Welcome Jen Malone to Introvert Problems! Jen writes flirty young adult travel romances with HarperCollins and fun and humorous “girl power” middle grade adventures with Simon & Schuster. The Bostonian’s latest works, Changes in Latitudes and Best Night Ever, join an impressive collection including The Sleepover, the You’re Invited series (with Gail Nall), At Your Service, Map to the Stars, Wanderlost, and Follow Your Art (a collaboration with Dreamworks Animation and Penguin Random House on a companion story to the animated film Trolls). Jen once spent a year traveling the world solo, met her husband on the highway (literally), and went into labor with her identical twins while on a rock star’s tour bus. Read on to find out why Jen reserves the drama for her books these days.
1.Congratulations on Changes in Latitudes and the upcoming release of Best Night Ever! Describe your road to publication.
I’ve always identified as a writer, but after elementary school I traded stories for articles and aimed solidly at a career in journalism. I then switched in college to wanting to be a copywriter in advertising, then landed at an ad agency (but on the PR side of it) where I got to hobnob with celebs and plan movie premieres, but never wrote more than the occasional press release.
It wasn’t until my daughter started kindergarten and was learning to read that I decided to spend some unexpected free hours one afternoon writing her a little story she could read to me at bedtime. I blinked back to reality sometime later, on a total adrenaline high… and that was that—I became obsessed. I set aside every free hour to that story, which grew to something between a chapter book and a middle grade novel (I’d never even heard the term “middle grade”).
2. What is the Margin Project?
The Margin Project came out of a tour of ARCs put together by the debut group I participated in. We sent our books from person to person, with each of us leaving comments (reactions, praise, doodles, etc.) in differently-colored pens in the margins as we read. (It’s my favorite souvenir from my debut year). My kiddos saw me writing in books and wanted in on the forbidden fun, so we designated some of their collection as “margin books” and they shared those with friends.
The result was sort of a low-key book club discussion happening in the margins, and I realized this could be a great classroom tool. I created printable bookplates that explain how it works (available on my website) and love spreading the word about it. I’ve had many schools and public libraries tell me they’ve designated a shelf of books in their collection for this, and the feedback has been amazing. I love that it offers an interactive and social component to an experience that’s usually solitary.
3. From reading your bio and book blurbs, you definitely love travel! How do you write about travel? And how do you write while traveling?
I really, really do love it, though time and money considerations (coupled with school schedules) make it tougher to pull off these days. I don’t often do a lot of writing on the trips I take, but I snap a ton of pictures of smaller details and take notes on my phone about less tangible things, like sounds and smells. And, all hail Google Earth!
Sometimes I write about places I haven’t visited in years (or ever) and I will use the street view function on Google Earth to “walk” my characters exact steps, while swiveling the camera view left and right to see exactly what they’d be seeing. Then I read travel memoirs or books set in those places that are especially atmospheric to help fill in the other senses.
Changes in Latitudes is a “road trip at sea” and while a good chunk of the story takes place at the different ports along the way (especially San Francisco), part of it takes place aboard a small sailboat, so I actually wrote some of those scenes in my closet to try to inhabit some of the claustrophobia.
The book I’m working on now is the first one I’m writing that’s set in Boston (where I live), so I’ve been going to the actual settings of each scene and writing while sitting right there and it’s amazing how much faster the drafting goes when you can just look up instead of diving down the rabbit hole of internet research—I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner! (But at the same time, I know I’m not done with writing far-flung locales!)
4. What has been your favorite book of the year? Of all time?
Of the year, I would say The Hating Game. I’m a sucker for hate-to-love stories and this one crackled with so much humor and amazing tension that I could not make myself put it down once I started (I felt the same about a YA version on the same theme called Why I Loath Sterling Lane, which has a main character who can only be described as Gilmore Girls Paris Geller. Loved, loved, loved!
Of all time? Impossible question, but today I think I’ll go with The Time Travelers Wife. It tumbled me through every possible emotion and from a craft perspective, I just love (and am in awe of) the way the timeline is handled.
5. What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new YA novel that will be out with HarperTeen in 2019. It is a bit of a departure for me, in that it takes on more serious issues that my previous titles have. It’s about a roller derby girl who’s full of swagger when it comes to fighting the school dress code with her best friend or helping her childhood crush work his way through his (somewhat humorous) list of irrational phobias, but when she finds out through happenstance that a disease from her infancy has reappeared and she’ll likely need a liver transplant within the year to survive, she’s far less fearless when the tables are turned.
She’ll need to learn the difference between bravado (which she has in spades) and true bravery, which requires true vulnerability. It’s inspired by a real-life story which doesn’t end too happily and that’s, as I said, a real departure from my usual light and fun travel romances! I’m equally loving and cursing the challenge.
Keep up with Jen!
Buy her books anywhere that books are sold!