Hi Jenn! Thanks for stopping by For the Love of KidLit to chat. I am also a Virgo-Writer-Jenn 🙂
Yay for Virgo writers! *high five*
1) I was fascinated to learn that a version of SLEIGHT was originally published in 2011. This new version is a top-to-bottom reimagining of the story. How did you tackle the rewrite? Did you already have things in mind that you’d wished you’d changed and now was your chance? Or did you just start from scratch?
The book was only out for a few months in 2011, and then the agent I was wooing hooked me up with a phenomenal developmental editor named Genevieve Gagne-Hawes. Thus the decision was made to pull the book down and rewrite with Gen’s help, with the hope of attracting a publisher. It worked! In 2012 my agent (Dan Lazar) sold the book to HarperCollins Canada in a pre-empt, and that started the editorial journey that would involve MANY rewrites with a few different editors and then an eventual sale to the American publisher, Sky Pony Press, in 2016.
The rewrite process was grueling—there were about fifteen drafts total from 2011 onward—and it was under the guidance of incredible editors. So it was really not so much me thinking there were things I wanted changed as much as me working alongside the editors to make the book the best it could be. There was a time midstream where the story got off track and we had to reposition—and yes, this involved starting the book from scratch, from a blank page yet again—but it’s a big story with a lot of moving parts, and I was still learning how to be a novelist of a really ambitious idea. (I tend to bite off more than I can chew.) It took a long time to get the book where we wanted it, and I’ve been very lucky to work with an extremely patient team of professionals who’ve been supportive of my attempts to get it right, draft after draft after draft. When they say writing is rewriting, they aren’t kidding. This book has been a test of endurance, and perseverance.
2) On your website, you mention your love of movies. When you write, do you see the story unfold as a movie in your mind? How are movie plot and story plot the same and/or different to you?
Great question. I LOVE movies. SO much. Absolutely my books unfold in my head like a movie—but I’m too long-winded to be a screenwriter, so books it is! Books and movies share a lot of similarities in structure, and a writer can easily use a film’s three-act structure format to fashion a functioning novel. Novels obviously allow the creator more time to explore nooks and crannies; with a movie, you only get 90-120 minutes to get the story across in a way that leaves the viewer satisfied.
With that said, however, many of the same elements must be present, including and especially plot. You don’t have a story without plot, without conflict that drives that plot. Maybe literary fiction or art house films can get away with simply being pretty, but I write commercial fiction that necessitates a strong adherence to storytelling norms. For that reason, I think plot in fiction and cinematic fiction are very similar—the objective is to present a problem, allow the characters to work through it, and move toward a logical, satisfactory conclusion (note I didn’t say happy ending!). The plot is the plan, the through-line, that the characters will follow once they conceive of their problem; it will help them figure out ways around obstacles as they work toward their end goal. Without it, the story is flaccid and uninteresting, which is absolutely true for both books and movies.
3) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I used to be a total pantser until my first editor at HarperCollins Canada made me (she made me! LOL …) write these crazy detailed outlines. I turned in one that was, like, forty-five pages long—egads!—but that became problematic because as I started rewriting, I’d get to a certain point and the story would veer off unexpectedly at, say, page 22 of the outline, so the rest would have to be thrown out and reworked. I was working too hard to stay aligned with an outline that was no longer applicable to the story I was trying to tell.
However, I did love the idea of having an outline, and working with this editor taught me a lot about the process of forethought and how it can save you a ton of time when it comes to the actual writing—plus having an outline saved me so much anxiety about not knowing where the hell I was going with the story! I’ve since adapted this to write detailed synopses instead of outlines. For every new idea, I spend time fleshing out a five- to ten-page synopsis that covers all the major stuff (main characters, a little backstory, main plot/conflict, subplots, secondary characters, foreseeable obstacles, maybe some snippets of dialogue or specific scenes I don’t want to forget). This has been much more efficient for me because I still see where a story is going but I’m not spending a month writing an outline that I may not be able to use down the line. Also it allows me to provide my agent or an interested editor with a snapshot of a project before I get too deep into writing it; then they can provide feedback and I can adjust accordingly to strengthen the project in the very early stages.
4) You write adult titles under the name Eliza Gordon. Are you more, less, or equally prolific as Jenn or Eliza?
