Interview with Maria Padian, author of Jersey Tomatoes are the Best

Please welcome Maria Padian to the blog!  I recently finished reading her novel, Jersey Tomatoes are the Best. A fantastic realistic fiction story for many of today’s over-scheduled and high-achieving teens, I highly recommend it.  It’s much deeper than it appears to be at the surface and would pair well with Laurie Halse Anderson’s work!

Summary from the publisher:

This is a hilarious and heartbreaking story of two teen girls and the summer when everything changes for them. Both Henry and Eva are New Jersey natives and excellent athletes: Henry’s a master on the tennis court and Eva is a graceful ballerina. When opportunity knocks for both of them the summer before their junior year in high school they throw open the door: Henry sees freedom from her overbearing father and a chance to build her talents on the court. Eva sees the chance to be the best as well as even more pressure to be graceful, lighter, more perfect on the dancefloor.

Soon, Eva’s obsession with physical perfection leads her down the path to anorexia, and her health issues overwhelm everything else. But through it all these two best friends know that Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, and nothing will come between them no matter the distance.

Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed at thereadingzone, Maria! I read and loved Jersey Tomatoes are the Best. When you first got the idea for Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, what came first? Did Henry and Eva come to you as characters, or was the concept/plot the first thing?

I wanted to write a story about kids under pressure because everywhere I look I see young people bent beneath the weight of expectations, parental pressure, homework, you name it! I was playing around with that idea when the character of Henry developed.

I’m a great believer in the “plot follows character” method of writing. If you know a character, you’ll know what he/she will do, and their story unfolds before you. I also need to hear a character’s voice in my head before I can start writing his/her story, and Henry had a very distinct way of speaking right at the outset!

The big surprise in this book was Eva: she started off as a minor character and Henry’s sidekick. But then, she took on a life of her own, and when Henry was set to leave for  tennis camp in Florida, I commented to my teenage daughter, “I’m about to abandon Eva in New Jersey and my editor won’t like that.” My daughter sighed, threw an armload of her books on my bed and said, “You clearly need a two-narrator novel. Take a look at these.” The entire novel changed at that point.

2. Why did you choose New Jersey as your setting?

I’m a Jersey Girl! I grew up in northern Jersey, in a small town called Allendale. It was a wonderful place to be a kid and I have terrific memories of riding my bike across town to play tennis at the public courts with friends. It was just pure fun to place Henry and Eva in the Garden State.

3. What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

I’m the sort who knows the beginning and the end, but no clue as to what will happen in the middle! My challenge is figuring out how to get to the end.

My favorite metaphor for writing is that it’s driving, in the fog, with the headlights on. I know my destination and I can only see about 10 feet in front of me. I know if I keep moving forward, I’ll eventually reach my destination. Of course, sometimes, as I’m driving, I’ll see someone standing on the side of the road with his thumb out. Some people might call him a hitchhiker; I call him a plot twist. I can choose to keep driving, or I can let him in. Generally, I try to trust, and let the hitchhiker in, because then the trip gets really interesting.

4. Do you write everyday? Do you have a specific writing schedule?

I write every day, usually in the morning, after I walk the dog. I become pretty grumpy if I don’t write each day, and the dog becomes grumpy if she doesn’t walk, so this works for both of us.

5. And the most important question- what is your favorite go-to snack when you are writing?

Chocolate, of course. In pretty much any form.

6. I have to admit, I moved Jersey Tomatoes are the Best up on my pile for a few reasons. First, I live in NJ and I am a Jersey girl through and through. Second, your author bio says you have an Australian Shepherd, and so do I! I’d love to hear a little about your Aussie! My Dublin is almost 2 years old and keeps me active, laughing, and learning.

You’re from Jersey? What exit??  (I am from Exit 114!)

Dublin: what a terrific dog name! Our Aussie is Frisbee, and she is without a doubt the most intelligent, most athletic member of the family. To steal a phrase from one of my favorite fictional characters, Eloise, Frisbee is “my mostly companion.” At any give time of day I can look up from where I work and she is watching me, waiting to play. She always has a ball within tossing distance, and even if you think she’s sleeping, she’s actually waiting … watching … ready to spring to action in a nanosecond.

My daughter says a dog is like a banjo: you can’t play a sad song on a banjo, and you can’t be sad if you’re playing with a dog. Frisbee lightens up our whole family; we love her.



Thanks so much for stopping by, Maria!  It’s been great getting to know you, and thank you for your wonderful new book!  I highly recommend it.


Follow Maria to the next stop on her blog tour:

April 1st—Cleverly Inked