Mary Jennifer Payne is known more colloquially to me as Jennie. She and I shared an English class in Western University’s Faculty of Education in the late 1990s (yes, I’m a qualified high school teacher – scary thought, eh?).
We lost touch for a while after Teacher’s College, but through the magic of Facebook, reconnected several years ago. That’s when I found out she was publishing YA (young adult) novels and teaching in Toronto. At the time I was struggling to write fiction, so being able to follow her journey and talk to her about writing was a real blessing. Alas, my fiction career stalled out and I pivoted towards music. She kept writing, though, and has now published five YA novels.
While she writes for teenage audiences, Mary J Payne has never been shy about the issues. Her young characters tend to come from difficult home lives. They deal with challenging social problems and realities, but they rise above their circumstances, discover their strengths, and create change. A lot of her work is drawn from things she has seen as a teacher in a high needs area in Toronto. I’ve been impressed over the years that she has been so committed to those neighbourhoods and her students. She certainly could have moved on long ago.
Mary’s most recent work is the Daughters of Light trilogy – a series of modern fantasy novels that deal with climate change and its implications. Again, the work doesn’t sugarcoat the issues. As she says in the interview, she thinks kids are far wiser and more resilient than adults give them credit for. She trusts them to confront these issues and make sense of them. Her work empowers them to believe in themselves and their ability to positively impact the world.
You can find Mary’s novels in most bookstores and online.
She is now researching a non-fiction book about pharmaceuticals and how the pharmaceutical industry can hurt patients. Over the past several years, she has struggled with the effects of being prescribed a steroid for a facial skin condition that caused severe damage. There have been consults with doctors all over the world, a wide variety of treatments, and surgery. Her experience has led her to dig deeper into the industry, with eye-opening results.
Fun fact: The Hiroshima Hearts song One Shadow was written with Mary and released as way of bringing attention to her medical issues. You can hear it below.
Like all of my guests, Mary Jennifer Payne is a great example of what can happen when you put yourself out there. One of the hardest things about being a writer is actually submitting your work for consideration. Even so, it’s a step you have to take if you hope to be published and have a career. She had the courage to do that, and continues to grow and evolve as an author and inspiration for others who have dreams to follow.
I hope this interview inspires you to take on your dreams as well, whatever they may be, and work to make a positive difference in the world. Enjoy!
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And here’s One Shadow by Hiroshima Hearts: