Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Author Interview: Jennifer Rogers Spinola
Katie: You’re in the process of publishing a novel. Tell us a little bit about Southern Fried Sushi. What should readers expect?
Jenny: Here's a portion from the original proposal: "An independent journalist coming face-to-face with her past, must start over again among the least likely people in the last place she'd expect."
The book follows award-winning journalist Shiloh Jacobs through a series of gut-wrenching events that force her out of Tokyo and the writing job she loves and to a hick, Southern Virginia town she's never heard of. The question is this: Can Shiloh, stuck in this small town with only a handful of unlikely friends to call family, find a way out?
As Shiloh begins to unravel the secret that changed her mother's life so powerfully, Shiloh realizes she must make a decision: to find forgiveness for her painful past or shut the door on God—and her troubled family life—forever.
Katie: What inspired this book?
Jenny: Since I'm a small-town girl who moved to Japan, I started to wonder what the opposite would be like. Gawking at skyscrapers is one thing but what would someone used to skyscrapers do in my small hometown where the biggest building is the local Wal-Mart? That intrigued me. A lot of story ideas start with plain old what ifs.
The other thing that led to this book is when I realized I was always writing about stuff that required research, stuff I didn't know very well. So one day I thought, "What if I write on a topic I know about?" And when I boiled it down, I realized I don't have "exciting" expertise in some area like medicine, forensic investigation, or something of the like that sells books. So what do I know about? 1) rednecks 2) living abroad
Katie: What have you learned through the process of writing a novel, the challenge of getting it published, and now the publishing process?
Jenny: Wow... where to begin? I have always loved to write. Period. I know nothing about publishing novels, and I'm not even in the right country to go to writer's conferences and learn all that stuff. But in impossible situations like mine is exactly where God loves to step in. The biggest help I've had came from fellow author (and former coworker) Roger Bruner, who had just received a contract with the same publishing company and walked me through the process step by step.
- Finish your novel, no matter what, because that forces you to write and think and work through the rough spots.
- Make use of a critique group, a dedicated small group of writers that come together and give encouragement.
- You just have to write. That's it. Every day. Even if you have no ideas. Even if what you write stinks. As long as you’re writing something, anything, those creative juices flow. And then finish.
- Publishing isn't as easy as it used to be (if it ever was). The market is flooded, so you have to come up with something different from what everybody else is doing but not so different that it won't sell.
- Reading helps writing. Try to always read someone better than you, and you'll pick up good habits.
- You can't send query letters anymore. The publishing market has changed significantly. Publishers don't read unsolicited stuff. You either have to have an agent, meet an interested editor at a writer's conference, or know someone who's already in the business. The bottom line is, though, that God still makes away even for the clueless, like me, when the time is right.
- Go to writer's conferences. I learned SO MUCH about writing and marketing, plus met lots of fellow writers, neat agents and editors, and bought cheap books.
Katie: How do you balance your time between writing, your family, a social life, and other responsibilities?
Jenny: It's really difficult with a husband, young child, church, plus friends, English (ESL) students, and all the work it takes to keep a home running in a foreign country.
So I do a couple of things:
- Get up early with my husband and write while he studies
- Shower in the evening. Really. Then when my two-year-old sleeps around mid-day I can spend my time writing not showering and drying my hair.
- Make writing a priority. If I have an hour of quiet time on the weekend, I usually choose to write. I always choose writing time over reading time because it's much easier to stick a book in your bag and read in line, read in the car, read outside while my son plays, but it's much harder to get that focused time where I can sit, think, and plug in my laptop.
Katie: What are some of your writing habits?
Jenny: If I get stuck I just write SOMETHING. Then when I realize I don't like it (doesn't take very long), it forces me to write something else.
I also try to keep at least one writing project on the back burner, even if I'm working on something else, so that I'm never without something to think/write about.
When I'm really into a crucial section in a story, I'll sometimes write for hours at a time, eating at my desk, and writing and rewriting paragraphs until I'm happy with it. Now that my son is bigger, it's harder to do that, so when I can't sit at my computer and write, I mentally go over plotlines and even individual words while I make lunch or change diapers so that when I get a minute, all that thinking comes out in one written chunk.
Katie: If you could be any two inanimate objects, what would you be and why?
1. A tree somewhere on top of a mountain. Living in the city, I miss nature. But I miss total expanses of wilderness. Mountain rains. Dawns. Falling leaves. Streams with bends that no one sees.
2. A Japanese fan, with all the color and life folded neatly inside its deceptively fragile paper.
Katie: Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Jenny: Well, my life sure has turned out differently than I expected. I left full-time writing a few years back to serve as a short-term Baptist missionary in Japan which changed my life and outlook on many things. I also met my Brazilian husband there; we got married after my term ended and moved to Brazil. Now we've adopted a son who was born at 24 weeks with major medical issues, and we've seen God's healing miracle in his life, so that we can hardly contain our joy at his health and happiness and love of life.
If you'd have asked me back in college if my life would end up this way, I'd have laughed out loud. I was dating a local boy from home in Virginia and planning to get married after graduation. I never wanted to be a missionary and prayed God would never send me overseas.
My biggest advice: Follow God. Love God. He works everything out in your life in a greater way than you can imagine. And He *loves* surprises.