Today on the blog I’m happy to welcome author Jen Malone!! Her debut middle grade novel, AT YOUR SERVICE, was released on Tuesday and it sounds absolutely adorable. (Big congrats, Jen!) My copy just arrived and I can’t wait to read it. Jen writes both middle grade and YA and is also a college professor. A former Hollywood film publicist, Jen once walked the red carpet with George Clooney, hung out with a shirtless Mark Wahlberg, and went into labor with her identical twins while on Stevie Nick’s tour bus. She lives with her husband and three children in the Boston area, where she harbors dreams of owning a pet hedgehog.
Thanks for stopping by the blog, Jen! Let’s talk about your path to becoming a published author. How and why did you begin writing fiction and which genre were you drawn to first, middle grade or young adult?
I actually started writing for a much younger audience. When I first sat down to write in early 2012, it was because my youngest had just started to read and I thought it would be cute to write a short story for her to read to me. A hundred and fifty pages later… (which completely shocked the heck out of me- I never thought I would write anything longer than a press release!) After I decided to go for it and try to get published, I quickly realized I love writing for twelve to fifteen year-olds, straddling that line between older MG and younger YA. I think because it’s such a time for experiencing firsts (first tastes of independence, first crushes, first kisses, etc.) and I’m really drawn to that. (It could also have something to do with my steady diet of ABC Family shows, which I can now officially quantify as “research”.)
Where did the idea for AT YOUR SERVICE come from? I know you’ve shared some behind-the-scenes info, as well as an awesome book trailer, on your website. (Check out those fund tidbits here http://www.jenmalonewrites.com/#!at-your-service/c1l3w).
I love reading behind-the-scenes stories on books, so I couldn’t resist sharing mine! The overall concept actually came from my editor, who walked past hotels on her way to work every day and thought ‘wouldn’t it be fun to live in one of those!” and then I was given the task of putting her idea into book form, which was so much fun. I love NYC and the book became a true love letter to it. I’ve had a few early readers whose parents have since emailed me to say, “Thanks a lot- now my kid won’t stop begging for a trip to New York City.” To which I say, “Mission accomplished!”
Any thoughts of turning AT YOUR SERVICE into a series?
I have definite ideas for a sequel and would love for that to happen! I think if there is enough interest (translation: if enough people buy the first one!) there is a good possibility of a second book. So if anyone happens to know any football stadiums that would like to place copies At Your Service books under every seat, please let me know. 🙂
The first book in your RSVP middle grade series comes out next summer, and WANDERLOST, your debut young adult novel, is slated for summer 2016. You’ve been busy!! Tell us a bit about the series and the YA novel?
You say busy, I say manic… potato/potahhto. But I’m really excited about these books and I don’t take any of it for granted for one second. I’m co-writing the RSVP series with one of my good friends, Gail Nall (who also has her debut, BREAKING THE ICE, with S&S/Aladdin- check it out!) and that, in itself, has been a super fun experience. The book is a very sweet friendship story that follows four tween girls who form a party planning “business” in their abandoned sailboat clubhouse. They live on a tiny island off the coast of North Carolina and the town is full of quirky characters- also very fun to write! WANDERLOST is inspired by my own solo travels abroad (though I went voluntarily, versus my main character!) and imagines a scenario where an eighteen-year-old girl, who is a very happy homebody, ends up having to lead a bus tour of senior citizens through Europe while posing as her older sister. Everything that can go wrong does, and that’s before the tour owner’s cute son hops aboard!
I’d like chat a little bit about process, but first, I’d really like to hear more about your trip down the red carpet with George Clooney, and the time you hung out with the shirtless Mark Wahlberg.
Ah yes. Those memories warm me on chilly nights (sorry, adored husband!) I used to work as a publicist for several movie studios and part of my job was planning (or assisting at) movie premiere. The George Clooney red carpet was at a screening for the real-life friends and family of the fishermen portrayed in A Perfect Storm and Mark Wahlberg shirtless in his hotel room was while he was getting ready for the Planet of the Apes premiere. We’re just gonna pretend his model wife was not there as well, m’kay??!
Okay, back to the writing process. What time of day do you like to write? Do you begin with a character? A premise? A plotline? Do you work from an outline?
I’m pretty useless at forming cohesive thoughts after four p.m., so I try to do most of my writing in the morning, as soon as my kids are on the bus. Although, too much time in my writing cave has not been good at all for my waistline, so I’m starting off the new school year with some workout resolutions that will hopefully happen before writing time every day! In terms of starting a book, this might sound weird, but I always begin with the back cover text. If I can write the idea out in blurb form and make it sound interesting and marketable to begin with, it gives me a general sense of direction as I write the rest. And then I tend to mull the concept over for a bit while I wait for the perfect first line to land in my brain. I never used to outline, but with my co-written books we’ve had to do a very detailed chapter-by-chapter outline so that we can both be working simultaneously. I thought it would kill the joy and spontaneity of a story unfolding, but just the opposite happened. Because we had talked it out so much ahead of time, it practically wrote itself and the things I normally am fixing in revisions (more character depth, clearer motivations) were there in the first draft. It was the most streamlined book I’ve written. I may just be a convert!
Aside from reading, what else fuels your creativity?
I love crafts! I am just phasing out a side business where I created handmade wristlets and accessories from vintage cashmere and wool sweaters that I shrunk into felt. When I was focusing on it, I had just over 100 boutiques I wholesaled to, but I’ve let all but five accounts go in order to free up time for writing. The act of designing and choosing colors gives me another creative outlet and the sewing itself is pure Zen relaxation and also gives me an excuse to watch (bad) TV guilt-free!
What’s the best piece of writing advice you have ever received?
When I was querying, I was down in the dumps after a few rejections rolled in all at once and was whining to a fellow writer. She told me to go into a bookstore and pick out a book and then call her. When I reported back on my purchase she asked what was wrong with all the other books in the bookstore. OH! Obviously, nothing was—they just weren’t what I wanted that day. She made me realize that while talent is very important in this business, so is a healthy dose of luck. And of course, you have to keep putting yourself out there to be in the right place when the right time comes calling…
What’s next (aside from a well-earned vacation)? What are you working on now?
This fall I’ll be writing RSVP Book 2, putting final touches on RSVP Book 1 (copyedits, etc.) and revising WANDERLOST. I’m speaking at two book festivals, giving a ten-workshop writing program to my local Girl Scout council and am the Author-in-Residence at a local middle school… so basically, running around like a chicken with my head cut off. But it’s so hard to say no when I genuinely love all of it!!
Where can people find you?
Did you just read that last answer? In the bottom of a giant vat of coffee!!! Otherwise, my website has a list of in-person events, and you can find me online at www.jenmalonewrites.com or on Twitter @jenmalonewrites.
Thanks so much for hosting me, Jen!
Thanks for stopping by, Jen! Good luck with all your upcoming novels and that hedgehog thing!