Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interview with Jennifer Laurens

As I mentioned in my review of Heavenly (see previous post), the author, Jennifer Laurens agreed to an interview. I was really excited that some of the kids from the school that I teach at participated and came up with some of the questions. I absolutely loved the series and look forward to seeing what else Jennifer comes up with. Here is the interview:

     What was your journey to publishing like?
       I could write pages about this process. J I started submitting to agents at the suggestion of a writing teacher. Immediately, I got a response from a top NYC agent at Writer’s House requesting a full manuscript. I sent it—excited, of course. Author note: I figured I must be pretty good if a) my writing teacher thought I was ready to submit b) I got a request for a full right out the starting gate.

I learned a lot from this experience. The agent didn’t request the material, her intern—a girl out of college—did. Interns go through the slush pile looking for projects outlined by the agent that might fit into the agent’s wish list. Anyway, this girl read the book ( a women’s romance, which is what I was writing at the time ) and told me: 1) it was over-written by about 250 pages. 2) I had two strong protagonists instead of the usual one—and that concerned her.

I asked her: If I cut and make some changes will you look at it again? She said yes. I made the changes, mercilessly chopping redundancies, ( but I didn’t lose one of the two protagonists as they were integral to the story ) and sent it back to her.

In the end, she still declined representation.

Since then, ( 10 years ago ) I’ve had two NYC agents at big houses. Each has been different, but neither was able to sell the project they signed me with.

Like you, I go to the bookstore. I see what’s on the shelf. I knew my stuff was as good as what was out there, and I started getting annoyed. J I have six kids, so, I’m not easily annoyed. But, the idea that a tiny percent of the population chooses what the rest of the world reads really ate at me. Reminded me of high school, popularity and cliques. Stuff that shouldn’t exist outside of high school.

My husband has always wanted to publish NF books. So, we started a publishing company. He has published nothing. I’ve published 17 books.

Long story made short : make your way. Don’t let anything or anyone stop you.

What inspired you to write Heavenly?

      I have six children, one has autism. Her diagnosis was devastating at first. Her handicap has forever changed our family. We can’t go places together, simple things other families take for granted are huge endeavors for us and I could go on and on. Each of my children dealt with her handicap differently. These things and so much more are the backbone of the book. It’s my family story—our coming-full-circle to accepting her, her handicap and the changes it has brought into our lives with open arms and gratitude.

     Did you have to do any research for the series? 

     Well, not really :)

     The characters in the story seem so real and flawed. Was there anyone in real life they were based on? 

      My two teenage daughters are ( in combination ) Zoe.  My son had severe issues with drug abuse, and is completely Luke.  Abria is based on our daughter with autism as she was at 5. She’s now 16.  I guess you get the message here?

      Abria is such a beautiful innocent character. Do you have experience with autistic kids? 

     I honestly thought I could change my daughter—heal her through therapies, food changes, whatnot. I spent years of energy in this pursuit only to come to the final conclusion that she was who she was for a reason and, after seeing my teenagers go through difficulties, making choices that changed their lives or brought them harm, I was glad she wasn’t ever going to have to go through the kinds of challenges they were experiencing.

      Was there any underlying message you were trying to send in the books when you were writing them? 

      Definitely to have hope. Personally, I believe with God’s help we can make it through anything. I didn’t think I could ever accept my child’s condition. I wanted her to marry, to love, to have a career and family – how could she be happy without these life-enriching experiences?  I hoped other people would lose their fears of the handicapped and see them as choice individuals whose presence we are lucky to be in. We’ve learned so much from our daughter with autism. We’re so much more tolerant, forgiving, understanding and compassionate. Those are all qualities the world needs more of.

      How long do you see the series being and can you give any hints about Zoe and Matthias’ future? 

      Originally, I wanted to show the idea that there might be the possibility of love after this life for those who don’t find it here – like my daughter. I loved the idea that, in the next life, people from all eras of the world’s history might interact and, might even fall in love.

As far as Zoe and Matthias’ future goes, it’s pretty well outlined in Penitence and Absolution.

Do you have any “rituals” you have to do to write? As in sitting in a certain place or having the TV on  ?

      I always write to a soundtrack I create just for the project I’m working on and I listen to it 24/7 until the novel is complete. That, and I ADORE Rockstar energy drinks!!

      Several students are interested in pursuing a career in writing, can you give any advice on how to begin the process of turning an idea or story into a novel? 

      When I started Heavenly ( for instance ) I knew: 1) A teenage girl would fall in love with her autistic sister’s guardian angel. 2) she would die and be with him at the end. 

I’m an organic writer, leaving much of the story up to my characters and where they drive the plot. That works for me. It doesn’t work for everyone and, you CAN hit blocks along the way. Knowing as much as you can about the direction of your story, even if it ends up going another direction, is the best way to start. That, and the number one rule of good fiction writing is to start your story on the day life changed for your main character. For Zoe, it changed the day she lost Abria at the park.

Do you anticipate writing any other series in the near future? 

      I’ve got one simmering in my head, but ideas usually need to simmer for a while before I can write them out. So, maybe?

Fun Facts about Jennifer Laurens:

1.     If you could use one word to describe yourself what would it be? 

2.     If you could eat anything in the world what would it be?
 Cake donuts

3.     What is your favorite book? 
Did you have to ask that? Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak ties with Endless Love by Scott Spencer; both beautifully written.

4.     What is your favorite movie? 
ATM; The Social Network is amazing.

5.     What is your favorite book turned into a movie? 
The Devil Wears Prada

6.     If you could sit anywhere in the world and read a book where would it be? 
Isla Mujeras North Beach….powdered sugar sand beach, glorious turquoise water….

7.     If you could choose any other profession what would it be? 

8.     What’s your favorite NFL/College football team? (being from New Orleans, Louisiana this is a must ask question)
 (( I ADORE NEW ORLEANS!!!!)) My fav?? Don’t watch much football, I’m always writing…I cheer for BYU because we live so close to the college and I went there.

A special thank-you to Jennifer Laurens for doing my first interview on my blog and to some students for helping with the questions!

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