Jennifer Youngblood successfully published, in team with her mother Sandra Poole, two enthralling novels set in Alabama. With two more in the works, Jennifer is already thinking about a sequel to their second novel Stoney Creek, Alabama, this time set in Hawaii.
Jennifer and I met in 1993, when writing was possibly lurking somewhere in the back of her mind. At that time, busy with a local newspaper publication, she still found the opportunity to visit friends with me in our small Georgia town. It was during these instances that Jennifer and I got to know each other. She often spoke about her mom and the strong relationship they share. It is no surprise that they are now a successful team.
In this interview, Jennifer shares with us her passion for writing and the road that brought them to becoming prosperous writers. She includes tips for budding writers.
A must read interview from the author of two of the most charming novels from the deep South.
Jennifer, your first book, Livin’ in High Cotton, was published in 2004, with Stoney Creek, Alabama following in 2007. When did you first realize you liked to write?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to write. It seems that I’ve been creating stories all of my life. In my younger years, my writing was such a part of me that I often took it for granted. When I was in college, I absolutely loved taking literature classes but assumed that there was no way I could make a career out of writing, so I foolishly decided to study accounting. Of course, that was a disaster. On one particular occasion, I was having a difficult time grasping the concepts in a managerial accounting class, so I spent hours in the accounting lab-getting to know the tutors on a personal basis. One tutor approached me with a proposition: “I’ll help you get prepared for your final exam if you’ll help me with my English term paper,” he said. I laugh when I look back on that time. Thankfully, I finally got enough sense to embrace what I love; and yes, I did eventually earn a degree in English.
When did you decide to write your first novel?
I always knew that I would write novels but assumed it would be sometime off in the distant future. I could picture myself as this little old lady, typing away on my computer in some secluded cabin. Thank goodness, it didn’t’ quite work out that way. I was helping my mom move from Texas to Alabama when I came across some notes that she’d jotted down-the beginnings of a novel about my great grandmother. I became intrigued with the story and asked my mom if I could work on the project. She agreed, and I went to work. Two weeks later, I called her up and said, “I want us to write this story…together.” It took us three years to finish the novel due to the complexity of the research involved and owing to the fact that I had two young sons at home. Also, my mom was completing her Master’s Degree at the time.
Did you write with the intention to publish it or did you write just because you liked to write and was then coaxed to publish?
We always wrote with the hope that our work would be published. A friend of mine (a well-seasoned book critic) once told me: “Every writer says that he doesn’t care whether or not he gets published, but deep down it’s something that every writer craves.” I would have to agree with that. My mom and I were very fortunate in that we were picked up by a publisher on our third submission. I don’t think I realized at the time what a tremendous blessing this was. It is a very tough industry, and anyone who desires to undertake it must develop very thick skin and nerves of steel.
The setting for both novels is Alabama and the setting for the next two novels, The Paper Rose Club and The Secret Song of the Ditched Lilies is also Alabama. Why Alabama?
Good question. My mom and I are both from Alabama, and so I suppose we’re a little partial to it. Aside from that, Alabama’s rich culture makes a good backdrop for our stories. Being down-home southern girls, ourselves, we can relate to the characters and the area.
Did you ever consider moving the settings to another southern state?
Yes, we have. As a matter of fact, we’re working on the sequel to STONEY CREEK, ALABAMA where most of the action takes place in Hawaii.
I remember you telling me, when your fist book was published, that you used stories your mom (and co-author Sandra Poole) used to tell you and just developed them into a book. Did you use more personal stories in your second book and are you using any personal stories in the two upcoming ones?
LIVIN’ IN HIGH COTTON was inspired by the life of my great grandmother (whom I’ve never met). Many of the stories in it are composites of memories that my mom has about her growing up years. In the old days, women would gather around a quilting loom, and they chatted as they worked. Of course, one thing southerners can do is to tell a good story. My mom has fond recollections of this time, and we have incorporated many of her stories into our writing. Part of the inspiration from STONEY CREEK, ALABAMA came from my mom’s work experience as a human resource manager in a sawmill, and the other part came from my experience of growing up in a small town. Our upcoming book, THE SECRET SONG OF THE DITCH LILIES hits closer to home for me than any of our other books. I can relate in a very personal way to the challenges that these women faced; and while it is a work of fiction, much of myself is infused with it.
I read that your second book, Stoney Creek, Alabama, made the “Top 10 Bestseller list at Books a Million.” How did that make you feel?
THRILLED! It was a big honor.
According to your web page, your third book, The Paper Rose Club, is being written “live” on a blog page as you receive feedback and suggestions from your readers. What made you decide to publish a book in blog format?
