Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Interview with Mary Cecilia Jackson for Sparrow


by Mary Cecilia Jackson
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: March 17th 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
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In the tradition of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a devastating but hopeful YA debut about a ballerina who finds the courage to confront the abuse that haunts her past and threatens her future.

There are two kinds of people on the planet. Hunters and prey
I thought I would be safe after my mother died. I thought I could stop searching for new places to hide. But you can’t escape what you are, what you’ve always been.
My name is Savannah Darcy Rose.
And I am still prey.

Though Savannah Rose―Sparrow to her friends and family―is a gifted ballerina, her real talent is keeping secrets. Schooled in silence by her long-dead mother, Sparrow has always believed that her lifelong creed―“I’m not the kind of girl who tells”―will make her just like everyone else: Normal. Happy. Safe. But in the aftermath of a brutal assault by her seemingly perfect boyfriend Tristan, Sparrow must finally find the courage to confront the ghosts of her past, or lose herself forever….

Can you briefly describe SPARROW and its characters?

Sparrow is the story of Savannah Darcy Rose, a seventeen-year-old ballerina who suffers physical abuse at the hands of her boyfriend, Tristan. In order to find a path to healing, she must confront the abuse that haunts her past and work to create a positive future for herself, in spite of her grief and pain. It’s also the story of Lucas, Sparrow’s close friend and dance partner, who tries his best to be a strong ally for her, even though he’s facing a tragedy of his own. 

Who would you say is your favourite character from the story and why?

That’s a tough question! Obviously I adore Sparrow and Lucas, but I’m also completely in love with Granny Deirdre, Lucas’s grandmother. She’s Irish, devoutly Catholic, and came to America to escape the violence in Northern Ireland that killed her youngest brother. She’s seventy-two, and though she’s seen her own share of grief and hardship and loss, she is never bitter or angry. Instead, she is deeply kind and loving and wise, but not preachy. Lucas desperately needs to hear what she has to say, because he’s been too stubborn and enraged and sad to hear it from anyone else. Of all the people in his life, she’s the one who manages to get through to him, without pushing, without lecturing, without making him feel guilty and terrible about his choices. She simply envelops him in love and tells him the truth of things. I love her for that. 

How did the story occur to you? Did you find inspiration anywhere?

When I began Sparrow, I was struggling with the first draft of another novel. It wasn’t going well, and while I was trying to accept the fact that I am really awful at world building and would probably never be a fantasy writer, a terrible news story went viral. A high-school girl had gotten drunk at a party and passed out. While she was unconscious, a group of boys took naked pictures of her and posted them on Facebook. I was so horrified by that cruelty and depravity that I felt sick for days. I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl. I dreamed about her. I wept for her. I kept imagining how she must have felt when she woke up and realized what had happened to her. Finally, after a few restless nights, I got up before sunrise one morning and wrote the first line of the first draft: I am not the kind of girl who tells. 

If you could choose one song to describe your book, which one would it be? 

“Til It Happens to You” by Lady Gaga. It’s so powerful, so heartbreaking, so absolutely wrenching that I can’t listen to it without crying. 

If your book was going to be made into a movie, who would play your characters?

If I were in charge of the world and made these kinds of decisions, I would go to every professional ballet company in the country - the New York City Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Boston Ballet, to name a few – and look for young dancers to play these roles. Ballet dancers have to be able to act, to show the deepest human emotions on stage in front of thousands of people, all without saying a word. I like to think that the actors who would play Sparrow and Lucas and all their friends would be as-yet undiscovered. I could see Nicole Kidman playing Sparrow’s Aunt Sophie, and I would completely bliss out if Queen Latifah played Dr. Seraphina King, Sparrow’s empathetic, compassionate therapist. (Also, in my head, Sparrow’s father looks exactly like Gregory Peck, just so you know.)

What drink and place do you think will go with your book to have a perfect book date? 

Definitely hot chocolate with big, fat marshmallows in a thick ceramic mug that warms your hands. As for place/setting, I think a rainy day in the fall, lots of crimson and gold leaves swirling to the ground in the wind, the sound of raindrops against casement windows. You, Dear Reader, are curled up in a window seat with sapphire-blue velvet cushions, a soft blanket on your lap, turning Sparrow’s pages, while the rain falls and the gray afternoon turns to dusk. 

Can you recommend your readers any other books in case they are left hungry for more once they finish SPARROW?

What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a book? 

The hardest part for me is writing the first draft. My first drafts are raging dumpster fires, so the whole process makes me feel like Sisyphus, pushing his massive boulder uphill over and over again. It’s tough showing up to the blank page every day, when you know that eventually your book will be much better, but right now, you have to write this terrible, stinky thing. Occasionally during that process I have days (okay, minutes) where everything comes together and I write something I love and know in my bones is good work. It’s tough, but I’ve been writing long enough to know that this is just the old, familiar first-draft angst, so I sit at my desk and power through until I get to the end. Then I breathe a sigh of relief and make everything beautiful in revisions. Lots and lots and lots of revision. So. Much. Revision. 

What’s next for you?

I’m not sure, to be honest. I’m gathering some notes and thoughts about another YA novel, but I don’t want to say too much about it, because then I will be jinxed by the Evil Nasty Book Fairy and all my ideas will disappear. I also have about a hundred pages of an epistolary novel that I love and worked on whenever Sparrow was out with my editor. Right now, I am focusing on all the writing and reading I’m doing in advance of Sparrow’s release. After March 17, I’ll figure out which project speaks most to me.

Mary Cecilia Jackson has worked as a middle school teacher, an adjunct instructor of college freshmen, a technical writer and editor, a speechwriter, a museum docent, and a development officer for central Virginia's PBS and NPR stations. Her first novel, Sparrow, was an honor recipient of the SCBWI Sue Alexander Award and a young-adult finalist in the Writers' League of Texas manuscript contest. She lives with her architect husband, William, in Western North Carolina and Hawaii, where they have a farm and five ridiculously adorable goats.


  1. I was lucky to get a sneak peek into the first few chapters of this book and instantly wanted to read the rest. The characters are so real. I also know it will be emotional and difficult in some parts.

  2. I'm interested to see what happens in this book :):)

  3. I usually read ya romance, but this sounds like an interesting story in spite of the sensitive subject matter; will still be adding it to my TBR.