Monday, January 12, 2009

...and the introductions continue

This is Jennifer signing in for my first time on Novel Matters. I'll continue with the "getting to know you" portion of our blog, and hopefully you'll stop by and leave a note so we can get to know you, too!

What is Christian fiction?
Good, quality reading that doesn’t leave you feeling sordid or ashamed. The publishing industry, as with any entertainment industry today, tends to be riddled with questionable content. It’s important to have Christian fiction authors we can trust to provide good books that can be read with a good conscience.

What grade school, middle school, or high school class did you come closest to flunking? How has that marked you for life?
Geometry! I hated geometry. Fortunately, it’s not an essential skill in writing, and I can guarantee I’ll never write a novel about a mathematician.

Conflict is central to fiction, but how do you create a work of fiction that is tense, difficult, and sometimes even frightening, yet make it a place readers want to go to, spend time in, and get to know well?
I think humor is essential to any good book. Humor is always somewhere in the world, and can usually put a smile on your face even in pretty bad times. So I try to keep the tone light enough throughout the book that people can go through the difficult times with the characters but still not feel distraught when they’re reading.

Tell us about the relationship between your writing and your spiritual life.
I’m a big believer in the Lord being my everything, so I feel He not only gives me the time and capability to write, but that He also gives me my inspiration. When I sit at the computer I ask Him to give me the words to write.

What's your favorite brain food while writing?
Chocolate. Is that really a brain food??

Can you make up stories on the spot - at the drop of a hat?
Only silly ones. I’ve been a nanny for fifteen years, so I’ve had occasion to make up nutty stories on the fly. But I’m no serious storyteller.

How do you know that you have achieved what you're aiming for, in a particular passage you're writing? (That is, before showing it to someone else -- what rings your internal chime?)
If I see myself in it. The worst writing times for me are when I don’t feel I stayed true to my style of writing and storytelling. So if it feels off, the delete key gets a good workout.

What are your favorite things to do to take a break during a long writing session?
I like to shop. And I like to eat… which makes shopping more difficult since fitting into pants is an important aspect of that. But if I only have a short break, I’ll watch something on television, particularly sports and old movies.


Anonymous said...

Jennifer, I'm reading Fireflies in December and see why it got a starred review in Publishers Weekly and is a Books A Million book club choice. You have a compelling style!

I was interested in what you mean by saying you knew your writing was worth keeping if you could see yourself in it. Could you elaborate?

Latayne C Scott

Jennifer Erin Valent said...

Thanks, Latayne! I'm so glad you're enjoying Fireflies.

In writing, I have my particular voice that I recognize. There's a little bit of how I would talk in what I put down on paper even when it's characters and situations I don't have in my life. If the writing doesn't feel like me, it's like putting on an outfit that just doesn't fit my personality. So I have to get rid of it and try again until I feel I wrote what worked for me, not just what I could come up with in a rushed moment.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Jennifer, I second that about geometry! Almost failed it, too. I just finished Fireflies and I love it. You certainly tempered the tone with humor, which I love.

Patti Hill said...

I find it amusing when friends or acquaintances read my writing. They say they picture me in the story, especially since I write in first-person. That observation has disappointed me in the past, like maybe I wasn't really writing ficiton if my voice was so recognizable. But our voices, as Jennifer points out, are unique and can be a measure of the trustworthiness of our art. Our voices are part of the gift God has given us.

What else constitute the gift of writing?

Side note: In the stories I've written, I give my characters the gift of eating whatever they like. It gives me great vicarious satisfaction to have Mibby (from the Garden Gates series) eat a whole pan of brownies. I could do that, especially with a tall glass of milk, but I'd suffer terribly afterward.

Anonymous said...

Along with our readers, I'm enjoying getting to know you better. Good responses to good questions. but . . . never say never, darlin'.

Bonnie Grove said...

Hey! You said "old movies"!
Talk to me girl!!!

Jennifer Erin Valent said...

Sharon - If I ever write a novel about math, you can say I told you so! :)

Bonnie - Give me any old screwball comedy, and I'm happy. Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Irene Dunne. Love 'em!
Ever see The More The Merrier? It's obscure but terrific!

Patti Hill said...

In case our blog readers haven't noticed, we're getting to know each other better as the blog launches right along with you. So far, I'm impressed with the company I keep. Thanks for letting me know you, incredible erudite and beautifully-spirited women.

Kathleen Popa said...

Jennifer, how interesting, and how valuable what you say about your distinctive voice. I'd love to see you blog more about that sometime.

Bonnie Grove said...

Jennifer, Ah, my fav? The Philidelphia Story. LOVE the image of Jimmy Stuart's spitting out the line (to Cary Grant) "C.K. Dexter Haven, you have unsuspected depth!"

Also love Bringing Up Baby, and I'm willing to squeeze Roman Holiday in just for the sake of Audrey Hepburn.

We so need to talk!

Jennifer Erin Valent said...

