One of the best parts about being writer is that I get to meet authors! I love to hear about their processes and what they’re working on.
This week, I interviewed author Jennifer Mann. Not only do she and I share the same awesome agent, Kerry Sparks, we share a name, a home state, and a connection to the New Jersey shore.
As Jennifer put it, “We Jersey Jens need to stick together.” Indeed!
Jennifer is the author of SUNNY SWEET IS SO NOT SORRY, the first book in the upcoming “SUNNY SWEET” series coming from Bloomsbury USA in 2013.
Tell me about the “SUNNY SWEET” series.
We’ve all woken up on the wrong side of the bed, but have you ever woken up actually stuck to it? One morning, 11-year-old Masha Sweet wakes up stuck to her pillow. Her little sister, Sunny Sweet has glued a bunch of plastic flowers into her hair in an effort to “help” Masha make friends at her new school. “Sunny Sweet Is So Not Sorry” is the story of Masha’s day as she deals with a head full of faux foliage and with her genius little sister who has developed insoluble glue that has permanently turned Masha’s head into a cheesy bouquet. The “Sunny Sweet” series is the on-going story of the wonderful, horrible, beautiful, painful relationship called sisterhood.
When did you decide you wanted to write for kids and teens? Tell me about your path to becoming a published author.
I had been a casual storyteller my whole life. One day while telling a story, someone suggested I write it down. So I did. I naturally gravitated toward stories about animals and children. The first story I wrote was called “The Cleanest Pig,” about a poor, little neurotic pig that couldn’t stop cleaning. I sold it to Highlights for Children Magazine. It was such an incredible feeling to just call a story into being and then have it exist somewhere, like a magazine. I was hooked. I started writing whenever I could find time. But it was a long 13-year journey to selling my first book. My children were young and my day job as a financial analyst was demanding. Although over the years, I never stopped working toward my goal of publication. Thanks to Kerry Sparks from the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency and Caroline Abbey from Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA, I’m accomplishing this goal come October 2013 with my first book in a middle grade series, “Sunny Sweet Is So Not Sorry.”
You’ve written and published across the genres, from short stories and chapter books, to middle grade and young adult. How do you decide what to write next?
Whatever idea tickles me most as I write is the story I develop. So much in my life is dedicated to “have to” things. I allow my writing to be devoted to “want to” things.
How do your stories come to you? Do you begin a character? A concept? A plotline?
My stories almost always begin with an emotion, such as jealousy or frustration. Sorting through that emotion grows into an idea for a story, and I begin to build around this. The main character is usually the last piece to fall into place…I begin writing the story and eventually someone shows up to live through it.
Do you work from an outline?
Not at first. I just let myself write. As my story gathers steam, I begin jotting things down at the end of the document. These can be plot ideas or chapter ideas or questions I want to answer. After some time like this I find that the “end of the document” notes begin to grow out of control and force me to stop writing and read through them all. This is when I often produce an outline. A funny thing happens at about this point in my writing process—this is usually when the end of my book “arrives” and I will write the last chapter, giving me a definite direction for the outline.
What time of day do you write? Do you have a certain process?
On the days that I set aside for writing (two weekdays and one weekend day) I try to be set up wherever I’m going to write on that particular day (Starbucks or the library) by eight in the morning and write until six in the evening. I never give myself a daily goal, but instead set a monthly one. It’s usually ridiculously arbitrary, but it doesn’t matter, I pretend that it isn’t and work toward it. My real goal is to keep writing and I’m easily tricked into doing it in this way.
What does a good day of writing for you look like? How about a bad day?
A good day = All the ideas swirling in my head fall onto the page in a glorious way, and are joined by more ideas that, upon seeing the page looking so stinkin’ great, pop out of nowhere and jump on. For it to be a really good day, it has to end on a high note. In other words, as I’m closing up shop, more ideas are percolating and the entire ride home on the T has me scribbling notes for tomorrow.
A bad day = Lots of Craig’s Listing for chandeliers and such. I love lighting fixtures.
Talk about other art forms that influence your work?
Television and film have been a huge influence on my writing, most especially, comedy. I learn a ton watching great comedians in action. My absolute favorite is physical comedy where actors risk everything. That’s what I want for my writing…but it’s so much easier said than done. It’s not that I’m afraid to risk it all, but that I’m never really sure what “it all” is. I’m on a constant quest to find “it all” so I can risk it.
How do you balance writing and family?
I didn’t for a long time. My writing came after my family and my full-time job. It was very frustrating. It took me years to finish my first book. An editor once described my writing as spare. I had to laugh because I’m sure that if I’d had time I would completely go “James Joyce” all over the page. I just recently cut back to part-time at work and my children are now teenagers, so I will see if I actually stick to my spare writing or if I really do dig details. My advice to anyone trying to balance a full-time job, small children, and your writing…be kind to yourself.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Learn how to edit. Editing is the key to being great.
Do you have a favorite book about writing?
Books on the writing process somehow confuse and scare me more than they teach and inspire me. Instead, I use any free time I have to read the works of great writers. I love to unravel the work, looking at all the pieces that went into it: the plot, characters, word choice, point of view, voice, etc. My desire to connect with people made me want to be a writer. My love of reading is teaching me how to be a writer.
How can readers find you?
Email – email@example.com, Webpage – www.jenniferannmann.com, Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/jenniferannmann.JAM, and my favorite, Twitter – @jenannmann.