Q: How did the two of you come up with the idea for this book, and for your main character, David?
WS: I had been wanting to do a project with Madelyn for a while - and we came up with what we had in common. We were both the "onlies" at our schools (me being Chinese-American, and Madelyn being Jewish) and grew up in the '80s. We both had specific memories from the '80s that we shared with David, such as watching [the TV movie about nuclear war] The Day After.
|Wendy Wan-Long Shang|
MR: Right. That time period became our touchstone -- the thing we knew well, so that we could concentrate on other things, like characters, plot, humor and fear.
Q: How did you work together on the book? Can you describe your process of collaborating?
WS: One of us would write, and then throw it to the other when we got tired or stuck. You can pretty spoiled that way as a writer. You mail off your manuscript and then presto! You’re not stuck anymore.
MR: We also walked a lot to talk things out. And we spent a lot of time sitting together at Wendy’s kitchen table.
Q: Did you remember all the 1983-84 details you include in the book, or did you need to do some research?
MR: There was plenty we remembered, but also, plenty we forgot. We had to do some research to supplement those memories. That meant looking at old newspapers and magazines. It meant watching The Day After again -- though the memory of watching that show for the first time had traumatized us both, we needed to see it again through a different lens.
WS: Looking back at magazines and movies at the time, it was pretty amazing to see how the Cold War influenced so much of our pop culture. We were also processing a lot of other issues, such as women’s rights and the Vietnam War. It makes you wonder how we’re being shaped now, and what we are trying to process.
Q: How did you come up with the book’s title, and what does it signify for you?
MR: “This is Just a Test” is something David says when he’s trying to figure things out, referencing the phrase from Emergency Broadcast System. I believe they used “only” instead of “just,” after that ubiquitous long beep assuring you that everything’s okay. In the book, David has spent a lot of time preparing for the future. But he has a moment when he realizes that the real test doesn’t come in the future. It’s all of the stuff that’s happening in the moment, right now.
WS: We went through A LOT of titles before we got to this title, which I love. When we were drafting the story, we nicknamed it "1984" because that’s when the story ends.
Q: What are you working on now?
MR: We’re working together on another book, though I don’t think we’re ready to talk about it in public yet. And I always have a mix of middle grades and picture books in varying stages of construction.
WS: I am working on my first picture book, and have some ideas that I would like to develop further for middle-grade books.
Q: Anything else we should know?
WS: We hope this book will give young readers and their families an opportunity to talk about what it was like to grow up in the ‘80s, and how things are different or the same. We also hope our readers will see that we have gone through uncertain times and come out the other side.
MR: Trivia is something else that comes up in the book, and Wendy and I both played a lot of Trivial Pursuit in the 1980s. Wendy was an expert at it. I remain hopeless.
WS: Not true! Although I believe that a lot of my knowledge about the world comes from that game, for better or worse. Also, I spent a lot of the ‘80s trying to make my hair as voluminous as possible. See: home perm. See also: are my bangs high enough?
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Madelyn Rosenberg, please click here.