It’s not often that I have the inside scoop on a featured author’s writing journey. Many times when I request an interview for this series, I send an email and wait for a reply. But today, I have the inside line on this writer’s journey, because it’s one of my CPs, AJ Pine. AJ doesn’t know this, but I’ve been dreaming about sharing her journey since she sent me an email to tell me Entangled Publishing was going to publish her New Adult Contemporary story, IF ONLY. I am so proud of her, and her work, and thrilled to finally share her writing odyssey today!
Amy: How much does being a high school teacher influence your writing? Do you find yourself memorizing certain conversations or interactions to use in your work?
AJ: I don’t get too much material from students, probably because most of our conversations are classroom based, and I’m not much of a hallway lurker. Haha! But the best way my students have helped me is by volunteering as audience. I read my YA manuscript aloud to one of my classes last year, and they were fabulous editors. Reading aloud in general is a remarkable tool for self-editing. My students also gave me the thumbs up for writing in a teenage voice, but this ability probably stems from an obvious lack of maturity on my part. As long as I fool my students into thinking I’m a grown-up, though, all’s well.
Amy: Was IF ONLY your first completed manuscript?
AJ: Nope. It’s my second. My first manuscript, the one I read to my students, is a YA dystopian novel…with an element of romance, of course. Because KISSING.
Amy: How long did it take to complete?
AJ: IF ONLY was a book that I couldn’t stop writing. Drafting is my favorite, my ultimate happy place, and it was a really fantastic experience not being able to contain the story. The first draft took me six weeks. I did NOT query my first draft, though.
Amy: Did you use critique partners for IF ONLY? If so, how did that affect your writing process?
AJ: Drafting is a collaborative process for me. So far I’ve drafted three books alongside my good friend and fellow writer Lex. When we are drafting, every other Friday is known as Friday Swap. We share what we have up until that point, read, and critique. I swear Saturday mornings are like Christmas, waking up to her notes. Then I revise based on her comments/suggestions before drafting any further. So when I type that final period on that final page, my first draft has already been through somewhat of an edit. Plus, the commitment to share pages every other week puts me on a deadline. It motivates me to write every day and hit a decent word count before we swap, and I absolutely love writing like this. When you find CPs you can trust to see your writing in its rawest form, it’s a pretty beautiful thing.
Amy: When you first wrote your query for IF ONLY did it come easily or did it go through many drafts?
AJ: Haha. Query writing…easy. No way. I wrote many drafts. For queries, in general, what ended up being my life saver was the SAVE THE CAT logline formula. I used this as a jumping off point and expanded it to make it query length. Not until the manuscript that came after IF ONLY, the one that connected me with my agent, did I feel like I finally got the hang of writing the query.
Amy: What was your call like with your agent, Courtney Miller-Callihan? How did you know she was a good fit?
AJ: By the time Courtney and I had the call, I had already interacted with her a bit on Twitter, and I loved her in the twitterverse. She was professional yet funny, always sharing great information for writers. I was a nervous wreck for our call, not that she could tell [She could totally tell…because I flat-out announced it. I was out of town for a conference with literally only an hour to spare, and she called right when I told her I’d be free. Aside from some quick pep talking from Natalie and Megan, two of my other lovely CPs, I was so unprepared for the call, and Courtney was pretty fabulous from the start, especially with me having an emotional freak-out, on the inside of course. On the outside I was the picture of calm [totally lying]. The first thing she said was that she loved my book, currently titled ONE NIGHT, but that the purpose of the call was to see first if we clicked before officially offering representation. And as nervous as I was, as much as I forgot to ask (and later bombarded her with emails full of questions) I felt the click. She didn’t just want to represent my book but my career, and she was on board with all I wanted to do with this book and beyond it.
Amy: As most writers know, publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to garner agent interest?
AJ: I actually first garnered interest from Courtney during #pitmad, the Twitter pitch party following Brenda Drake‘s Pitch Madness. But that doesn’t mean a Twitter pitch got me an agent. I still had to send the query, first three chapters, and synopsis. Many agents have said this, and I agree–whatever is in those first pages has to be enough to make your reader want to read more. Putting my first pages up on WriteOnCon this summer was a huge help in seeing how readers reacted to chapter one of my book, and it helped me sharpen what I had before I began querying. A great query is your foot in the door, but it’s those first pages that have to grab the reader, and I’m really grateful mine did.
Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
AJ: Honestly, no. I never wanted to throw in the towel because being published or not, writing is so much a part of my fulfillment that I’d be missing something without it. I didn’t get an agent or a publishing deal with my first book, but having that moment of, “Holy #@*%! I just wrote a book!” gave me the confidence to try it again, to write the next one and the one after that. The more I write, the better my writing gets [or so I hope], and that’s motivation enough to keep going.
It’s been two years since twenty-year-old Jordan had a boyfriend—which means it’s been forever since she, well, you know. But now she’s off to spend her junior year in Aberdeen, Scotland, the perfect place to stop waiting for Mr. Right and just enjoy Mr. Right Now.
Sexy, sweet (and possible player) Griffin may be her perfect, no-strings-attached match. He’s fun, gorgeous, and makes her laugh. So why can’t she stop thinking about Noah who, minutes after being trapped together outside the train’s loo, kisses Jordan like she’s never been kissed before? Never mind his impossible blue eyes, his weathered, annotated copy of The Great Gatsby (total English-major porn)…oh, and his girlfriend.
Jordan knows everything this year has an expiration date. Aberdeen is supposed to be about fun rather than waiting for life to happen. But E. M. Forster, Shakespeare, and mistletoe on Valentine’s Day make her reconsider what love is and how far she’s willing to go for the right guy. (Releases March 24, 2014)
AJ writes stories to break readers’ hearts, but don’t worry—she’ll mend those hearts with a happily ever after…maybe. The first book she wrote was YA, but now she’s two-timing her first love with NA. She’s always in the middle of reading two to three books, adores online shopping (everything from groceries to shoes), and she still loves vampires, whether it’s Eric Northman or the Salvatore brothers. When she’s not writing, AJ is sneaking off to her day job as a high school English teacher or hanging with her husband and kids in the Chicago burbs. Her debut new adult romance, IF ONLY, releases with Entangled Embrace in March 2014. For more on AJ, check out her website, follow her on Twitter or check out her Facebook page.