Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White

It's time for another Wednesday Debut Interview and today we're chatting with Jen White, whose MG novel Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave debuted last week!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself! What's one thing people might not expect about you?
Hi, Wendy! I’m a native Californian. I love the outdoors, especially the beach. I also have five children. When I was little I wanted to be an actress, until my dad signed me up for acting classes, and I was so mortified over the thought of getting up in front of the class to do improv, that I cried the whole way home. Since that moment, I decided I wanted to be a writer. And that was a great decision because I can sit behind a computer screen and still connect with people through story.

How would you describe SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE in one sentence?
Two sisters find themselves on an unexpected adventure home, after their long lost father abandons them at a gas station.

How long as this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication? How many novels had you written prior to this? 

Wow, it took a really long time! I began writing SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE during my last semester of my MFA program in creative writing. After I graduated I finished my book, and then went to a writer’s conference where I met my editor, Joy Peskin. She read the first twenty pages and then asked for the full. Soon I received a very thoughtful letter that asked a lot of questions and made some suggestions. She wanted to see the manuscript again, if I would consider some of her suggestions. I was so excited! But, I was really stuck. It took me a long time to figure out what to do with SSOTAB. Years, in fact. I wrote two more books and had two babies before I could figure out how to get Liberty and Billie safely across the desert on their own. After I figured that out, I wrote the book quite quickly. I then sent it to Joy. She still remembered me and the rest is history. She is now my very, excellent editor at FSG/Macmillan.

You've had quite the publishing journey already!
I absolutely love road trips, and this sounds like a great road trip book. Were any parts of this book based on actual trips or locations you've been to? 

Yes, I used to go camping with my family all of the time. In fact, the idea for this book came from when I was vacationing with my family and was accidentally left at a gas station with my sister and my cousin. My parents didn’t see us climb out of the back of our camper truck to use the restroom. They thought we had fallen asleep and drove three hours to their destination before they realized we were gone.

We were so scared. Eventually, a policeman came and took us to the police station, where we were interviewed, and then sent to a foster home where we ate bean burritos and watched the movie Mary Poppins. After six hours, we were finally reunited with our family. I remember I looked out of the foster home window at the desert, and wondered if I had to live there. I could not figure out what had happened to my parents. I knew they wouldn’t leave us on purpose, but I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t returned. That raw emotion is what propelled me to write about Liberty, and her sister, Billie in SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE.

What part of this book did you most enjoy writing? 

I really enjoyed writing all of the many characters Liberty and Billie encountered. I loved writing Star Wars Kid; he has a special place in my heart. And, of course, I loved writing the sisters, Liberty and Billie. They had such a great dynamic that was really fun to write. I also loved Lavender Lady and Orson (another sibling combo) because they made me laugh. And finally, I’d say, I loved Tattoo Guy. I loved him because upon first observation he seems intimidating and scary, but as the book progresses we get the whole picture of who he is (compassionate, funny, and smart). In the beginning he is not who he seems. In general, I think this is true of most people. There is so much more to a person than what we see on the surface. Deep down everyone has a story that we can relate to.

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on? 

Absolutely there are setbacks and rejection, but if you want to write and create there are always discouragements. I have this quote on my desk at home that says: A published author is an amateur who never quit. I have to remind myself of this every day. You must be tenacious to reach your goals. Do the work. Read every day. Learn all you can about your craft. And don’t give up.

Great advice! Your cover is great; it reminds me a bit of "I Spy" books, which are always a road trip favorite. Who designed it? How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell your readers about your story? 

Elizabeth Holden Clark designed my book cover. From the moment I laid eyes on the cover, I loved it. The items are all things in SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE, so they have a special meaning. I love the sprinkles on the front, and the prairie dog on the back. I had little, to no, say about the cover. So I’m glad I liked it. Of course the publisher and publishing team want authors to like their book covers, but in general, an author doesn’t have much of a say.

What's next for you after this book debuts? Have you started working on another book?
When SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE was purchased it was part of a two-book deal, so yes, I am working on Book 2. It is not a sequel to SSOTAB, but it is a middle grade novel. It has been really fun to write and I can hardly wait until it comes out, but I am still working out some of the kinks in the manuscript.

How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about? 

It feels wonderful to have my book in the hands of readers. What a happy and sobering thought. I find it a great privilege to write for young readers. I can’t think of a better audience.

I have links to my upcoming events on my website: and also on the Macmillan author website I hope to visit with some of your readers sometime soon!

And, just for fun: what do you think your main character, Liberty, would pick as the ultimate road trip song and why? 

I seriously think Liberty would probably forgo the road trip song, and instead watch an episode of NatGeo’s Hunter and Hunted. She would absolutely love BBC’s Planet Earth. Liberty is a serious nature girl.

Sounds fun! Thanks for the interview and congrats on your debut!

Order your copy of Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave here!


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