I’ve written four Eliza Gordon novels during the years we’ve been in the rewrite process with SLEIGHT (including the most recent that came out in January from Lake Union Publishing), so yeah, Eliza is a bit more prolific. Thing is, though, the Eliza Gordon books are fun, lighthearted, happily-ever-afters, and although I am a meticulous researcher for every project I write, these books haven’t required the depth of research that SLEIGHT (and now her sequel, SCHEME) have required. Further, fantasy is always a tougher book to write—there are so many moving parts! SLEIGHT isn’t just about a girl with a circus; it’s about a girl with a circus who also has a secret magical ability and she has to keep her mother’s secrets safe too and then BOOM Mom’s dead and ohhhh boy Mom had more secrets and then there’s the elephants to consider and the secrets her “dad” Baby has been keeping from her and if she doesn’t figure this out everything is going to fall apart and WOW is that a ghost and oh my goodness that boy is cute but he’s got some scary secrets too and then UH-OH there’s this whole world of magic that is actually based on Mesopotamian mythology and yeah … A lot of world-building, establishment of rules, making sure characters adhere to those rules, historical accuracy and creative license, and of course, elephant poo. It’s a lot to manage.
5) Writing is such a subjective business. How do you stay positive during those frustrating bits?
Ooohhhh, I’m not very good at staying positive. This industry will break you if you let it. But thankfully, I have a VERY supportive husband who can read my mood the second he walks in the door. With a simple “hello,” he can tell if he needs to just turn around and go back out to the doughnut shop, or if it’s safe to come in and ask how the writing day has gone.
In all seriousness, though, the only way to not lose your mind as a writer—and I say this now that I am on the winning end of this epic journey with SLEIGHT that has tested me every single day for the last seven years—if you don’t love books, and I mean LOVE BOOKS; if you don’t LOVE telling stories and you’re only doing this because you think you’re going to get rich quick, you need to find something else to do with your life. A number of times over the years, people have made rude comments to me about how long the rewrite has taken; one person even called me an “idiot” for spending so much time on one book. Ma’am, there are days when I would’ve totally agreed with you. I am an idiot.
However, I also know that I have given this book EVERYTHING I HAVE. It took as long as it took because that’s the time it needed to be born. Some books are just like that, and it certainly doesn’t mean the writer is an idiot—it probably means that the writer wanted to make sure the book was given the time it needed to mature. Don’t feel rushed if your writer friends are cranking out one, two, three, ten books a year. YOUR book knows how long it needs. Trust your editor(s). Trust your gut. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
And that’s the big secret here, folks: A writer is never in control. The story always is.
Thank you for the terrific chat, Jenn! Insightful questions—I do hope you and your readers enjoy SLEIGHT! ON WITH THE SHOW!
About The Book:
Author: Jennifer Sommersby
Pub. Date: April 24, 2018
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Delia smiles at the shadow only she sees—
Something slams into her. The lyra whirls like a half-dollar spinning on its edge.
My mother is thrown backward.
And she falls.
Growing up in the Cinzio Traveling Players Company, Genevieve Flannery is accustomed to a life most teenagers could never imagine: daily workouts of extravagant acrobatics; an extended family of clowns; wild animals for pets; and her mother, Delia, whose mind has always been tortured by visions—but whose love Geni never questions. In a world of performers who astonish and amaze on a daily basis, Delia’s ghostly hallucinations never seemed all that strange . . . until the evening Geni and her mother are performing an aerial routine they’ve done hundreds of times, and Delia falls to her death.
That night, a dark curtain in Geni’s life opens. Everything has changed.
Still reeling from the tragedy, the Cinzio Traveling Players are also adjusting to the circus’s new owner: a generous, mysterious man whose connection to the circus—Geni suspects—has a dark and dangerous history. And suddenly Geni is stumbling into a new reality of her own, her life interrupted daily by the terrors only Delia used to be able to see.
As the visions around her grow stronger, Geni isn’t sure who she can trust. Even worse, she’s starting to question whether she can trust her own mind.
I am a writer, copy/line editor, bibliophile, and mom of four living in the Great White North. Represented by Victoria Doherty Munro at Writers House. Romantic comedies under Eliza Gordon.
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Giveaway Details: International
3 winners will receive a SLEIGHT Prize Pack including a finished copy of the book and swag! International.
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Ends on May 4th at Midnight EST!
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