Interview with Kidlit Author Jen Malone @jenmalonewrites

I found Jen when she handed my daughter a bookmark for her upcoming release at a Fourth of July parade and I’m happy to welcome her to my blog today. Jen’s debut book for tweens, At Your Service, published last month with Simon & Schuster and is a love letter to New York City told through the eyes of a tween girl who lives and works at one of its fanciest hotels. Jen lives outside Boston with her family, teaches at Boston University and has a slight obsession with cute hedgehog pictures.

ATYOURSERVICE

What genre(s) do you write in? Why?

First, thank you so much for having me! I write for tween and teens for a lot of reasons but the top two are probably:
1. Books were such a HUGE part of my childhood and I think children’s books in general captivate me as a writer and as a reader because that time in my life was so magical and books made that the case. I can’t help but see them through rose-colored glasses and if my words could ever (even in a small way) do that for another child, well then… what’s better than that?
2. I’m pretty sure my husband would insist it’s actually because I act about twelve and, as such, I just realllllllly wanted to stick my tongue out at him over the fact that he shook his head for all those years at my ABC Family/Disney Channel addiction. Who’s laughing now, honey?

What is your favorite part of writing?
The buzz of a new story idea. The way it hums as this undercurrent while you go about cleaning the toilet and packing the kids’ lunches and struggling helplessly to teach them how to solve for X (funny, ABC Family never covered that). It’s like having a delicious secret. And then, getting it on paper is such a high!

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

At Your Service was actually a really fun one to write. My main character’s dad is a concierge at a fancy NY hotel, where they also live, and Chloe wants to be just like him. I knew right away I wanted it to be filled with tons of insider info about hotel life and about NYC. I did a lot of Googling “weird facts about Manhattan” and reading dishy nonfiction books by hotel staffers and then I took a Boston concierge to coffee to drill him about his job (I got lots of info about some of his stranger requests, but let’s just say most of them skewed a little too R-rated for a book aimed at 9-13 year olds!). I also spent hours on the phone with a Rockette while she walked me minute-by-minute through a rehearsal. I might have eaten a Magnolia Bakery cupcake or two in the name of “research”. My saintly husband also spent half of a NYC business trip taking photos from many angles of a whole slew of penny machines (which factor into the story) throughout three of the five boroughs. Despite his lack of respect for quality television, I will be keeping him around.

What’s the strangest thing you have ever done in the name of research?

I haven’t done this YET, but I’m plotting a book where reincarnation is part of the storyline and I’m seriously considering getting hypnotized by a person specializing in past-life regression. I’m a little skeptical, but also super curious!

How much of you is in the books you write? In what ways?

Maybe I should have said this is my favorite part of writing, because I love, love, love adding little Easter eggs into my stories. There are a TON in At Your Service, starting with the names. In the book, Chloe is helping her dad out as the hotel’s junior concierge—she’s in charge of meeting the needs of the youngest guests. Her job comes with tons of perks tweens will find extra cool and all is perfect until she accidentally loses a visiting princess in the middle of the city. Whoops! When I was little, my dad used to insist to my sister and me that he was the missing crown prince of Lithuania and that we wouldn’t be allowed to return to the castle with him if we didn’t learn to keep our elbows off the table and our napkins in our lap. I’ve long since realized Dad was playing us, but when it came time to name the king in the story, I knew exactly who to name him after. I even gave dear dad a promotion up from prince! Chloe’s wide-eyed love for NYC is all mine and my three Yankees-loving children (which takes true bravery, seeing as we live in Boston) would never forgive me if I didn’t have a character in there who loves Jeter as much as they do. Incidentally, I annotated an advance copy of the book with all kinds of behind-the-scene stuff like this and there’s a giveaway for it below!

What is your latest book, in the works or just published?

