Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Interview with Author Jennifer Valent
Jennifer Erin Valent won the 2007 Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest for her historical drama, Fireflies In December. Jennifer lives in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia, where she enjoys her work as a nanny to two terrific kids. She’s an avid sports fan - especially ice hockey - and enjoys figure skating, shopping and spending time with family and friends.
Welcome to PASTimes. Tell us a little about your writer’s journey.
The first thing I ever wrote was a children’s book. I thought, “I can do this. I’ve worked with kids for years, and I know what they like to read.” What I didn’t bet on was the difficulty I would find in even cracking open the publishing door. I moved on to writing freelance but found that to be equally challenging. It took forever just to get one, unpaid article published. So I tried writing a novel, and I found out that I could not only manage to write one, but that I loved doing it. After writing three books in a series of romantic comedies, and striking out with publishers on those, I ended up settling down to write a Southern drama. Fireflies In December finished as a semifinalist in the Christian Writers Guild’s contest in 2006. I then entered it in the ACFW’s Genesis contest, and though I didn’t place, I got some great advice from the critiques. I used them to improve the manuscript, resubmitted it into the CWG contest, and ended up winning.
What was it like to win the Christian Writers Guild First Novel Contest?
It was really surreal, actually. I walked through that whole experience in a bit of a daze. I’d gone through so many years of disappointments in writing, had so many rejections, that to stand there and hear my name called was beyond comprehension. I remember when I called my sister to tell her I’d won, I was so out of it she asked me if I was even excited. I just couldn’t really absorb it. It was too unreal. The next day, people were stopping me to congratulate me and my book cover was displayed in the main hall, and that was when it all started to seem real. It’s been a fantastic experience. The Christian Writer’s Guild really does a great thing with this contest.
Are you a full-time writer or do you hold a day job? What is the biggest challenge/obstacle you face in protecting your writing time?
I work part-time as a nanny to a six-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. I love it! I’ve worked as a nanny for about fifteen years. When I was first getting serious about writing I worked temporary nanny jobs all over Richmond, just trying to make ends meet until a permanent position came along that would be enough hours to keep me afloat but few enough hours to accommodate my writing schedule – which is what I have now.
There’s a big challenge in the beginning of a career, I’m finding, in deciding what I need to commit to. With the internet, there are a ton of marketing opportunities, but if I pursued them all, I’d probably be online non-stop. So I have to carefully consider what to pursue. Especially considering that these opportunities take away from my actual writing time.
What historical time periods interest you the most and how have you immersed yourself in a particular time period?
The Depression era really intrigues me because it was a very simple time, particularly in rural areas, and people saw life so much differently than we see it now. When you add in the racial prejudice that was so predominant, it becomes a deeply interesting period in history. I’m always amazed by situations where one person, or small group of people, can sway people’s ideas and beliefs, such as the Ku Klux Klan did decades ago. That added to my desire to write within the 1930’s. I’ve also always been very interested in the WWII era, with the frightening hold Hitler had over people, and I hope to be able to write a story with that setting someday.
While I was writing Fireflies In December, I listened to a lot of music - bluegrass and the blues – that reminded me of that time period. I also watched Southern films to get me in that mode of thinking in a rural Southern twang. I also read non-fiction books about the KKK as well as some that depicted life in the rural South during that time period.
Introduce us briefly to the main characters in your most recent book...
Join us tomorrow with part two of the interview with debut novelist Jennifer Valent. Leave a comment (by 8AM Friday) for a chance to win a copy of Fireflies in December.