Author Interview: Jill Baguchinsky on Mammoth
An Interview with Author Jill Baguchinsky
Everyone who has connected with me on social media or has read my blog in the last few months will know that I am in love with Jill Baguchinsky’s new book Mammoth. I was lucky enough to read an advanced reader copy (ARC) earlier this year and reviewed it here. It is a fantastic YA Contemporary novel that covers a lot of issues close to my own heart. I was thrilled when Jill agreed to an interview (honestly, I’ve been totally geeking out). I hope you enjoy it!
1. I am SO excited that Mammoth is nearly here! For anyone who doesn’t know much about Mammoth, could you tell us a little bit about your latest book?
Definitely! Mammoth is about Natalie, a teenage paleontology geek and plus-size fashion blogger who lands a coveted summer internship at an Ice Age dig site in Texas. A few years ago, Natalie reinvented herself to escape bullying. Now she wears her retro style like armor, but it’s not compatible with digging up fossils or working in a bone lab. When her paleontologist hero steals the credit for her discovery, Natalie realizes she’ll have to fight to stand out in a field dominated by men. It’s time to let go of her insecurities and let her true self shine.
As a teenager, I never saw myself represented in books. With Mammoth, I wrote the sort of story my younger self would have connected with and loved. It was important to me to create a character who moves past the emotional scars left by her bullies (and by a society that craves thinness at any cost), and who learns to love and value herself. I really wanted to depict that path — and I wanted to do it without resorting to a weight loss plotline.
2. On your own blog you comment that Mammoth is a deeply personal story, do you think your emotions helped or hindered you whilst writing Mammoth?
Both, I think. I’ve never been thin, and I had to dig deep and return to the way it felt to be fat in middle and high school. Confronting those memories was intimidating (but necessary), and I’m sure I put off more than one writing session to avoid them. But I don’t think I could’ve gotten Natalie right if I hadn’t had some of the same experiences she did. That kind of bullying affects a person deeply in a lot of nuanced ways. You internalize so much, and it lingers for years. There’s a danger of becoming your own worst bully.
3. Mammoth touches on a lot of different issues such as women in STEM, bullying and self-image. Are positive role models something you focused on deliberately or did they naturally evolve as you developed the book?
Positive role models were a deliberate focus for me. Plenty of us dino-nerds read or watched Jurassic Park growing up and thought Dr. Ellie Sattler was the coolest character ever. Ellie, a paleobotanist, helped inspire an interest in paleo-related fields for a lot of young women. I’d love to find out someday that Natalie did the same thing for someone.
4. Mellie is one of my favourite characters. She is really quirky and clearly a crafting genius. I noticed you are a crafting whizz too, creating pin badges and awesome keyrings for your pre-order campaign! What is the coolest thing that you have ever made?
Ooh, I had an Etsy-based business for almost a decade and sold close to five thousand handmade plush monsters during that time, so I’ve made a LOT of things. My favorite might be a stuffed Krampus (the Christmas demon) I made as part of my holiday line one year. He’s over two feet tall with hand-appliqued details and big gray horns. I originally listed him for sale in my shop, but then I realized I’d miss him horribly if he sold. I kept him, and now he’s a very odd part of my holiday decorations every year.
5. What is your favourite type of dinosaur?
I have an undying love for T. rex and it’s all Jurassic Park‘s fault. I’ll keep seeing every Jurassic World sequel as long as they keep my Rexy around.
6. What books being published in 2019 are you most excited about?
There are so many! I recently read an advance copy of Ruthanne Snow’s When the Truth Unravels, about a group of friends dealing with some heavy secrets. Its depiction of depression is fantastic — sympathetic yet brutal. I’m also really excited about Samira Ahmed’s Internment, which promises to be incredibly timely. And The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman is getting some spectacular buzz — I’m really intrigued by that one!
7. Will Natalie be appearing in any of your future books or will you be focusing on an entirely new project?
I have no definite plans for a sequel, but we’ll see. I’d love to send Natalie out in the field again (I have some possible locations in mind), and there are still plenty of women-in-STEM issues for her to tackle. Plus, I’ll take any excuse for another paleontology research trip.
