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"Defying both sensationalism and cliche ..... the story is also about moving forward." --Kirkus Reviews, starred review
When I finally got the book in my hands, I didn't put it down until I reached the end. I am grateful to Jenn for writing this heart-wrenching novel and am eager to spread the word. Seriously, you must read this! And I'm going to make it easier for one of you.
To win a copy please read this interview and leave a comment below letting Jenn know something from the interview that encouraged you. I'll announce the winner here on Friday, April 27th.
You don't have to become a follower of this blog to be entered, but you can follow if you want to ^_^. I also encourage you to check out Jenn's Blog. It's one of my favorites.
What were some of the most important lessons you learned between the publication of THE SECRET YEAR and TRY NOT TO BREATHE?
Publishing one book gives you a sense of whch author events you like to do, which ones you’re good at, and which are the best fit for your book. You also learn the balance of writing / writing business / networking that works best for you.
I like to do a lot of online networking. I certainly do live events too—I especially love events with Q&A—but I do far more blogging and tweeting than I do school visits.
Briefly describe your writing journey from story spark to published novel:
I frequently start projects that I don’t finish. I may write a paragraph or a few pages and then realize there isn’t enough story there, or the narrator doesn’t engage me. But when I have a voice and a plot, I keep going until I have a draft of about 40-45K words. Then I do at least one major revision (usually several): moving chapters around, adding and deleting whole scenes and even whole characters and plotlines. Then I start the line editing process, where I’m happy with the structure but need to focus on the word choice and sentence-level construction. Only when I’ve fixed every problem I can find myself do I show it to beta readers. I do one or two more passes after receiving critique, and then submit it to my agent or editor. Of course, there are more editorial passes with my editor!
What are some of your favorite revision tips?
Only tell the interesting parts.
If you don’t know what happens next, ask the character.
Do a search-and-destroy mission for crutch words (“really,” “just,” etc.).
Watch for writerly tics that you assign to characters: are your characters constantly shrugging, or waggling their eyebrows, for example? (I had one draft in which the characters shivered and shuddered so much, you would’ve thought they were stationed at the South Pole. I cut 80% of it—a little shuddering is good.)
Writing a book with sensitive issues, like mental health, presents unique challenges. What has been your approach to research?
I tend to rely on what I call “incidental research:” I write about things I’m interested in, which I studied because I was interested even though I didn’t know I would end up writing about them. Or I write about things that I, or people I know, have lived through (changing and blending events beyond recognition). I don’t usually pick a subject I don’t know about at all and then research it in order to write about it—that seems too much like schoolwork. If I’m interested in something, I will have started reading about it for its own sake.
But sometimes during drafts, I will look up the answers to very specific questions, things I need to know to fill in holes in a draft. (For example, for Try Not to Breathe: How expensive is it to go sky diving? How old do you have to be?) And in the case of Try Not to Breathe, I also had a psychologist who had experience working with adolescents and working in institutional settings read a late draft, just to see if there were any glaring errors.
You’ve published two books from a teenage boy’s POV, and in my opinion, done it very well. What do you believe has helped you to make those voices authentic?
I grew up reading male authors, talking to male relatives, and having male friends. It seems normal to me that I have the voices of both male and female characters in my head. My third book (upcoming) has a female narrator.
One of the things that made TRY NOT TO BREATHE come to life for me was the setting. I felt like I was there. What helps you make your settings so real? Do you base them on places you’ve been? How about the glass house?
I like to use composites of places I know. The waterfall in Try Not to Breathe is a composite of many waterfalls I’ve seen, tweaked by my imagination just enough to fit the needs of the story. The quarry is based on a few old quarries I’ve seen; I live in Pennsylvania, where they’re not uncommon. I think the glass house is largely based on a nature center I know. It has a wall made mostly of large windows looking right out on a forest. And I seem to remember a living room like the one I picture for the glass house, with its wall of windows, in a magazine like Architectural Digest, which I would’ve picked up in a doctor’s waiting room.
The entire time I was reading this novel, R.E.M’s Everybody Hurts rolled through my brain. Then I got to the acknowledgements page and saw that the title was inspired by—R.E.M. Interesting. So what role does music play in your writing process?
I always listen to music while writing, and I had REM in heavy rotation during this book’s preparation. In fact, my agent at the time suggested a line from “Everybody Hurts” for the title of this book (which I, with my typical difficulty in finding titles, had simply called Waterfall). I liked the idea of an REM line, but “Try Not to Breathe” was what came to me. I’d listened to the song a lot while writing this book. I should acknowledge that it’s mostly just the title of that song that resonates; REM’s lyrics can be interpreted very differently, and I didn’t base my book on them. But while the lyrics of “Everybody Hurts” probably align more closely with the book’s theme, the two REM songs I most associate with writing it are “Try Not to Breathe” and “Drive.” Heck, Automatic for the People is just a great album.