A native New Yorker and captivating storyteller with a flair for embellishment, Jennifer Irwin currently resides in Los Angeles with two cats, a dog, and her boyfriend. After earning her BA in Cinema from Denison University, she worked in advertising and marketing, raised three boys, and ultimately became a certified Pilates instructor. While she has written screenplays and short stories since her college days, A Dress the Color of the Sky is her first novel. Since its release, A Dress the Color of the Sky has won seven book awards, received rave reviews, and been optioned for a feature film. Jennifer is represented by Prentis Literary and has recently signed a release agreement contract with Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles.
Time to chat with Jennifer!
Is your recent book part of a series?
Yes, A Dress the Color of the Sky is the first in a trilogy. I recently submitted the first draft of the sequel to my agent. The title of the second book is, A Dress the Color of the Moon.
I believe that writers write about what they know so yes, the characters in my books are loosely based on real people that I have met or known during my lifetime.
What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?
That indie authors aren’t as talented as big five published writers. I believe there are a lot of extremely talented indie authors out there who have published incredible books.
Many times, I’ve actually dreamed plot twists, character names, and many other tidbits that I’ve need for my WIP. Has this ever happened to you?
I dream about my book all the time. There is a funny cartoon that shows a person talking to a writer who has a bubble over their head which is cluttered with characters and chaos. That resonated with me! While I was plotting my second novel, I dreamed about the story every night. When I wasn’t dreaming about it, I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters, what should happen, who would end up together, and which characters from the first book I would focus on. I actually lost sleep while trying to decide who my protagonist, Prudence Aldrich would end up with after she checks out of rehab.
Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?
With my first novel, I wrote everything in order but found it more compelling when I moved back and forth in time. It was a lot of work to tear the story apart and break up the timeline but I’m glad I did because the book has been very well received. I did not work from an outline with my first book but then again, it was my debut novel. With the sequel, I outlined the story which shifts back and forth in time and shifts perspectives from first person to third person. My agent assisted me with the outline which was awesome. In the world of writers, I am a neophyte and have so much to learn. I’m waiting for that delightful moment when I feel like a seasoned writer!
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
When I began writing my debut novel, I had no idea what the title would be or how the story would end. The title came to me about halfway through the second draft. The ending came in one of those aha moments. I wanted to satisfy the reader while also leaving them hanging for the sequel. Since I just completed the first draft of book two, I would imagine that the ending will change a few times between now and when it is released.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
By the number of emails coming through google docs from my editor, I’d say I’m one of those writers who waits until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. With my first book, I worked with a writing coach who I hired after I had completed the third draft. It’s been a completely different experience working with an agent and having support from the folks at Prentis Literary. I’m saying my prayers of gratitude.
After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?
I totally felt like this while writing, A Dress the Color of the Sky. Early on, I won a publishing contest but felt as though my book simply wasn’t ready to be released. When I received money for a film option, I hired a writing coach to help me untangle the necklace of my manuscript. When I started working with the writing coach, I had no idea whether I had written something worthy. She assured me that the book was more than worthy which was a refreshing confidence booster.
How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?
There is a real art to naming characters. I’m one of those writers who pines over names and spends a lot of time worrying about whether they work with the character. I actually had a different name for my protagonist’s ex-husband through the first three drafts of my novel. One night, I hunkered down and started working on his name. When it came to me I was thrilled! It was a bit difficult to change the name so late because when I was editing, I kept going back to that darned first name which I hated!
Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?
I honestly believe there are a multitude of factors that come into play when it comes to indie author book sales. The most important one is to write a compelling story with a visually appealing cover. When you write a great book, the reviews will start rolling in. Indie authors have to hustle and promote their books like crazy to penetrate the competitive reader market. There are times when you have to discount your book or give it away to get those much-needed reviews. My hope is that my next book is picked up by a big publisher so I can focus more on my writing and spend less time on marketing. It has been very difficult for me to find that perfect balance.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
When I first started querying agents I had no idea what I was doing. I had heard about a site called, queryshark which is run by a literary agent. I submitted a really unique query letter for critique and mine was chosen. It was sort of good and bad to have my letter critiqued because she ripped me to pieces but in the end I had a great query letter. After a ton of agent rejections, a few requests for pages, and two requests for full, I won a publishing contest. The contest is what I attribute to my understanding of how to market a book. There were two factors to winning the contest, get a ton of votes for your book idea, and complete a variety of marketing course with a high score. At the time I won the contest, I had received a deposit for the film option on my book. I felt as though my book needed work so I used some of the money to hire a writing coach. With a pending film deal, I grew impatient and opted to publish indie.
