Friday, 17 April 2015

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH EVANGELINE JENNINGS

Yesterday's post was my brief take on Evangeline Jennings recently released Riding in Cars with Girls.
Evangeline was kind enough to answer a few questions of her background and reading and writing habits.....



Q. I’ll be totally honest, apart from a bit of e-mail traffic between us, from which I have established you originally hail from Liverpool in the UK (for the benefit of the geographically challenged) and now reside in Texas, I know very little about you both as a person and a writer……can you fill in a few of the blanks please?

Um. I'm in my very late twenties - pedants might say I'm thirty, technically - but at heart, I'll always be fifteen. Yes, I was born and raised in Liverpool, but my mother came from Austin and I've been a frequent traveler between the two cities all my life. Eventually I came to spend the summer here in 2004 and forgot to go back. What else would you like to know?

I'm a parent. My daughter is ten-years-old. I don't let her read anything I write.

I'm also the founding editor of an independent writers collective and therefore, in a way, a very small publisher. I generally describe it as an old school indie record label for books. We've put out several fiction collections. We run a monthly Singles Club. And lately we've started publishing novels as well. It's a very small endeavour, but precious to me.

Q. Is the writing a full-time occupation? What is or was the day job?

It's not an occupation. It doesn't pay the bills. But I work at it most days and I have hopes. My living arrangements are a little unorthodox. I live with another woman and because she is deeply into her career, I pretty much raise her kids alongside my own. So in a way, I'm a caregiver or live-in nanny or something. I also pick up odds and sods of part time jobs. Hooker, waitress, model, actress ... pretty much anything. Well, waitress anyway. I also temp for Big Oil in an occasional way.

Q. Is RIDING IN CARS WITH GIRLS your only published book, or are there other pieces out there?

This is my first solo full length publication. I've also written and published three standalone Kindle singles: NIAGARA,VALENTINA, and NO CHRISTMAS. Apart from that, I've had short stories published both in our own collections and in anthologies put together by other people. My favourite is DERBY SHORTS, which was a joint venture between For Books Sake and the London Rollergirls. In May, I will have a very porn-y short published in another For Books Sake collection and in the summer, my short story COURAGE IS... will be included in BRAVE NEW GIRLS, a YA sci-fi collection funded by Kickstarter in support of a scholarship fund for girls through the Society of Women Engineers.

Q. The 6 pieces in RICWG are all novella type length – all are far too long to be considered short stories, is that your groove and what you enjoy writing?

I hate to disagree but I think two of the stories - Firebird and Trans Am - are true short stories, but yes, I do enjoy brevity. Less is definitely more. I aspire to publish novels eventually - I have several hidden away - but I've been writing short fiction because it's both a more instant gratification and an excellent way to learn and explore while doing.

Q. RICWG features a lot of damaged but resourceful and resilient protagonists – people that have suffered harsh treatment and abuse at the hands of others. You don’t shy away from depicting violence or sex in your tales, are there any subjects you would consider off-limits for your writing?

No. I think it's foolish to rule anything out because you never know where a story may take you. Well, I don't. When I first read this question - on my phone in bed at four o'clock this morning - I started making a mental list of the things I would never write about only to discover that mostly I already had. You can't shy away from all the horrible things people do to each other, but you can make sure you portray them for what they are - evil atrocities - and you can be true to the victims.

Q. Did you suffer any rejections before self-publishing the book, or did you make a conscious decision to go this route?

It's been very much a conscious decision to publish independently so far. But I am approaching the time when I will begin looking for a traditional agent and publisher.

I did have one important rejection. Back when I started writing, my first attempt was a novel called PUTA. I posted excerpts on a website for beginner writers and eventually it came to the attention of Harper Collins. They considered it for almost six months before coming back with a proposal that I should rewrite it, to cut it down from 125,000 words to a more manageable debut novel of 80,000 or less. They also suggested turning the story into two books. All of which was reasonable enough, except I couldn't see how to do it. And I didn't really want to. The whole point of the story was the final twist in the tale and there was no way to get there in 80,000 words. Or so I thought at the time.

