Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were born a different race?
I think oftentimes we are so comfortable in our own skin that we neglect to
acknowledge the adversity faced by others. For example, the civil rights
movement seems like an event found only in the pages of a history book, but in
reality, it happened not too long ago. If it weren’t for bright, courageous
authors who challenge us to remember the road once taken, we might forever
forget the struggles our country has faced.
This month’s Jen’s Jewels
Jennifer Erin Valent
is an expert, in my opinion, in making the past come to life. In her latest
MOONDROPS, she continues the story of a brave young white woman named
Jessilyn Lassiter who comes face to face with social prejudices in Virginia in
the 1930’s. The third book in the series, she takes the reader to a place where
the Ku Klux Klan reigns supreme and the rights of those of a different race are
put to the test.
As part of this interview, Tyndale Publishers has donated five books for
you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia
question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of
your reading adventure.
Jen: A writer’s road to publication oftentimes is as fascinating as the
story itself. So that my readers may have a glimpse into your world, please
share with us your educational and professional background.
Jennifer: The only real writing-related educational
experience I have dates back to high school. (Keep in mind that was the same
place I nearly flunked a test on A Tale of Two Cities because
I deemed Dickens
unreadable!) I didn't go to college, and I can guarantee I wouldn't have majored
in anything involving literature if I had. My passion for writing happened later
in my life, but then living life is a great teacher when it comes to the study
of people and how we live.
Jen: Describe for us your “Aha!” moment when you made the conscious
decision to actively pursue a career in publishing.
Jennifer: It was similar to the experience I had when I decided to take
voice lessons years ago and was told I was a soprano rather than an alto. I
thought, "It'll be fun to learn something new," and then I thought, "I'm doomed
to sing opera for the rest of my life"! Actively pursuing writing meant great
things like spending vast amounts of time using my imagination to create people,
places and stories. It meant sharing my heart with the world. But it also meant
learning about an industry I knew nothing about, studying the craft and
business, and determining that I'd stick to it no matter what... even if I got
to a point where I wanted to burn my laptop and walk away. Clearly, I'm glad I
made the decision to go for it, but in the beginning it was excitement and fear
rolled into one.
Jen: As you have said, you have dabbled in many areas of publishing from
magazines to children’s books. Currently, you write for the Christian Market.
What has made this particular genre a good fit for you? And, what has been the
most challenging part of writing for this audience?
Jennifer: It's a perfect fit because my faith is the basis for who I am,
and it's why I do what I do. So it's a market that I relate to easily. The
difficulty is that the Christian market doesn't get the same sort of publicity
in some venues. It can be a struggle to get your work noticed. But ultimately, I
leave that in God's hands.
Jen: Your first novel FIREFLIES IN DECEMBER was
the 2007 winner of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation
First Novel award. Quite an accomplishment! Congratulations! For my readers
who are unfamiliar with your work, please describe for us the premise.
IN DECEMBER is the story of Jessilyn Lassiter whose family takes in her
orphaned best friend, Gemma Teague. But Gemma is black and a white family taking
a black girl in as their own in 1932 Virginia is not looked on favorably. The
family faces the effects of segregation and come face-to-face with the Ku Klux
Klan, throwing Jessilyn's life into a tailspin of anger, fear and the harsh
discovery of the darker side of humanity.
Jen: Approximately how much research was needed in order for the story to
ring true with your readers? And, what was the most fascinating tidbit you
learned along the way?
Jennifer: I primarily needed to have a feel for the time period and an
understanding of racial prejudice during the Depression era. I watched
documentaries, read non-fiction, Googled a lot. Sometimes, though, it's the
smaller details that are hardest to discover, like particulars about how their
homes would have looked inside, what vehicles they would have driven, or what
terms they would have used. You can't just research certain time periods; you
have to research that time period in that particular place. Someone living in
the city in 1932 would have lived differently than someone in rural Virginia in
1932, which is where this story is set.
