JD: Portland 1989. I mean, I would like to time travel. I really love Portland. I love Oregon. But it’s a lot like Austin. It’s gotten very expensive and has many of the similar problems Austin has. So I would like to live in a city that is like Portland but more diverse, less expensive and maybe a little more punk rock than it is now.
R: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
JD: I love giving unsolicited advice and could go on all day with unsolicited advice. My main advice is don’t force your voice to be something it’s not. Don’t think that your book has to be the model or in line with somebody else’s work. Just because someone else’s work is important in a specific way doesn’t mean yours isn’t. And the fact of the matter is if you felt something, or seen something, or thought something, someone out there has felt, seen, thought the same thing. Your hope is that it lands where someone can feel it. I think that’s a big one. Also learn a trade, truly no one makes a living off of writing. It just doesn’t happen anymore. So like, if I could go back in time and tell myself to become like a framer or a plumber or like learn to sew or something useful that I could do with my hands. Yeah, I wish I could do that. I think all young writers probably need to learn, like, electrical engineering, like not like a big engineer, like just how to wire something. Then you have something to do to pay your bill.
R: Where do you start when you start a book?
JD: I’m a plotter. I plot everything out. Things can move around, like my outline will change while I’m in the process. But I really need that guidepost because otherwise, I am in the weeds almost immediately. I can’t get a character out of a room without a reason. I need an outline. I need to know where we’re going. And then if along the way, I need to take a side trip, I need someone to sit and think for a while if I need, you know, I can adjust them. But definitely, it has to be the plot there first. Then once I have the plot, like there’s a magical thing that happens where, you know, you have an idea of the plot and you’re kind of exhausted, you’re in the middle of the book and you’re slogging on towards the conclusion that you’ve determined is going to be the conclusion. Then something will snap into place like you’ll come up with a perfect red herring that actually sort of thematically makes sense with the book or you’ll come up with like a scene that just snaps into place. And those are the moments where you thank your muse because you’re just like, “I didn’t come up with that. I don’t know where that came from.” You know, the truth is it was in your mind cooking up all that time, but so much of this work is hard that it feels really lovely when something is just given to you like that.
R: What are your least and favorite parts of writing a book and getting it published?
JD: My least favorite part is usually about the two thirds mark of the book, where that’s usually when I am in the weeds a little bit. You’ve kind of gotten things set up, you get some motion going, you get some relationships established, and then there’s just a place where you’re like, we’re not ready for the ending yet. That part is a drag. I mean, my favorite thing is that magic moment when something snaps in for you. I just started a third book and like things were showing up in that first set, that first chapter that were like, magical, and I just felt amazing. I mean, like, that’s one chapter. There’s going to be 39 more to go. But it’s really special when the work doesn’t feel labored. It just feels like it lands right how it needs to land. Does that make sense? Yeah, I feel like that’s really like some hippie nonsense, but also makes sense.
R: What can fans expect next from you?
JD: Well, so right now, we’re working on trying to sell a third book. I don’t know if my current publisher is going to take it or not. We’re sort of waiting to hear back. The book I’m sort of playing around with right now is about internet abuse. Actually, I shouldn’t say that because, it’s well, it’s about cyberbullying. It’s about rumors that get out of control, and sort of what that can do to someone’s life if that doesn’t get picked up. I have a few other things on my mind, but that’s kind of what I’ve been playing with for the time being. It’s set in rural Oregon, which is a very different setting from what I’ve done before.