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.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

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.










Author and magazine editor, Rebecca Laclair, has published short stories and band interviews in Gravel, Wordhaus, and Mixtape Methodology. She blogs about writing and is passionate about mentoring teen writers. Never further than a walk from the Pacific Ocean, Rebecca has migrated along the West Coast, from Vancouver, Canada to San Diego, finally landing on a forested island in the Pacific Northwest, where she is at work on her next novel.

Time to chat with Rebecca!

What is your latest book?

Radio Head is a fast-paced sex, drugs and rock’n’roll novel about a 19-year-old girl with a magical ability to hear music in others, just by touching them.

I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?

I’m so excited to announce that Radio Head was released for pre-sale on November 27! The book’s official release date is February 12, 2016.

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How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

I write contemporary fiction in several categories: Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult. I once tried my hand at Horror and placed my story in the first magazine I queried. If that’s a sign that I have a knack for the macabre, it’s an ironic twist; I can barely sit through a trailer for a scary movie.

If you were to advertise your book on a bumper sticker, what would it say?

Everyone has a song inside.

What else have you written?

I am making final revisions on my second book, a middle grade road-trip adventure, How I Learned to Play Guitar. It’s kind of a mash-up of The Wizard of Oz and Easy Rider, aimed at grades 6, 7, and 8.

I’ve published short stories, personal essays, and interviews of musicians, athletes, off-road racing champions, and business owners. I used to write articles about health, wellness, and green living for magazines. The motherhood blog I wrote in the past landed me on TV, and a cooking column I created was featured in a celebrity cookbook.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

I believe every sentence counts, whether it’s an epic 200,000-word fantasy, or flash fiction. However, the shorter the story, the more significant each sentence becomes. Carefully chosen words carry the tone of the scene, reveal the unspoken backstory of the characters, and foreshadow what might come—or what is unseen backstage. Short stories are also wonderful for earning literary magazine bylines, by giving away a free gift to readers who join your author newsletter. They’re also wonderful when querying agents.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

On a daily basis. Letting go of control is a function of making art, isn’t it?

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

The process of discovery is exciting: putting the characters in a given situation and finding out what they’re made of and how they feel about it. I’m very much an independent soul. Writing from home, I’m surrounded by a lush forest; my dog and cat lay at my sides, and I can listen to music. But, I love coming out of solitude to volunteer for local writing events, and I mentor teen writers through my public library. Writing conferences and author lectures are invigorating and inspiring—and a great way to meet other writers. One of the best aspects of novel-writing is enjoying a sense of creative community. The thing I like the least is when I’m working on a scene and I know I’m not doing it justice, that it could be better. I have to walk away and hope a light bulb comes on for how to fix it. Or, brainstorm ideas with a trusted critique partner.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I’m with you, Lisette! I need to write in order. I can’t know how my characters feel unless they “live” through the conflicts first. How would I know how much they’ve grown, if I didn’t first give them reasons to fight? My characters depend on talents learned, also. What they’re able to do in Chapter Fourteen, for instance, is very different from what they could do in Chapter Three. That said, I struggle with opening and closing pages. Once the book is complete, I’ll rewrite the beginning and the ending over and over, dozens of times.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

Good questions! I used to leave my endings ambiguous, so the story could go where it needed, but I found that without a clear destination, the middle section would suffer. Author Neil Gaiman said, “You need more than a beginning if you’re going to start a book. If all you have is a beginning, then once you’ve written that beginning, you have nowhere to go.”

I have to ask myself, what will my protagonist need to realize by the end? Will he or she get what they wanted, and if so, will they still want it? It’s all about my characters’ growth. My favorite books leave me with the impression that I grew, too.

I think titles are extremely important. Most write themselves, springing from the narrative. For those that leave me stumped, I’ve saved some fun title-writing articles I came across on the web, and apply those techniques.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I love, love, love NaNoWriMo, because it’s the one time a year I stop censoring, doubting, and second-guessing, and just write the damn thing. It’s a beautiful, and emotional process. Real progress is made. I always encourage writers to register in November! The rest of the year? I type, delete, type, delete. The words I’m happy with one day get dumped the next. I’ve been editing magazines for over ten years, and I’m in the habit of looking at sentences with a critical eye, cutting redundancies, and increasing readability. That’s all well and good, until it takes years (yes, plural) to complete a novel. I have to remind myself there’s no such thing as perfection, especially in creative endeavors.

Over the years, many well-known authors have stated that they wished they’d written their characters or their plots differently. Have you ever had similar regrets?

