I’ve always wanted to be an author but it was a dream I shelved for too long while I raised four kids. (Not that I don’t love being a mommy.) Finally one day, I just decided to do it. I sat down and wrote my first novel. (Not in one day though.) I was obsessed, always on my computer. About mid-way through I sent it to my sister and my then 13-year-old niece. They were my motivation to keep going, because they kept asking if there was more to the story.
A couple of years, some writing classes, a critique group and a bunch of queries, (and rejections) later, I wrote BREAKING BEAUTIFUL. This story felt different than my other ones. More ready. Still I was completely shocked and amazed to receive offers of representation from four agents. I chose the lovely Sara Megibow from Nelson Literary. She sold the manuscript in about three months.
Wow, that was fast!
Ruby: Could you share a bit about your book and characters?
Ruby: What inspired you to write about young adults? Was it difficult to get into character for teenagers?
Jennifer: I honestly can’t imagine writing anything other than YA. I love teenagers. I love their energy and the possibilities that lie ahead of them. I love the “I can change the world” attitude that so many of them have. A feature of my blog, Wolftales is “Teens Doing Great Things.” I love to feature amazing kids for I know teen hood is a huge rollercoaster of experiences and emotions. I remember being a teen (despite what my kids may believe), and I have two teens now. I feel their struggles.
As far as getting into the teen characters… no it wasn’t difficult. I’m still a teen, right? Just with four kids a husband and a few extra years of experience. I love spending time with my teens and their friends. It’s a great way for me to get back into the YA attitude and see their perspective. I’m not sure it they realize that the Friday night hang-out sessions at our house or the free trips to the skate park all goes towards my research.
Ruby: How do you give your characters the depth and detail necessary for readers to want to cheer them on?
Jennifer: I believe you literally have to spend time with your characters to make them have depth and come alive. One of my writing teachers told me that you circle a character as you write. The more you write of them, the closer you get to them and the more depth that character has. In BREAKING BEAUTIFUL I spent a lot of time with Allie as I wrote the story and in revisions. I thought I really knew her, still, one of the first things my editor told me is that I needed to get into Allie’s head more.
Ruby: What challenge or struggle did you face when you tried to build emotional bonds between the characters.
Jennifer: One of the hardest bonds to write was the relationship between Allie and her mom. Writing about a mom who doesn’t realize what’s been going on in her daughter’s life was hard because, as a mom, that’s one of my biggest nightmares. What if I really don’t know what’s happening with my kids? Writing a teenage girl’s relationship with her mother is an interesting challenge now that I have teens and I’m on the other side of the fence.
Ruby: How do you, then, go about addressing the part you struggle with.
Jennifer: With Allie and her mother, at first I swung the pendulum in the opposite direction and ended up demonizing “Mom” too much. If she was a bad mom, then missing what was happening to her daughter was understandable. But I really didn’t want her to be a bad guy in this, and neither did my editor. I ended up (I hope) making her more of a busy mom who just doesn’t get it sometimes. (We’ve all been there.)
Ruby: Which is more important in your books, character or plot? Did you outline before you wrote the first book?
Jennifer: I love my characters, but the nature of this book is definitely plot-driven.
I don’t usually outline, (although I’m trying to with my work in progress to save some revision time). When I was writing BREAKING BEAUTIFUL I played the scenes over and over in my head before I wrote them. I tend to overwrite so I had to cut a lot to improve the pacing once I started working with an editor. However, I was having so much fun getting back into my story that I ended up adding almost as much as I cut.
Ruby: How did you get started in writing?
Jennifer: I’ve always been a writer, even when it was only writing in my head. I used to write and sew picture books together for my little brothers. In sixth grade I started an “underground” newspaper that was short-lived, but a lot of fun. I let my writing sit for years while I waited for my kids to get old enough. I regret that a lot, because writing has been such a fun hobby/occupation/release for me.
Ruby: What ignites your passion and galvanizes you to write?
Jennifer: Life. I’m constantly jotting down ideas for new stories. My chaotic brain is always working on something. I see a headline or hear a bit of conversation and my brain tries to form it into a story. Writing itself is my passion. I usually have to pull myself away from the computer and back to the real world. I get blocked when I start to think of writing as a job and I wonder if my next project will be the right one. To get beyond that I try to write at least a little every day, to remind myself that this is fun and rewarding. I do it because I love it.
Ruby: People often think of writers having “overnight success.” How many years did your “overnight success” take?
Jennifer: I started my first book about three years ago. It took me two years, three completed manuscripts, and numerous queries before I was plucked out of the slush pile. I know in this business that is fast. I worked very hard to get to this point, still I feel incredibly blessed and lucky for how fast I’ve gotten to this point.
Ruby:What do you find most rewarding about your writing career? Most disappointing?
Excerpt of Breaking Beautiful
Walker Books for Young Readers
Release Date April 24, 2012
I rub the stone between my fingers, searching for the courage that the woman had promised, but none comes.
Someone with courage wouldn't die like this--huddled on a slimy, rocky ledge, listening to the roar of the ocean and waiting for death to come. Someone with courage would run out to meet it, embrace it, welcome it. Not that I've ever done anything courageous. Maybe this, my final act, maybe this could be considered courageous.
But no one will ever know.
Even my last words, scrawled on the back of my college acceptance letter to a place I'll never go, are lies.
I can't tell the truth now. Once I could have stopped all of this from happening by telling the truth. But I didn't.
And now it's too late.
Jennifer Shaw Wolf grew up on a farm in the little town of St. Anthony, Idaho. She spent cold Idaho mornings milking cows in the dark and attended a school where Hunter's Education was part of the sixth grade curriculum. She's always been a writer, whether it was sewing together books to read to her little brothers or starting an underground newspaper in sixth grade. She met the love of her life at Ricks College, (now BYU Idaho), after he dropped her on her head. She graduated from Ricks with a husband and Brigham Young University, Provo with a degree in Broadcast Communications and a son. Now she lives in beautiful, green, (rainy) Lacey, Washington with her husband and four kids. She loves to produce videos, ski, ride horses, and read, but really all she has time for is chasing kids and writing. She is represented by the lovely Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency, and her debut novel, BREAKING BEAUTIFUL comes out from Walker Books for Young Readers in spring 2012.
Thanks so much for stopping by, please submit a question or comment for Jennifer.