|Jennifer Bradbury [email]||Interview with Jennifer Bradbury, August 2008|
Shift by Jennifer Bradbury
Ages 12 and up
Some friends fade away....Others disappear.
Imagine you and your best friend head out West on a cross-country bike trek.
Shift is a tour de force -- a literary debut that'll knock the wind out of you as it explores the depths of loyalty, the depths of friendship, and the unknowable depths of another person.
--Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing 2008
Reader's Guide for Shift
1. Shift uses chapters alternating between flashbacks and current action. How does this
structure allow readers to see the changes the trip brought about in Chris? In Win?
Activity - Plan your own adventure. Pick a route to travel across the United States, decide on your mode of transportation and whom you'd want as a traveling companion. What adventures would you hope to have? What things would you look forward to learning about your traveling partner?
ETC: How did Shift come about?
Bradbury: The story sort of bubbled out of a lot of experiences. My husband and his best friend cycled cross-country from West Virginia to Spokane when they were seventeen. After we married, we took a bike trip across the southern U.S. When I was teaching, and realized my students loved hearing anecdotes from that trip, I began to wonder if I couldn't figure out a way to write a novel for that ninth grade boy slouching in the front row when I talked about characterization in Of Mice and Men but lit up when I shared the story of getting chased by a coyote while biking up to the Grand Canyon. But I thought about it for a couple of years before doing anything about it. Finally, while I was in India on a teaching exchange, I sat down and plotted it out. From there it unfurled quickly.
ETC: Are there any stories you included from your own bike touring experience in Shift?
Bradbury: Tons! Lots of little stories or anecdotes found their way into Chris and Win's adventures. And I even borrowed a few more from the trip my husband took with his best friend when they graduated high school. But lots of things got changed. One of the few stories that ended up being its own chapter was the scene where the boys end up "camping" in a small town jail cell. My husband and I had an experience very similar to that one when biking through Louisiana. We pulled into town and asked a cop where we might be allowed to camp, and ended up in a cell (voluntarily) next door to a couple of guys. It is one of those stories that people love to hear about (that in reality is a lot more fun in the retelling than it was in actuality). The fact that it worked its way into the story during the second round of revision with my editor was kind of a surprise. But it was pretty neat how it fit in so seamlessly with the narrative and the themes.
ETC: Several reviewers have commented on the great male characterization and relationships. What experiences helped you write about guys authentically?
Bradbury: Teaching high school helped a lot. And reading the kinds of books my male students would recommend was revealing as well. But probably my real education came as a result from working at a boys' camp in North Carolina. I worked at Camp Rockmont for four summers while I was in college and grad school. Obviously most of the staff were male, but they hired a few dozen female staffers every summer, and I spent my days working at the climbing wall, packing food for huge group campouts, co-leading backpacking and climbing trips, and hanging out with guys from age six to 18. And when I think about it, I think those summers are probably what gave me the confidence to tell Chris and Win's story.
ETC: You read aloud draft versions of your books to your ninth grade composition classes. What was that experience like?
Bradbury: Amazing! Every year I'd pick a novel to read aloud in my ninth grade comp classes. We'd spend twenty minutes a week reading a chapter and then discussing the choices the writer made, how character and pacing were established or just admiring a really well structured sentence. One fall I had trouble finding a book that no one in the class had read, so I took a chance and read the first chapter of something I'd been working on. I was terrified, but the kids were amazing. I'll never forget the moment after I read that first chapter. It seemed awfully quiet for a while, and then a few kids started responding back with the writing group protocols we'd been working on-asking questions, repeating phrases or images that they liked. And then one boy-whose voice still lingers in my mind when I'm writing-said, "Your sentences are too long." He was totally right. And from that moment, my ninth graders became the best writing teachers I could ever have asked for. Even with Shift, I remember a student pointing out a character in need of development. I sort of forgot about her comment until her insight was repeated by my editor in my first revision letter. But the best part about the whole process of sharing my writing with my students wasn't the help I got, but how much more seriously they took their own work and process as a result of seeing that their input mattered to me.
ETC: Can you tell us a bit about what to expect from you next?
Bradbury: I've got another novel coming out with Atheneum in 2010. That book is tentatively titled APART, and features a family dealing with a father whose paranoid schizophrenia becomes to big to hide or ignore any longer. Beyond that, the to do list is growing by the day. And I think at some point I may go back into Shift's world and pick up a side character's story and do something with it. But I've got a lot of other stories I'm eager to tell first.
ETC: What's the one question that no one has asked that you're dying to answer?
Bradbury: Can you still patch a flat tire? Yes! It's been a while since I had to do it, but I still know how.
Jennifer Bradbury is an English teacher on hiatus. After 8 years in the classroom, she's a stay at home mom who writes while her toddler naps.