Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"I've danced with a gypsy in Florence" - #Interview with @Jen_McConnel

Tell us about you.

I grew up in Michigan, but four years ago, I moved to North Carolina and I am proud to call the Triangle home.

I've been writing for as long as I can remember (I blame Mom for letting me play with her typewriter as a small child), and I started writing fiction in 2007.  I also love to travel, and the best trip so far has been Egypt.  I teach basic writing at a community college, and in the past, I was a middle school teacher, librarian, bookseller, and interior design maven.  

Now, I write.  All the time.  I love playing with magic (in my life and in my writing), and although my works are all fairly distinct, the theme of archetypes and myth run through my fiction and poetry.

Tell us about your book.

When Lou travels to Scotland, she’s a mess.  She’s twenty-six, unemployed, and unsure of herself.  It doesn’t help that she’s traveling with Tammy, her best friend, who is everything Lou is not.

At first, the trip pushes Lou towards the brink of depression, but then she meets Brian, a handsome local tour guide.  When Brian tells the tourists about the countless witches burned in Scotland, Lou starts to listen.  And when she discovers information about Isobel Key, one of the victims of the seventeenth century, Lou finds renewed purpose.

She sets out to learn the truth of the condemned witch, but she isn’t prepared for the knowledge that waits for her.  Lou must face her demons if she has any hope of righting the wrongs of the past.

What inspired you to write this book?

In 2007, I traveled to Scotland.  I hated it: I was there for two weeks in December, and the sun shined ONCE.  When I got home, I didn't think much about the trip, but then in 2009, when I sat down to try NaNoWriMo for the first time, Scotland snuck into my words.  The witch trials in Scotland are really interesting to me: they started later than most of the witch crazes, and lasted longer: the last "official" witch was killed in the eighteenth century.

And then, the words just wouldn't stop.  The story wove itself, taking me in surprising directions, but at the core, it's about a woman accused of witchcraft and what that meant then and now.

Don't worry: the NaNo final product bears very little resemblance to the book, other than the concept of the story: I worked on it for the next three years before I finally decided that I was ready to set it free into the world.

What can readers expect when they open your book?

Well, Lou's depressed.  It isn't a mopey "oh-woe-is-me" kind of thing; she's truly, deeply depressed.  Her life since college hasn't been what she expected, and even though she's never done anything impulsive before, she begins taking a lot of risks in the book.  She quits her job, travels to a foreign country, and considers having a "highland fling" with Brian, her tour guide.  By the end of the book, Lou has dealt with her feelings of unworthiness and found a new source of strength that surprises her.  I can't tell you anymore because I don't want to give it away, but Isobel, the woman who was burned for witchcraft in 1667, may just be the one who saves Lou from herself.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

For me, it was acknowledging the fact that I am a writer.  For years, I was passive and apologetic about my dreams.  But in 2011, I quit my full-time teaching job and finally felt empowered to say "I am a writer".  I still teach part-time (I actually teach writing), but my true focus has shifted to my writing.  It was a huge risk, but I am so proud of myself for owning this vital part of my heart.  I am a writer, and it took years for me to say that.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I can't choose just one!  I love J.K. Rowling for inspiring children and adults to read.  I love Neil Gaiman for creeping me out and weaving mythology and reality together in a beautiful tapestry.  I love Rick Riordan for writing mythic adventures.  I love Margaret Mitchell for taking a chance and writing about strong women when women weren't supposed to be strong.  I love Susan Cooper, Ray Bradbury, and Lynne Reid Banks for writing three of my favorite books (Dark is Rising, Halloween Tree, and Farthest Away Mountain).

There are so many more, but I don't want you to get bored!  The bottom line is, I LOVE authors of all genres.

Do you have any suggestions for writers just starting out?

Don't stop.  Make time to write every day, no matter what.  Trust your words, and keep at it.  Writing should be fun, it should light you up.  Revisions, however, are a whole 'nother thing, but just remember that you love writing.

What is your favorite quote?

"Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story." Neil Gaiman, from the poem "Instructions"

If you could exchange lives with any of your characters for a day which character would you choose and why?

All of them!  If I had to choose one, I think I'd want to be Ruth.  She's the main character in the novel I'm working on right now, called Priestess of Moab.  I'd love to walk in her sandals: Ruth is a priestess of the goddess Astarte, and she lives in a temple in the desert.  Her days are filled with worship and beauty, until she falls in love with a stranger and finds bitterness.  I wouldn't mind living ANY of her days, because I'd love to experience her ancient land.

If your book was made into a movie which actor/actress would play which character(s)?

You know, I've never even thought about this.  I used to do theatre, and I've seen the power of an excellent actor.  I guess anyone could play my characters as long as he or she found a way to love that character.  There are so many amazing actors out there.

What does writing mean to you?

Writing is bliss.  It is freedom.  The freedom to explore your own world or a world of fantasy.  I can get lost in words, and it's the best feeling.

Tell us 5 random things about you the person, not the author:

1) My favorite color is (currently) orange.
2) I've danced with a gypsy in Florence.
3) If it weren't for my husband, I'd be the crazy old woman in an ancient house filled with cats and strange objects.
4) I still have the first tarot deck I ever bought (when I was 17), and I still use it.
5) Someday, I want to travel to Turkey.  And Greece.  And Peru.'s a long list!

Where to connect online

Twitter: @ProDeaWriter

FEATURED BOOK:  The Secret of Isobel Key
Genre: New Adult, contemporary
Buy on Amazon