Five questions for Rainbow Rowell

Photo: Augusten Burroughs.

Rainbow Rowell's graphic-novel debut Pumpkinheads (Roaring Brook/First Second, 14 years and up) takes place in a theme park–like pumpkin patch (petting zoo, pumpkin slingshot, haunted graveyard, s'mores pit), where over the course of their last day at work, college-bound employees and BFFs Deja and Josiah search for Josie's crush, Fudge Shoppe Girl — while themselves meandering toward more-than-friends territory.

1.Which came first: the idea of a slow-burn workplace relationship or that amazing pumpkin patch setting? (or the nickname "Vanessa Fudgens"?)

RR: Ha! The pumpkin patch setting came first. Which is unusual for me. I usually come up with the characters first, or at the same time as the setting. But with Pumpkinheads, I was definitely like, "I want to set this story at pumpkin patch. Who am I writing about?"

2. What was your collaboration with illustrator Faith Erin Hicks like?

RR: Faith and I met on Twitter after reading each other's books, and this project was a leap of faith for us. (Pun only sort-of intended.) We agreed to work together before we even knew what the project would be. But I knew from Faith's books that she was a great storyteller, and I suspected from her social media that she was a great person. (I was right!) I wrote the script first, then we worked pretty closely through the execution and production. Lots and lots of phone meetings.

3. SPOILER ALERT. We suspect before Josiah does that the Fudge Shoppe Girl is not the one for him. And then we actually meet her (shudder). Was Deja and Josiah's relationship ever in narrative doubt?

RR: Well...I always know how books will end before I start writing them. So it wasn't in doubt for me. But I think there's a way this story could have gone where Josiah meets this girl, and they decide to actually get to know each other. That would be a very different story!

4. "Friends don't let friends live small lives," declares Deja; then later says: "All I wanted to do tonight was help you talk to that dumb girl and get myself some snacks." How did you make both feel so simultaneously true?

RR: Good friendships have layers, don't they? Like, you're constantly shifting between empathy and self-interest. Offering comfort and taking comfort. I think Deja and Josie are at a point in their friendship where they're functioning as a unit. They're different people, but they move together. They get things done together. They make decisions together. That's a great place to be with a friend or any sort of partner.

5. Pumpkin spice latte: yea or nay?

RR: Yea!

From the October 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She is a current member of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committee, and has served on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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