I suppose the most interesting things I learned had to do with the Ku Klux Klan.
It amazed me to see just how pervasive they've been at times in our history, and
how much they were able to circumvent the law. I think I knew something about
that from things I'd read and watched before I started researching the book, but
it really came to life for me when I plopped this family I'd created right into
the midst of the turmoil.
Jen: Why did you choose to write about this time period from a young
girl’s point of view?
Jennifer: It's really as simple as sitting down at my computer with the
desire to write a first person Southern drama and coming up with Jessilyn's
character first. From that point on, knowing the kind of character she was, I
was excited to paint the story from her perspective. I've had some people who
knew me as a teenager tell me she reminds them of me when I was that age, so I
think I found it easy to step into her shoes.
Jen: The story continues in the sequel COTTONWOOD WHISPERS. What
is the premise of this book?
Jennifer: In COTTONWOOD WHISPERS, we're
once again back in Calloway, Virginia, but this time it's 1936 and Jessilyn is
turning 17. She's on that cusp of womanhood, and she's no longer as naive as she
was when the trouble hit in FIREFLIES IN DECEMBER. And
when an elderly friend is accused of a crime she's certain he didn't commit,
she's determined to see right win out over wrong... at all costs. But when she
finds out just what that cost might be to her and her family, she wonders how
far she can go in her search for justice.
Jen: Was it your intention all along to write a series, or did the story
just take on a life of its own? What works best for you in terms of plotting the
Jennifer: I had originally thought of following Jessilyn's story through
one novel, but as I worked it out in my head, I knew I'd never be able to dive
into the storylines deeply enough without making it an epic-size novel.
Considering I have an affinity for reading characters that I can follow through
a series, I naturally decided to head in that direction.
Honestly, I'm not much on outlining plot, so I tend to wing it a lot. I think
I'm just the type of writer who develops the characters first and then lets them
weave the story together. As I flesh out the characters and have them interact,
I start getting plot ideas, and it all just strings along as I go. So I usually
start with a basic theme and idea of the story, but the particulars tend to come
as I go.
Jen: In your latest endeavor CATCHING MOONDROPS, the
main character Jessilyn Lassiter is facing a very emotional period in her life.
Her best friend Gemma falls in love with Tal Pritchett a young, black doctor who
has just recently moved to town. This new relationship puts a definite strain on
their friendship. Why is Jessilyn so fearful of letting go of her friend?
Jennifer: Jessilyn is fiercely loyal. It's one of her most endearing
qualities, but it's also something that makes life tough for her because it
makes her resistant to change and growth. Letting go of Gemma means moving on to
a place where life will never be quite the same again. That's a difficult leap
for most of us!
Jen: And, how does this mirror Jessilyn’s own doubts about her
relationship with Luke Talley?
Jennifer: Jessilyn's the kind of girl that wishes she could grow up in
some ways and stay a kid in others. On one hand she wants to marry Luke Talley,
and on the other hand she wants to stay with her best friend forever. Just by
nature of who she is, and how dependent she is on the people who matter most to
her, she has to make a lot of hard choices in order to grow into who she's meant
Jen: This story confronts the harsh realities of social prejudices in the
South when a young black man is lynched. Jessilyn has faced these injustices
before; however, this time is much different. Why does this specific incident
throw her into such a tailspin? Does it have anything to do with her newfound
sense of maturity?
Jennifer: Jessilyn's been up close and personal with hate and violence
before, but never quite so personally as this. She's lost loved ones before, but
not to brutality and murder. The picture of that lynching is etched into her
mind, a permanent picture of hate, and it eats away at her soul.
The worst part of my research for CATCHING MOONDROPS was reading about lynching. Once you see
pictures of someone hanging there like that, at the mercy of the dark side of
human thinking, it sticks with you. Jessilyn saw it up close and personal, and
it changed her forever.
Jen: Jessilyn struggles with accepting the Lord’s role in the injustices
of her world. She realizes that she has disappointed her family and friends due
to her disbelief, yet she can’t seem to move beyond it. Whose opinion among her
circle matters most to her in this situation and why?
Jennifer: I always think it's Gemma, but you'd have to ask Jessilyn to
find out for sure! She wants to please her parents and make them happy, of
course, but I think she really feels most convicted around Gemma. Gemma is like
a mirror for Jessilyn - a portrait of the type of character that she should have
- and because of that she feels more conviction from her than from anyone...
without Gemma even having to say a word.
Jen: Luke Talley has been the constant in her life. He is the man she
wants to spend the rest of her life with, God willing. What makes these two such
a good pair? And, in what ways do their differences make their relationship more
Jennifer: Luke and Jessilyn have formed a bond over the years that make
them understand each other, and to me there are few things as comforting as
having someone around who really gets you. Luke's the guy who knows her, spots
and all, and still sticks with her through thick and thin. When two people have
been through so much together without killing each other, there has to be
something good there, right?
I love how the Lord takes people and fits them together in complimentary ways,
and that's what I wanted for Luke and Jessilyn. His mild mannered ways are in
stark contrast to her fiery personality, but he can come right back at her with
his wit and doesn't back down to her. At the same time, it's Jessilyn's spitfire
nature that reminds Luke what's worth living - and fighting - for.
Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. Will
you be participating in a book tour?
Jennifer: Right now we don't have a tour planned. It's amazing to me how
much the internet has come to mean to the marketing world. Between interviews
like this one, blogs, website ads, Facebook and Twitter, we're able to get the
word out to a lot of people.
Jen: Please take us on a brief tour of your website.
Jennifer: When you stop by JenniferValent.com, you can find out more
about each of my books including sample chapters, critical reviews and
purchasing information. There's also a bio page where you can find out more
about who I am and why I write, and an events page that will tell you about
signings, speaking engagements, interviews and more. Plus, you can enter
contests for books and other prizes, visit my blog, and drop me a note. I love
hearing from readers!
Jen: Do you participate in Author Phone Chats? And if so, how would my
readers go about scheduling one?
Jennifer: I'm always happy to do what I can to help readers experience
more of the back story of my books. I've participated with book clubs before,
and I'm always open to considering invitations. Readers can contact me on my
website with any requests, and I'll get back to them as quickly as I can.
Jen: What’s next for you? Will there be a book four in this series?
Jennifer: No, Jessilyn's story (at least my part of it!) ends with
CATCHING MOONDROPS. I realized early on that I didn't feel comfortable carrying
this story line on past three books, and as sad as it was to say goodbye, I
still feel certain it was the right way to end it. I've got a book idea I'm
working on now that would still be historical fiction, but we'll see if it works
Jen: Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and chat with my
readers. I have loved reading all three of your books. The stories are so
emotionally charged with historical informational and gripping plot lines. Thank
you so much for bringing your readers back in time to a period that needs not to
be forgotten. Best of luck in the future!
Jennifer: Thanks so much for the opportunity to share a little bit about
myself and my books with you and your readers. I wish everyone very happy reading!
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Jennifer. Please stop by your favorite
bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy of CATCHING MOONDROPS today.
Better yet, how would you like to win one instead?
Answer the following trivia question correctly and you could be one of five winners.
Name the first book in the
Jesssilyn Lassiter series.
Later this month, I will be bringing to you my interview with Leigh Brill,
author of the true-life story A DOG NAMED SLUGGER. You
won’t want to miss it.
Until next time…
15 comments posted.
Fireflies in December seems like fun to me, but can they survive the cold of the Midwest? We're having a lull in the fall weather with 70's and sunshine now. Fireflies gives me back fond memories of capturing and putting them in Mom's Tupperware and, of course, holes were poked in the top so they could breathe.
(Alyson Widen 4:35pm October 25, 2010)