Today’s Q&A is with Jennifer Walker who’s second book, Finding Aloha has just been published on the 22nd of February by Finch Books. Why not read on and find more about Jennifer and her works.
Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
My debut, Within the Folds of a Swan’s Wings, came out last year and was actually inspired by someone I once went to grade school with. She was awkward and socially isolated and as I got older, I sometimes wondered what happened to her. I have two children who watch YouTube etc.–like the rest of the world–and watching them idolize these seemingly normal people gone viral, made me wonder how they got to that point. I wondered if it was possible for someone on the outside to climb their own social hierarchy by making a name for themselves online.
My second book, Finding Aloha, coming out in a few weeks, was inspired by Maui, which is my favorite place in the world. I not only wanted to illustrate the profound beauty of the island, but I wanted to highlight some of Hawaii’s history, questioning who has the right to call this paradise home.
What came first the characters or the world?
In Swan’s Wings, it was all character. I felt like I knew Jody inside and out before I jumped into the story. But with Finding Aloha, it was definitely the setting. In fact, I would almost say that the setting is one of the characters in that book, it plays such a rich role.
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
It’s tough to get a foot in the door in the publishing world these days! I had originally queried several agents with both books, but even after some initial interest, no one had made offers of representation. Then, I entered an online pitch contest where my editor from Finch Books expressed interest and wanted to take a look. She offered an offer of publication shortly after that and was gracious enough to want to publish both books.
How long did it take to write?
I find the first draft of any book to be pretty easy to write. I can usually do it in just two or three months. But, then I go back over it, and the revisions are the tough part. Seeing your work with a critical eye is key, and figuring out what changes to make and how to make the changes is always difficult for me. Beta readers are so important to get a fresh perspective!
Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?
I wish I could write while listening to music, but I find it too distracting! I need a space that’s quiet, or at least just full of white noise. Even the music in coffee shops can be too much for me sometimes!
How many publishers turned you down?
Because I’m not agented, I’m restricted with the number of presses I can submit to (the Big Five publishers typically don’t accept manuscripts from unagented authors). Even so, I submitted Swan’s Wings to about half a dozen before accepting the offer with Finch Books. It was much easier to get the second book published with them as I had a relationship with my editor already.
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
I’ve found that a lot of people (adults and teens) really relate to the characters in Swan’s Wings. I think it brings a lot of people back to the drama and social angst that goes along with junior high and high school. With Finding Aloha, I’ve gotten so much positive feedback about the setting and romantic relationship between the characters, at least from my ARC readers. It’s such a fun and juicy beach read! I’m hoping I’ll be receiving the same positive response when it hits shelves on February 22nd!
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
Ha ha, two of my early readers went out and booked a trip to Maui after finishing Finding Aloha. They said I captured the island’s magic so beautifully that they couldn’t wait to plan a vacation there. That’s a great positive response!
What can you tell us about your next book?
Well, a lot of people have been asking for a sequel to Finding Aloha, so that will hopefully be in the works soon. I’ve also been really enjoying writing contemporary middle-grade stories lately. I’m currently in submissions with one about a twelve-year-old ballerina-turned-karate ninja, who finds herself working as a spy for a secret organization. And I’m working on another that’s a middle-grade survival story about a young girl, her little sister and their dog after a car crash in the Canadian Rockies. I’ve found that middle-grade action-adventure stories provide a nice change from young adult romance!
Do you take notice of online reviews?
To a certain extent, it’s nice to know when readers enjoy my books. But as an author, I also have to be realistic and know that my books won’t be for everyone, and everyone’s perspective (good or bad) is valid. But it is nice to put a little more emphasis on the good reviews!
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
As a teacher, middle-grade and young adult books seem to be my sweet spot. But, things might change as I develop as a writer. I adore reading thrillers, so maybe that’s something to challenge myself with in the future!
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I’m a fourth grade teacher, which I love. But I job-share with another teacher, which means I only work half-time. That’s probably why I still love it so much after almost twenty years!
Which author(s) inspire you?
I read a lot and in a wide variety of genres. I adore anything by John Green, Jason Reynolds, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Kristin Hannah. Beautiful prose, outstanding characters and heart wrenching stakes will get me every time. A touch of romance doesn’t hurt either!
What is your biggest motivator?
Probably my kids and my students. My first novel (which may or may not ever see the light of day) was written originally as a gift for my own children and is loosely based on them. In general, kids are just so awesome and I find it easy to write stories about them and for them. It’s so fun to get them excited about a story, and the kids in my life are definitely where a lot of my story ideas stem from.
What will always distract you?
Social media! As an author, there’s an expectation to be active on different social media channels. But this is a slippery slope, because sometimes it turns into a black hole you can’t escape from!
I also have a bit of an obsession with line editing. I wish I could just ignore the nitty gritty bits of my work when I’m working on revisions, so I can focus on the big picture instead. But I find that I need to go through it with a fine tooth comb, and then revamp scenes if need be. It’s totally backwards and something I need to change!
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
My publisher asks for input right after I sign my contract (i.e. what type of cover I’d like; whether I’d like real people featured or more abstract elements) but then I don’t see it until after the book has mostly been edited and is good to go. At this point I can make small changes (font, colors, by-line) but nothing huge.
Were you a big reader as a child?
What were your favourite childhood books?
Judy Blume and Beverly Clearly were my favorites as a child and I have to admit to loving V.C. Andrews and Stephen King as a teen. Quite the opposite genres!
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
There’s a small bookshop in my town called Audrey’s that has been around forever. I’m so glad they were able to pull-through the worst of the shut-downs during the pandemic. They have been eager to stock both of my books on their shelves, and I like to support them whenever I can.
What books can you not resist buying?
Am I allowed to say ALL? I have a bit of an obsession with buying books. However, several years back I got looking at my bookshelves that were absolutely bursting, and I thought, What a waste that these fabulous books aren’t in the hands of readers? After that I gave away almost all of my books, and the only ones I ever keep are the ones I have for sentimental reasons (i.e. signed copies etc.). Many authors would be appalled to hear that I hardly own any books, but it’s because I’ve pledged to give all of the good ones away so they can be enjoyed over and over again!
Do you have any rituals when writing?
I sit down with a good cup of coffee or tea and start by re-reading/editing whatever section I last wrote.
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
The stack beside my bed is almost toppling over, so too many! But I’ve been really enjoying audiobooks lately and this cuts down on my physical copies.
What is your current or latest read?
I’m currently listening to Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo on audiobook and just finished Colleen Hoover’s Verity in paperback.
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
Nothing that’s coming to mind right now.
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
I’m looking forward to announcing some big news with my contemporary middle-grade, but no beans to spill as of yet!