Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Interview with Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

I'm so excited to sit down today with Jennifer Salvato Doktorski, fellow Simon Pulse debut author and new writing friend.

Fun Fact: Jen was the first person to interview me, which I must say, was one of the highlights of my writing year. Fun fact #2: Jen has TWO books coming out this year. How My Summer Went Up in Flames with Simon Pulse (release date: May 7) and Famous Last Words with Henry Holt (release: July 2). I am in awe of this two book/two publisher deal and bow down to Jen's writing and promotional juggling skills.

I haven't read either book yet, but I am totally intrigued. Look at this cover:

And here's the enticing blurb:

Rosie’s always been impulsive. She didn’t intend to set her cheating ex-boyfriend’s car on fire. And she never thought her attempts to make amends could be considered stalking. So when she’s served with a temporary restraining order on the first day of summer vacation, she’s heartbroken—and furious....

But Jen confessed that she wrote Famous Last Words first. The cover hasn't been officially released yet, but I took a peek and it is gorgeous.

Sixteen-year-old Samantha D’Angelo has death on the brain. Her summer internship at the local newspaper has her writing obituaries instead of soaking up the sun at the beach. Between Shelby, Sam’s boy-crazy best friend; her boss Harry, a true-blue newspaper man; and AJ, her fellow “intern scum” (aka the cute drummer for a band called Love Gas), Sam has her hands full. But once she figures out what—or who—is the best part of her summer, will she mess it all up?
As Sam learns her way around both the news room and the real world, she starts to make some momentous realizations about politics, ethics, her family, romance, and most important—herself.

Jody: Jen, I love that these books are standalones, (Soooo many books these days are part of a series, and readers have to wait for the next installment.) and they are very different on the surface. Where do you get your ideas?

Jen: My ideas come from a variety of sources—things that have happened to me or people I know, things I’ve read or heard about, things I wish would happen to me, songs, TV, the news. Sometimes I feel writing is like quilting. You bring together bits and pieces and stitch them into one story. (I should mention that I’ve never made quilt, but it’s how I imagine the process would go.)

I usually get an idea for a concept or hook first and then take it from there. For my first novel, I knew I wanted to do a story about a teen obit writer and call it Dead Lines. Ultimately, the title was changed to Famous Last Words, but that’s where it started. For that book I drew on my experiences writing obituaries as well as the two years I spent as a reporter for a local newspaper. For my second novel the phrase “girl on the receiving end of a restraining order” popped into my head. I started to think about who that girl would be and why. That’s where How My Summer Went Up in Flames began. Once I come up with the concept, I have to find the right voice for my main character. That’s key for me. The conversations between my characters drive my scenes.

Jody: I like your quilt idea. For the record, I haven't made a quilt either but my mom and my mother-in-law both quilt and I know how much work goes into it--all the fabric you have to cut and then piece together, and that's before you even get to the actual quilting part. So many layers and so much time. It's a good metaphor for the writing-a-book-process.

You said that you come up with the concept first. What's next? Do you make an outline or do you just plunge in and start writing?

Jen: I would like to be an outline person, but I can’t seem to work that way with the first draft. After I get the first draft down and get feedback from my critique partners and agent, then I usually wind up going back and doing some sort of outline. With both novels I made outlines after I got notes back from my editors. There’s a book I love by Martha Alderson called Blockbuster Plots. In it she teaches this technique for tracking scenes. I love it. It’s been a huge help for me with revisions.

Jody: Hmm. We seem to share a similar process. I've never heard of the Martha Alderson book. I will have to check that out. I've been using Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life for help with my revisions and I attended an awesome lecture at a Highlights conference about revising in layers. Very helpful. Something I didn't know when I was just starting out was that logic and outlining are going to come into it at one point or another. And the journey to publication takes a looooong time. (At least it did for me!)

How many books did you write before you got your first book deal? How many rejections did you get along the way?

Jen: Let’s see. I wrote one middle grade and several picture books before writing the young adult novel (Famous Last Words) that landed me my agent and my first book deal. As it turns out, this book will be my second one published. My debut novel, How My Summer Went Up in Flames, was the second one sold but will be published first. As far as rejections go, I was well into the double-digits when my agent, Kerry Sparks, rescued me from the slush pile and signed me.

Jody: Double digits sound pretty good from where I'm standing!

Now, back to the nitty gritty: What kind of work schedule do you have every day?

Jen: When I’m working on new material, mornings are my favorite and most productive time of day to write. But if I’m on a deadline and revising a manuscript, I work whenever and wherever I can—early mornings, late nights, at the Dunkin Donuts next door to my daughter’s dancing school. I’ve recently discovered the benefits of jotting down notes on my iPhone.

Jody: This is why I love doing these interviews! I always come away with a new idea. Your iPhone method is much better than my "jotting stuff down on stray receipts crumpled up in my purse" method. Must remember that and must pick your brain about another of my issues: how to balance writing time with other obligations.

Jen: Well, it’s not always pretty. If only my family didn’t need clean clothes and home-cooked meals! Honestly, my husband and daughter are incredibly supportive. They ignore the dust bunnies, don’t mind take-out, and help me fold baskets and baskets of clean clothes on weekends. The dog still demands her daily walks, but it gives me time to clear my head and think about what I’m writing.

Jody: Thank goodness for the dog, right? (Otherwise, I wonder if I'd ever leave the house.) Okay, last question because I know you're amazingly busy:

How do you promote your books/use social media?

Jen: I have a website and I’m on Twitter. The latter has been an awesome way to connect with other writers as well as YA book bloggers. More recently, I signed up as an author on Goodreads and I may do a Facebook page sometime this year.

Jody: Jen, thanks so much for chatting. I can't wait for your books to come out and to follow you during your (double) debut year!


  1. Can't wait to read the books!!!

  2. I like the quilting analogy. Made me think of 90's movie "How to Make an American Quilt" with Winona Rider (young woman writing her thesis spends summer with wiser older women in a quilting bee). And I do the iPhone trick, too. Has saved my sanity from the small bits of lost paper.

  3. Congratulations, Jen. I can't wait to read both your books! Enjoy your banner year!