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Debut Author Interview: Jen St. Jude and If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Jen St. Jude here to share about her YA contemporary speculative If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come. It sounds like a beautifully written, emotional story that keeps you thinking long after you finish the book. I’m excited to read it.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

We Are Okay meets They Both Die at the End in this YA debut about queer first love and mental health at the end of the world-and the importance of saving yourself, no matter what tomorrow may hold.

Avery Byrne has secrets. She's queer; she's in love with her best friend, Cass; and she's suffering from undiagnosed clinical depression. But on the morning Avery plans to jump into the river near her college campus, the world discovers there are only nine days left to live: an asteroid is headed for Earth, and no one can stop it.

Trying to spare her family and Cass additional pain, Avery does her best to make it through just nine more days. As time runs out and secrets slowly come to light, Avery would do anything to save the ones she loves. But most importantly, she learns to save herself. Speak her truth. Seek the support she needs. Find hope again in the tomorrows she has left.

If Tomorrow Doesn't Come is a celebration of queer love, a gripping speculative narrative, and an urgent, conversation-starting book about depression, mental health, and shame.

Hi Jen! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

Even as a kid, I loved writing. In my elementary school they helped us put together these mini books with those plastic spiral bindings, and I was so thrilled and proud every time. I also played with dolls constantly, and what is that really except creating characters and storylines? I loved pretending to be other people, creating new worlds. I didn’t really know I was talented in writing until high school, though, and I didn’t take it seriously until college. One professor in particular, Jenny Boylan, really encouraged me to write outside of my classes and I took that encouragement to heart.

2. That’s great that your professor encouraged you to write. Where did you get the idea for If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come?

It was a few things converging all at once—working through my own mental illness, losing someone close to me to suicide, feeling unmoored as my final year at college came to a close. I wrote a one-act play about a young family trying to create one perfect day before the world ended, and the next semester I returned to it as a graphic novel. I was really fixated on this idea of living life with mortality in mind—how do we treat each other? Our time is always finite, but if we knew the exact span of it all, what choices would we make differently? For someone with severe depression, would it change anything at all?

About Your Writing Process

3. Your story is in part a love story between Avery and Cass. How did you plot out or let their relationship grow throughout the story? What tips do you have about creating a compelling romance in a story that involves more than one genre like yours?

I once went to a Brit Bennett reading at Harvard Book Store, and she said something like, “You can bring any two people together as characters if you understand what they’re missing in their own life and find in one another.” I really tried to think about what Cass finds in Avery that she can’t find anywhere else, and what Avery finds in Cass. Zooming in on that puzzle piece in each of them was key, and I played around with different scenes that might show the home and adventure their friendship provides. In any genre, I’d try to remember that what matters most is how characters make you feel. I revisited some of my favorite memories from my life and studied what made them so special to me—it was often the small details, inside jokes, late nights, and feelings under the surface, waiting to bloom.

4. I sometimes learn things about the craft of writing from a statement authors make that really resonates with me. Reviewers have said that your story is a beautiful emotional story that they thought about long after they finished it. What techniques did you use to pull at readers’ heartstrings? 

To be honest, I wish I knew so I could recreate it in future stories. I’m always very moved when people say novel is emotional and resonant, and a little surprised when they mentioned they cried so much while reading it. My best guess is that I said things out loud that people think they should hide from the world, their depression, insecurities, shame. Or that I created a world that asks you to think about your own life and time and what you stand to lose. What would you do to protect it? What will you do to honor the time you have left, in the next nine days or beyond?

5. What was a challenge you faced in writing If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come? How did you overcome it?

It took me ten years to write, and I think it’s because for the longest time I didn’t know how to create a story arc around depression. It’s such a flat experience, and it rarely ever reaches a clean resolution. My brain also doesn’t move chronologically. The scenes set in the past were the first to come to me, and in most drafts they were in a completely different order. I was also unsure where the novel fit in publishing. Was it YA? New adult? Adult? Was it sci-fic, or speculative fiction, or contemporary? I had to write many drafts to find out how everything fit together, and where I wanted it to fit in the world.

Your Road to Publication

6. Erin Harris is your agent. Share about how she became your agent and what your road to publication was like.

I queried for two years with no luck, and was very seriously starting to think about self-publishing the novel. In a last ditch effort at pursuing traditional publishing, I applied to the (now-defunct) Pitch Wars mentorship program and was lucky enough to find Erin through their showcase event after revising extensively with my mentors, Kelly Quindlen and Adrienne Tooley. After signing with Erin, we spent a year revising together before sending the book out on submission. Just between Pitch Wars and working with my agent, I think there were seven drafts of this book.

