by Elin Johnson
Jolene Perry is our amazing writer-in-residence. She grew up in Alaska and still resides in the final frontier with her husband and two kids. Jolene has written for Entangled, Albert Whitman Teen, and Simon Pulse.
Q: When did you first decide to become a writer and how did you go about doing so?
A: I always wanted to be a writer, but thought I’d never have any ideas. I laugh about that now because I can’t imagine living long enough to get all my ideas down. I’ve always kept a journal and/or a blog, filling both with personal essays. One day I thought it might be fun to make something up and write it, even if I never did anything with the story. 100 pages in, I realized I was going to write a whole novel. Once I knew I could start a finish a project that big, I was hooked. I wrote, and when I wasn’t writing, I was researching the bizarre process of getting published.
Q: What are some myths about being a professional writer that you have disproved along the way?
A: I’m going to give you a quasi/sideways answer. Most writers are broke – even ones with books in Barnes and Noble across the country and a solid 1-2 novel releases a year. I was also surprised at how little input I have on my title and cover. I always assumed that the author had control over that part of marketing. I think those were the biggest surprises for me.
Q: Do you have a set schedule to write or do you have to first be struck by random inspiration?
A: Inspiration is rarely the problem, time is. Well, time and that whole Internet distraction thing. When I have to be online for parts of my author self, it’s sometimes hard to get my brain back into creative mode. Being on social media for too long makes my brain feel about as mushy as it does after too many hours of Netflix. I set timers for about 45 minutes where I’m allowed to do nothing but write. Then I get up and MOVE. Once I’m ready (5-30 minutes later) I set another timer.
Q: You have said before that you write the blurb for the back of the book first before writing your story. How is this method successful for you?
A: Right now this is my favorite piece of advice. Having that completed blurb helps when I’m trying to figure out which project to focus on because I have something to show my agent and writer friends. Having that blurb also helps keep my story conflict focused as I write. And then when I finish, I already have a blurb, which is likely to change a bit, but not a lot.
Q: How do you stay true to your story and creative journey while still catering to the current market?
A: I actually feel like it’s more of – WHAT DO I AVOID WRITING ABOUT? Vampires are still out, and dystopian is out. So really, that leaves more open than I could ever hope to cover. After that, I work on the project that I LOVE. If my agent or friends are really drawn to one of my blurbs, I find a way to love that story, so that’s how I stay true to what I want to write and to the story I want to tell. I guess that seems a little warped, huh? Force myself to fall in love with the project my agent thinks is most viable?
Q: Where do you find most of your inspiration? Do you have a specific process?
A: My inspiration comes from – FIRST, my experiences (w/ a twist, or several), SECOND, from pictures (I stalk photographers online) and THIRD, music. I wrote out my high school memoirs, and laughed because I’d never be able to publish them. Each of those short essays turned into the main crux for a whole novel and those stories would be easily recognized.
Q: What are the hardest and easiest parts about being a professional writer?
A: Hardest – Having my income be tied to my creativity. Easiest – getting to make stuff up for money. Yes, I know these contradict themselves.
Q: Why do you have different agents for different genres? How does this help you?
A: My agent thinks I’m nuts for enjoying writing collaborations, but I do love them. A good friend, Allie, and myself wrote one together that my agent’s assistant read and loved. I’d worked with her a lot, and when she said she’d love to represent whatever my friend and I wrote together, it felt like the perfect solution. So, I fell into that situation, and it works great for all of us.
Q: Have you noticed that you or other female writers have been treated differently than male writers? What were these differences and how did you overcome them?
A: I don’t overcome them, honestly. I do my best to write my best, and then fight hard for good covers and titles – I’m still fighting that battle. Male authors are much more likely to have money put behind them, and that’s out of my control. I enjoy the things I have control over, so I write tough girls , and I write the stories I love.
Q: What changes in Alaskan literature have you noticed over the years?
A: It’s become more hip, if that makes sense. We’re seeing a much bigger range of what’s being written about, and I love that! We have some very cool nods in the national market right now, which is fantastic.
Q: What advice have you gathered over the years would you be willing to pass along to young writers?
A: FIND YOUR PEOPLE. You will need good writer friends every step of the way. WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE. Trying to write for anyone or anything else is not going to make you happy. Be happy about what you put into the world.
Q: What is the difference between happiness and success in your mind?
A: I’m happy. I’m stupidly happy. I don’t have everything I want, but I don’t think that’s where happiness comes from. Am I successful? I don’t have a good definition of that right now. I think four years ago, I’d look at me now and think – YES! I MADE IT! But from where I’m at now… Maybe it’s the balance between what what I want, being grateful for what I have, but also never being satisfied. I wanna push myself harder and tackle writing projects I know will challenge me. So, I’m always on this ladder that leads to happiness and success, but I like being there. I’m happy, as long as I’m on the ladder, and it’s not a stressful climb up, but it is a good workout.
Q: Are you working on anything at the moment and do you have any big plans for the future?
A: So many things. You’d laugh if I gave you the full run-down, so I’m gonna give you the full rundown. I just got first pass edits on my next YA novel, and we’re working on titles now. The front runner seems to be – The Keys to my Hearse are in my Vintage Purse, but who knows if that’ll stick. I just turned in two novellas to editors for different anthologies. I’ve started two other romance novellas. I’m bouncing back and forth between two thriller/horror YA novels, and I’m mapping out two historicals I’ve been researching for a while. I’m also gearing up for the release of LOVE BLIND in May. So, that’s my writing life, and every time I think I’ve made myself too busy, I take on something else.
Elin is a lifelong Alaskan with a passion for storytelling and everything outdoors. When she isn’t traveling or at the dance studio, you will most likely spot her between the pages of a book confused as to why she has become so tiny, or forcing her dog to watch the cinematic masterpieces of the 80s and 90s. Elin is always ready for an adventure, especially if there is a chance of karaoke, so don’t be afraid to pick her brain about favorite books or her true feelings about breakfast foods.