Kathleen-Thanks. I think sticking with individual style is very important for authors. I'll have to post on that sometime.

Bonnie-There's nothing like Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn walking through that restaurant like they're glued together. And I can never hear someone say "I'll be with you in a minute" without adding "Mr. Peabody." Love Roman Holiday and Philadelphia Story, too. That scene you're talking about between Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant is terrific.

The comedies I've written are based on those old screwball films. Hope I can get them out there!

Anonymous said...

Jennifer & Bonnie, you are speaking my language! I love, love, love Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, together or apart. Old movies - there's nothing like them. And Doris Day, as you could probably tell if you've read Every Good & Perfect Gift.

And you've written comedies?!? Oh, man, I hope you get them out there too.

Jennifer Erin Valent said...

Sharon, nobody sang like Doris Day! But she could handle acting just as well. Ever see Midnight Lace? It's a thriller where I don't think she sang a note, and she's great in it.

They don't make them like they used to... but that doesn't mean they can't start doing it again!

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, I finished Fireflies in December last night. I loved it! Several times I felt such angst that my whole body was tense just waiting to see what would happen. I had to force myself to relax and breathe.

Great writing! I can't wait for more.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and by the way...Midnight Lace is FABULOUS!! My mom (Sharon Souza) and I watched it together when I was in high school.
I've heard that in order for Doris Day to get into the character (so terribly frightened), she had to recall painful childhood memories. She almost had a nervous breakdown, from what I've heard.
I never walk through thick fog without thinking of that movie.

Jennifer Valent said...

Thank you so much, Deanne. I'm so glad you enjoyed Fireflies In December! I love hearing how everyone responded to it.

I'm with you about walking through fog. That voice was incredibly creepy! I can freak my sister out by mimicking it. :)

Rachel said...

Jennifer, I am an amateur and need a little advice. I was just wondering if you had to battle discouragement when going through your novel and how you overcame it. Also, how much polishing did you have to do to fireflies. Did you poreover every sentence or did it all come naturally? Thanks

Jennifer Valent said...

Glad you stopped by, Rachel! Yes, I definitely felt discouraged when writing. I'd written three other books by the time I started Fireflies In December, so I'd had plenty of rejection notices and various other disappointments. The thing that kept me hanging in there was the faith that if I was meant to be a published author, the Lord would take care of everything. I firmly believe we were all created with a specific purpose, and God is the only One who can work out the details.

As for polishing Fireflies, this was one book I didn't have to overhaul too much. Things went fairly smoothly while I was writing. However, the book finished as a semifinalist in the Christian Writers Guild's First Novel contest in 2006 but didn't make the finals. So I entered it in the ACFW's Genesis contest where judges give critiques, and I used one of the judge's critiques to smooth out the rough edges on the manuscript before I re-entered it back into the First Novel contest. And that's the year I won, so it would seem that final bit of polish helped.

The road to publishing can be very difficult, but it can also make you a stronger, better person, so hang in there!

I hope this helped a bit. You can always stop by my website, to read more about my experience, and feel free to contact me from there, as well.

Bonnie Grove said...

Rachel: in addition to the encouragement Jennifer offered, I'd like to point you to another blog There is an ongoing series there called The Tenacity Interviews where I have asked published authors to talk about the tenacity it took for them to succeed in publishing. New interviews every Monday and Thursday. They are inspirational and encouraging to all of us on this writing journey. All the best to you!

Nichole Osborn said...

I hated geometry and passed by the skin of my teeth. Chocolate is a brain food in my book. Thank you, Jennifer and Bonnie, for your encouragement on discouragement.

Rachel said...

Thanks so much Jennifer and Bonnie. This is the very first blog I have ever logged onto. impressed by the accessibility of it all. It's nice to know that you are not alone. It's easy to drift about in the Literary ocean.
I am among you all about classic movies, that's pretty much all me and my husband watch, save the A&E Pride and Prejudice. Gotta love the old actors that could do everything- sing, dance, and act. What ever happened to that? Oh well.
Thank you again for this blog.

Anonymous said...

Rachel, we're honored that you made this your first blog on which to post comments. We're glad to make you feel a part of the writing community, because you are! And I love finding that there are so many of us out there who love better movies than what they're producing today. A&E's Pride & Prejudice is one of my all time favorites. Again, welcome. We look forward to hearing from you again and again.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, Midnight Lace is one of my favorite Doris Day movies, even though it's atypical of her style. She did a lot of drama in the 50s, one with Frank Sinatra, then moved into the romantic comedies. I just love her.

Jennifer Erin Valent said...

Nichole and Rachel, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you were encouraged here.

And as for the A&E Pride and Prejudice, all I can say is, "Mr. Bennett! Are we all to be murdered in our beds?!"

Anonymous said...

"... to be murdered in our beds?!" she screached.

Rachel said...

That's a wonderful line (we laugh every time we hear it) but let us not forget: Should the SHADES of Pemberly thus be polluted!