How did you become a writer?
I have always written, as far back as I can remember. As a kid, I was obsessed with animals and unicorns and princesses and tropical islands, so my stories had a lot of those elements. In middle school I wrote a four-novel series heavily plagiarized from Secret of the Unicorn Queen that actually started—from my adult viewpoint—to get interesting by the fourth book. Then I got writer's block and focused more on poetry and short stories. I've always written, even though it took me so long to publish anything!
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
I went through a period in adolescence where I read a lot of the great women of literature: Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Charlotte Bronte, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood. Their stories took my breath away. All I knew was that someday I wanted to write stories that did the same to other people. I'm certainly not in their league yet, and may never be, but it's a good thing to strive for!
I read constantly. It's the most important contribution to my writing. I am trying to expand my knowledge of the classics, and currently am reading Henry James and W. E. B. Dubois, with some Anthony Trollope thrown in to lighten things up a bit. However, I'm totally psyched for a novel called Vox that is coming out soon, and will probably take a break to fit that in.
When and where do you write?
I write whenever I have the time, which isn't nearly as much as I'd like. I work full-time. I've stopped having any hobbies, really, I just write. Sometimes words or sentences occur to me and I have to run to the computer and write them down, or dictate them into my phone, or make a note on the back of some envelope. So I guess I write everywhere, but the bulk of it is in my office. We moved a few months ago; before that, I had a desk shoved into my bedroom, but now I have a bookshelf and a desk and my pictures on the walls! Luxury.
What are you working on now?
My third novel since Gather the Daughters was released. Novel One was rejected by my editor as being too dark (which I immediately saw the wisdom of when people began reacting to Gather the Daughters) and Novel Two by my agent, because it had elements too similar to Gather the Daughters. ( My heart's still a little broken; it's shelved, but I'm not giving up on it.)
I don't want to say too much about my current project, but it's a story that's been in my mind for a long time. It starts off with a young girl driving a stolen car with a blind dog in the backseat. She stops to pick up a hitchhiker, and the tale goes from there.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Oh God, yes. What I usually do is tell myself to just write one sentence a day. Sometimes that's all I can fit into my day anyway! I just work on describing a certain detail, or some dialogue that's not vital, and eventually it goes away. Sometimes it takes a while. Running helps, I always seem to get good ideas while I'm running.
If all else fails, I usually have a backup project I can work on while I wait for my writer's block on the other project to fade. My agent recently recommended a huge, book-changing alteration to my current manuscript, and whenever that happens, I have to wait a week or two while working on something else. Some unconscious process goes on to figure out how it's going to fit together, and then eventually it comes to the forefront of my mind. Sometimes when I'm faced with a writing dilemma I say to myself, shelve it, and it gets put back in some corner of my brain where my mind can work on it unobserved.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
I always heard, write what you know, and the best advice I ever got was not to listen to that! We'd never have speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, if everybody did this. Yes, it's good to write about things you can portray authentically, and we all bring our lives to what we write, but it's also good to stretch your imagination to the limit and make up something new.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Keep trying to get published. I spent almost two years looking for an agent before the incredible Stephanie Delman rescued me from the slush pile. I can't count the number of queries that were rejected. I actually put Gather the Daughters on the shelf and said, Okay, maybe this isn't publishable. Maybe I wasn't meant to be a writer. But after a few months I decided to try again, because I just knew I had written something good.
If you know you have something good, don't give up on it.
Jennie Melamed is the author of Gather the Daughters, published by Little, Brown in 2017. Gather the Daughters was listed as a Best Book of the Year by The Guardian and Booklist, and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Her writing has appeared in Joyland Magazine, Teen Vogue, Lithub, and other publications. Jennie lives in Seattle with her husband and two Shiba Inus.