We have Hurricane Katrina to thank for the latest Dayton-set novel. Jen Violi, an 11-year Dayton native and UD graduate, escaped the flooding from Katrina by returning to Dayton and writing the short story that launched her book Putting Make Up on Dead People.
Donna Parisi, a senior in high school finds her calling in a casket. Having mourned her father’s death four years prior, she finds she is more comfortable with the dead and the grieving than the average person. But not everyone is quick to embrace her choice to attend mortuary school instead of traditional university.
The book, published by Hyperion Books deals with dual awakenings—the newness of adulthood and the realization that we all will die but first we all mourn.
Certain elements parallel Violi’s own life. She too lost her father early in high school and spent many formative years in Dayton. She graduated from the University of Dayton with a BA in English and Theater and a MA in Theological Studies. Having spent many years enmeshed in the downtown Dayton, suburban and college scenes, she accurately portrays them in her book. Local restaurants, businesses, landmarks and even Midwestern sensibilities appear throughout.
Accidentally Young Adult
It was during her exodus from a flooding New Orleans that Violi first met Donna Parisi, the protagonist of the story. She was the voice behind a series of short stories, ranging from age five to her late-30s.
“The YA genre chose me. I didn’t originally write the book as Young Adult. The series of stories-as-a-novel was submitted as my thesis for my MFA from to the University of New Orleans. I kept revising and then began submitting to agents who liked my writing, but they didn’t know what to do with the book.
“I was introduced to my agent through a writer friend. He saw the stories as a young adult book, but condensed down to one year. Once I made the decision to take that leap, things happened fast. Within three months, I had a whole new book written and ready to submit. A month after that, I accepted a deal with Hyperion,” said Violi.
The book is set in the last year of high school and that tremulous first year of college but the story transcends age. Readers of any age will recognize the scent of grief and the dazzling lights of new possibilities.
“I believe in the transformational power of story. Stories can be so healing. I’ve been honored to get really great feedback from my readers, especially those who have experienced grief and loss. When they share their personal stories with me after reading the book, I feel a profound sense of connection,” said Violi.
Jen now writes from Portland, Oregon. Her next work in progress is also YA, exploring another young woman on an unexpected journey of self discovery.
Jen can be found at: http://www.jenvioli.com/. Putting Makeup on Dead People can be found at any of the local bookstores or online.