Me: What inspired you to become an author?
Jennifer: When I was a new mom, I was going nuts! My husband was gone 13 hours a day, and I was living away from friends and family. I loved my baby, but with no adult conversation all day and only the Teletubbies as background music, it was mind numbing. My husband said, “This is your chance. You should write a novel.” And I said I’d never written anything but essays and research papers, but he said, “No. Just do it.” And so I did. My husband, he was the catalyst, and he’s been my muse all along—with ideas from a trust fund via a Galapagos tortoise, to a sumo romance, to a language immersion business with a girl too pretty for that job.
Me: How did you get set up with your very first publisher?
Jennifer: I wrote and rewrote and rewrote my first novel, which was an LDS romance. It’s a small publishing world with that niche. A woman I had been working for at the local college knew somebody and gave me her phone number. She talked to me about a new publisher, Spring Creek, who was just opening its doors. I shot my novel to them as fast as I could. That was February. By May, my book was in print. It was a lightning fast turnaround. They ended up publishing my next two books as well. It was a classic case of “who you know.” I was very fortunate to know someone who knew someone.
Me: Your latest book, Big In Japan is about a tall, white, overweight guy who decides to become a sumo wrestler. What was the inspiration for such a fun and original storyline?
Jennifer: My husband! Like I said, he’s the muse. We’d been sitting around at lunch time, shooting the breeze about what I would write if I went mainstream, and he said to write about Japan. (I’d lived there and been a missionary in Tokyo during college.) He asked me to tell him some random funny stories from Japan, and I knew about an American guy, a redhead, who was trying to get into a sumo training stable. We rolled that around for a while and it evolved.
Me: Now, Big In Japan has been optioned for a possible movie. If you could pick the actors for the movie whom would you choose to play Buck and his love interest?
Jennifer: I don’t know! I have thought this through a thousand times, and wasn’t sure. I’d want him to be young enough for the part, you know? It really puzzled me. Then when the producer contacted me he said he had an actor in mind: Chris Pratt. He’s a guy on Parks and Rec. But he’s also got a part in the upcoming Guardians movie. When I saw him, I went, oh, yeah. Perfect! For Chocho, I think any darling Japanese girl would do. Sorry—I should be more precise, I know.
Me: What would you like your readers to learn or come away with after they’ve read Big In Japan or any of your other wonderful novels?
Jennifer: I have always figured I write “escapist” fiction. I want people to read it and get away from the stresses and troubles of their own lives for a few hours, and just immerse in something enjoyable. Beach reads. That is what I aim for. I guess with Big in Japan, there are other levels of meaning. In it, Buck has always been reviled for his size; but then in Japan, he finds that it is the thing that gives him the greatest advantage and most opportunity. His greatest detriment is actually his greatest strength. I think most of us have felt overlooked or sidelined, and if Buck can find his true self and emerge as a warrior, then anyone can.
Me: How do you deal with writer’s block? Any tips you can give other author’s experiencing the same problem?
Jennifer: I actually just take a break from writing for a while. For me, writing is a hobby, not really a career. I am not under any illusion that I’ve got a real job. It’s for fun. So when it’s not fun, I stop for a while. I read a lot. It’s like seasons—gathering of creativity, and then expression of it. That said, there are times I’m just dying to get the story out, and it’s jammed up driving me crazy. In those cases, I actually find that prayer is a good option. Not necessarily that I’ll get through the block (although that does help) but focusing on something else does help. Clears the mind, you know?
Me: Tell us about your writing process.
Jennifer: Honestly, it’s kind of boring. I mean, I sit at the computer, open my document, start to type. When I get all frustrated, I check Twitter. Then after a few minutes, guilt hits and I go back to the document. It helps if I unplug the internet—keeps me on task better. My kids are all in school at last, so I have a few hours in the morning that I devote to writing so I can focus on them when they’re home. Although right now it’s afternoon and my kindergartener is watching Pokemon instead of getting her mom’s attention. Ah, the guilt of motherhood is never ending, isn’t it?
Me: How does being a mother affect your writing?