More importantly, I'd moved on over those six months. I'd already set up our collective and we were preparing to publish our first collection. I was writing short fiction and learning every day. I could see so many flaws in PUTA that I could hardly bear to look at it anymore. So I decided to run with what was working for me - the freedom to learn and create as an independent writer and publisher.

Q. Any un-published gems in the bottom of your desk drawer?

The gem-iness is undetermined, but I have five novels waiting for me to work on. The first is PUTA. Then I have three YA novels. And one that can only be described as porn, although there is much more to it than that. It's almost art, I think.

One of my YA novels is a Riordan-like fantasy with probably too much punk rock for commercial appeal, the others are pretty much YA Noir. Because very bad things happen to kids every day.

My cunning plan - after RIDING IN CARS WITH GIRLS - is to work my way through my novels, polishing them and putting them out there for agents and publishers. Although I do have another novel I want to write as well.

Q. What’s been the highlight of your writing career so far?
My single loudest squee was when I received an email from one of my favourite authors, Mike Ripley, who told me he was "honestly very impressed" with my contribution to an earlier collection, CARS AND GIRLS. In many ways, RIDING IN CARS WITH GIRLS is a sequel to the original CARS AND GIRLS, except this one has all been written by me. My second loudest squeal of pleasure came when Mike told me he'd recommended me to Lee Child - who bought a copy of CARS AND GIRLS himself - and Andrew Vachss. Sadly I never heard from either of them but the world keeps turning anyway.

Creatively, I was very happy with the Pankhearst Christmas Single, NO CHRISTMAS, which was my own small personal 'Anarchy in the UK', but the book I am most proud of is RIDING IN CARS WITH GIRLS. Not because it's the one I'm promoting now, but because it's very close to perfect. It's certainly the culmination of everything I've been trying to do since I set out writing short fiction. The only thing is, I'm determined that the next one will be at least as good and preferably better. Which is going to be hard.

Q. What’s a typical Evangeline Jennings writing day consist of?

I'm up early to get the kids up, dressed, fed, and out to school. After that, there are no typical days. But if I'm not working,  there will be TV, loud music, tea, coffee, and a lot of time spent reading, writing, and/or editing. Currently I'm editing a novel we'll be publishing this summer, a play that will be the April release of our Singles Club, and writing two new stories of my own in different genres.

Q. Do you have a target word count for each day or do you write for a set number of hours, or do you have a specific point in the story you want to get to?

None of the above. I write when I feel like it and stop when I have to. Generally that's at least three or four hours a day, but it totally depends on what else is going on. I'd love to be in the position where the only thing I had to do was write, but I'm nowhere near there yet.

Q. Are you a plotter? Do you have a beginning, middle and end all mapped out before you start, or does the story unfold of its own accord as you write it?

I have a weird method. Which is basically no method at all. The best way to explain is to give you an example. One afternoon about two years ago, I was drinking in an Irish pub in Austin, sitting at the bar, talking to a friend who was working there as a bartender. The TVs behind the bar were all on mute - they always are - but they were showing a forest fire on the news. Meanwhile they were playing an 80s music CD and the Human League came on.  That was where I got the first line for my story Firebird. All I knew when I started writing was it would be about a cocktail waitress and a forest fire. Everything grew out of that one line: 'I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I met Dorothy'.

Another example? I'd been shopping in the Galleria Mall in Houston and I was headed back to my truck in the bottom level of the parking garage when I got the weirdest feeling. The place was pretty much deserted. I'd deliberately gone to the mall at its quietest time. There were very few cars there and no other people I could see or hear. But I still had this feeling I was being followed, or watched, or something.  I wasn't sure but it felt very wrong. Anyway, nothing happened. There was probably no one there. But driving back to the apartment where I was staying, I stopped being frightened and started being mad. That moment was the inspiration for my novel PUTA. I wrote out the first scene by hand later that day.

