I met Jael McHenry on Backspace and she was the first author to guest post on Women’s Fiction Writers almost a year ago (find that post here)! Now, as we are ready to celebrate the One Year Blogiversary (big party starts Tuesday), Jael is back to share with us the breadth of her experience along with her passion for writing and books. I have found that most authors have a generous spirit, and Jael is at the front of the pack, always willing to answer questions and cheer on others. She is the author of THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER (loved it!) now out in paperback with a gorgeous new cover.
Please welcome back Jael McHenry! (Maybe we can make this an annual event!!) And of course I have to say — MAZEL TOV!
The Kitchen Daughter Author, Jael McHenry, Talks About Books, Babies, and Balancing It All To The Best Of Our Abilities
Jael: Thanks, I’m happy to be back! And I could go on for pages about how different the hardcover release experience and paperback release experience were. I was SO nervous about the hardcover — it was my debut! it was only happening once! — and I went crazy overpreparing and overplanning, scheduling myself to do dozens of blog appearances and guest posts, so focused on not missing my chance to touch every single reader I could get my hands on. And I have to say, that’s not a bad way to approach your debut hardcover release, because it doesn’t leave much room for regret. But by the time the paperback came around, I’d gotten to a much calmer place. Also, my paperback launch was originally scheduled in January and then got moved up to December, just a few days before Christmas and a few days after I was moving house. So I really had to pick and choose what I wanted to do at launch time, and what could wait until a little later. It was a much healthier experience, for sure.
Amy: You know that I’m editing my first novel, so that brings up a lot of thoughts about balance. How have you managed your job(s) and your family and your friends through your first year of being a published author? This applies to aspiring authors too — because getting IT ALL done can be an issue for everyone.
Jael: It’s been crazy, but all in a good way. We do all struggle with balancing writing as a craft, writing as a business, our personal lives and obligations, all those things. What has worked for me is just getting okay with the idea of ebb and flow. Around the hardcover launch, like I said, I was going absolutely nuts with promotion-type obligations, and I let some other things slide during that period — I didn’t even try to work on the next book, I didn’t cook (even though I love to cook), I just set a bunch of things aside. And then a few weeks later, I could pick them up again. The hardcover of The Kitchen Daughter came out last April, and this April will be even crazier — this year instead of having a book, I’m having a baby. My first. Eek! So that “ebb and flow” idea is really going to be central. A lot of other things will get set aside for the first few months, and then I’ll find a new balance as I add them back in. The difference is that if I intentionally say to myself “I’m just not going to write for a month”, then I’m okay with it, as opposed to telling myself every day “Well, I really should be writing” and not necessarily doing it, then beating myself up for not being able to do it all. And if I intentionally set it aside I never worry about thinking “Oh, I never write anymore.” I always know I’ll pick it up again.
Amy: When you’re writing are you a plotter or a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants)? Do you have any writing rituals or things that just work for you when you’re writing? (I need to sit by a window, for example, which means I cannot cordon myself off in my basement.)
Jael: Oh, I have tried so many times to be a plotter, and it just never works for me. I have to write the book in order to see whether it makes sense. I discover so much of it as I write, in a way I can’t just by outlining. And this means that I do a ton of revision, and I have to delete a lot of scenes — I probably took as many words out of The Kitchen Daughter as I left in — but none of that effort is wasted, because it all gets me closer to the final product. Other than that I’m pretty inconsistent on where and when I write, though there’s something I particularly love about being surrounded by other people who don’t know who I am or what I’m doing while I’m writing. Coffee shops are key. And I like to edit in hard copy while sitting at a bar with a glass of wine. (When I’m not pregnant, that is.) Too much silence doesn’t work for me.
Amy: Are you working on a new novel? Can you tell us about it?
Jael: Yes, and… a little. It’s set in 1905, so it has taken a ton of research and is going slowly because of that. Plus, as I mentioned, with a new baby on the way, I know I’m about to get pretty seriously derailed. Which is a blessing, actually, in a way. I think every book benefits from being set aside and then viewed with fresh eyes — when I’m under a tight deadline I can have other readers take a fresh look and tell me what they see, but it’s even better if I can take a month or two away from a manuscript in progress and then re-approach it, almost as if I’m appraising someone else’s writing and not my own. Which is a great way to edit. So I’ve definitely got something in the works, and I’m super-excited about the premise and the characters, but it’s going to be in the works for a while before you’ll see it on the shelves.
Amy: So much advice about reading widely has been offered here on Women’s Fiction Writers. Can you share with us a book or two (or three) that you’ve loved recently or long ago — that are NOT women’s fiction?
Jael: How about a whole series? In college I discovered Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer series of detective fiction and absolutely fell in love. He has this brilliant hard-boiled voice, this hard narrative drive, that I just find compulsively readable. Whenever I’m tempted to let my sentence-level writing run away with my book, I re-read him, and it’s just so helpful. You can never let your words get in the way of your characters and plot. He makes every word count, absolutely, and that’s a real skill that writers should develop, regardless of genre. I own every book in the series, but the two I recommend most often are The Blue Hammer and The Galton Case.
Jael McHenry is the author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster, 2011), now available in hardcover, e-book & paperback, and is also a talented and enthusiastic amateur cook who blogs about food and cooking at the SIMMER blog, http://simmerblog.com. She is a regular contributor to Writer Unboxed, a member of Backspace, and a monthly pop culture columnist at Intrepid Media. Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. Learn more about Jael’s work at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry. She lives in New York City.