Interview: Jennifer Chen, Magazine Freelancer and YA Novelist

Jennifer Chen is a successful, multi-faceted writer, and I’m so pleased to feature her in this installment of the Seven Questions interview series.

As a magazine freelancer, Jennifer’s work has been published widely. You can read her interview with Def Leppard’s Phil Collen in the May/June 2011 issue of VegNews, and she has upcoming articles in Every Day with Rachael Ray, Audrey, Rangefinder and VegNews, where she serves as associate editor.

Jennifer’s also a fiction writer. YOU’RE GONNA MISS ME, her young adult novel, is represented by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary. Jennifer is developing a young adult series at present, while working on a collaborative photography book with Bambi Cantrell.

As if all that isn’t impressive enough, Jennifer offers editing and copywriting services to various magazine clients. She holds a bachelor’s and a master’s from the Department of Dramatic Writing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She’s also the owner of Typecraft, an Etsy store, and she was featured in Vickie Howell’s CRAFTCORPS: CELEBRATING THE CREATIVE COMMUNITY ONE STORY AT A TIME.

1. Wow, Jennifer, as a professional writer, you have an amazingly varied list of specialities and accomplishments. How do you balance fiction, nonfiction, copywriting, editing and blogging? Do you have a strict schedule? Or a magic formula you can share with the rest of us?

I do have a strict schedule. In my humble opinion, you have to have a schedule or otherwise you’ll never get any writing done. People often ask me how did you write a book? I tell them I simply write down days that I’m going to write and I stick to them. No secret magic formula, just my calendar.

About a year ago, I moved up to the Bay Area and started freelancing full-time and working part-time as a magazine editor. Having a schedule like Mondays dedicated to blogging, Tuesdays for writing pitches, and Fridays for filing and invoices, etc., was the only way I got anything done. I went back to full-time work when I started working at VegNews magazine as an associate editor. It’s my dream job, but I still want to balance other projects like young adult books, a photography book, freelance magazine assignments and copywriting for select clients. I was talking to my photography book editor who asked me, “You’re working full-time and writing this book?” And I said, “It’s crazy I know.” But I wouldn’t change a thing. Except maybe trying to make more hours in the day.

2. What was the first step you took to establish yourself in the field? Once you started along that trajectory, was there a moment you realized you were a “real” writer?

My first step was the moment I took myself seriously. When I sat down and wrote down what I wanted to do and how I was going to get there. It may sound corny but when I was 16, I wrote a list of what I wanted to do when I grew up. One of those items was to be a writer (the others were to fall in love and travel to Europe. I did those as well). I always write my goals down and figure out how I’m going to get there. It’s easy to say “I’m a writer,” but executing it takes baby steps. The first time I felt like a real writer was the moment I pulled a Rachael Ray magazine off the newsstand and saw my name in the magazine.

3. Sometimes the act of reporting can enlighten the reporter. Is there a magazine piece you worked on that changed you, either as a writer or as a human being?

Gosh, probably a piece that I wrote that never got published anywhere. It was a very personal essay I wrote to submit to a Real Simple essay contest. It was never chosen, but it was a piece that pushed me to tell a story that was difficult for me. But it helped me become a much better, confident writer.

4. Tell us about your young adult novel, YOU’RE GONNA MISS ME.

I’ll tell you the short end of it. It started as a short story back in my NYU days and then I kept writing it. It originally was called SISSY. At 23, I submitted it to Delacorte’s Press Young Adult Novel contest and was a semi-finalist. The editor at the time wanted to give me four months to rewrite it. Being a young writer, I only took two weeks and the book was promptly rejected. Many years later, Michelle, my now agent, asked to read it and signed me based on that draft. I spent a year and a half rewriting it and changed the title to YOU’RE GONNA MISS ME. Michelle shopped it around last fall, and ultimately it didn’t get bought. So this novel has brought me many joys and pains but I still love it. It’s my first baby, so to speak.

5. How has your background in dramatic writing affected your approach to structure and dialogue?

Good question. I started out as a playwright. So I was always listening to dialogue and how people talk. When I interview someone, I pay attention to what they are saying and learn who they are within the context of what we’re talking about. The best thing I got out of dramatic writing was learning to structure a story. Whatever form of writing you’re doing, whether it’s a feature article for a magazine or a pitch or a TV script, if there’s no narrative, there’s no interest.

6. So many writers dream of signing with an agent. How did you connect with yours, and what’s it like having representation?

My agent Michelle Andelman and I actually went to NYU together. She is really good friends with one of my best friends, Celena. I was helping to organize a bridal shower gift for Celena and sent out a mass email to her friends. Michelle wrote back and asked me if I had written a young adult novel back in college and asked if she could see it. She was starting at a new agency at the time and was looking for new clients. I emailed her the manuscript, and she loved it and signed me. Since then, she moved on to Regal Literary and we’re still working together. I feel very fortunate to be working with Michelle and Regal. Regal is a top-notch agency, and they love their clients. You can just tell by how much enthusiasm they have and what they do for their writers. Heck, even their contract letter to me was chock full of energy.

But I do have to explain that Michelle only represents my young adult writing and not my magazine writing. I do all my own work contacting magazine editors.

Sometimes I think writers think that they need an agent to get work without considering that they need the right agent. What I mean is that Michelle is the best agent for me—she loves my work, but she’s very honest, which I love—for some people that might not work.

7. What kind of crafting do you do? Does your particular vision as a writer carry over into your other creative projects, or are they totally separate outlets?

I love to knit, sew, make jewelry, cook and bake. I find baking a soothing outlet for writing. Sometimes a piece can take forever to work on, and with baking, it’s usually done in a night. I think as a creative person, having other outlets only helps you develop as an artist.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses, Jennifer! For more information about her, check out Jennifer’s website, Need a reason to celebrate Tax Day this year? Stay tuned for the next Seven Questions interview, featuring the songwriter for Miller-Kelton, a Columbus-based Americana band, on April 15. Or better yet, subscribe, and you’ll be sure not to miss any installments of this original interview series. For more information about the idea behind Seven Questions, or instructions on how to suggest someone to be spotlighted, take a look at this post.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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7 Responses to Interview: Jennifer Chen, Magazine Freelancer and YA Novelist

  1. Great questions Laura. And I love how clear Jennifer is about who she is a writer and appreciate the comment about the need for structure and scheduling writing in. The only way to make it happen!

  2. typecraft says:

    Thank you so much for interviewing me Laura and posting my answers up on your blog. And yes, Jackie, scheduling, as crazy as it may sound, is the only way to make writing happen.

  3. Shari says:

    I really enjoyed this interview – thanks, Laura and Jennifer! 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by, Shari, and for commenting. It’s been great to feature Jennifer. Her story of wanting to become a writer and then working toward that goal is so inspirational. And it’s great to be reminded about the importance of scheduling specific blocks of writing time!

  4. bethanyjoy says:

    “No secret magic formula, just my calendar.”
    As a mother, I’m guilty of squeezing in my writing time around the children’s schedules. Thanks for the reminder that my goals are worth putting down in ink…

  5. Pingback: Thoughts on Finishing (and Muddling) | Laura Stanfill

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