In hindsight, I should have waited to sign with an agent but there is no turning back now. I chose to published with Glass Spider because they were easy to work with an had a very open contract which didn’t lock me in forever. I have since signed with an agent who will be representing me for my next novel, A Dress the Color of the Moon. My agent signed with me after reading my debut novel. It has been such a different experience working with an agent on the sequel. I can honestly say that publishing indie is a hustle but I have been blessed with incredible reviews which has helped me penetrate the competitive book market. It is difficult to find balance between writing the sequel and marketing my first book. I simply can’t take my eye off of either ball so it’s a real life juggling act!
Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?
I have had a huge number of readers private message and email that my book has changed their life. One reader told me that she and her sister had stopped speaking due to their childhood trauma, after she sent my book to my sister, they opened their lines of communication. Another reader confessed that my book helped her come to grips with being date raped when she was in college. A book blogger told me that my book deeply touched him and helped him to heal from the traumas of his past. I had no idea that this story would touch so many readers.
Are you a fast typist? Does your typing speed (or lack of it) affect your writing?
I took typing in high school and had no idea what a brilliant move that was for me. I’m an incredibly fast typist!
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I wrote a lot in my younger years but stopped when I started working in advertising, got married, had kids, and life got in the way. All I can say is that I love writing. I’m a natural born storyteller. I started my career as a writer late in my life and I’ve never been more fulfilled in a career as I am right now.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
When I first published my book, a friend and fellow author told me to ignore negative reviews. I don’t want to come across badly when I say this but I haven’t received very many negative reviews. The lowest one is on Goodreads and I appreciated what she had to say, accepted her review, and moved one. On Amazon, I have had one critical review from a reader who said my book reminded her of Fear of Flying by Erica Jung which was an international bestseller.
Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?
There are days in which I feel hopeless and as though I’m not going to make it but I always pull myself out of the rut. I believe that without lows, we can’t appreciate the highs so I embrace the self-doubt that, at times, can consume me. There is a feeling deep inside of me that believes this will work out, I can picture it in a way that I never have been able to before. Faith is good, it keeps us going when the world is beating us down.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
I live in Los Angeles with my boyfriend of nine years. Our home overlooks the Pacific ocean and is quite remote for LA. I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful and inspiring place to write.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?
Buttered noodles but they don’t like me because they make me fat! My least favorite food is anything with beef because I’m a pescatarian.
What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?
When I found out I was pregnant with my third son. I always tell him he’s the best mistake I ever made.
If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would you like to have? And why.
Ernest Hemingway and it’s pretty obvious why!
Care to brag about your family?
I have the most amazing sons. My oldest lives in Columbus. He swam and played the cello for all four years of college. He has worked for a few successful startups and I haven’t given him any money since he graduated. He actively volunteers and is passionate about making Columbus a better place to live for all residents. My middle son has overcome the most incredible obstacles. He is a talented drummer and is chasing the dream of being a music producer. He just landed a coveted internship at a very hot company that produces music for television and film. My youngest is at school on the east coast studying environmental science and policy. He is committed to coming back to LA to be involved with creating change from an environmental standpoint in the state of California. My three sons and I have been through a lot which I won’t get into here. I’m so incredibly proud of each and every one of them. They are the greatest joy of my life.
What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?
Honesty, loyalty, and a great sense of humor.
What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?
The Sound of Music because who doesn’t love a happy ending? Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, that book helped me to come to grips with my past and to understand that we can rise up from even the most horrific past to accomplish great things.
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