BENNINGTON >> Author Ali Benjamin spoke to a group of students at the Bennington Free Library on Wednesday about the process of writing her first novel, "The Thing About Jellyfish."
"It's the story of a 12-year-old who lost her former best friend," said Benjamin to the assembled students, many of whom were involved in the middle school reading club. In the book, the main character, Suzy, starts to feel her friendship with her elementary school best friend start to fade. However, when she tries to rekindle their friendship, she ends up destroying it instead. That summer, he friend dies in a swimming accident. Suzy believes her friend was stung by a rare type of jellyfish, and begins a quest to prove it, in order to atone for her mistakes. "She's really sad, she's got a lot of grief, but she also has a lot of guilt," said Benjamin.
Benjamin said that she first was inspired to write about jellyfish after watching them at an aquarium. "I thought they were fascinating to look at," she said, describing them as similar to aliens. She originally wanted to make the book nonfiction, but couldn't see a publishing company paying for her to fly around the world and interview jellyfish experts. She said, around that time, she had another idea for a book about the relationship between a middle school student and her brother. One day, while sitting on the couch, she realized that they could be the same story, and the first seeds of "The Thing About Jellyfish" were planted.
The drafting process was extensive, and Benjamin said that she probably would still have been making changes to the manuscript today if the publisher had allowed it. "Every time I walked away from it and then went back and looked at it, there were things I wanted to change, and that probably would have gone on forever," she said. She said both the title and character names took a long time to finalize. "I'm really terrible at coming up with titles," she said, adding that her 4th grade daughter was still angry with her about the title she chose.
Benjamin said that the inspiration for her next book had not yet struck her, although she was working on a few projects that could turn into another novel.
The event was co-sponsored by the Bennington Bookshop and the library. Before the presentation, students had the opportunity to have their copies of the book signed.