Today we’re welcoming a special guest to the blog. Please say hello to Jenny Elliott, author of the YA paranormal romance, Save Me. I posted about her book last week, which you can check out by clicking here. Jenny is an author from my neck of the woods, around Spokane, WA, and I’m thrilled that she’ll be participating in Barnes and Noble’s first ever B-Fest! For those of you who haven’t heard yet, in the US, Barnes & Noble is hosting a teen book festival across the nation. All of their stores will be participating, and I’ll be there along with Jenny Elliott and Morgan Wylie. If you live near B&N you should definitely check out all the weekend fun.
Now, what I really want to do is introduce you to Jenny Elliott today, and she’s been kind enough to sit in for an interview. We’ll start with some basics and pick her brain about publishing her first novel with Swoon Reads/Macmillan.
Jenny, how long did it take you to write the first draft of Save Me?
This one’s hard to answer, because I brainstormed/daydreamed/outlined for a couple of months. The actual writing of the very rough first draft took about six months. The revising/editing/getting feedback from readers and critique partners took over four years. I also hired two editors, one who looked at an earlier draft and one who looked at the changes I made after applying the first editor’s advice. Then I went back to revising. Ultimately, the whole process took about five years. It was my first novel, and I’d heard that seven to ten years is a reasonable time for a newbie author to work on craft and revise a story. So, I feel fortunate to have been traditionally published as early as I was…
You put a lot of time and effort into your craft. That’s fantastic! It says a lot about your love of writing and dedication. Of course, you must have other pursuits that take up your time. Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
It’s not the most environmentally-friendly thing, but I love to drive. I also HAVE to drive a lot, since I pick up my oldest sons from school and transport my daughter to and from the gym most days. I do a lot of daydreaming/brainstorming in the car, which helps with my story planning, so I consider it part of my job. I do hope to get an electric car soon, though… Also on a daily basis, I love to listen to music (also helps with story brainstorming) and I consider Scrabble a quasi form of meditation. Reading is also big, and I enjoy going to the movies when I can. On a less frequent basis, my favorite thing to do is to be near the ocean, no matter what I’m doing—hanging out on a balcony, walking on a beach, whale watching, sleeping and listening to the water, etc. SAVE ME is set in a fictional town based on my favorite places on the Oregon Coast: Lincoln City and Depoe Bay…
And I can’t wait to read it! I spent seven years of my childhood living on the inland waterways of Alaska and find myself missing it. I like that some of your favorite places inspired the setting for Save Me. Other than being inspired by locations, how did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?
To be frank, I chose Young Adult romance, in part, because I didn’t want to write anywhere-near-explicit sex scenes. Also, my writing style is simple, and I’m still not sure if it would lend itself to adult fiction. I chose to add paranormal aspects because those are what most fascinate me. I love combining unusual and equally strong elements, though it can be a challenge to make them mesh—lots of revising involved…
I can understand that. Even adults enjoy YA fiction. Simple and young doesn’t mean naïve or boring, either. There’s some great books in the genre, written in many different styles and ways. Oh! Speaking of ways, what “person” do you like to write in? First Person, Third Person, etc.—and why?
I actually wrote the first draft of SAVE ME in First Person. At that time, I discovered that agents were flooded with First Person submissions. So, I re-wrote the story in Third Person. When I submitted again, at least one agent said they were glad to finally see a Third Person point-of-view. That’s not to say I wouldn’t try my hand at a First Person point-of-view in the future. But my work-in-progress is also written in Third Person…
Actually, I agree with that agent. I guess I like first person okay, but I’ve always preferred third person perspectives because they broaden my ability to really understand and identify with the characters on a personal level whereas when I read first person if I don’t immediately have something to identify of myself in the character it’s much more difficult for me to connect. It must have been interesting to switch perspective! Of course, outside choosing perspective there’s a hundred other things for an author to decide upon, like length, era, title, and so on, which makes me wonder, how do you decide on a title for your book?
I try to base it on one or more of the story’s themes. SAVE ME was originally titled, THE REAL DANGER. My goal was to clue people in to the fact that there would likely be a knee-jerk negative reaction to one danger, while another major danger would be overlooked. The story ended up being more of a romance than I originally intended, however. When Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends/Swoon Reads chose my story for publication, I believe it was our fearless leader, Jean Feiwel, who came up with the title, SAVE ME. I loved it from the start. It fits other, equally (if not more) important themes in the book concerning salvation…
I think Save Me is a great title, and that explanation of how you first thought over titles makes the book that much more intriguing. J Since others helped with the title creation and you mentioned you worked with editors, I’d love to ask more about them. How has your experience with editors been?
