I recently finished the fantastic debut novel by Jennifer Jabaley - LIPSTICK APOLOGY. Think Gossip Girl but through the eyes of a believable, likable, not overly mature teen. I laughed out loud (and cried) in several places - truly enjoyed it. This is one of those books you will finish with a satisfied 'that was awesome!'
Today, I talk with Jennifer about her new book which comes out THIS WEEK!
Q. I think most people will be surprised to hear that you are actually DR. Jabaley - an Optometrist. How did your interests turn to writing?
A. I am an eye doctor - and so many people find it interesting when they learn that I have written a novel. It's true that people in the medical field tend to be very left brained, but I've always been split down the middle - part logical and analytical, but equally creative and (as my husband says) melodramatic.. As soon as I graduated from optometry school I really began nuturing my creative side. I took a lot of painting classes and tried different craft projects, but the thing I wanted to do most was write. It scared me, to be honest, this desire to write a novel because I felt so ill prepared. But I just thought, hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And the whole experience has been wonderful. My optometry career gives me stability and precision and socialization, but the writing lets me be fun and creative and full of emotion. It completely balances me. Of course time management is an issue. . . :)
Q. Can you share your journey to publication?
A. I toyed around with the idea of writing for quite awhile before I actually committed to it. When I stumbled across the idea for LIPSTICK APOLOGY I finally made the resolve to complete a manuscript. From start to finish it took me about a year. It was the fall of 2007 when I felt my manuscript was ready to submit for agent representation. When researching literary agents my methodical side kicked in. I pulled books off my shelves that I loved or that I felt were similar in tone to my manuscript. I searched the acknowledgement section to see if the author thanked their agent. Most often they did. Then I checked to make sure that agent represented young adult and if they did I sent out a query letter mentioning which book it was that they represented that I loved. I think this method worked very well because it narrowed my target search. I was prepared to wait, but within days I had several requests for manuscripts. Then, I had several rejections, but also several of the agents gave lengthy revision notes and wanted to see the manuscript back. So over the winter I revised then resubmitted to some of the same agents and a few new agents. In March I received a call from Tricia Davey of Sanford J. Greenburger with an offer of representation. Within a month we had the manuscript out to nine publishing houses and in May I received an offer from Lexa Hillyer at Razorbill. I feel so fortunate that my journey to publication was pretty smooth.. From the time I submitted to agents to the time LIPSTICK APOLOGY hits bookshelves is 21 months - and that, for the publishing world, is pretty fast.
Q. What was the inspiration for Lipstick Apology?
A. My sister inspired this story. Several years ago she and her husband took their first trip without their children and she was a nervous wreck. Being that I'm their designated legal guardian in the event of an untimely death, and being that at the time of her trip I was single with no children of my own, I think she was beginning to panic, thinking I would have no clue what to do with her two sons. The night before her flight she kept calling giving me updates in the event of a plane crash. She told me where the safety deposit box was, where the will was, where the spare key, the car key, the kids baseball uniforms, her son's special toy - it was getting comical. After the seventh or eight call I turned to my husband (boyfriend at the time) and said, "The plane would be going down and she would whip out her lipstick and start outlining the boys bedtime routine on a tray table." And my husband said, "That would be a great book." So I wrote down "lipstick on a tray table" on a post it note and stashed it away. Three years later when we were moving I came across that note and the inspiration was born.
Q. In Lipstick Apology you describe New York like a native and yet I know you call the North Georgia Mountains home. What's the connection and how did you get it so right? (This coming from a non-New Yorker.)
A. Thank you for that - I've never lived in New York and worried the setting would not come off as authentic. I grew up in New Jersey about an hour from Manhattan and I would spend summer vacation with my Nana who lived in Queens. She would take us into the city often. But when I originally wrote LIPSTICK APOLOGY I had the story set on the Upper East Side - the area I was most familiar with. After Razorbill acquired the manuscript they requested I change to a different location in Manhattan because Gossip Girls was set on the UES and they were afraid it would be too similar. My editor suggested the West Village. I had no experience with the West Village so I was worried. My mother works in lower Manhattan, so she did some research for me - sent me the subway schedules, sent the Village Voice, and I did a lot of research online. I submitted my final revisions to my editor in October then that December I flew home for the holidays. I went into the city and walked all the streets I wrote about and stopped at all the places featured in the book and felt like I had such intimacy with each place after so much research.
Q. You did such a wonderful job of creating characters I absolutely fell in love with - I wanted to hang out with all of them! Okay, well, most of them. Some of them were pretty snarky too. But that Anthony - what a hottie! Is he inspired by anybody you know? And his family's bakery - does it actually exist somewhere? (Because I really want to try those croissants.)
A. Originally I think Anthony was inspired by my brother in law because he is Italian and grew up working in a deli. But as I wrote him, Anthony just sort of morphed into his own, sweet character. Most of the places in the book are real, but Anthony's family bakery is made up.
Q. You created such believable characters. Emily seemed spot on for her age - not the over-mature teen we sometimes hit in Urban YA. So many of your characters were just plain good people at heart - truly. Did you have an idea of what you wanted to achieve with them when you were writing?
A. Oh thank you. You know, sometimes I watch T.V. or movies now and the teenagers seem so...mature to me. When I was sixteen I was still so impressionable and naive and unsophisticated. Life at sixteen was about wanting good friends, wanting to fit in, wanting a boyfriend, wanting your family to be normal and not embarrass you. When I first started writing this story I really paid attention to the teenagers I saw as patients at work. And the thing was, they may dress more sophisticated and wear more make up and carry fancy cell phones, but deep down when you talk to them - those simple basic wants are still all there.
Q. I have to say, when I turned the last page, I was so happy for where Emily ended up in her life. And I was convinced she would eventually meet some of the other pivotal characters. But I was sorry to have to say good-bye for now. Any chance of a sequel? And if not, what's coming next?
A. Hmm, not sure. I've talked to my editor about not necessarily a sequel, but a maybe a spin off. But we're still just talking. Right now I'm at work on my second book - I'm branching into adult fiction - writing a story about a college age girl who has a quarter life crisis. It's been really fun.
Q. Jennifer, it was hard to believe this was your first novel. You sucked me in with skill and humor and I look forward to more of your work in the future!
A. Thank you so much, E! I appreciate all your kind words and support! Thanks for the opportunity to have this chat! Jen