7. What was it like being on submission? What advice do you have for writers going on submission?

The stakes feel so high. We went out to a first round of editors and had some bites; if I remember correctly it went to acquisitions twice, but editors had a hard time getting their whole team on board. I was both encouraged and crushed. So close! And yet so far. Before our second round, Erin and I had a call where we talked through the feedback from round one, but it was a mixed bag. The only thing that felt consistent was that maybe the pacing was off. I used Save the Cat to revise beat by beat, scene by scene. There were spreadsheets, charts, and maps involved, but it did make the book stronger. In the second round we went out to a list that included Camille Kellogg, who wasn’t included in the first round only because she was fairly new at Bloomsbury. I’d read her manuscript wish list a year before and had privately thought she’d be a good fit for me and my work. I was thrilled to be right; she loved the book and even better, her whole team did too. I can genuinely say I’m so glad I took the path I did—rejections and disappointments and all—because it led me to the right team. My advice, then, is to trust the process, find people you can (privately!) vent to who believe in you and your work, and know that you’re doing a brave, remarkable thing.

Promoting Your Book

8. Your book released on May 9, 2023. How have you been promoting your book? What are some things that you’ve done that you’d recommend other authors do to prepare for their book release?

I have a full time job and a young baby at home so I knew my capacity would be limited. I have also just really wanted to enjoy this experience and not put pressure on myself to do more than is healthy for me. I’ve tried to focus on things that feel natural for me. I post on Twitter and Instagram, connect with bloggers and readers when possible, and support Bloomsbury in all the work they’re doing to market the book. It’s felt like a good balance so far. I recommend new authors really take the time to figure out what feels important to them and what they’re comfortable with, because we can only move the needle so much.

9. I have another job too, and your advice on marketing is reassuring. Tell us three things you did during the year leading up to your book’s release that helped you be ready for your book’s release?

1. Find a group of other debut authors you can confide in and really trust to share your wins and disappointments with. 2. Do something fun to commemorate publication! Even if it’s not a party, make a scrapbook of small moments, commission art, find a ritual that works for you. 3. Remember that you did your best with the time, skills, and experiences you had. After all of it, it still may not be perfect. It won’t be for everyone. But it’s yours, and now other people’s too if they want to share that with you.

10. What are you working on now?

My second novel is about three friends and soccer teammates determined to win the state championship during their senior year. When their high school is wiped off the map by a hurricane, they’re separated and their dream is devastated. Even worse? They have to play against each other—and only one of them can take it all. It’s about climate change and friendship, platonic love and dreaming in a crumbling world. Readers of If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come might be happy to know it center mental health and queer love as well.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jen. You can find Jen at

Jenstjude.com

Twitter.com/jenstjude

Instagram.com/jenstjude

Giveaway Details

Jen’s publisher is generously offering a hardback of If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by May 27th. If your email is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter or Jen on her social media sites, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This book giveaway is U.S. and Canada.

Upcoming Interviews, Guest Posts, and Blog Hops

Tomorrow, May 16 I’m participating in the Mom’s Rock Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, May 17 I have an agent spotlight interview with Kristina Perez and a query critique giveaway

Monday, May 22 I have an agent spotlight interview with Natasha Mihell and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, June 7 I have an interview with debut author K. X. Song and a giveaway of her contemporary An Echo in the City

Thursday, June 8 I’m participating in the Come Out & Play Giveaway Hop

Monday, June 12 I have an agent spotlight interview with Karly Dizon and a query critique giveaway

Monday, June 19 I have an interview with debut author  Caroline Huntoon and a giveaway of their MG contemporary Skating on Mars

Hope to see you tomorrow!

 

 

 

8 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Nice interview! I think teachers are often the first people who recognize and encourage writing talent.

Liz A. said...

Oh my, that end of the world thing is in the next book, too? Interesting theme.

Kimberly Yavorski said...

I love the idea of figuring out what the characters need from each other. What a great way to add depth!

Danielle H. said...

This cover is stunning! I enjoy reading books with characters experiencing mental illnesses/challenges because I always learn. We have several members of our family who are seeing counselors/therapists as well as taking meds for various conditions. I'm so excited to read this book and am placing it on my TBR and wish list. I shared on tumblr, follow both Natalie and the author on Twitter and Instagram: https://www.tumblr.com/yesreaderwriterpoetmusician/717496841782099968/debut-author-interview-jen-st-jude-and-if?source=share

Andrea Mack said...

Wow! I’m intrigued by your book and your work-in-progress! Thanks for an interesting interview. I always love to know the secret for creating a strong emotional reaction from readers.

tetewa said...

Congrats on the release!

Nina Snyder said...

That sounds like an exciting read! I'm putting it on hold at the library.

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.