Today, meet Jen Malone. Her upcoming MG debut, AT YOUR SERVICE, is out in August. I hope you enjoy this peek inside her process!
Short answer: At the beginning of 2012. Long answer: nursery school (I’m told I wrote some epics letters to Santa). In third grade I won a school-wide contest for my Halloween story and got to (had to? I remember feeling like this was more punishment than prize) read it over the loudspeaker during morning announcements. But then I got more practical and turned to journalism in high school and early college. THEN Melrose Place convinced me it would be way more glamorous to work in an ad agency (clearly, I was not discerning when it came to my sources of career inspiration) and I switched to copywriting. After college, the only advertising job I could land was actually in the public relations department of an ad agency, so then I switched to writing press releases instead of ketchup bottle labels. Writing was always there, in some form or another, and it’s amazing how the lessons from those type of writing have helped my fiction (journalism and press releases taught me to write tightly and get to the freaking point, copywriting has come in more handy while query writing than I ever thought possible) It wasn’t until my youngest started kindergarten and I got a few brain cells back that one day I had a story idea and I, on a whim, decided it would be fun to write a story for her, to celebrate her new reading skills. It grew to novel size and, well, here I am. That was in February of 2012 and let’s just say the bug hit hard, grabbed hold and will not let go! It’s been a whirlwind from there.
2. Are you a pantser or a planner?
I’d LIKE to be a planner because it’s so much more logical, but the one time I faithfully did it, I was so bored with the writing part, knowing exactly where the story was going. I’m still new at this and doing a lot of trial and error to find what does and doesn’t work for me. So I basically gobble up any anecdotes of what others do and try everything once. I’m working on my fifth manuscript now, and I’m just beginning to hone in on my own natural process.
3. Can you give us an idea of your writing process?
For me, it always starts with a query. Yes, before I’ve written so much as one sentence. I write three or four paragraphs as close to the tone of a book jacket blurb as I can manage (thank you, copywriting background), which forces me to think about who the character is, what he or she wants, what obstacles are going to be in his or her way, and what will happen if he or she doesn’t get his or her heart’s desire. That gives me a framework for the story. I sent that along to my agent with a subject line that reads something like, “Hey, if I wrote this, do you think you could sell it?” Obviously, she’s magical and can sell anything, BUT it’s always helpful for me to run it through the filter of someone who is just looking at the story from a market standpoint. She’ll give me feedback that is always encouraging, but also tells me what to steer clear of in that category and what to add in to make it more palatable to editors. If her email back to me includes the words “Holy hellweasels, write this now!” then I know I’m good. From there I spend some time making Pinterest boards for my characters until I have a sense of who they are and then I have to wait to hit on the perfect first line. Once it comes to me, it’s like the secret garden door has opened. So while not plotting, I really do a lot of thinking before I dive in. From there I tend to write fast until ¾ of the way through, when I inevitably hate the manuscript with all my soul and would pay someone a million billion dollars to finish it for me. I usually have to stop for a bit and come back to it a few weeks later when I can stand to open the document again. So far, I’m finding this is how it happens pretty much every time for me.
4. Which authors have influenced your work?
All of them. This sounds like a cop out answer but I read everything I can get my hands on. If desperate, I will read the back of a cereal box. And I learn from not only the good, but the bad, and the ugly. However, I really love humor and voice in writing, so when I need to worship at the ground of idols, I turn to Meg Cabot and Jen Lancaster. For good, relatable characters, I love Bridget Jones Diary (though I haven’t read the final one and I’m not sure I can bring myself to, given Mark Darcy’s death). But anyway. Why do we all love Bridget Jones so much when she’s so completely flawed and a little bit pathetic, and why is Daniel Cleaver so sexy and Mark Darcy so swoony? How does she make us all identify so much with them?! Oh, and Nora Roberts. Her characters and screenplays are magical in blending the funny with the poignant and making us FEEL!
5. What are you plans/future projects/new releases that we should be aware of?
My debut middle grade, AT YOUR SERVICE will come out in August 2014 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin M!X. It’s a really fun little love letter to New York City and my characters hit pretty much all of the major tourist attractions, so it was a blast to research, too!
Chloe Turner has pretty much the BEST life. She gets to live in the super fancy Hotel St. Michele, New York City is her home town and her dad Mitchell Turner, concierge extraordinaire, is teaching her all the secrets of the business so she can follow in his footsteps. After helping him out with a particularly difficult kid client, Chloe is appointed the official junior concierge tending to the hotel’s smallest, though sometimes most demanding, guests.
Her new position comes with tons of perks like cupcake parties, backstage passes to concerts, and even private fittings with the hippest clothing designers. But Chloe hasn’t faced her toughest challenge yet. When three young royals, (including a real-life PRINCE!) come to stay, Chloe’s determined to prove once and for all just how good she is at her job. But the trip is a disaster, especially when the youngest disappears. Now it’s up to Chloe to save the day. Can she find the missing princess before it becomes international news?
6. Any tips for new writers?
Read. Read for fun and to see what’s trending and why, but also read as a writer, questioning why authors did things the way they did in their stories. I learn so much from picking apart books I love and books I hate to find out WHY I’m having that reaction and how I can either emulate or avoid what those authors have done.
7. Any tips for old writers?
Ha! I would never presume…
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