Thursday, July 7, 2011

NAWS: Interview with Jenn R. Johansson

Today is the first in a series of posts called the "Newly Agented Writers Series" or NAWS for short. All interviews may be found under the corresponding tab at the top of the blog. 

I am so excited to have the brilliant Jenn R. Johansson with us today! Jenn has a wonderful blog that I would encourage you to visit. Just click on her name. Seriously. Do it. You won't regret it. :) Also, be sure to check out her awesome website. If you would like to follow her on Twitter, you can do that here.

A bit about Jenn (in her own words):

"I have two young sons and a wonderful husband. In fact, I'm altogether surrounded by testosterone. They're a handful and always keep me busy and happy.

I currently live in a valley between majestic mountains and a beautiful lake where the sun shines nearly 300 days per year." (link)

Q and A:

What made you start writing?

I'm not really sure. I had a lot of rough turns in my life at once and it just became a way to let off steam...and then it became a story I loved and I just couldn't stop. 

What genre do you write?

I really like to dabble. So far I've written sci-fi, urban fantasy, dystopian, and a supernatural thriller. I always stick in the young-adult arena though and I tend to write toward the darker end of the spectrum.  

How did you get the idea for your novel?

I do a lot of thinking while my brain is in down-mode. When I'm showering, driving, running, cleaning. For my most recent book, I was out for a run when I just started thinking about how weird people's dreams were and how it would be to see the dreams of others when you went to sleep at night and it just kind of spun off from there. 

What keeps you going when you are feeling discouraged?

Sometimes it is thinking about how far I've come. Sometimes it is a new idea or a brainstorming session with a critique partner. When it comes down to it though, I just remember how much I love writing and the amazing feeling that comes from finishing a tough scene, a great chapter, or getting to type The End. Those things all keep me moving forward. 

Who is your agent?

I'm represented by the amazing Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She really is a rock star and I'm so lucky and happy to be with her.  

What is one unique thing that happened to you during the querying process?

I got the most interesting rejection from Janet Reid. She told me that I had what it took if I just kept writing and honing my craft. Then she gave me the number for a local flaming dog poop delivery service in NYC: 1-800-RJC-THIS. She said they had her address. I laughed for two days straight and it helped me keep writing when I was feeling down. Best. Rejection. Ever.

What resources did you use to help you write your query letter?

I did SO much research. I read every agent blog I could find and every single post on Janet Reid's QueryShark blog. This is one thing that I also seem to have a bit of a knack for. My background is in marketing and a query really is a marketing tool, so it was always a comfortable thing for me. A synopsis however, is the bane of my existence and I think the person who invented it should die a thousand painful deaths. 

Would you be willing to share a copy of your query letter for learning purposes?


Dear Ms. Kathleen Rushall,

I follow you on twitter and was very impressed with your agency’s website. I saw you’re interested in edgy plots and YA. I’d love for you to consider INSOMNIA, a young adult supernatural psychological thriller. It is complete at 67,000 words.

Sixteen-year-old Parker spends every night trapped in the dreams of the last person he made eye contact with, and it’s killing him. The exhaustion and tremors from never reaching the deeper levels of sleep are getting worse every day, and he knows his time is running out. Until he meets Mia.

Mia’s dreams are the first he’s ever encountered where he can finally get real sleep. A good night of rest after so long is addictive. He needs it. He has to have it. But getting it means he must follow Mia and find a way to make eye contact every day. Before long, Mia is freaked out, and each encounter seems to leave her more terrified than the last. Now, the only girl in school he can stand to spend his nights with thinks he’s a stalker—a dangerous one at that.

After Mia receives threatening e-mails, her wonderful dreams become scenes of a horror movie—and Parker is cast as the villain. He must discover who is truly tormenting her, and clear his name, before she turns him in for a crime he hasn’t committed–or worse, the true stalker makes good on his threats to end her dreams forever.

INSOMNIA’s psychological thriller overtones will appeal to readers of Dan Wells’ I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER series, while aspects of the premise will appeal to readers of Lisa McMann’s WAKE series.

I have a degree in public relations and a background in marketing. My minor is in abnormal psychology and I drew upon that background in researching this project. I also have a successful writing blog. Thank you for your time and consideration.

When you received “The Call,” what were your reactions?

Kathleen only had the first 50 pages for 5 days when she e-mailed to request a full. I sent the full that afternoon and she e-mailed me back immediately to ask for a 1-2 page synopsis. While I was looking for that to send it to her, the phone rang and it was her. She said she loved it so much that she knew it sounded crazy since she hadn't even read the whole thing, but she had to represent me. It was the dream. The kind of response everyone dreams about. I couldn't even believe it. Mostly I just tried to keep breathing and set up an appointment to talk to her again in a few days when she had finished the manuscript. Then I walked down the hall, told my family, and screamed. Then we went out to dinner to celebrate.

When taking “The Call,” is there one thing you would recommend a writer be prepared for?

 I would recommend educating yourself and and knowing what you want from an agent. Be prepared with some questions, but accept the fact that you will be excited and nervous and you might not be at your most eloquent. That's okay. By the time you're getting the call, you've already won them over. It's okay to be excited. They love to know that them offering representation makes you happy. Just make sure you enjoy the moment. 

