I think that D.J's character can relate to almost everyone. Meaning not everyone is sure of what they want in life, and that bad things can turn out to be the best things that could ever happen to you . . . I never put your story down. I finished it in less than 3 days, I probably could have finished it sooner if i wasn't so busy.  Myself personally think that you should or at least consider turning your book into a movie . . . Also i was just wondering if D.J and Brian ever ended up together? Also is there a sequal to your novel? Thats all i can think of to say at the moment. I would just like to say thanks for your time and please get back to me if you can.

  1. -Nicole

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About the book

Fourteen-year-old Sarah Zorn is invited to Italy to help her grandmother complete a 46-year-old journey. Sarah’s boyfriend Curtis questions the trip, though his sister D.J. (heroine of the Dairy Queen trilogy) thinks it’s a great idea. Confused, Sarah begins to doubt her relationship with Curtis and the half-truths on which it is based — half-truths that become even more obvious once they break up. Heartbroken, she sets off with her grandmother Z to visit the seven pilgrimage churches of Rome. As their tour progresses, Z’s behavior becomes more and more erratic; baffled Sarah has to take charge. Real life is so much messier than science! Can Sarah reconnect with Curtis — connect in a way that is both honest and true to herself? What does D.J. Schwenk have to say? Maybe Sarah can figure it out, in her own way . . . figure out boy-liking and love and the true meaning of family.

Questions courtesy of Big Blue Marble Bookstore >>

Questions courtesy of From the Mixed-Up Files ... >>

Interview with Mitch Teich of WUWM >>

Questions courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

How did the idea for this book originate?

Well. In November 2003 I visited my sister in Rome, where she was researching a memoir on divorce, travel and healing that would become Eat, Pray, Love. She had a friend of a friend who was researching a church south of Rome in the middle of nowhere, and he offered to give us a tour. So Liz and I took a cab there. As we got out of the cab, we happened to notice that the tour buses had beds, not seats. We were — I was — simply blown away by the realization that people had traveled hundreds of miles, unable even to sit up, to reach this church of San Paolo Fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls). I’d studied a LOT of architectural history and the history of Rome, but it wasn’t until that moment that I *got* pilgrimage. I desperately wanted to learn more. I went home and wrote Dairy Queen and four other books, but the whole time I’m trying to figure out a book about pilgrims traveling to Rome. I needed a reason that a young-adult narrator would go on a pilgrimage. How about an an older, quirky female relative — a relative whose unreliability matures the narrator? How might that unreliability parallel the crises and maturing process in the narrator’s own life?

Talk about the title.

Twenty-five years ago, I saw these words taped to the wall of a copy center at the University of Pennsylvania — a fortune cookie fortune of “Hell is paved with good intentions” with “Heaven is paved with Oreos” carefully handwritten underneath. I’ve always loved that phrase, and to me it encapsulates the theme that there are multiple paths to virtue and love, and you have to find, or make, your own.  

How about D.J.?

In writing Heaven is Paved with Oreos, I wanted to learn about Roman pilgrims, but I also — on a very different level! — wanted to do something more with D.J. Schwenk without extending the trilogy. D.J., to my mind, grew up so much in the three Dairy Queen books that I didn’t think I could continue with her as narrator. Yet I love D.J. and I loved the idea of finally getting to see her through someone else’s perspective. Which led to the next question: who would that new perspective be? With hindsight, Sarah Zorn is the obvious choice.


Isn’t he wonderful? I love that kid so much. He seems so scared at times, but in truth he’s amazingly brave. I think having an older sister like D.J. really shaped him. He respects Sarah, and he takes her seriously . . . Not a bad trait in a fourteen-year-old boy.

Is Z based on anyone you know?

This is going to sound loopy — rather like Z! — but I first got the idea for Z from a woman in a checkout line in Whole Foods. She was one of those people you look at and think, what makes this person tick? That woman was peculiar, though, and I don’t think of Z as peculiar, just vastly immature. In many ways she’s still eighteen.That’s what makes Oreos interesting, that Sarah is put in a position of such responsibility, and — rather like D.J. in the Dairy Queen trilogy — that responsibility helps her to grow up, and see the world more clearly.

Who is Miss Lillian Hesselgrave?

Miss Hesselgrave, unfortunately, does not exist. I created to be the voice of fact (often inaccurate fact) — she makes it possible for a fourteen-year-old narrator to explain things like Bernini’s elephant and the construction of St. Peter’s. I’ve come across many real Victorian writers who aren’t that far from Miss Hesselgrave — loads of judgement and quite hilarious today.

What about Caravaggio and the painting of St. Paul?

Oh, that definitely exists — you can see a version of it here >>. It is an amazing picture . . . The sort of art you sink into without even realizing.

Did you have to travel to Rome yourself in order to write this?

Yes. Such hardship! I went with a friend who’d never been, so it was a huge treat to show her the city; she was the most amenable traveler I could ever hope to meet in all my life. Whatever I suggested, she said, “Yes!” The seven pilgrimage churches were more fantastic than I’d ever imagined. I’d only been to St. Peter’s and S Paolo, so seeing the rest . . . I really did feel like I was part of history.

Can you describe the churches, and what that research was like?

At the beginning of my work on Oreos, I didn’t even know that there were seven pilgrimage churches. I’d come vague references to “seven churches,” but writers never even listed the churches’ names; it was something they assumed people knew. Argh! Then I needed to fit the seven churches into a contemporary story about a girl struggling with independence and first love.

I also had to research commercial food canning . . . I tracked down a wonderful man, a manager at a plant in northern Wisconsin, who was delighted to answer every question I could think of. Thank you, Mr. Severson!

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