September 21, 2012

Interview with YA Author Jennifer Echols!

One of the worst-kept secrets of the Internet is my undying love for contemporary YA romance. How can you not love it? The anticipation of the first kiss, the sweaty palms, the "oh God, I have no idea what I'm doing" and "oh God, he has no idea what he's doing" of it all....

Hmm, OK, maybe when I talk about it, it's not all that magical after all, but that's why we have serious expert Jennifer Echols - yes, that Jennifer Echols, author of fabulous contemporary YA romances including Going Too Far, Love Story, and, most recently, her hardcover debut, Such a Rush - here on YA Misfits today, to enlighten us on the arts of writing, romance, and even recovering from rejection.

You're definitely among the most prolific contemporary YA authors right now, not to mention the most popular! What sorts of things inspire you, and how do you keep yourself so focused? How has the writing process changed for you since getting your first book deal?
I’m inspired by real teens who are put in positions of authority or stress that they’re not quite ready to handle. I am not focused—I feel like my entire writing process is a barely controlled fall. But it’s definitely better now than it used to be, because as of April 2011, I’ve been writing full-time, and my son is older now. Previously I worked as a freelance copyeditor, and when my son was a toddler and my husband was working the night shift, I had almost no time to write. I did it anyway. I’d say I wrote at least half of Major Crush while on the elliptical machine at the YMCA.

What familiar details about your characters or stories are inspired by either you or your friends and family?
I don’t think I’ve ever written a book that wasn’t steeped in my own experience. The settings of Major Crush, The Boys Next Door, and Endless Summer are loosely based on the town where I grew up and my life there. My other books range more widely, but there’s always a kernel of my life in my books, from living in horse country in Kentucky and suffering through college creative writing classes (Love Story) to growing up hanging around a tiny airport and flying in my dad’s plane (Such a Rush).

Do you ever sneak in little things as tributes, like a favorite band or a friend's favorite movie?
I used to do some of this, but now I don’t. I’m afraid readers can tell, and I don’t want anything to distract them and take them out of the story. Any movie mentioned in a book should absolutely be chosen for the way it fits into the characters’ taste or whatever’s being discussed. I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve become much more of a purist.

I also have largely stopped picturing my friends and family reading my books. I wouldn’t put in a tribute to them because I assume they won’t read my books. One of my great fears is that the people I love will think they have to read my books just because I wrote them, and then they will start avoiding me because they haven’t gotten around to the latest one. I don’t follow my divorce lawyer friend to court, and there’s no reason for her to have to read my books, either.

One thing about the YA Misfits - we're pretty universally big fans of incorporating music into the writing process. Do you write with music on or in complete silence? Are there any songs, albums, or even playlists you associate with any of your books?
I make a playlist for every book. That’s incredibly useful for revising and doing copyedits. I come to associate the playlist with the mood of the book, so when I have to go back to work on the manuscript again after an absence, I turn on the playlist and I’m right there.

For those of us still going through the process of joining you in the ranks of the published, what would you describe as the highs and lows of the process?
I’m an introvert, so for me the high is the process of writing itself, and the low is interacting with real people in the networking that’s so important to getting a leg up in this small industry. The best thing I ever did was find two critique partners who have been there with me through every one of my published books. One of them (Victoria Dahl) has become my best friend, though we hardly ever see each other in person. The lows of a writing career aren’t so bad when you can call your best friend to unload and she knows exactly what you’re talking about.

Any tips on dealing with rejection?
Pay attention when an editor takes the time to write you a detailed note, or when several editors are telling you the same thing. Do not pay attention when the rejection contains no details or doesn’t ring true to you. And whatever you do, just keep in mind that it will not take you as long to get published as it took me, and you will not write as many manuscripts before one is published.

A lot of authors seem to struggle with moving on to a new manuscript when they've just finished one to which they're particularly attached. Is there a book of yours you'd consider to be your "baby"? If so, how did you pick yourself up to write the next one?
I have two babies and neither has sold, though I always hold out hope. I pick myself up to write the next one by remembering that it’s the writing process itself I love, so why would I sit around not writing? If you don’t love writing, wow, none of this is worth it. (Misfit's note: This was true at interview time, but if you're a little behind on Jennifer Echols' news, you might want to check this out!)

