If you were a little girl in the 1970s, you were obsessed with three things: Holly Hobbie lunch boxes, The Fonz, and Judy Blume. Judy Blume books were a passion for me and so many other kids. Judy Blume has left a huge literary impact on readers and writers everywhere. I was a fan of her incredible writing and adorable characters. But it was so much more than that. Her books helped me get through my own childhood. Her books were my way of understanding my own coming of age. I remember when Are You There God? It’s me Margaretcame out. All the girls at school were reading it and chatting fervently about the book and about Judy Blume. It was quite literally “Judy Blume” mania!
I was first introduced to
the prolific author when I was in fourth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Hughes, read to us from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothingevery day after lunch. I found the story funny, witty and very touching. Her style and voice reached out to hundreds of kids and teens everywhere, and I found myself at the local Chocolate Soup Children’s Bookstore begging my mom to max out her credit cards as I pleaded for paperback copies of Iggy’s House, Then Again Maybe I Won’t and the deeply poignant story of preteen bullying, Blubber.
However, it was quite possibly her most famous and provocative work that was the talk of my elementary school lunchroom. Any fans reading this right now and grinning to themselves know exactly which novel I am speaking of. Foreverwas an emotional and moving book about first love, the “first time” and eventually, the sorrow of teen heartbreak. I remember like it was yesterday the older girls reading all of the juicy passages under the trees at recess. I had no idea what they were talking about, so I talked my mom into buying me a copy – she had no idea what it was about, or she would never have bought it for me.
So, one summer, my cousins and I broke out all of her books – Judy Blume never pulled any punches in her writing, a quality I have always admired – we broke out the salacious paperback, and we learned about life. We giggled madly when reading out loud to each other about “Ralph” (Those of you who have read the book know exactly who/what “Ralph” is. Those of you who haven ‘t, you just gotta read the book!).
I instinctively knew there was something very special about her work, voice and the lady herself. She affected a whole generation of girls and definitely inspired me to read, and eventually, write. Even after all of these decades, she is still, and always will be in my opinion, the reigning queen of the young adult genre, and she simply has no peers. I hope to introduce my daughter to her one day, and I am certain that I will.
You could say that she was my first inspiration to become a writer. I knew that one day, I wanted to grow up to be just like Judy Blume.
Jenni James is a YA and kids author who also writes contemporary romance (sweet). Not only does she manage a blended family (with her husband) of ten kids. YUP. TEN KIDS. But she has a booming writing career and she works as a cover artist as well. Welcome Jenni!
You are a YA and kids author. Tell us how that came about and why you decided to write YA?
JJ: I never wanted to be an author. Honestly. I was a busy mom with seven kids, living in England (at the time) and didn’t think it’d be that fun. However, a book would NOT leave me alone. It kept me awake for three days in a row, so I finally gave in and wrote out the first chapter to Pride & Popularity. The next day (after lots of sleep) I woke up so curious as to what would happen next, I couldn’t wait to write more. Wala! Which is how I developed a love for a talent I didn’t know I had, I didn’t even know I wanted . . . For a while I stuck with YA because honestly, my girls were growing up fast and there weren’t really good happy “romantical” books for them. Twilight and The Hunger Games were huge, but nothing sweet and clean and just fun. I figured if I was going to become published I might as well write a whole lot more books anyway, with my own girls in mind.
You’re also a cover artist – and you not only design your own book covers but you design covers for other writers as well. So which came first the writing or the art? Are you a self-taught artist/designer? Or did you study art?
JJ: Oh, ART!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE art. It’s a huge passion of mine and an incredible way to unwind. I wanted to be an artist since I was teeny tiny. I doodled and drew and eventually became a portrait painter. I actually have 67 portraits/paintings sold around the world today. I didn’t study for it. Honestly, the idea of the nude painting classes I would have to take, sort of creeped me out. Like writing, when I decide to develop a talent, nothing really stops me from doing so. I have this edge in me to grab hold and continue to perfect, throughout the mistakes, until I learn what to do.