Absolutely. Art is fluid and mercurial. You could tell the same story a hundred different ways. One of the hardest parts of writing is letting go. The terrifying thing about publishing a book is the knowledge that it could’ve been different—did I write the “best” version? At some point, we have to share our art with the world. There is a reader for every story, and our work serves no one if it’s hiding in a file on our hard drive, or in a drawer somewhere.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Yes. It happened when I was competing in a writing contest. All the participants were given a surprise genre, specific characters, and a limited time to produce a story. I ended up getting, “Horror.” My antagonist was a despicable, horrendous monster. I don’t even want to talk about what he did to the babysitter, his wife, and his own child.

There are so many conflicting opinions out there about everything related to publishing: e-book pricing, book promotion, social media usage etc. How do you sort through it all to figure out what works best for you?

Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to interview musicians, other writers, visual artists, photographers, and even interior designers. One thing I’ve observed is that successful creatives seek out opportunities. It’s tempting to hole ourselves up and nurture our craft on our own terms. The truth is that we don’t have to be A-type sales dynamos in order to pitch and sell our books. But, we do need to seek out and act on opportunities to teach, speak, share our knowledge, and help others however we can. We need to figure out who our real audience is (hint, it’s never “everybody”) and build relationships within those communities. Some of the best ways for introverted, sensitive people (like me) is to help. If there isn’t a local literary non-profit in your area, consider volunteering for a writing conference, teaching a workshop, giving a lecture at your local library, or assisting a PR exec part-time, to learn the ropes.

As writers, it’s very easy to go about making marketing decisions ourselves, because we spend so many hours working alone. Solitude is ideal for writing. However, the business of marketing communications and PR is an entirely different mindset and skill set. Once a writer makes the decision to self-publish, it’s important to get educated, talk to others who have done it successfully, and if possible, enlist the help of a public relations professional. E-book pricing comes down to what the market will bear. Social media is fun and free. As writers, the written word suits us well, so building an online platform can be exciting and interesting, if we allow it. Your Twitter and Facebook feeds should be filled with people who share your interests. Find your tribe. They are, in turn, looking for you. The important thing to remember is that we’re not trying to sell books, but engage readers. Our readers are, essentially, our dearest friends. We’re letting our readers see our art, our inner world. We’re sharing the thing we hold precious. I have Twitter and Facebook accounts, but I also use Pinterest. I created a Radio Head page, where I pin shareable memes featuring quotes from my book, and memes showcasing my best reviews from magazines, editors, and fellow authors.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

On the surface, Radio Head is a behind-the-scenes look at the rock star lifestyle, in Los Angeles. I lived in Southern California for eighteen years, so I have first-hand knowledge of my characters’ home. However, three of my characters are in rehab, and the one who isn’t—Stanford Lysandre—is the one who needs it most, and suffers the physical consequences of not seeking treatment. Radio Head is a book about avoiding being “caught,” illustrating the games people play, and how they rationalize their actions as reasonable, or clever. My characters each find their own means of coping; they’ve figured out how to get ahead. We’re all a little “crazy;” Does Shelby suffer from delusions as a result of a lifetime of abuse and neglect? Or is her special ability to hear music real? It’s up to the reader to decide. Zac is a borderline personality. He lives in the extreme, driving recklessly, engaging in unsafe sex, idealizing (or vitrifying) others, and has paranoid fears of abandonment. Weaving those characteristics in, yet keeping him attractive, lovable, and sympathetic was a delicate dance.

The Ashtynn character was tough because she’d been so badly hurt by the adults in her life. Growing up in the spotlight, she did as she was told, and Hollywood made her a star. She’s only a teen, but she has a long history of drug and alcohol abuse, and self-mutilation. She is a psychopath, and unlike a sociopath, she has no conscience, no remorse for her actions. As sordid and reprehensible as her behavior might be, I do want readers to see that she has been gravely harmed. Lastly, I have a social worker character and a psychiatrist, who happen to be married. They have their own issues, and as equipped as they may be to resolve conflicts and communicate effectively, they play their own games, they know how to hurt one another, and how to deflect.

I spent a lot of time talking with counselors, reviewing the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5, and researching both celebrity and patient histories.

Additionally, I gleaned much from reading California police codes (and protocol) in the Official California Legislative Information website.

The most difficult statistics I came across, however, were those regarding military. The effects of long tours of duty (during the war in Afghanistan) were staggering. More enlisted men and women died of suicide than in the line of duty. It’s tragic, and my heart goes out to the families of those who suffered.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management?

It isn’t a secret: Our job is to write. We must meet the page every day, whether inspiration strikes—or not. I’m thankful I don’t suffer from writer’s block; I think it’s because I don’t stop writing. I just begin, and before I realize it, my characters are speaking for me.

I’m a huge proponent of the Pomodoro Method. I am consistently amazed by how much I can produce when I allow myself a short interval of undistracted focus.

Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?

My very favorite thing is to ask a reader what the story is about. As I’ve said, no two people read a book the same way. One reviewer described Radio Head as “A girl who desperately wants her father’s headphones back and will do anything to get them.” Another reviewer wrote, “This is an insider’s view of the dark reality of fame.”

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

I always enjoyed making up stories when I was little. My father paid me ten cents for each little book I wrote, illustrated, and bound with construction paper and staples. A fantasy of mine was to live by the water, or in the woods—somewhere very remote—and write book after book, and just send them to an agent in New York. In high school, I believed that was a ridiculous pipe dream and rejected the idea. I floundered under a Liberal Arts diploma, not knowing what I wanted to do. I traveled, then went to college for graphic design. I ended up working for an engineering firm and then as a marketing executive before finally deciding to write full-time in my early thirties. I moved to a remote, forested island a year and a half ago, and have completed two books.

I’m sure you’ve read many interviews with your fellow authors. In what ways do you find your methods of creating most similar and dissimilar?

I think many of us write the books we want to read. At some point, “the market” tempts us: what’s hot and trending, what kinds of books are garnering awards. When we meet the page, however, we owe it ourselves and to our art to write the scenes keeping us awake at night, the characters begging to be brought to life. I think one thing working writers have in common is passion for the stories we have to tell, the ones that won’t be quiet inside us.

How would you define your style of writing?

My writing has been described as “clear, concise, and thought-provoking.” I suppose I would define it as contemporary, with a sense of the immediate. My characters live in the here-and-now of their worlds, avoiding the demons of the past, but fearful of the unknown future, and those fears dictate their actions. Again, this is what I call, “invisible backstory.” I like to infuse a sense of hope. I often weave in, unintentionally, the theme of family—the meaning of it, the search for it, and the sacrifices made on behalf of family. My style of writing is a process of self-discovery, and I’ve noticed that’s common for many writers.

What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?

I’ve never written Fantasy. Not as an adult, that is! I have a huge, detailed outline for an Epic Fantasy, but the story intimidates me. I’ve never built an unreal world before, and I think that’s the most intimidating aspect of my project. One of my goals for 2016 is to tackle that book. I’m dedicating one day per week to learning how to write Fantasy, and preparing the first draft.

Have you ever started out to write one book and ended up with something completely different?

Every book, story, and article opens my eyes to a truth I didn’t know before I started. So yes, absolutely, one hundred percent yes. I have to outline a novel before I can begin, it’s the only way I know how to write. But I only outline the action, the plot points, and my story’s structure and timeline. The feelings, the emotional fallout, and strengths my characters gain by throwing themselves into the action dictate what the story is about. I never truly understand my story’s theme or moral until my characters show me, and by that time, I have a first draft. Is that weird? It seems odd saying it, but that’s how it goes.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?

First, I wish I’d adopted my practice of writing every day, even if it’s only twenty minutes of solid, focused work. Second, I wish I’d been confident enough in my writing to keep sentences short and as clear as possible. Readers get the most pleasure when they don’t have to stop reading to figure out what the writer is trying to say, or skip parts that are too cumbersome, or overly intellectual. In fact, one sign of intellect is being able to explain complicated information clearly and concisely. Smart readers want a good story, not fancy words.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Travel is important to me, even finite trips, like the time I spend chauffeuring my children to school, playdates, and activities. Through the years, the music in the car has changed, the songs we sing while driving, and the conversation, too. The same is true for riding in the car with my husband. We’re together as a family in the small, cozy interior of a vehicle, headed to or from an adventure. We have great conversations while in motion, it’s a dedicated time, suspended between responsibilities. All we have to do is “get there,” so the time is precious, it’s just for sharing whatever is on our minds without the distraction of what we must do after we park. Getting to our island requires a ferry ride. Aside from the fact that Conde Nast Traveler included it in the mag’s top ten list of most beautiful ferry rides, time on the boat has helped me recover the hours I spent in gridlock traffic in Southern California. I’m thankful for that.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

Among my favorite cuisines are Japanese, Mediterranean, Vietnamese, French, and anything involving pico de gallo and guacamole. My ultimate comfort food (aka: addiction) is dark chocolate. I prefer at least 85 percent cacao, and enjoy a few squares every day. And by “a few squares,” I mean I engage in internal debate about giving up non-chocolate foods entirely.

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.

That’s a tough question! I think my longest-held ‘super-power’ fantasy is to be polyglot, someone who can speak several languages fluently. I suppose this supports my feeling that I could live many places quite contentedly, but more than that, I want to know people, share their everyday lives, respect their culture and how it is expressed, and travel not as an ‘other,’ but as a passionate embracer.