Rumor has it (okay, you told me) that you have a contemporary adult series coming up. Could you tell us a little bit about it and what made you decide to give writing adult a shot? What are the biggest differences you've noticed between writing adult and writing YA?
I have always written an adult book and then a YA, back and forth, and my goal has always been to publish both. Manuscript #9 was an adult romance (one of the unpublished babies I refer to above), manuscript #10 was Major Crush, and they were out on submission at the same time. My agent and I were both astounded when Major Crush sold and the adult romance didn’t. I just kept trying, and last year I finally sold two adult romantic comedies to Pocket (which is actually the same publisher I’ve always written for, because Pocket and MTV Books and Simon Pulse are all part of Simon & Schuster, which is very confusing, which is one of the many reasons I have a literary agent). The first book is called Star Crossed, and it’s coming out on February 26. Here’s the description:

The first novel in a sizzling new series about a public relations firm, the stars they represent, and everything they’d rather keep private.

Wendy Mann loves her job rescuing celebrities from public relations scrapes. She grew up with nothing, and now she’s drawn to glitz, glamour, and a lighthearted lifestyle. She speaks her mind, so she’s just the tough cookie to tell stars the truth about how other people see them, even when they don’t want to hear it. But after six years at the top of her game, Wendy crosses the line. A star she was sent to save rebels against her and nearly gets her fired. To salvage her job, she must rehabilitate the career of a singing starlet with a penchant for posting inappropriate photos of herself and arguing online with her famous ex. Problem is, the ex is represented by Wendy’s arch nemesis from college, the hot and haughty Daniel Blackstone. And both stars are scheduled for a collision course on national television, broadcast live from Las Vegas.

Daniel’s uneasy when he hears Wendy Mann from his firm’s most hated competitor has been brought in to revive the career of his client’s ex-girlfriend. Daniel must win at any cost. And if he has to seduce Wendy to smooth the way to their partnership, he’s willing to sacrifice himself for the cause. But Daniel doesn’t count on the scorching heat between them—and when they get to Vegas, all bets are off.

As for the differences between writing adult and YA, I don’t know of any. The age of the characters and the age of the intended audience are different, and differences in appropriate subject matter and sexual content follow from that. But my process is exactly the same, and I treat all my books with the same care.

Is there any character from one of your books that you can single out as having been the most fun to write?
Lori from The Boys Next Door and Endless Summer, because she’s most like me.

The most challenging?
Leah from Such a Rush, because she’s least like me.

What do you think are the necessary elements of a really good contemporary YA romance?
If you are really writing a romance, don’t forget the romance. Everything should revolve around that or the reader will be disappointed.

And, of course, what great YA books have you read lately? What are you looking forward to?

I loved Jackson Pearce’s Purity—because it’s a marvelous romantic comedy, and because it deals with important issues of females’ ownership and control of their own bodies.

One of my favorite YA authors is Rosemary Clement-Moore, who writes romantic comedy with a paranormal twist. You can get her first two novels in one volume called Brimstone, which comes out in September. My favorite of her novels, Texas Gothic, came out last year, and I can’t wait for the next, Spirit and Dust, which is related to Texas Gothic and will be out in spring 2013. Paranormal is not my favorite, so when I tell you these books are good, believe me.


Eliza Tilton said...

Great interview! I love her books. I just finished LOVE STORY. Great read

Melanie Stanford said...

Great interview! I started Such A Rush a couple of days ago and at first I didn't know if I would like it or not- mainly because I just wasn't connecting with Leah. Then last night, around 150 pages in, I just couldn't stop reading and stayed up late to finish it! I'll definitely be checking out her other books (and I love that she had many shelved ms's before she got published- give us in the trenches hope!)

Valerie Cole said...

I love, love, LOVE Jennifer Echols. And I love this interview! Fabulous job Dahlia!

Love Story is by far one of my favorite books--and I'm about to dive into Such a Rush.

Adrianne Russell said...

Thanks so much for this! I'm a huge fan of Jennifer Echols (but not in an Annie Wilkes from "Misery" sort of way) and her "Forget You" is definitely on my my wish-I'd-written it list.

andimjulie said...

Loved this interview, Dahlia! Echols is one of my oh-my-god-drool favorites!

erica m. chapman said...

Excellent interview both of you!! I love hearing about the ins and outs since I'm a FANGIRL to the max of Jennifer Echols!! I can safely say I've read every YA Jennifer Echols book out there, and will always buy every one she writes. I just don't think anyone does it better ;o)


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