You live in the country and you have a BIG family – 10 kids. WOW! Walk us through a typical day in your household – how do you balance a big family with your writing?
JJ: Holy cow, it’s so much fun! Seriously. If somebody would’ve told me I’d have a ton of kids when I was an adult I would’ve laughed. But now that they’re here, I don’t know how I could live without them. Families are amazing. And big families are just an extension of what working together as a team can really create. I’ve been blessed with hard working, multi-talented kids, who are NOT shy, and who aren’t afraid of life and changes. So we go through it all laughing a TON. It’s kind of the best way to face the junk life throws at you.
A typical day… 7am… we’re up doing family scripture study and prayer, then breakfast and getting the teens out the door for the bus. My 12-yr-old puts on his boots and heads out to the farm. His job is to water/feed animals. I help the younger two with their hair, while my hubby makes sure they’ve got all their homework in
place, and he starts on my morning marketing—he runs my website Jenni James. Then he drives the youngest ones to the elementary school at 8am . . . and (shhh!) when he gets back, we head back to sleep. By ten we’re up for good and I get online answering whatever emails have come in through my various publishers, editors, fans, etc. I have a brief meeting with my hubby discussing marketing and our day and then we both get to work. I write for an hour or two mingled in with research/social media/editing/etc.
After lunch I’ll jump back on and write another hour or two and then take a break once the kids get home from school. Then back for another hour of writing, while dad makes sure they do homework/chores/and begins dinner. We come together as a family for a few hours each night. And get kids bathed and ready for family prayer. Then off to bed. That’s when I can REALLY write. Nighttime is best for me. After another quick marketing meeting with the hubby, I jump back to the computer and will write sometimes three/four more hours. Then, because I’ve hardly seen my hubby, once I’ve met my writing goals (each book is different . . . but usually I manage 3500 words a day), he and I will snuggle on the couch and maybe watch a movie if it’s not too late, or just talk and share our day.
How many titles do you publish per year and do you make a good living as a writer? Is it a supplemental income or better?
JJ: I completely support our family on my book sales. And since I just bought my first house ever, all by myself last year, I’d say it’s better than supplemental. 😉 My husband has been a manager at Walmart (largest store in the US) for years and years, but we realized if he stayed home and helped with kids/food/chores/marketing, etc. I would have much more time to write and essentially make more than him. That hasn’t happened yet, but it sure is wonderful to have him home and worth the pay cut to do so. Life is much easier on us both. As for titles published it varies from year to year. This year I’m on a mission to get us completely out of debt. To do so, I’m challenging myself to write twenty books this year. So far I’m on my fourth since Jan. And right on schedule. The last couple of years I’ve only published about three a year and in 2013 I wrote thirteen books. So it really depends. That’s the best part of being self-employed, you choose what you’d like to do.
On average how much MONEY and TIME do you spend marketing and promotion/advertising one of your books?
My goal is to not spend anything on marketing. With the internet there are WAY TOO MANY wonderful ways to market for free these days. However, it does take time to build these places up. And up until a little while ago I was doing it all. Thank goodness I have help now. My hubby spends about 4-5 hours a day on solid building up my platform (followers on twitter, websites), website design, and researching new sites and ideas to use. I spend about 2-3 hrs a day with wattpad.com, answering fan mail, and interacting on facebook. But honestly, the best thing an author can do is write another book. Marketing is essential, and there’s lots of ways to do it, but if you’re spending all day marketing and putting off writing, then it’s not worth it. You’ve got to find a good balance.
You have many series on the go. Some of which are ONGOING. Tell us about your series and why you think series books are important?
