Today I’m kicking off what I hope will be a new and continuing feature — Writer 2 Writer Wednesday, whereby I interview authors about their books and their process.
Jenny Torres Sanchez writes young adult novels. She is the author of The Downside of Being Charlie and the forthcoming is Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia, both published by Running Press. She also writes short stories, many of which are rooted in her Hispanic culture.
The Downside of Being Charlie is one of those books I could not put down. Had to read it straight through until the wee hours of the morning. I laughed, I cried, I thought about it for days…you know that kind of book!
Jenny and I share the same agent, the amazing Kerry Sparks (Levine Greenberg) and she graciously agreed to be interviewed for my fledgling blog. Team Sparks writers are all cool like that!
Here’s my interview!
The Downside of Being Charlie (Running Press May 22, 2013) has been out for about five months now. I love that this is a story that both guys and girls can relate to. What kind of feedback have you been getting from teens?
I would love to tell you I’m getting flooded with teen fan mail but in reality I’ve had a couple of emails from a couple of teens. But those emails have been amazing. It’s really cool to know that a story you wrote resonates with your intended audience. That in those pages, in the turmoil that is Charlie’s life, a teen finds something to connect with, something that affects them, and they reach out and let you know it. That’s pretty cool.
I loved your blog post about seafood and handling criticism. Are you getting better with it?
Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I actually do welcome criticism. Books become better because of criticism. And I’m lucky to have an agent and editor I really trust who let me know when I’m totally off the mark or something’s not working. So for the most part I’ve decided not to read reviews anymore because A) the negative ones will probably make me feel bad and question every word I write or B) the positive ones will probably make me feel so good that I’ll forget to question every word I write.
You know, at the end of the day, I appreciate reviews but I don’t want it to be about reviews. I want it to be about telling the truest story I can the best way I can and putting it out there and letting it be whatever it’s going to be to whoever reads it. Some people will like it. Some people will hate it. That’s cool with me.
Jenny’s blog post on criticism: http://jennysanchez.wordpress.com/
How do your stories come to you? Do you begin a character? A concept? A plotline?
Definitely character. They always begin with characters. I think it’s because I find people in general just really, really interesting. Like there’s this girl I notice almost everyday (at the bookstore where I write) and she’s always clicking through celebrity gossip sites. And I can’t help but wonder, why? What propels her to get ready in the morning, make the trip to the bookstore, and sit down for hours reading about celebrities? So I try to piece together an explanation. And hey, in reality, maybe she just likes celebrities or maybe she works for TMZ and she has to keep up with what other sites are publishing, but in my mind, it’s already something else. And this is how I mostly go through the day, thinking about what other people might be thinking, wondering what their lives are like and why they’re doing what they’re doing, making everything up. And then one day, a character shows up, and maybe a part of him came from an encounter with a stranger, but there’s the rest of him I have to figure out. And so it begins, trying to figure out why this character stands out, trying to figure out his story.
Do you work from an outline?
No, overall I just see where the story wants to go. Sure, I have a very, very loose sense of what I think is going to happen, but if it doesn’t make sense as the story develops I rather not force it. Especially since my stories never take the route I originally thought they would take.
What time of day do you write? Do you have a certain process?
I’m definitely a morning writer and I write best when I’m away from my house, so I go to my local bookstore, order an Americano, and get started. Some days are good. Some days are bad. But this routine helps get me in the right frame of mind at least.
What does a good day of writing for you look like? How about a bad day?
It varies so much. The other day, I spent about an hour on a paragraph. ONE paragraph! But I think I finally got just the right words in just right the right order to convey just what I meant. And that was very good on that day because it made me stop and think okay, this is how she’s feeling and this is why and it helped guide me. But on other days, a paragraph in an hour means pure panic and makes me think WHAT? THAT’S IT! THAT’S ALL I CAN COME UP WITH! I TOTALLY SUCK!
Overall, though, a good day is when I get some writing done. A bad day is when I sit there and stare at the screen and everything seems wrong. And a great day, a great day is when it’s flowing, flowing, flowing and hours have gone by and you feel like you’ve been somewhere else. But great days are incredibly rare.
Talk about how music or other art forms influence your work?
Other art forms (especially, especially music) inspire and influence my work in a HUGE way. Paintings, music, photography, they all inspire characters, settings, mood, and they make me want to create. I always make a playlist for the story I’m working on, songs that I think portray something in the story in some way, and I listen to it as I write. And when I’m especially in a bad place or stuck, it’s often the music that helps me get back on track. And just I’m just a big believer in that creativity sparks more creativity sparks more creativity.
Do you juggle more than one work in progress at a time and if so, how?
No because it’s just too hard for me. I like to focus on one new story at a time. If I get an idea for another one, I keep it on the back burner and if it really needs to be told it’ll demand all of my attention eventually. But yeah, I’m a pretty slow writer as it is so more than one story at a time would be pretty difficult.
What are you working on now? What’s next?
What’s next is Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia (Running Press 2013) which is a story about a strange, death-obsessed girl who has a beautiful night with an amazing person who then ends up dead. And she’s in this place where she’s trying to figure out how to deal with it all.
As for what I’m working on now, it’s very early on and I can’t reveal much. But I will tell you it’s a bit dark, incorporates the lives of some key literary figures, and I guess would be considered historical fiction (which is a departure from Charlie and Frenchie), but I’m really excited about it.
How do you balance writing and family?
The two balance out pretty nicely since both of my kids are at school all day and I write while they’re gone. If I’m on a tight deadline, my kids and husband are incredibly supportive and give me the time and space I need to write. And there are times my kids look at me and say, “Wow, Mom, you write books! And they sell them! You know, like in the store!” and they’re proud and give me that little look and aw, man, there’s just nothing like it. I’m really lucky my family is always cheering me on and totally understanding of what I do.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Just write is the best one because if you don’t do this, well there’s nothing to work with. But besides writing, I think it’s important to be honest with yourself. If something isn’t working, get rid of it, even if you don’t want to, even if it hurts, even if it means you have to start over. That’s pretty critical.
Do you have a favorite book about writing?
Definitely On Writing by Stephen King.
Are you at the point where, when people ask you what you do, you say you’re an author?
Okay, so I used to have this daydream of the day some unsuspecting person would ask me what I do and I could sound a trumpet and say, “Actually, now that you ask, I’m an AUTHOR!” and it would be SO COOL, you know?
But I don’t get this question often, and when I do, I usually say I write or I’m a writer and if they ask what I’ve written I tell them about The Downside of Being Charlie. The truth is, most times I’m sitting in a corner, looking grungy, just trying to get the words out and nobody really cares what I do and weirdly enough, I don’t really care as much about saying I’m an author. But I’m forever, forever grateful that I am, incredibly grateful.
Besides, my family sounds that trumpet to an embarrassing degree, so . . .there’s that. 🙂
You can find Jenny at: