Today, I’m honored to have the talented, smart, and all-around wonderful Lori Goldstein on my blog. Lori’s debut YA contemporary fantasy, BECOMING JINN, comes out April 21, 2015 from Feiwel and Friends. BECOMING JINN is the story of Azra, whose genie powers awaken on her sixteenth birthday—but she soon learns that becoming Jinn comes at a cost.
For those of you who don’t know, Lori was my mentor during Pitch Wars in 2014, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now without her amazing guidance and support. Our relationship didn’t stop at Pitch Wars—Lori has been there for every step of my publication journey, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to celebrate the release of her debut.
One of the coolest things about having generous and talented writer friends like Lori is being able to ask questions about their writing process—what inspires them, what frustrates them, what motivates them. So Lori has graciously agreed to share her thoughts on how she conjured up JINN and more.
Hi Lori! Thanks for letting me pick your brain. With BECOMING JINN coming out just over a month from now (!), can you tell me a bit about your journey to publication?
First off, thank you so much for having me and for that lovely introduction. Being your mentor was a terrific experience because not only did I get to read a fantastic, unique, and bold new novel (coming in 2016!), but I also got to know you. And that’s one thing I will say about this journey to publication: meeting talented writers who become friends is the best part of this ride and one that I never expected. The community is welcoming and generous—and thank goodness for that! Because this journey is amazing, but it’s also scary and so much is unknown. Having other people to share it with and learn from is key!
As for the technical aspect of my road to publication, I worked on a manuscript for three years that essentially taught me how to write by letting me make mistakes—and I made many! By the time I started writing Becoming Jinn in the fall of 2012, I was able to write it in two months instead of three years. I entered many contests with it, lost a lot, received great feedback, revised, and was able to get my agent, Lucy Carson, in February of 2013. She had savvy insights into the manuscript and I revised for two months before going on submission in May of 2013. We sold in less than two weeks to Feiwel and Friends for Becoming Jinn and its sequel. It’s been a bit of a longer wait to publication than most, but I’ve had the chance to learn a lot in that time and feel – mildly – in control and prepared for what’s to come.
That’s a very inspiring story! How has your writing style and technique changed since you first started writing? Is there a certain routine you like to follow?
The biggest change is that I’m not a committed plotter. When I wrote my first manuscript, in addition to not having a clue what I was doing, I didn’t plan a thing. I figured the story would just “come to me.” And it did, over three long, grueling years during which I rewrote the novel from start to finish probably four or five times because I had no idea you needed to do more than have two people just chat with one another. That book was my education in writing. Combined with some great craft books and a course in novel planning, I changed gears before writing Becoming Jinn. I planned for a full month and had a 70-page outline before I began. I did character profiles, setting exercises, I went into the writing knowing so much about the world, which allowed me to write it fast. I consider that long outline essentially a very short draft of the book. My first draft is more like a second draft. It’s the only way I’ll write from now on. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s a good fit for me.
You have killer editing skills, as evidenced by the notes you made on the, um, first copy of FIRSTS I sent you. How has that affected you as a writer? Do you edit as you go, or wait till the initial draft is out of the way?
Well, thank you! I went to school for journalism, and I have been an editor, both content and copyeditor, for years, mostly nonfiction. Editing is second nature to me by now in terms of the nitty-gritty aspects, and I definitely edit as I go. I like to start each writing day by revising what I wrote the day before. I can’t move on until I feel the previous day’s work is in good shape. I find it really helpful for getting me into the zone; it takes me time to get into “writing mode,” and by rereading, tweaking, and changing the previous day’s material, I do double duty: I get into the zone faster than if I were starting to write from scratch and I remind myself of what I’ve just written, both in terms of plot and details like having just used certain words or turns of phrase so I can avoid them going forward in the new day’s work. I am not an “insert XYZ here” kind of writer. My brain doesn’t work that way.
We all have those days where we’re feeling less than inspired. What gets you out of a rut, or over a bad case of writer’s block?
Thinking helps me the most. But I can’t just sit in a chair and think. So I go for walks or swim, which I like to do for exercise. Those times when I’m alone with my thoughts are when I am the most creative and productive. I’ve worked through many a plot problem while in the pool or shower—waterproof notebooks come in very handy!
Waterproof notebooks? I need to get in on this! What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process?
While I spend a lot of time plotting, I don’t enjoy it, especially at the start. I feel a lot of pressure to think creatively and while I know it will pay off in the writing, it’s not a fun task. However, the end of that process—when I have index cards lined up, type my notes into a long scene-by-scene outline, and sit down to actually write…well, that’s the payoff. I love that moment when it all comes together with real words and scenes.
What’s something surprising you have learned about yourself in the months leading up to JINN’s release?
I was just talking to my husband about this, actually. I never thought of myself as someone who’d be able to switch gears and turn on the marketing side of my brain. But I’m better at it than I would have thought. And by this I don’t just mean standing on the street corner and pushing my book into people’s hands, but I mean coming up with ways to promote it and story ideas to write for nonfiction publications, and doing all the research and outreach that’s involved whether it’s applying to festivals or conferences or looking for other opportunities. It’s a ton of work, and it leaves little time for writing, which is the downside. But it’s also more fun than I would have expected.
JINN is about genies and wishes. Speaking of wishes, what’s one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself before you had an agent or a book deal?
Ooh, I love this question. I would like to tell myself that it’s not as hard as I think it is and to enjoy the ride as much as possible. When you love something so much—when something is so important to you—the highs are sky high and the lows are subterranean. I think it’s natural, but it sure doesn’t make the bumps in the road easy to get past. Thankfully, see my answer to number one. Writer friends are what get us through. Externally grateful to all of mine!
JINN has a sequel, which is coming out in 2016! Can you tell me a bit about what you plan to work on next?
I have several story ideas that I’m working on now that JINN 2 is finished and in copy edits (yay!). Two are really speaking to me, and I’m exploring them both right now, but it’s too early to say which will be the one that steals my heart. But they are in the vein of JINN in that they are steeped in the contemporary world (which though JINN has magic in it, I very much consider it to have a contemporary feel). They will have both humor and deeper emotion like JINN. I’ll always write with some humor, but I think these two ideas might push me in ways that I’m very much looking forward to.
That’s so exciting! Thanks so much for taking the time to visit my blog, Lori. Are there any words of wisdom you’d offer to writers in the query trenches?
Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t compare yourself to others, which is natural for all of us at every stage. But it really is the thing that will stop us from pursuing our dreams. You have to disconnect from that as much as possible. And you know what? We all give in to it at times. Let yourself, but then move on. And also, don’t be afraid to receive strong feedback on your work. If people didn’t tell me my first page wasn’t working or my query sucked—and if I didn’t accept that they were right—I’d have never moved on. You have to be able to evaluate your work subjectively, which is really hard. But if something’s not working, figure out why. Read craft books; research everything you can about writing a good query. That’s how you will be able to change and have success.
Thank you, Laurie! I cannot wait until FIRSTS is out in the world!
You can learn more about Lori and the world of Jinn by visiting www.lorigoldsteinbooks.com or follow Lori on Twitter @loriagoldstein! And if you preorder or buy Becoming Jinn before April 25, 2015, email Lori the receipt at firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll be entered into a raffle to win gift cards in the amount of $5-$50 to places like iTunes, Starbucks, Amazon, and more.
Want to know more about Lori’s writing process and Becoming Jinn? Join Lori for a Twitter chat hosted by New York Times best-selling author Anna Banks on Monday, March 23 at 8 pm EST!