A conversation with Ralph Fletcher
The One O’Clock Chop is set in the 1970s. Did you draw from personal experience when writing this story? Also, what is the significance of the title?
I have learned that my novels work best if there are two stories going on. Sometimes those stories are parallel; at times the two may intertwine. This novel is about the relationship between Matt and Jazzy, but it’s also about the world of clam digging.
In writing this book I drew on my own experiences as a teenager on Long Island in the late 60’s and early 70s. Like Matt, I spent four summers digging clams.
I hope the title will resonate in several ways. The literal meaning of the One O’Clock Chop comes from the clam digging world. Every day at one o’clock a breeze would spring up from Fire Island. In the novel I hope the title also suggests that certain life experiences -- love, loss, betrayal -- are as inevitable and final as a force of nature.
Talk a little about the relationship between Jazzy and Matt. Where is the truth in it? In other words, isn’t unrequited love somewhat unavoidable?
The One O’Clock Chop is a coming-of-age novel in which Matt grapples with his first love. In our society we think of males as the hunter-aggressors. But with teenage courtship girls are often the ones who take the lead. (That was usually my experience as a teenager.) In the novel Jazzy is the one who initiates while Matt reacts to her advances.
There is no blueprint for love at any age. Every love affair has its own trajectory -- this one is no different. If you consider the intractable issues of geography (too far) and blood (too close), you might say this relationship is doomed from the start. Down deep Matt and Jazzy probably realize they can’t have much of a future, but they get involved anyway.
What are the differences between teenage life in the 1970s and today? Your own children are in high school; how is their world different?
In some ways today’s teen world certainly is different -- Ipods, Instant Messaging, email, cell phones, text messaging didn’t exist in the 1970s. However, I don’t believe that the fundamentals of romance have changed very much from then to now. Yes, certain rituals may be different, but the basic elements (attraction, longing, rejection, making that connection, getting jealous, so forth) are still the same, and will be with us for many years to come.
How would you characterize Jazzy? What are her motivations, and despite her precociousness, isn’t she in many ways just as naïve as Matt?
Some kids would feel reticent and shy coming from a different culture and far-away place. Jazzy is unusually confident and outgoing. And it’s important to remember that she’s a little older than Matt.
I have read that most teenagers live within a seventy-two hour bubble -- they can’t think much beyond that. Jazzy is spreading her wings. Maybe being in a new place, away from her mother, she feels like can step out a little bit. She wants to have fun. Matt is naïve to think Jazzy can be his secret girlfriend. But Jazzy is also naïve to think she can fool around with her cousin and not ending up getting his feelings hurt. (Or her own.)
You write for many different age groups -- picture books through young adult. What do you enjoy most about writing for teens?
I like to write about emotional subjects -- love, death of a brother, being abandoned by your father. The teenage years are chock-full of conflict, difficult situations, and intense emotions. Kids are trying to figure out who they are. There’s such a wealth of great material. Writing for a teenage audience, I really enjoy the wider freedom I have both in terms of subject matter and the language I can use to explore difficult issues and reveal the characters.
If you had one piece of advice to offer your teen readers, what would it be?
Try different kinds of book, magazines, poems, songs. It’s so easy to get in a rut. A book you wouldn’t normally pick up -- nonfiction, biography, how-to, philosophy, poetry, realistic fiction -- can end up becoming a lifelong friend.