Friday, March 16, 2012

11 Questions with Jennifer R. Hubbard

If I had to name an author I truly admire and find completely inspiring, it would be Jennifer R. Hubbard

I first heard of Jennifer on Nathan Bransford's blog, when he was still a literary agent with Curtis Brown.  She was one of his clients.  I liked the premise of her debut novel, The Secret Year, and eagerly awaited its publication.  I started following her on Twitter, and to my delight, she followed me back.

One day, using the #amwriting tag, I tweeted about a character that walked on to my story and decided to stay.  She replied to the tweet.  I visited her blog and boy, am I so happy I did.

If her blog were a book of writer's inspirational messages, it would be dog-eared, tabbed, and annotated beyond recognition.  She shares her thoughts on writing and experience in the field so generously.  I comment on almost every post she makes because each one speaks to me some how.    I met her during a signing event for The Secret Year at a local bookstore, and she remembered me from the ether.  Since then, I try to catch up with Jennifer whenever she participates in author events within my local area.

I was tickled pink when she agreed to do an interview with me for this blog.  For my first ever 11 Questions post, it brings me great pleasure to introduce you to Jennifer R. Hubbard. 

How early in life did you realize that you were a writer?  At what point did you decide to pursue publication? What brought you to that decision?

I made my own little picture books as soon as I could hold a crayon. I started sending out short stories for publication while I was still in high school. I loved books so much that I wanted to create them as well as read them. But even though I started early, it took years for me to build a writing career!

Your genre is Contemporary Young Adult.  Have you ever written in other genres?  What is it about this genre that calls you?

For years, I published literary short stories. I’ve had a few poems and nonfiction pieces published. I definitely write other things, but writing a YA novel feels like coming home. YA books were what spoke to me most strongly as a reader when I was growing up.

There are so many topics that can be tackled in this genre.  Is there a particular one that you feel you cannot write about?  Would you explain to us why?

I don’t know if there are stories I can’t write about, so much as stories I can’t write about yet because I’m not ready, or I don’t know how to tell them the way I would like.

Could you describe for us the birth process of your stories?  Are all your stories born or developed the same way?

I usually need two things: a voice and a plot. Or if not a full plot, then at least an interesting  enough situation that the character has something to do or somewhere to go. I start many projects that don’t get beyond a couple of sentences or paragraphs. Usually I can tell, after writing a few scenes, if it’s a short story, or a novel, or nothing.

Where do you typically find inspiration for your stories and the characters you create?  Is there a particular source that you return to regularly?

Reading, writing and living spark my ideas. Story fragments come at me all the time. The key is figuring out which ones are interesting enough to live with, polish, and publish.

Can you describe for us a typical writing day?  Do you write every day? Do you dedicate regular hours to writing?  What would be the optimum conditions for a “perfect” writing session?

On days when I go to my day job, I write at night after dinner, for at least an hour but often two or three. When I don’t go to my day job, I’ll often write for a few hours first thing in the day, and then write more after dinner. I like to write in my home office with the door shut and the music on, but I can write almost anywhere if I have to.

After a writing session, how quickly can you step out of your story to tend to real life?

Usually very quickly. I’ve lived with stories in my head all my life, so I don’t think I really switch worlds. I just switch my focus of attention, and the story sinks into the background but I know it’s still there.

I actually find it more difficult to disengage with other people’s stories. Sometimes, an intense book can give me a reading hangover. Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury did that, for example. For years, I’ve told myself I will reread it, but I’m a little afraid, because I remember how that book gripped my mind. Other books that gave me “reading hangovers:” Oliver Twist. The Hunger Games trilogy. Kit Reed’s The Ballad of T. Rantula.

I know you have a day job.  How does this affect your writing life?  Is it a hindrance?  Or is it a refuge?

I think most writers with day jobs have this fantasy of being a full-time writer.  And it pains me when people joke about how writers can sleep late and wear pajamas all day—I only wish! My reality often involves an alarm clock going off at 5 AM.  Yet these are the advantages of my day job: a steady paycheck. Health insurance. Work that pulls me out of my own head. Work for which the rewards are regular and predictable, as opposed to the chancier ups and downs of publishing. Also, my day job helps improve people’s health and our world, so I like that. But the nice part of writing is that I never get bored on vacations from my day job, and I don’t expect to get bored when I retire from the day job.

Have you ever found the inkwell dry?  How do you refill it?

Yes. Usually I read, take walks, attend to the other parts of my life. The writing will come back when I have something to say.

What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most? Like the least?  Why?

I love when I know how to say what I want to say. Getting a sentence “right” is incredibly satisfying. I love my characters, and it’s a pleasure to spend time with them.

The absolute worst part of writing is when I don’t know how to fix something. I don’t mind doing the work, as long as I know what to do, but before I figure it out, I’m not the greatest person to live with.

You asked this question on your blog once, and it helped me identify my priorities in terms of what I want to focus on as a writer.   So, I’ll ask you:  “If you had just one story left in you, and it was guaranteed to be published, what would that story be?”

Right now, I think Try Not to Breathe was that book. But I’ve felt that way about short stories before—I would think, “This is my best story. I’ll never top this, never need to say more than this.” But inevitably, another idea comes along that I must write.

Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of The Secret Year (Viking, 2010) and Try Not To Breathe (Viking, 2012).   Try Not To Breathe received a Kirkus Starred Review and was listed among the New and Notable Books for Teens for January 2012.  Both books are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  You can also find her books at independent bookstores through IndieBound.  You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter as @JennRHubbard.

P.S.  Thank you so much Jennifer!  This is such a great opportunity you've given me.


  1. Thank you, Mieke--that's probably the nicest interview introduction I've ever had! I appreciate your hosting me. And happy writing! :-)

    1. Thank you very much, Jenn. It was absolutely my pleasure.

  2. Wonderful interview. As always, Mieke, I find your blogs entertaining and educational and I'm now following Jennifer on twitter.

    1. Thank you, Marie. Jennifer is definitely worth following. You will learn so much, I promise.

  3. Great interview. I love how her last novel is the one she'd want published if there were only one story left.

    I hope she has more, though!


Thank you so much for your kind comments.