It’s a numbers game. Logistically people are more apt to turn toward something that keeps giving and giving. A one-off book is nice, and every now and then you’ll see me produce something like that, but rarely. With each series book that I release, it has that much more potential to reach a whole new audience and bump all the other books in the series too. People will remember you much more, when there’s a series as well. It gives them a reason to buy the next book. Though I try and keep my books as standalone as possible (meaning, anyone can read any book and not have to start at the first.)
What is something memorable/wonderful that a reader/fan has done for you or said to you?
Wow. I don’t know. I’ve been really lucky. My fans are so awesome. I had one find me at a book signing and she brought me cupcakes and handmade stationary for my birthday. It was so cool! Though, probably the most awe-inspiring moment for me was the teen who wrote and confessed she had been about to kill herself one Sunday, but found my fairy tales in her school library that Friday and began to read. By the end of the weekend she had read so many, and become so happy that she didn’t follow through. She said my heroines faced such horrid things, but always saw the good and persevered. Ironically, that letter came to me at a dark time in my life when I was debating ending the fairy tale series early. After that I KNEW I had to keep writing. And I wasn’t just writing for me, I was writing for teens everywhere.
What is the most EFFECTIVE thing that you’ve done (or continue to do) that has proven successful in your career?
Persistence. Honestly. I’m not the type to give up easily and if I know I can do something and have a belief in myself to do it (like write an insane 20 books) I’ll work my butt off and do it. However, if you’d like to know about what works marketing wise… I believe becoming a featured author on wattpad.com is essential. You’ve got to think outside of the box and see what other angles there are.
What do you have coming down the road?
Lol! Um, 20 books . . . hehehe! Okay, so I’m super, super excited to start my Regency Romance line for adults (they’re still clean!) I’ve always been a huge fan of Regency and I know so much about the era—hey, I even have an embarrassing British accent that comes out from time-to-time, true story. Anyway, I hope to have 6 Regencies written by the end of the year. (my editor is actually working on my first: The Bluestocking and the Dastardly, Intolerable Scoundrel.) I’ve got a lot more fairy tales coming out this year. Two more of my Annie & Annie early reader chapter books coming out. As well as an Austen in Love: My Persuasion (book 3, of that series). Though I’ve JUST released Not Cinderella’s Type a modern Cinderella story, that is so fun!
I’ve seen some of your posts on facebook about your baking and canning – what is the most yummy thing you bake that the ENTIRE family can’t get enough of ? And would you share the recipe? PICTURES PLEASE! J
I LOVE TO COOK!! Love it. Okay. Um, this one is so hard. The kids are in bed right now so I can’t ask them. I know they love my Chicken Tater Tot Casserole. It’s one of those win-over-any-kid-and-dad-ever recipes. And it’s easy, so I’ll throw that one out there.
I make enough for a small army . . . so I’ll try and downsize to a 9×13 pan, you can cut it in half for an 8×8
Jenni’s Chicken Tater Tot Casserole
2 chicken breasts
2 cans of cream of chicken soup
1 ½ bags of frozen veggies (we prefer Normandy blend—carrots, broccoli, cauliflower) approx. 20 oz. total
Cheddar/Jack shredded cheese. Lots. (Probably like 8-14oz)
Paprika, garlic powder, salt, pepper
Dollop of oil (Tablespoon)
Bag of Tater tots
Cook the chicken breasts in a pan with oil, 2 tsp of paprika, 2 tsp of garlic powder, salt and pepper… and about ½ cup of water. Cook until nice and browned then chop up. Place the chicken into the 9×13 baking pan. Next add the cream of chicken soup, frozen veggies and stir it all up in the baking pan. Spread out as evenly as possible. Sprinkle yummy cheese on top. Then place the tater tots uniformly on the top in rows. Shake lightly more paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper all over the frozen goodness.
Place in oven at 425 until the tater tots are nice and crispy and cheese is bubbling in the middle. (usually about 45-55min)
It’s sooo good. The perfect meal for family, friends, co-worker who’s sick, or man-food. Seriously, men love this. Not sure why, they just do.