How They Got Here: 2009 Debut Author Jennifer Jabaley

This post is part of a year-long series of blog interviews I’m hosting with my fellow 2009 Debut Authors, called "How They Got Here." 

It should be an especially helpful series for teens who write, teachers, and anyone who wants to write for kids.  2009 debut authors will be dropping by to talk about how their writing in school shaped the authors they are today, what teachers can do to make a difference, how they revise, and how they found their agents and editors.  (You’ll even be able to read some successful query letters!)  If you know a teacher or two who might be interested, please share the link!

Today…Jennifer Jabaley, author of LIPSTICK APOLOGY!

Four little words written in lipstick mean Emily must say goodbye to everything she knows.  Emily Carson has always been a good girl.  So when she throws a party the night her parents leave for vacation, she’s sure she’ll get busted.  What Emily doesn’t know is that her parents will never return.  That their plane will go down.  And the only thing left amidst the wreckage will be a tray table with the words: Emily please forgive me scrawled in lipstick – her mother’s last words.

Now it’s fall in New York City and Emily’s trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.  Her public tragedy captures the attention of more than just the media – and soon two very different boys at her new school are pursuing her: the cute, popular Owen, and the quirky chemistry partner slash pastry-baker-by-night, Anthony.  But even with such delicious distractions, Emily can’t let go of her mother’s mysterious apology.  Does she have the courage to face the truth?

With help of a whole new kind of family – one that includes a make-up artist to the stars, a teen hand model, and a wacky hairdresser – Emily must choose between the boy who makes her forget it all, and the one who encourages her to remember, and ultimately, heal.

Welcome, Jennifer! Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote that made you think maybe you were a writer.

The very first thing I submitted was a story for a contest for the magazine "Highlights". I didn’t win, but they purchased the piece. I was stunned, I had always heard how particular that magazine was and how hard it was to get a story accepted! It was the first time I thought, hey, maybe I really can do this!

What books did you love when you were a kid?

Judy Blume, Lois Lowry and Beverly Cleary were my favorites.

Is there a particular teacher or librarian who was a mentor for you in your reading and writing life?

I clearly remember the day my elementary school librarian handed me a Judy Blume book and said "I think you’ll love this author." She was instrumental in nuturing my love for reading.

Moving on to the here and now, most writers admit that making time to write can sometimes be a challenge.  When and where do you write?   Do you have any special rituals?  Music?  Food & beverages?

Now with two young kids (with vastly different sleep schedules) I rely on a baby sitter. When she comes I like to go to a local bakery with big wooden tables, strong coffee and great pasteries.

Do you have a favorite strategy for revision?

Honestly I think the best strategy for me is to take some time away. When receiving a huge revision letter it can be very overwhelming. If I try and tackle it immediately I can get very overwhelmed and frustrated. With just a little time away, suddenly things seem more reasonable.

What’s your best advice for young writers?

Find an idea that excites you! Accept criticism and use it to make your work better. And write because you love to write, not because you want to be a best seller or rich and famous.

What’s special about your debut novel?

II think what makes LIPSTICK APOLOGY special is that it combines both heart and humor.

What were the best and worst parts of writing it?

Best: falling in love with my characters.
Worst: That overwhelming feeling whey you’re uncertain how to proceed.

How did you find your agent and/or editor?

Tried and trued – query letter. I created my list of agents to query by reading the acknowledgement sections of the books I loved to see who the author’s agent was.

I think the best piece of advice for writing a query letter is do your homework! Reference a book that the agent has represented. For example in my letter I said "I’m writing to you because you represented The Nanny Diaries and I feel my writing style is similar."

Thanks, Jennifer!  Click here to learn more about Jennifer at her website. You can pick up your copy of LIPSTICK APOLOGY at your local independent bookseller, order it through one of my favorite indies, Flying Pig Bookstore (they ship!), or find an indie near you by checking out IndieBound!