So what happens is, I get a prompt from somewhere and I set out writing with no destination in mind. The stories just kind of happen. I never know how they're going to end until I'm at least three quarters done. It's prototyping really, I suppose. And then when I know what the story is meant to be, I go back and edit the shit out of it. I analyse what I have written, I look for the weaknesses and holes, and then I build a plan for reworking it so it can become the story it should be.

Does that make any sense at all?

Q. Who are you reading and enjoying?

Right now I'm alternating between Simon Sebag Montefiore's biography of Jerusalem. Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. And Endless Night by Agatha Christie. I started Jerusalem purely out of interest, but now it's become research. One of the kids has to read Sheila Turnage for school, so I thought I'd read it too in case he needs help. And the Christie came out of a conversation with the author Lauren Henderson (aka Rebecca Chance). Lauren rates it as one of Christie's finest and although I have a copy, I couldn't remember anything about it so I thought I'd better read it again.

Q. Last 5 books you’ve read?

I only know this because they're still sitting on the bedroom floor waiting to be shelved.

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
Stitching Snow by RC Lewis
Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott
This Is Not For You by Jane Rule
The Heist by Daniel Silva


Q. Is there one all-time favourite book you wished you had written?

I find it impossible to pick absolute favourites. Thanks to something I read by Daniel Waters, I'm in the middle of a tortuous project to create a list of the top 500 songs. That's almost impossible, but picking a favourite book would be even harder. How can I possibly pick between PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie? Isaac Asimov and Andrew Vachss? Although ... Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, maybe. My affection for Harry Potter is irony-free. I'd love a Scottish castle of my own. And if I'd written the Deathly Hallows, I could afford one. Also, in my version, Hermione would have run away with Ginny. Or possibly Luna. Which would have been a lot more fun and helpful than telling people, 'Of course Dumbledore was gay' long after the event.

Q. Favourite activity when not writing?


My other great love is music. I've given up trying to play but it's still very important to me. I inherited a huge music collection and I've been adding to it, almost compulsively. Right now my days are all about the Smiths and Morrissey but I've just come into possession of some original Led Zeppelin rehearsal material and I might have a go at remixing Heartbreaker, just for fun. 


Q. What’s the current project in progress? How’s it going?

I have one last short fiction project before I focus on my novels. FIRST GIRL ON THE MOON is something I've been working on with my friend and editor Lucy Middlemass. It's a YA collection again. Lucy - who is a wonderful writer - is contributing four mostly standalone short stories and I have written five separate pieces that all come together to tell the single over-arching story of one girl's life. It's much better than it sounds, honest, and it should be out in May or possibly June.

Q. If I pop back in a couple of years’ time – where do you hope to be with the writing career?

Make it three years. I'll be famous, dead, or completely irrelevant. I'm hoping for the first. My immediate goals are to keep improving, continue writing stories that matter, and find a way to support myself and my daughter by writing alone


Many thanks to Evangeline for humouring me.

Brief reminder in respect of Riding in Cars with Girls - the book is available since yesterday and currently on offer here. and for less than the price of a takeaway coffee!

8 comments:

  1. Col, this was a very good interview and exhaustive too, coming as it does immediately after your review of RIDING IN CARS WITH GIRLS. I'm always keen to read about an author's writing process juggling it between family and work responsibilities amidst the desire to write full time and do nothing else. I'm sure Evangeline Jennings will go far in her writing career.

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    1. Prashant, thanks. I hope she goes far too. She's obviously very passionate about her writing, but passion alone isn't enough. I think she has the talent to accompany it though!

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  2. Terrific interview! Thanks to both. It's never easy to juggle writing, home life and 'day job,' and I always respect an author who can do that. Much success!

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    1. Thanks Margot. Glad you enjoyed it. Hats off to all the juggling writers!

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  3. Great interview, she really was an interesting and honest subject.

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    1. Moira, Evangeline was a very easy interviewee. Very expansive with her responses. I've been lucky so far!

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  4. The author is a very interesting person and I enjoyed her answers. How wonderful to get a compliment from Mike Ripley. I approach her book with trepidation because of the subject matter, and I hope I will like it.

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    1. Tracy, I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. Hope the book proves as enjoyable for you!

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