Based on personal experience, what final advice could you give to other writers? This can involve the querying process, general writing advice, or both.

The most important thing I've learned in my journey is that everyone's path to publication is different. You cannot judge yourself and how fast or slow, easy or hard your journey is based on anyone else's story. It will not help you or anyone else to compare. Just find your own path and be happy for your fellow writers as they find theirs.  

Just for fun short answers:

Favorite book?

Seriously? I'm supposed to pick one? Impossible. I'll name a few of my favorites: Hunger Games, I Am Not a Serial Killer (whole series), and Ender's Game are a few of my favorites. 

Favorite music?

I'm eclectic. I love Paramore, Adele, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Alabama, Carrie Underwood and a ton of others... just about anything I can sing along to. 

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Wow, I have no idea. Ever since I started writing I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I love to sing... but I don't think I'd ever want to do that professionally. 

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be?

Not any of mine, I'll tell you that. I put them through too much crap. Maybe a lead in a romantic comedy. I'd love to end up all happily ever after. 

Would you rather write during the day or at night?

At night. I'm a total night owl. My brain doesn't even function until I've been awake for a few hours. 

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Depends on the project. In the past, I've been primarily a pantser, but my new project is totally plotted out. I guess I'll know better later.  

Favorite part of the writing process: first draft or revisions?

Oh, totally revisions. I HATE drafting. It is so, so much harder for me to draft than revise. I can fly through revisions and I love seeing all that polishing take effect. It's such a rewarding part of the process for me. 

What is one thing about you that might surprise readers?

I am a very musical person. I love to sing, I play the drums...but I absolutely cannot write with any music on. I get distracted by it and start writing the lyrics into the book.... not so good. Still, I very much use music to get into the mood and mind-set for a scene. It's really important to my process, just not during the actual writing.  

Thank you so much for your time, Jenn! I know readers will enjoy getting a glimpse into your journey as a writer.

Thanks for having me, Kristin! It was so fun to think about and answer your questions! 


  1. I never thought I'd say this but, that was an awesome rejection from Janet! LOL! That would have encouraged me too. Congrats to Jenn, I know she'll be going places with Kathleen. :)

  2. Thanks for having me! It was a fun interview. I'm excited to be the first in your NAWS series and can't wait to see who you have coming up next!

  3. Heather - Wasn't that rejection brilliant? LOL! :)

    Jenn - Thank YOU for doing the interview! I loved getting to know you better and getting to learn more about your journey as a writer. You are awesome! <3 :)

  4. *Insomnia* sounds awesome! And I'm the same way; I can't write with music on because of the whole "lyrics" concept. Congrats on getting representation, Jenn!

  5. Thanks Jenna! :) Glad to know I'm not the only one who gets totally side-tracked by good music.

  6. Kristin - Great interview! I hope you keep this series up.

    J.R. - Congrats on getting The Call! And I would frame Janet's rejection email. Insomnia sounds very interesting. Maybe Christopher Nolan can direct the movie adaptation :)

  7. Phil - Thank you very much! :) My plans are to keep this series going. I will be posting another interview in 2-3 weeks. Thanks for stopping by! :)

  8. Great post! I love Jenn! Great writer and fun to chat with or go out to lunch with! Glad she let you post her query letter! Gave me some good ideas! Thanks for telling me about this post! Great idea, too!

  9. Julia - Thanks! Jenn is a very cool writer. :) I can't wait to read her book!! It sounds sooooo good.

    Good luck with that query!! :)

  10. This was a fabulous interview, and I'm so excited that I won a query critique from Jenn. Hers ROCKS my face off. And I can't wait to read Insomnia!

  11. Kristin - Thanks! That is so awesome that you won a query critique from Jenn! :) And I'm with you... INSOMNIA sounds amazing, doesn't it??

  12. I LOVE Jenn! She is so awesome. Great interview, and I'm glad I found your blog! :)

  13. Chantele - Thank you! Jenn *is* pretty awesome, isn't she? :) Thanks so much for the comment and for following! :)

  14. You guys are all so nice. Thanks for coming to read my interview and for all your kind words. You're all frawesome! :)

  15. Jenn is awesome and I'm glad to get to know more about her. That query letter is super awesome and I really, really want to read the book now, but only because i was brave enough to read Dan Well's book, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

  16. Great interview. I love Jenn. (she's one of my crit partners and she's the best)

  17. Mary - I totally agree with you. Jenn's query letter rocks! And like you, I can't wait to read her book. YA thriller? Oh yes, please! :)

    Kasie - Thank you! You and Jenn are crit partners? That is so cool! I bet you have tons of fun together. :) Thanks for stopping by!

  18. Fun interview--I love hearing success stories. Best of luck, Jenn. The gals at Marsal Lyon are fabulous--and not just cause they're up the street from me :)

  19. Bethany - Thank you so much! I am glad you enjoyed it. Success stories are the best. :)

  20. YAY! I love to know my friends better!
    And that rejection? It was great!!
    Thanks for sharing :D

  21. Monica - Hey! :D That rejection was awesome, wasn't it? Lol!

    Thanks for your comment! <3