Like I said before, I hired two editors before my book was chosen for publication, and then I worked with yet another editor for Swoon Reads. I’ve heard horror stories about editors that make demands for changes authors don’t agree with. But I’m three-for-three as far as success dealing with editors go. The first editor I hired, I met at a literary festival in my hometown. I hired her to do a “Readers Report” on a somewhat early draft of SAVE ME. Her name is Gretchen Stelter, and she and her partner, Henry Covey, work as editors at Cogitate Studios. Gretchen went above-and-beyond, and I was thankful for her honesty about things she thought didn’t work. She played a huge part in shaping my story. After applying Gretchen’s suggestions in another revision, I hired my mentor and writing teacher, author Barbara Rogan, to do another edit. She was similarly thorough and gave me enough gold to revise my story to the point that it shined on Swoon Reads. For the last go-round of changes before publication (and there were plenty—five pages of revision suggestions), I worked with Holly West. Every time I read something she suggested, I wanted to smack myself in the forehead and say, “I should have thought of that myself.” She was sweet and said, “That’s what I’m here for.” My response was, “Thank God for you!” Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of editors…
I’m with you there. When you have an editor that is honest, thorough, and kind you are a very lucky author. It makes the entire process go much more smoothly. Of course, there’s more to the process than writing and editing. So, are you a plotter? Or pantser?
As slow as I go daydreaming/ruminating/plotting a story, it would take me a gazillion years to write a story “pantsing.” It would surely take me more than the five years it took me to write SAVE ME, or the year-and-a-half it took me to produce a draft of my work-in-progress, PROJECTION—which still needs a lot of revisions). For those interested in investing in pre-planning/plotting, I highly recommend Holly Lisle’s online courses, as well as Larry Ingermanson’s, The Snowflake Method, and Larry Brooks’s book, Story Engineering (for starters)…
Clearly you’re a dedicated plotter! Thanks for sharing those suggested resources, Jenny. We really appreciate it. Since you are constantly plotting, how much structure is in your story before you start writing it?
I would’ve fantasized about most every character trait, motivation, interaction, etc. before I actually wrote any prose. I’ll write down what often amounts to a few pages of details for a scene, but they’re always in minimal form. I can’t choose the actual words that will end up on the page (and will still probably be revised—more than once!) until I’ve figured out exactly what I want to happen and how I hope readers will respond…
I like to do that, too. Of course, I also enjoy using a character interview form. You have planned out so much of your work. What was your road to publication like?
In my experience, the most helpful part of my road to publication was perfecting my craft. I benefited greatly from both Holly Lisle’s online courses and my mentor, Barbara Rogan’s courses, in which she and other promising writers exchanged critiques with other students. The networking that resulted was also significant. I’m still in contact with many fellow students and we’ve been able to do further critiques for each other, to celebrate each other’s successes, and to encourage each other to persist in pursuing our storytelling dreams…
Having that support system is so important. It helps to have critique partners who can also celebrate your successes right alongside you. There are a lot of new writers here today. There are a lot of new writers here today. What advice can you give them?
Working on craft takes a lot of work and usually a long time. There’s that golden rule that you need to put in about 10,000 hours to become really good at anything. Along with that, even though I typically like to work alone, I’ve learned that it takes a village to bring a book to a place where it’s ready for traditional publication. It’s important to reach out to writers and published authors. We’re all in the same boat. And we’re here to help one another…
I think that advice, working on craft, applying yourself, and getting lots of outside feedback/help can also be easily applied to the serious indie author, too. It’s a really good reminder! What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, since I have four kids at home), I generally only do my best writing in the late evening/wee hours of the morning. Then I dream about the story, and the next day I usually take a drive, listen to music, and brainstorm some more—then get back to outlining/writing that night. Sometimes I long to find writing inspiration in a sunrise. But I know myself, and my muse, and sunsets and the dark of night will always be the time I come up with my best stuff…
I tend to write mostly at night. I have a couple hours during the day available, but it can become impossible to work in actually concerted writing when the business of life fill in all the gaps. As writers we take any hours we can get! Just out of curiosity, have you ever been recognized by a fan in public for your writing, or when was the first time a fan came up to you in public (not an author event or signing)?