Jennifer: I only started writing because I needed to have an adult conversation, even if it was just with the imaginary people in my head. Now that my kids are growing up and are much more interesting, I am able to snatch up some of their hilarious lines and plug them into my writing. Like I say, writing isn’t my career. Motherhood is. It’s the main thing. If I had a kabillion dollar book deal and the kids were a flaming mess, I’d never be as happy as if I just tap out a few stories that never sell and my kids are well adjusted. A wise man once said, "No success can compensate for failure in the home." (I really should go read to her now. It’s fairy tale time.) Another wise man said, "If you want your kids to be brilliant read them fairy tales. If you want your children to be more brilliant, read them more fairy tales."
Me: What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about being an author?
Jennifer: Most challenging thing? Marketing. It’s SO not fun. Most rewarding? Probably when some young person says they read my book and it helped them in a tough time. That’s not a common occurrence, but it has happened from time to time and it made all the grinding parts worth the effort. Oh, and the time my cousin living in Cairo during the Arab Spring and quarantined in her house sent me a message to say that she read “Chocolate and Conversation” to just escape her worries about the violence knocking at her door. Yeah. Mission accomplished.
Me: You have done traditional publishing and self publishing. Do you prefer one to the other or do you find that both have their own strengths and weaknesses?
Jennifer: I think both have their place. A writer has a commodity to offer. The writer needs to keep that in mind. Without stories, publishers wouldn’t exist. So, the writer needs to realize she is the one with the bargaining chip—her work. I have very much enjoyed the experiences I’ve had with the publishers I have worked with. Great people I count as friends. But self-publishing (while a TON of work) is also pretty fun. I like the short turnaround time of self publishing and the creative control over title and cover art. I’ve found learning all the skills needed to self publish a real challenge and a good learning experience.
Me: What projects can we look forward to in the near future?
Jennifer: Immersed, a short novel in the Ripple Effect Romance series officially debuts as an e-book next month! I’m excited about this series of clean romances. Two of the other authors in the six-author collaboration are USA Today Bestsellers. I’m in fancy company! Each of the six books has been really fun to read. Mine is last. The “tangible” book is available now. Let me know if you want a copy!
Yesterday I received hard copies of my novella SUPER DAISY in the mail. It’s silly fun. Disgraced former beauty queen suddenly gets useless super powers. That was my first foray into the land of self publishing, something I can hold in my hands, not just an ebook. Good times. It’s something I’m in discussions with a different movie producer for to adapt for screen.
Later this year I hope to have a full length novel available, too. It’s called The Art Jumper (you’ve heard parts of it, right, Cindy?) and it’s a bit romance, a bit fantasy. Basically it’s this: a guy can jump into art. So fun! Loving writing something completely different.
Me: You know, of course, that I would love a copy of Immersed, but I've already ordered it online. I'm covered girlfriend! As for The Art Jumper I am way excited for you to finish this one too. I don't want snippets anymore Jen. I want the whole thing! Okay, next question. Where is your favorite place to write?
Jennifer: Ummmm…. Probably just in my house. There’s always cold cereal nearby. All my novels should have a disclaimer: This book brought to you by Malt-O-Meal.
Me: That's hilarious! What inspires you?
Jennifer: Gary. My sweet husband. He’s just the best. And sometimes I say, “I need a story. What should I write next,” and he gives me the perfect thing.
Me: What authors have influenced your writing skills and techniques over the years?
Jennifer: I have learned a lot from my friends in my writers group, American Night Writers Association. The women there have given me great advice and encouragement, as well as taught me about writing—and how to make mine better.
Me: Do you have any advice to give aspiring authors everywhere?
Jennifer: Find a writers group that can give you both feedback and strength. It can make all the difference. Also, don’t be afraid to send your book to an editor, and then don’t be too proud to take the editor’s advice. The times I have shrugged off suggestions, I’ve regretted it. Pride! It bites me in the butt. And also, words on the page. Until you have words on the page, you can’t do much. Even if it scares you, put words on the page.
Me: Thank you again Jen for such a fun interview. I love having good friends on my blog. For those of you who haven't jumped on the Big In Japan, Super Daisy or Immersed train I highly suggest you get all three books as soon as possible. You won't regret it.
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Happy quote for the day: Happiness is typing THE END after a short story or novel.