I wrote a companion short story about Natalie’s best friend Charli that’ll eventually be available as a digital download, and I’d really love to include Mellie in another book someday.
In the meantime, I’m revising a queer YA romance, and I’m getting ready to draft a YA feminist horror story.
8. What was the hardest part of Mammoth to write?
I think I struggled the most with Quinn. She’s more complex than she first seems. Since she’s an antagonist, I couldn’t soften her up too much, but I also didn’t want her to be a cookie-cutter mean girl. Keeping her connection with Natalie balanced and firmly in frenemy territory was tricky.
9. As it was Halloween yesterday – What is the best costume that you have ever worn?
I’ll never top the Ghostbusters costume I wore when I was eight or nine. My mom made a blue jumpsuit to match the cartoon version of Egon, and I built a proton pack and other equipment out of a diaper box, construction paper, paper towel rolls and yarn. That pack was epic and I wish I still had it.
10. Women in STEM is an incredibly important focus for us as a society. However, there are still huge problems such as gaps in pay, education and career opportunities. What do you think is important for us to change or to focus on as we move into the 2020’s?
Fantastic question. There’s so much that needs to be done; it really feels overwhelming, and it stretches far beyond STEM into every industry and every aspect of life. Beyond the issues I touched on in Mammoth of women not being taken as seriously or given proper credit in paleontology, science fields are often hotbeds of outright harassment. In all fields and industries, women need to be seen as people instead of opportunities, liabilities, or potential prey. That doesn’t seem like it should be a lot to ask, but we’ve been fighting for a long time and we still have so much ground to cover.
11. You mentioned that you gained a lot from the reviews of Spookygirl, and that you were surprised how even the negative ones were often quite constructive. Now that Mammoth is on its way to the shelves, how much did Spookygirl and the review process affect your writing?
I noticed a couple of trends in Spookygirl‘s reviews that made me question aspects of my writing that I’d never really considered before. For example, a number of reviewers called me out on using too many stock characters. I’ve always been a very visual writer–there’s a movie playing in my head, and I describe it in words. Most movies have a number of minor characters and extras, and so did I, but I used to overdo it. Readers want more nuance. I still think minor stock characters are a viable way to populate the world around the main characters, but I try not to rely on them.
I’m not saying all writers should read their reviews, and I don’t read all of mine, but some have been helpful!
12. Are there any common writing or publishing traps for aspiring authors that you could point out?
Aspiring authors: learn not to fear critique.
If you haven’t already, find yourself a few friends or critique partners who will tell you the truth about your work. You need to be able to hear and process both the good and the bad. You don’t need to incorporate every suggestion you hear (it’s still your story in the end!), but you need to be able to consider them. Learning how to do this will prepare you for signing with an agent and working with an editor–they’ll both have PLENTY to say about your book. I’ve known people who wouldn’t let anyone beta-read their work because they were afraid of hearing something negative. Writers need to face that fear and learn how to push through it.
13. If Natalie chose not to become a palaeontologist, what career would you like to see her go into instead?
I’d love to see Natalie design her own plus-size clothing line. I just know she’d find the solutions for common issues like gaping waistbands and inner-thigh rips on jeans. She already tailors her own clothing for a better fit and drafts her own sewing patterns, so she’s got a head start.
14. What is your favourite YA book and why?
I really love The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s timely, it’s incredibly powerful, it’s heartbreaking and affirming, and it’s my go-to recommendation for people who don’t normally read YA. I’ve had friends go from saying “Eh, I don’t read about teenagers” to sending me all-capslock texts after each chapter of THUG.
15. If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Kiddo, most of the things that seem super important and devastating and dramatic right now won’t actually matter for long. Please give them less attention and just let yourself be yourself.
Thanks for reading!
Thank you so much to Jill for taking time out of her new projects to answer my questions. I am REALLY excited to read her next book (and yes we definitely need another story with Mellie!) Mammoth officially releases on the 6th November and I encourage you all to grab a copy! The pre-order campaign is still running so check out the very cool swag here (international!)
If you would like to find out more about Jill Baguchinsky then I recommend you hop over to her blog www.jillbaguchinsky.com where you will be able to find out more about what she is up to! You can also find her on Instagram and Twitter.
Happy November and happy reading to you all!