Today, I’m pleased to be joined by my fellow 2017 Debut author, Jennifer Fenn, whose book, Flight Risk, is scheduled to come out July 18, 2017 from MacMillan/Roaring Brook
JR: Hi, Jennifer and thanks for joining us today.
Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about Flight Risk and the impetus behind writing it?
JF: Flight Risk was inspired by the story of Colton Harris-Moore, aka The Barefoot Bandit, a teenager who eluded police for two years and stole several planes before he was eventually apprehended in Bermuda. I became aware of this story while Harris-Moore was still on the run, and I found myself—a writer, a teacher, a generally law-abiding citizen—rooting for him not to get caught, which led me to examine why society loves certain anti-heroes, including fictional ones, like Walter White and Tony Soprano, for instance. Also, I was teaching 7th grade Language Arts and one of my classes was reading Jerry Spinelli’s wonderful Maniac Magee. That book opens with a jump rope rhyme about the title character and all his exploits, which have been mythologized by the neighborhood kids. That got me thinking about how folk heroes are created today, in the age of social media. Both themes inspired the story of Robert Jackson Kelley and his fictional flight from the law!
JR: I read on your website, www.jenniferfenn.com, that you’ve jumped out of a plane before. There is no way, whatsoever, I’d do that, so I have to hand it to you, but first off, why? And then, what was that like?
JF: When I went sky-diving, I was a recent college grad and feeling adventurous! In my early twenties, I made a conscious decision that I was going to fearlessly dive (pun intended!) into any and all opportunities to try something new. My sky dive was followed by an Amazon rain forest trek, and over the years I’ve also tried SCUBA diving in Vietnam and Belize, rock climbing in Alaska and zip-lining in Puerto Rico. Sky-diving was amazing; after a rush of cold air and about two minutes of free fall, the rest is a gentle descent. I actually laughed the whole way down!
JR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
JF: I am a graduate of both Lycoming College’s creative writing program and Rosemont College’s MFA program. Flight Risk started as my thesis project; it received the program’s Thesis of the Year award, which gave me the confidence to pursue publishing it. Writing the novel took about three years. I queried around fifty agents, and pitched it in person at a local SCBWI event as well as at Rosemont’s Push to Publish. After about seven months, I was lucky enough to have Amy Tipton of Signature Literary represent the book, and she sold it quickly to Roaring Brook Press. Amy was instrumental in finding the right editor, the wonderful Katherine Jacobs, for the book.
JR: What’s your writing process like?
JF: I write non-linearly, meaning I jump from scene to scene, writing what is of interest to me at the moment, no matter where the scene occurs in the plot. I’m also a “pantser,” and generally don’t outline, though sometimes I think I’d save myself some time and anxiety if I did. I also write the endings of my stories first; I usually won’t even start an idea if I don’t have an ending in mind!
JR: What’s your favorite book and who’s your favorite author?
JF: How much room do you have? I love Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Beth Kephart, Jerry Spinelli, Stewart O’Nan, Lois Lowry, Megan Abbott, Karen Russell, Ben H. Winters, Joyce Carol Oates and Laura Kasischke, among many others.
And picking a favorite book is like picking a favorite child! I just can’t. But I highly recommend Jerry Spinelli’s “Stargirl,” Beth Kephart’s “This is the Story of You,” Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth,” and Laura Kasischke’s “In a Perfect World.”
JR: What’s your favorite movie?
JF: “Fight Club,” “Clueless,” and “Ghostbusters” (original, though I do love the 2016 reboot!). I’ve seen “Ghostbusters” so many times I can recite entire scenes.
JR: Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
JF: I am afraid of corn fields and by extension, corn mazes. Anything could be lurking in there. Anything.
JR: Do you do a lot of research when you write?
JF: For Flight Risk, I did a lot of research about small airports, small planes, and the Pacific Northwest. For my work-in-progress, I’m reading a lot about cochlear implants and drumming. I haven’t written a novel yet that hasn’t required research, which I think is true for many writers.
JR: Here at the Tuesdays, a big part of our success and the purpose of this site, has been being involved in a critique group. Are you involved in one and if so, how has it helped you?
JF: I’ve been involved in several, and also the workshops through my graduate program. Feedback is critical, as is the comradery of fellow writers. In the early drafting phases, critique groups can ask the questions that help you shape your characters and plot. The more eyes on your writing, the better it will be!
JR: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?
JF: Read. Read every day. Read widely. Enjoy what you read, but also put on your author hat and figure out what techniques the author used that you can try out yourself.
As for breaking into publishing, let rejections bounce off you and keep submitting until you find the right people for your work.
JR: What are you working on next?
JF: A second YA novel. It is in the early draft phase!
JR: Is there anything that else you want to share with our readers or perhaps tell them how they can follow you on social media?
JF: My author Facebook page can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/writerjennfenn/
My Twitter handle is @jennifer_fenn
I’m also very active on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15016250.Jennifer_Fenn
JR: Before we go, I always like to ask, who’s your favorite member of The Tuesdays? I don’t want you to rush. Take your time and think–
JR: Well, I’m glad you took your time to think this over…
Anyway, thanks again for joining us, and best of luck with Flight Risk!