Sweet Sixteener Shea Olsen recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Jen Brooks about her contemporary YA fantasy novel, IN A WORLD JUST RIGHT (April 28, 2015 from Simon & Schuster).
Jen Brooks was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. After high school she matriculated at Dartmouth College to become a research scientist, but by the end of her sophomore year she felt a calling to the teaching profession. After graduation and fourteen years of teaching high school English, she answered a second calling to write full-time while raising her new son. Her journey began with two theses for an MA and later an MFA in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University.
Sometimes Jonathan Aubrey wishes he could just disappear. And as luck—or fate—would have it, he can. Ever since coming out of a coma as a kid, he has been able to create alternate worlds. Worlds where he is a superhero, or a ladies’ man, or simply a better version of himself. That’s the world he’s been escaping to most since sophomore year, a world where he has everything he doesn’t have in real life: friends, a place of honor on the track team, passing grades, and most importantly, Kylie Simms as his girlfriend.
But when Jonathan confuses his worlds senior year and tries to kiss the real Kylie Simms, everything unravels. The real Kylie actually notices Jonathan…and begins obsessing over him. The fantasy version of Kylie struggles to love Jonathan as she was created to do, and the consequences are disastrous. As his worlds collide, Jonathan must confront the truth of his power and figure out where he actually belongs—before he loses both Kylies forever.
Shea: The concept for IN A WORLD JUST RIGHT is so unique. How did you develop the idea?
Jen: I was a high school track/x-country coach for many years, and one of my favorite parts of competition was the bus ride home from a meet. All the runners would either be tired from competition or excited about their performances, but either way, there was an energy to the ride. I wanted to have a scene on a bus on the way home from a meet. That’s honestly all I can remember. The actual world-making part . . . no idea. I did start out wanting Jonathan to be sought by the government or some nefarious organization looking to exploit his power—real thriller-like. In the end, I wrote a more personal story. In the end, there was no bus scene.
Shea: In your teen years, did you ever imagine alternate worlds for yourself like your main character, Jonathan?
Jen: Not like Jonathan, no. The Jonathan-is-a-hero world I gave him was likely the result of my imagination being tickled as a kid by the “V” television series (where humans rebel against invading alien reptiles). The rest of it was pure Jonathan and his own needs and desires.
Shea: How long did it take you to write this book? What was your process?
Jen: Four months. I had another book on submission to agents, and I wanted to keep writing through the waiting period. In graduate school I was told (and this is probably advice from someone specific whose attribution is lost to me) that if you write a page a day, you’ll have a book in a year. I started out one page at a time, and then one page a day became two, then three. By the end I wrote ten pages a day. This was exceptional for me because my previous two manuscripts each took five-six YEARS.
As for my writing process, I would compare it to watching a movie. I sit down at the keyboard with some idea about where I’m going and start typing. I love watching what my characters end up doing. I get my best ideas while I write, so outlining just doesn’t work for me.
Shea: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten as an author?
Jen: If you want to be a writer, you have to write.
Lightning Round Questions
Plotter or pantser?
My picture is in the dictionary next to “pantser.” Look it up.
Favorite writing snack?
Being full makes me write more slowly, so I don’t usually eat when I write, unless it’s chocolate. Chocolate feeds my inner muse.
Music to write by?
Must. Have. Complete. Silence.
If you could give your sixteen-year-old self any advice, what would it be?
Stop worrying about what everybody else thinks.
Robot revolution or zombie apocalypse?
Time of day you prefer to write?
Any time at all.
About the Interviewer:
Shea Olsen lives and writes in a small mountain town in Oregon, where she works as a producer for Rage Productions, a film production company. Her YA debut, FLOWER (February, 2016 from Harlequin Teen) is about eighteen-year-old Charlotte, who promised her grandmother she’d swear off boys until after college, until she meets Tate Collins—pop star and heartthrob—when he walks into the flower shop where she works, and she is thrust into a romance and a Hollywood life she never imagined.