At Your Service came out on August 26th and next up I have a series I’ve co-written with my bestie, called RSVP (also with Simon & Schuster), about four tween girls who form a party planning business and throw some extra-creative celebrations over the course of a summer in their tiny beach town in North Carolina. Book one will be in May 2015 and book two in early 2016. I also have my first young adult romance, Wanderlost, publishing with HarperCollins in 2016 and that’s about a recent high school grad who is pushed outside her comfort zone when cajoled into leading a bus tour of senior citizens around Europe with the help of the tour company owner’s cuts—but off-limits—son.

How much time do you spend promoting your books?

I remember when my agent and I first talked, she said she wouldn’t want me to sell more than one book at first, until I’d had a chance to see what the whole promotion side of it was, so that I wasn’t stuck with that huge learning curve while under deadline for the next book. I poo poo’d her (pro tip: don’t ever do this). Now I’m realizing what a HUGE time commitment the promo stuff is. I’m very lucky to have two things going for me: I write relatively fast, and I used to head up New England publicity and promotions for 20th Century Fox. So at least I’m very comfortable with the concepts of marketing and that’s been a saving grace. But I would say, at this point, more than 50% of my work time is spent on promotions. Probably around 70% actually, when I factor in all the presentations I’m developing for school visits, upcoming book festivals and for a slew of Girl Scout troops I’ll be speaking with this fall and next spring. I’m also the Author-in-Residence this coming year at my town’s middle school and I would count that as partly promotional too. Luckily, the thing I love best next to writing is talking about writing to kids, so that side of promotion is actually fun!

What do you keep on your desk?
I wouldn’t actually know – I do all of my writing on the couch or in my bed! This might explain the mystery of my missing abdominal muscles, actually…

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I met my husband on the highway. As in, he was in the car next to me, and we made faces and googly eyes at each other (don’t worry, my friend was driving) down an hour-long stretch of I-95 until I finally worked up the courage to write my friend’s cell phone number (this was back when cell phones were still new and I was behind the times in getting one) on a piece of paper I stuck up to the window. He called it and we spent the next several hours of the drive on the phone. Eighteen years and three kids later… Oh, and, also, my twins won Most Identical at the International Twin Festival and I once walked a red carpet with George Clooney.

What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?

When I met my husband, I was three months back from a yearlong solo trip around the world that had taken me to forty-six countries and he… had never left the US (unless you count beer runs to Canada in college). I used to joke I could never even consider marrying someone who didn’t own a passport. Fast forward a few years and we were living in Boston. He involved friends in an elaborate scheme, saying they’d won tickets for all of us to a Sting concert in Hartford, all so I’d leave work early. Behind my back, he’d already talked to my boss about more vacation time. When the time came to leave for the concert, instead of getting into our car, he steered me to a waiting cab and we zoomed to the airport. Six hours later, we were in London. The cutest part was that he’d taken notes on all my outfits for two weeks beforehand so he would know exactly what shoes to pack and what top went with what bottoms. His proposal on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral later that trip included the words, “I have my passport now, so I was hoping you’d consider…” Really, I can totally look past all the ABC Family teasing, right?

For more about Jen and her books (or to send her cute hedgehog pictures), you can visit www.jenmalonewrites.com or say hello on Twitter @jenmalonewrites.

At Your Service: Chloe Turner has pretty much the BEST life. She gets to live in the super fancy Hotel St. Michele, New York City is her home town and her dad Mitchell Turner, concierge extraordinaire, is teaching her all the secrets of the business so she can follow in his footsteps. Her position as Junior Concierge comes with tons of perks like cupcake parties, backstage passes to concerts, and even private fittings with the hippest clothing designers. But Chloe hasn’t faced her toughest challenge yet. When three young royals, (including a real-life PRINCE!) come to stay, Chloe’s determined to prove once and for all just how good she is at her job. But the trip is a disaster, especially when the youngest disappears. Now it’s up to Chloe to save the day. Can she find the missing princess before it becomes international news?

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Comments

  1. Now that’s what I call a surprise! 🙂

  2. If Jen’s book is any where as interesting as her life, it’s a winner for sure!