Readers, I have a special treat for you today! As the library ramps up in preparation for her March 4th (2pm!) visit to the downtown library as part of the Everett Reads! community reading series, I caught up with local YA author and Everett Herald columnist Jennifer Bardsley to talk about everything bookish! For a primer on her incredibly addicting Blank Slate series, check out my review of book 1, Genesis Girl.
First, tell me about you! What’s your background, and how did you get into writing?
In 2007 I was a stay-at-home mom who wrote a blog called Teachingmybabytoread.com as a way to keep my skills as a former elementary school teacher fresh. I loved blogging since it was a way to connect with people all over the world. I also enjoyed reading my local newspaper, The Edmonds Beacon, but noticed that none of the columnists represented the “mom demographic.” My limited success as a blogger gave me the idea to pitch The Edmonds Beacon with a column idea about what it was like to be a modern mom. I wrote up five sample columns and an introductory email, pitched them my concept and waited. And waited. And waited. They never emailed me back. Crushed, I filed those columns away in a drawer.
A month or two later, I saw a copy of The Weekly Herald and decided to brave it. I gathered up my courage to submit my idea to them instead. That’s how my column “I Brake for Moms” was born. After four months in The Weekly Herald, “I Brake for Moms” moved to The Everett Daily Herald where it has been for almost five years.
In the middle of all that column writing, I also wrote fiction. In 2013 my manuscript landed me my agent, Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency, and in 2014 Genesis Girl sold to Georgia McBride of Month9Books in a two-book deal.
How did you get the idea for Blanca, a character who has never used the internet nor had her image ever posted online?
Prepare to be grossed out. I based the concept of Blanca and her Vestal Brethren on the castrati from opera’s shady past. In the seventeen and eighteen hundreds, some young boys in Italy were castrated in the hopes that they would become famous opera stars who could sing the highest notes. They were sent away to special schools where they lived and breathed music. Most of the castrati did not become famous. They were sent home in disgrace, scarred for life. But the castrati who succeeded were superstars.
Yikes! Even aside from that, the whole Blank Slate world is so eerie! I can see this becoming a distant reality.
I know, right? From computers to car phones, to cell phones, to smartphones; it’s only a matter of time before there is a technology advancement that is user-friendly in a way we can’t yet imagine. Maybe it will be like finger chips, maybe not, but it will be cool.
What books or authors would you recommend for readers like me who enjoyed reading Genesis Girl and Damaged Goods?
A classic SciFi book that I love is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. There’s a new television show based on it coming to Hulu that I’m excited about too. A SciFi series I enjoyed that came out recently is Survival Colony 9 by Joshua David Bellin. It’s cli-fi, meaning climate change meets science fiction.
I’ve always wondered about something. Is it more difficult to write the first book in a series or the second?
Damaged Goods was way easier to write than Genesis Girl because I had already done the hard work developing the characters. I wrote out an outline, turned on my computer, and banged the book out in four months. Then I spent the next year revising it.
What sort of advice would you offer a writer aspiring to make the leap to becoming a published author?
If you are writing fiction and you want to be traditionally published, you need to write the entire book first before you query agents to represent you. Agents then take the book on submission to publishing houses. If a house buys your book, it takes two to three years for your manuscript to be published.
However, with nonfiction it’s entirely different. You write a thirty to fifty-page outline and marketing plan for your proposal, and send that directly to publishers.
The quick way to bypass all of those steps is to self-publish. There are lots of indie authors who earn a ton of money because agility helps them capture hungry markets. Instead of guessing what topic will be popular with readers in three years, indie authors can write and publish books that are hot at that moment.
Bookstagramming is a big part of your presence online, one that I really enjoy following. How do you get your ideas for your beautiful layouts?
I love your account too! Instagram is a great way to meet new friends.
I keep a box of random knickknacks in my library that made it easy to style photos. Winter is tricky, but once the weather warms up I cut foliage from my garden to use in photos. My friend Jenn Eagan of @jennegan26 gave me good advice. “On bookstagram, more is more. If you think there are enough objects in your photo, add a few more just in case.”
Do you have different approaches for writing your column and your novels? Or does the process tend to be about the same?
Having a newspaper column has taught me a lot about discipline because I have a due date every week. I keep a notebook in my purse to jot down ideas if I get inspired, but generally I have a topic rattling around in my mind for a few weeks before I write it out on paper. Then a few days later, I revise it.
With fiction, I spend months and even years coming up with a concept first, before I start writing a book. The traditional publishing market is so competitive, that unless you have a killer idea, it feels like you are doomed.
I’m so curious about your writing environment! Do you have a dedicated office or workspace?
I used to have a dedicated writing space in our home library, but then my poodle Merlin took over that room and now it smells like dog. Luckily it’s the only room in the house that smells poodly, but it’s no longer my preferred place to write. These days I am much more likely to type on the computer in the niche next to our kitchen.
Do you have any other upcoming projects? You know I’m eagerly anticipating more Blank Slate novels!
Damaged Goods has a conclusive end, with just enough wiggle room to write a third book if my publisher is interested. It all depends on how this second book does. Stress!
What can our readers expect when you come to the library on March 4th?
I have a game prepared that involves dice, fake money, information about the path to publication, and some inside secrets about what it’s like to be an author. I’ll follow up with questions from the audience.
Thank you so much, Jennifer, for taking the time to chat with me! I can’t wait for your visit March 4th at the main library!
Jennifer: Thank you so much for having me!