Jennifer, thanks for taking the time to meet with us today. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Until I started writing seriously, I was a stay-at-home mom. That was about four years ago. Now I’m a “stay-at-home and write-whenever-you-can” mom. I was born in Michigan, snagged a literature major from Wheaton College in Illinois, worked at a start-up software company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, lived in St Louis, Missouri, for five years, and finally moved to Concord, North Carolina, 11 years ago, where we plan to stay until God determines otherwise. I have an amazing husband who is super-supportive and I spend lots of time driving my three kids around to all their various activities.
Your debut novel, A Familiar Shore, is now available for purchase. What was it like to find out the fruit of you hard work would be published? What did you do when you got the news? (Fist pump, kiss the dog, round up the kids and remind them of your genius)?
I was waiting at the eye doctor with my daughter. When I didn’t answer my phone because I didn’t recognize the number, she insisted I answer it the second time that number popped up. It turned out to be Tracy Ruckman offering to publish this novel. My jaw dropped and I literally couldn’t close my mouth. My daughter started laughing at me and I think I fell into a giddy stupor, complete with goofy smile and bugged-out eyes.
How long have you been writing (weeks, decades … eons)? And what inspired you to start?
I’ve always been a “book-girl.” Could never get enough to read. And then I started telling everyone around me what they should read and why. Despite this obnoxious habit, people listened to me and enjoyed what I suggested. So I pulled out the dream I’d tucked away when I was in grade school. The dream I’d put on the shelf for this reason: “You can’t write anything good until you’ve lived at least thirty-five years.” I heard someone say this, but have no idea who or when it was. Probably someone on TV, who knows? But I believed it for years. And then I turned thirty five, and I remembered this quote. So I started thinking about things. Stories. Ideas. Writing. And then I started, and it was horrible. But I attended a writer’s conference and learned how much I had to learn. That was in 2008 and this story germinated in Ron Benrey’s plotting class. It was a true light-bulb moment for me, and my plot basically wrote itself in the course of about 15 minutes.
I see this manuscript (formerly Docking) not only won the Genesis 2010 Contest for Women’s Fiction, but it made the second round of the MBT Frasier Contest in 2010 and the Bronze List of the Frazier 2011. How were these experiences helpful in honing your skill?
Actually, this novel was not entered in the Frasier in 2011. My current work in progress (working title: Impossible Blue) made the bronze list. But this novel did win Genesis and 2nd round of Frasier 2010. Both honors blew me away! Genesis 2010 was the first writing contest I entered. I’m sorry. I know writers don’t like to hear that, but it’s true. I believe God finagled it for me, and I’m still overwhelmed by it all. The judges gave me great feedback. Of course, I loved hearing what they thought I did well—and it inspired me to continue the things that caused my work to stand out (play to my strengths). Their comments about what didn’t work so well enabled me to see my work more objectively and alter it accordingly. I’d already joined a critique group, so my skin had begun to thicken when it came to criticism. I think my desire to improve overrode my desire to impress those who read my words, so I could look at the critiques as a stepping stone toward writing better instead of taking them personally and falling into a nasty pout.
In what other ways has MBT contributed to your success as a writer?
I attended a workshop that Susie led in conjunction with Chip MacGregor –almost a year before the Genesis win. Her teaching helped me rethink the novel, and weed out the muck, so to speak. I went home and rewrote what I had so far, then went on to finish. I entered the Genesis and Frasier and found myself staggering forward to receive an award, months later. No one was more surprised than I was.
What is the biggest change since you’ve discovered your book would be published?
The concept of marketing. I had read lots of posts to my writing loops discussing this part of the job. But I always dismissed it with “I should be so lucky!” and the thought that I would deal with it if I ever reached that point. And then suddenly I did reach that place. So I’ve been racing to educate myself over the past six months and while it’s been exciting and interesting to learn this stuff, I’m anxious to write more on my next novel.
What are your plans for future projects?
I have a novel in progress. It’s about two lifelong friends who make promises as girls they find difficult to keep as women. The fallout of betrayal heaped upon the tragedy of Alzheimer Disease brings these friends to the edge, which tests not only their friendship, but their reason for living.
Do you have any hobbies outside of writing that inspire you or just allow you to decompress?
I like to cook. I love trying new recipes, and my family alternately loves and hates this. I also enjoy running to dispel stress, and having coffee with friends. But the one thing I cannot get enough of, is reading. I read voraciously and when I’m on vacation and not writing, I read all day, and late into the night. The power of story has captured me and I’m convinced it will not let me go . . . ever.
Tell us about your novel, A Familiar Shore, so our readers will rush out and buy it!
Meg Marks is a young lawyer raised off the coast of the Carolinas. An anonymous client hires her to arrange his will, and sends her to meet his estranged family at their lake home in northern Michigan. After a shocking discovery, she finds herself caught between his suspicious family and a deathbed promise her conscience demands that she keep. Will she sacrifice her own dreams for revenge, or will she choose something more?
I can hear everyone clicking on the links to booksellers now. Thank you so much, Jennifer, for joining us and inspiring us to continue pursuing the dream.
Connie Almony works for a counseling office in Maryland. She has been married almost 20 years and has 2 children. She hosts the blog Living the Body of Christ and also writes for InfiniteCharacters.com along with her wonderful critique partners.