I met Jennifer Camiccia at last year’s SCBWI Oktoberfest, and I was immediately struck by how knowledgeable she was. Her middle grade book, THE MEMORY KEEPER, is a heartfelt story that explores the importance of preserving memories and family histories to help deal with loss.
When 12-year-old Lulu Carter develops a photographic memory at the same time her beloved Gram begins to lose hers, she blames herself. Lulu becomes obsessed with a finding that posits that memory loss can be attributed to an unaddressed trauma, and goes about excavating her grandmother’s personal history in order to try to save her.
According to your website, you wrote your first book at the age of 5. When did you first know you wanted to write, and what, if anything, have you discovered in your publishing journey?
I’m a daydreamer of the first order. Since before I could read or write, I’ve made up stories—like mini-movies—in my mind. I would pause them when I needed to get things done like listen to my parents or play with my friends. When I was finished with my obligations, I’d push play and see where the story would take me. So, in a way, I’ve been writing my whole life.
As for what I’ve discovered on my publishing journey–I think the number one thing is patience. This business is slow moving. After you sell a book it might be a year or two until it’s actually out in the world. I’ve found the only way not to become obsessed is to write the next thing. After all, it’s love of writing—not publishing—that initially motivated me to finish my first story.
Absolutely. The true joy must be found in the work itself. I’d heard of HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) before, and have been fascinated by it. What inspired you to write a protagonist with HSAM, and what do you hope readers glean from Lulu’s journey?
At first, Lulu was going to have a photographic memory. However, there isn’t a lot of research on photographic or eidetic memories. HSAM, on the other hand, has scientific data, which was helpful since before each chapter I’ve incorporated something about how our brains function–specifically in conjunction with memory.
I’m hopeful that readers take away something that helps them–whatever that may be. We all look at things from a unique perspective so I wanted to write something that might appeal to a wide variety of people. We all have experienced loss in some form, and I think it’s especially important for readers in middle school to see that in the books they read. I also put a mystery element in the book to help make the tough topics more accessible.
And exploring tough topics like this one also fulfills a much needed niche in middle grade literature. In terms of writing and craft, what areas do you feel strongest? Weakest? For the weaker areas, what strategies have you tried?
I used to struggle with writing three-dimensional characters so I really worked hard on it. I read craft books, I perused blog posts from other writers on the tricks they use to make their characters come alive. Now, I believe, that character development is one of my strengths. My weakness now is learning to outline a story without losing the joy of discovery. I recently read Save The Cat Writes A Novel and am using it to write my next middle-grade. So far so good!
Such a great book. I was thrilled to feature Jessica Brody last year, and Save The Cat Writes a Novel has definitely helped me better structure my stories. What are some of your current projects?
I have a lower middle-grade that may be coming out next fall. And I have an upper middle-grade set in my childhood home of Kauai, Hawaii that will soon be on submission. I’m also currently trying to finish a Young Adult thriller also set in Hawaii.