Denise Jaden is, or has been, everything from a professional Polynesian dancer and fitness competitor to a mushroom farmer and church secretary. Most of her time now is spent homeschooling or playing with her seven year old son or in front of my computer writing. I was thankful that she took some time out to answer some questions about writing and her debut novel, Losing Faith.
When did you decide to become a writer?
It kind of happened by accident when I was in my thirties. Growing up, I’d never been much of a reader or writer, but one day while reading a novel (A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton) I was struck by the language and wording of it. The idea of putting words together that exquisitely really appealed to me. I started with a bit of free writing and journaling and it took off from there.
My first novel (yet to be published) was aimed at the mainstream adult market, but many of my critique partners said it felt very YA to them, even though it had a thirty year old male protagonist. My second idea for a novel centered around a theme very prevalent to teens, so I figured why not give it a try. I could tell from the first paragraph that the genre was for me.
How did you go from aspiring writer to published author?
Wow, you ask hard questions! Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s overwhelming talent or anything I’ve done along the way that has made it happen for me. I’ve written lots, taken and implemented lots of criticism, and submitted lots. I’m constantly trying to improve my craft, but every writer I know does that. There’s definitely a certain amount of kismet involved in this business, and so I just consider myself very, very blessed.
How did you come up with the idea for Losing Faith?
I lost a close friend when I was sixteen, and I’ve always felt like losing someone at that age is a big area to explore. One thing I love to say when people ask me what Losing Faith is about is this: It’s about secrets and wishing you had paid more attention. That, for me, was the biggest memory that spring boarded the idea of my book: wishing I had paid more attention.
Even though I am Jewish, I found it easy to connect to your characters and their experiences. Were you at all concerned as you wrote the book about using so much religious content?
I was very concerned. My main critique partner is also Jewish, and she helped me shape the religious content so it didn’t come off as preachy or heavy-handed. Since the book has been out, I’ve been surprised at the number of readers who not only have mentioned they felt this was handled well, but have also commented that they don’t feel there is enough religion in YA fiction.
Each of your characters had to deal with loss of a loved one and the failure of a parent(s) to handle that loss. Is there any reason you chose to portray them that way?
I honestly don’t know. It wasn’t done intentionally on my part. With Alis and Reena, I realized over time what had happened to their mom and how it would work best into the mystery. That family situation was tweaked a lot over time because it was integral to the plot. I brought Tessa in during my first draft, and her story appeared to me pretty much how you see it now in the book during the initial writing. I knew I wanted an unlikely friend for Brie, but one she could somehow relate to somehow. I didn’t sit down and plan this out any further. It all just kind of…happened.
Who reads your writing before it is published? Do you belong to a critique group? Do you ever test your work out with your audience?
I have a small number of critique partners I call on to read my work. They’re not really a group, but I’ve spent several years discovering the writers I really connect with and work best with. I’m not part of a “critique group” of any kind, and honestly, I don’t know quite how one of those would even work. I really like that I can swap chapters or entire manuscripts with my CP’s and they can always get me the kind of feedback I need. I used to be quite active on Critique Circle and at that point I had several teen readers. Other than that, I haven’t really tried much of my writing out on my audience.
Are you represented by an agent? If so, how did you get him/her to represent you?
My agent is Michelle Humphrey from ICM Talent and I adore her! I’m a slush pile success story—I didn’t have any previous communication with her, and she just made an offer of representation after liking my query and reading my full manuscript.
How did you find your editor? When did you know that he/she would be a good match for this project?
I met my editor at a writer’s conference, before I even had an agent. Even though my editor requested to see my manuscript at the conference, I chose not to submit it until I had an agent. I had a chat with my editor later on the phone about her vision for my book before accepting her offer, so I knew we would be a great match.
What was the process like once you were picked up by an editor?
Long! LOL. If you think waiting for a reply on a query is a painstaking process, believe me, it’s nothing compared to the publication process. At first it didn’t quite feel real that I had actually sold a book, so the waiting process for that first revision letter felt the longest. I think I received my offer in March and I didn’t get revision notes until around July or August. But then there’s also waiting for back cover copy, art design, advance reader copies. The whole process took a year and a half, but other than the waiting, it was really pretty wonderful!
What do you feel you do best as a writer? What do you still need to work on?I think I have a very natural writing voice for YA, and can write a good mix of serious, hard-hitting topics that still include a bit of comic relief. I have a lot of things I still need to work on, but the greatest of these is my passive writing. It takes me several drafts to get my characters, especially the main ones to be really engaging and active.
Thanks so much for answering my questions. I just have one more: What are you working on now?
I’m working on another YA contemporary novel called APPETITE FOR BEAUTY. It’s about cheeky and forthright Loann Rochester, who discovers a dangerous, self-destructive side in her sister, and has to decide between helping her sister and a powerful and unfamiliar desire to become appealing to a mysterious boy.
For more information on Denise Jaden and her books, visit her author page.