We love getting reader feedback on our novels, but it always has to come after-the-fact. We decided that this would be a good opportunity for us to interact with our readers on a very personal level. It’s different than anything we’ve done in the past, and we’re very optimistic about it.
Will The Paper Rose Club have an ending, or will it keep on going, sort of like a written soap opera, as long as readers share ideas for character, plots, etc.?
At this point, the idea is to continue it in segments. Once we get enough segments to make a complete novel, we’ll release this in book form. We hope to have several volumes before it’s all said and done.
You lived for a while in Hawaii. Did you entertain the idea of writing a book set in Hawaii?
Yes and yes. The sequel to STONEY CREEK, ALABAMA is largely set in Hawaii, and we’re entertaining the idea of writing another novel surrounding the Hawaiian Legends. I will forever treasure the experience that my family and I had while living in Hawaii. That place is a lot like the south-it gets in your blood.
Today’s novels should be rated the same way movies are rated. Many of them claim to be for the general public, but should be given an R rating for sexual content, language, and violence. Your novels contain romantic and mystery themes. What rating would you assign to them?
Our books have inspirational elements to them, so we avoid the use of filthy language and offensive sexual content. We do, however, write about some intense, real-life topics. Our writing is not what you would consider “bubblegum.” Our rule of thumb is to never write anything that we will be embarrassed about later. We feel that it’s possible to write engaging literature (that the reader can’t put down) and yet still keep it above-the-fray at the same time.
Have you ever been asked by your editor to “spice” things up in order to increase the number of books sold?
No, thankfully we haven’t run into that. I do have a friend, however, who was asked to spice up her book. She refused-kudos to her-and the editor eventually backed down.
How would you feel if any of your novels were to be transferred on screen?
We would love it! People always tell us that STONEY CREEK, ALABAMA would make a great movie.
When we look back, we always find something that could have been done differently. Thinking about your first two books, is there anything you wish you could change? Perhaps different characters or plot development?
Yes, there are many things I would do differently if I could; but then again, hindsight is twenty-twenty. Having said that, I feel that we did the best could with the knowledge that we had. Writing is a journey rather than a destination, and you never feel that you’ve completely arrived. There’s always so much more to learn. I believe that each book makes us better.
Do you feel you have grown these past few years as an author?
Very much so. I have learned a lot about my writing process, and I have a better grasp now of my strengths and weaknesses.
What things have you done to encourage this growth and improve your writing?
I am always studying the technique of writing. I have read just about every book out there about plot and character development, etc. However, I find that the greatest source of inspiration comes from reading great works of literature (past and modern). Also, traveling helps me see life through a broader perspective.
Do you have a set amount of time you devote to writing each day, or do you follow your inspiration (it may be 20 hours one day and 1 hour the next)?
I’m pretty regimented in my writing schedule. I don’t wait for inspiration to hit. I write until it comes. I normally devote several hours to it each day. On the weekends, my schedule becomes more erratic.
Do you currently use an agent? If not, did you ever consider locating and hiring one? If yes, how did you find him/her?
I have used an agent in the past but do not have one at present. My mom and I didn’t have an agent when we first got published, and looking back, we needed one to help negotiate our contract. Agents are very helpful in helping writers plan their careers. Word to the wise: Having an agent doesn’t mean much, unless that agent is well connected and dedicated to promoting you.
How easy or how difficult was it to find a publishing company willing to print your first book?
We got published on our third attempt, which is highly unusual. The publishing world is hard to break into, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying. I always encourage writers to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. There are many behind-the-scenes things that go into publishing like budgets, conditions of the overall economy, etc. The only thing we, as writers, can control is the quality of our work. The rest is out of our hands.
What suggestions would you give to budding authors?
Never give up! At the end of the day, my mom and I write because there’s something inside of us that tells us that we must. It’s the hardest, most rewarding thing we’ve ever done. Don’t criticize yourself to death while you’re writing the novel. FINISH IT FIRST!! There will be enough critics out there to help you with the refining part.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?
My mom and I are unique in that we write together. How do we do this? We discuss a project in depth and then each of us will pick a part to work on. Then we seam it all together and go over it a billion times until it’s right.
If you’re interested in reading our latest novel THE PAPER ROSE CLUB (through our blog), go to www.paperroseclub.com. Segments will be released on a weekly basis, and it’s free. All readers have to do is to register to get the password. Also, to go along with this, we have created the virtual town of Honeycomb. Our characters become real to us, so why shouldn’t they become real to other people?
To read more about my mom, or me visit our official website at http://www.jenniferyoungblood.com/.
Photo used with permission.