Nope. Unless “in public” includes in magazines and on Macmillan’s Swoon Reads website… Either way, I’m forever moved by the amazing comments from both magazine folk—here’s one from Romantic Times (We all need to brag once in a while—especially given the harsh comments we also have to endure): “Elliott’s first offering is a winner. A wild ride cloaked in mystery, this story will have readers perched on the edge of their seats from the first page.” —Romantic Times
And here’s a Swoon Reader’s comment that is simple, but—to me—more powerful than most any other commentary could be. These types of comments keep me motivated to continue with the craft… “i love this book!! i just finshed it and i already want to read it again! i could not put it down.” –Marriah, Reader & Writer from Dawsonville, GA
That’s wonderful stuff, Jenny! Congrats! Since you’re obviously present in the online world, what’s your favorite social media?
It’s funny, because I have far more Twitter followers than Facebook ones, but Facebook seems most personal to me. And I like that. But then, some of my favorite people and posts are found on Google+. So, those three sites are my faves…
All good choices for authors to use. Facebook is definitely the most well-known and personal of the three. I’m still learning my way around Google+, and I’d say Twitter is best for networking and meeting other writers. That leads me to this next question. We make friends online and in person. Do you have author friends?
I feel honored to be somewhat personal friends with my mentor and teacher, Barbara Rogan, and have also corresponded personally with Holly Lisle, after taking many of her courses. Anne Rice and I have also done a back-and-forth on Facebook regarding dealing with harsh criticism. Some of my other favorite authors are those who’ve joined me in the quest to achieve traditional agenting/publishing success. Some have reached their goals. Some haven’t yet. But I know some surely will, if they continue to persist. I have to give a shout-out here to my best critique partner and unexpected, yet treasured friend, who’s also a fantastic writer—Natalia Jefferson—who lives in London and has blessed me in ways I couldn’t begin to explain. I suspect she’s an angel-in-disguise…
You have a diverse and wonderful group of author friends! I love it. It also sounds like it took a lot of time and energy to forge those relationships. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I think it was in the fourth grade, when I had a story idea about a young girl who got trapped in a library because the books came to life and grew literal roots that entangled her. I was kind of intimidated by the scope of a project involving completing a whole story, so I enlisted a couple of helpers. They were excited at first, but their interest soon waned. Mine never did. I abandoned the story, as it was understandably a difficult task. But I kept reading other authors’ stories. And their novels were my textbooks…
Ha! That’s great that you took your passion and reached out for help. It shows your dedication to the craft from an early age. They say (whoever they are) that reading is a must for writers, so good job with all that continued learning experience. Having read a lot, you must have a favorite author and different quotes that inspire you. What’s your favorite quote of anyone besides you, and one from you?
I posted this one from Tom Hiddleston when I first submitted to Swoon Reads:
“You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.”
As for myself, this is something I’d tell anyone aspiring to anything: “No one’s going to care as much as you do about your striving towards a personal goal (or reaching it, for that matter). YOU need to care enough to make it happen and to bask in the glow of achievement on your own…” (Not meaning people won’t care for you, personally, but…In my experience—for the most part—it is what it is…)
Great quotes, reminders, and inspiration to keep climbing, keep pursuing your dream. Thanks! As I read your quote I wonder, was it a big exciting thing to get signed by your publisher? How did you celebrate?
All I can say is: “I’M STILL IN SHOCK.” J
Our time is running out, but I have one more question to ask. Tell us about yourself. Who IS the real, Jenny Elliott? And not typical boring bio stuff. The dirt. Like, when was the last time you did laundry?
I’m kind of proud to say that I’m CONSTANTLY doing laundry. I have four kids under the age of 13. But don’t let me fool you. I like to live in dreamland. I’m no Cinderella or Holly Hobby/Stepford girl. I don’t like to clean. Sometimes I like to cook. But I’d rather be driving, listening to music and daydreaming, or reading or playing Scrabble. Ideally, that would all happen at the ocean. Why is writing missing from the equation, you might ask? I forgot who said it, but I’m one of those who doesn’t so much like writing as HAVING WRITTEN… 😉
Well, I for one can totally identify with you on that front. I also have four kids, but my oldest is a teenager! Eek! I’m also not a good housekeeper, but that’s mostly because I’d rather be writing. I guess I need a sign on my door or a t-shirt or something that says, “Mess? What Mess? All I can see is the story in my head.” Or for days when the toilets need scrubbing, a shirt that says, “I’d rather be writing.”
It has been such a pleasure getting to know you, Jenny. I can’t wait for this coming weekend during B-Fest where I’ll get to meet you in person.
Here are all the great ways to connect with the talented and sweet author, Jenny Elliott:
- Facebook Friends Page: https://www.facebook.com/jenny.elliott.165
- Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/jennyelliottauthor/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/jennykelliott
- Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jennykelliott/
Please leave a comment, question, or idea! I’d love to chat!