About the author
Jennifer Bradbury’s debut novel, Shift—which Kirkus Reviews starred, calling it “fresh, absorbing, compelling”—was picked as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and made the School Library Journal YALSA Booklist. It is also on numerous state reading lists. A former English teacher and one-day Jeopardy! champ, she lives in Burlington, Washington, with her family.
I wonder if all author bios on book jackets are as noteworthy for what they omit as mine is. The good people at Atheneum make me sound way cooler than I actually am. The bio above says nothing about my weird allergies. It also fails to mention I woke up on my 18th birthday with half my face paralyzed (I got better). Nowhere is record of the fact that I once got stuck on a giant water toy on a lake, or that I had a cast on my nose after my sister threw a baseball at me. And it certainly doesn’t indicate my habit of binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly or Doctor Who. There are many other details it skims over, all of which will prove invaluable for those of you writing book reports or simply curious enough to visit this page to find out more.
Jennifer Bradbury’s debut novel, Shift
Shift is my first published novel, but it’s actually the third novel I tried to write. And yeah, Shift is pretty good. A lot of people like it. And I’m very, very grateful.
A former English teacher
I was an English teacher. I know how unutterably fascinating this makes me. At Burlington-Edison High School I fell in love with YA literature, and even shared my early efforts with my ninth grade writing classes. Shift was actually workshopped in draft form by two groups of ninth grade students—the boys in one class were very disappointed that I was unable to order the cover designer to put a “hot girl on a bike” on the cover. They didn’t care that no hot girls actually rode bikes in the book.
I left teaching when my kids were very young, though now that they are not-so-young, I’ve gone back to teaching part time. My school is on a block schedule, which means I work every other day with the coolest, weirdest high school students where I teach Honors English to tenth graders and a Podcasting class to 11/12 graders. On my days away from school, I work on my writing, exercise, walk my dog and try not to grade too many papers.
A one-day Jeopardy! champ
I was on Jeopardy! It was many years ago, but still seems to be the thing my friends and family most enjoy sharing about me. It’s a little weird to be celebrated for my ability to recall trivia, but it was a fun ride. I did win one day, but got destroyed the next show by a woman who described herself as “part Klingon, part Corleone.” And I really embarrassed myself by missing a question about Voltaire even though one of my classes was studying him at the time. The day after it aired, the first thing my students said was, “I had no idea you had such big lips.” I don’t wear a lot of makeup in real life, so it was a bit of a shock for many in the audience. They do say the camera adds ten pounds . . .
Lives in Burlington, Washington with her family
I haven’t always lived in the Evergreen state, but it definitely has become home. I grew up in Owensboro, Kentucky. If you email my sister, she can tell you all the famous people from there, even though she won’t include me on the list. I attended college at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, and spent a semester abroad at Cambridge University in England. During college and a bit after, I worked summers at Camp Rockmont in North Carolina. Even though it was a boys’ camp, they hired a few women every year to keep the place civil. I was on the adventure team working as a guide for rock climbing and backpacking trips, as well as food prep for large-scale campouts. Before you start thinking again that I’m cool, I got lost a lot in the woods and didn’t know how to climb when I was hired. I was, however, something of a prodigy at making grits for 120 people at once.
In 2005, we lived in India. I participated in a Fulbright Teaching Exchange, teaching at Bhavan Vidyalya in Chandigarh, a few hours north of Delhi. I wrote what would become the first draft of Shift while on that exchange, and my experiences there and exposure to so many individuals who had live through the partition of India inspired A Moment Comes, which was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a Junior Library Guild Selection, A Kirkus Best Book of the Year, and winner of the South Asia Book Award.
My most recent book returns to one of my favorite settings–Mammoth Cave. Settings are the starting places for all my stories, and I’m so happy to have finally written a story set in my home state.
“Did you know you own that?”
In early 2011, we moved. The biggest motivation was finding a place with a shop or outbuilding large enough for my husband’s growing business (he’s a contractor, cabinet maker, and all around amazing guy). We found what we needed a mile away from our old house. The one acre was once part of a huge working farm, and includes the original farm house, hidden now by a late eighties expansion and remodel—hello eleven different kinds of rose wallpaper, slanting floors, and porches that are about to fall off! Also on the property: a detached garage with a scary cold storage room and a funky smelling apartment area above it where we think laborers were housed, a giant 4,000 square foot chicken house and equipment shed that my husband is repairing and converting into his shop, and a couple of other cool little outbuildings.
Another old barn forms one edge of our property, but it actually belongs to an empty lot to the southwest. Dwight, the neighbor who owns that property, is kind enough to let us cut through the lot with our kids on our way to our favorite bike riding spot. A few months after we moved in, Dwight pointed to the milking parlor attached to the front of the barn and said, “You know you own that, right?”
Um, no. We didn’t.
I didn’t even know what a milking parlor was until someone explained that its primary purpose was housing a tank where the milk was collected. Long abandoned, the 10 foot by 10 foot room was a wreck. The parlor still bore the scars where the tank was bolted to the floor, still has the vent in the wall where a truck would feed a hose through to siphon off the milk and take it for processing. There is still has the drain in the slanted floor (only this one is slanted on purpose). And it even had a fragile, tattered copy of the last inspection of the milk barn and parlor, dated August 8, 1967, signed by the farmer who owned the property.
It took me about half a second to know what I wanted to do with it. I’ve spent enough time looking longingly at the writing cottages of folks like Laurie Halse Anderson to seriously dream of what it might be like to have one of my own. And now I do.
It wasn’t a desperate need, mind you. I’ve written seven books so far, most of them from a comfy chair or my couch. But occasionally, I find myself in need of a change of venue, or something more private than I can now manage as a stay-at-home mom in a house with a preschooler and a kindergartner and a dishwasher that seems to constantly beg to be loaded or emptied. On those occasions, I might take a Saturday or an evening and hole up in a coffee shop or at a quiet table in the library. So I was managing.
A Space For The Work I Love
But even so, I’m thrilled beyond words to have this space. A space that’s dedicated to the work I love to do. A space that may only be twenty steps from my backdoor across a the driveway where my kids ride their bikes and draw on the pavement with sidewalk chalk or dare each other to eat things from my raised garden bed, but somehow feels wonderfully separate. Separate enough to perhaps to put some breathing room between two very different, very consuming roles I play: wife/mom and writer. And I’m so grateful. I know this room doesn’t necessarily represent a fulfilled need so much as a fulfilled desire of my heart, but somehow that makes me even more thankful.
The remodel itself was a blast for another reason. My husband and I are pathologically thrifty. We love to repurpose items, often hitting up thrift and salvage stores to find the best deals. And as we worked, sort of tallying up in our heads how low the cost was for the value of what the parlor represented, my husband remarked how we were a bit like Thoreau with his obsession in listing the costs of the construction of his cabin on Walden Pond.
But in the end, it doesn’t really matter how much it cost. I’ve got a room of my own to work, create, read, wrestle with line edits, or do Skype visits in peace. And I can’t put a price on any of that.