I was lucky enough to read Jenn Alexander’s debut novel, The Song of the Sea, before it came out. (There are perks to this job and we take them all!) It is such a wonderful book about overcoming grief and the challenge of loving someone who isn’t ready to be loved.
I sat down with Jenn today to talk about her experience at the GCLS Writing Academy, her debut novel, and what’s next.
I’m super in love with The Song of the Sea. Was this the book you worked on during your time in the academy?
Thank you! I’m really excited for its release. It was actually one of two that I worked on during my time at the academy. Having received the Sandra Moran scholarship, I was lucky to have a mentor for the full year. I wrapped this one up to send out for publication about halfway through the year, and then started on a second novel.
And who was your mentor?
Susan X. Meagher.
She is amazing. What was it like working with such brilliance?
She was wonderful to work with. She gave such great feedback and insight into the characters I was trying to develop and the pacing of the plot. And besides giving great feedback, she was super kind and easy to work with. Getting feedback can be scary, but she was always really supportive and encouraging.
Having a good mentoring experience can help ease an author into the pain of submissions and publishing. Can you talk a little about that experience?
Honestly, it has all been a bit of a dream. I submitted my novel to Bywater Books in February last year and was absolutely terrified to be sending it out into the world for possible rejection. I was so thrilled when I got the email acceptance. I still have it framed on my writing desk. Then I got paired with Rachel Spangler for content edits. She had long been one of my favourite authors, and so it was great to have the opportunity to learn from her. She was very constructive and supportive throughout the editing process. I found the editing process to be really fun, and I enjoyed seeing my novel grow into its final product. I know some people hate the editing stages, but that was when my book finally felt like it was becoming the story that I’d always envisioned it could be.
I remember being so excited for you when you were accepted. But you have a different kind of “new release” coming soon. Do you want to gush?
I do have another “new release” coming very soon! I’m due with my first baby on July 4th! I’ve always wanted children, and this was something that I decided to pursue on my own after finishing grad school. It just so ended up that my book is scheduled for its wide release on June 25th, and my baby’s due date is a mere 9 days later, so it has all come together to be a very exciting summer for me.
Since you’re Canadian, you should try to have your baby on July 1st for Canada Day instead of the Fourth of July.
I’ll see what I can do!
Motherhood changes everything. Do you have a plan to finish the next book or are you going to take a wait and see approach?
I actually do have a plan for finishing the next book. I’ve already signed a contract with Bywater for my second book, which was the book that I worked on in the second half of the year for the writing academy. It’s a really lighthearted and fun romance novel. I’m starting to jump into the edits for that novel now, and I’m hoping that my brain won’t turn too much into mush once baby gets here.
You will be amazing. And you have some excellent support. Speaking of, your class was a close-knit group. Do you still stay in touch with your former classmates?
The community built through the writing academy is one of the best parts. I’m still in touch with some of them and hope to keep in contact with classmates as we go forward. I’ll be the first in line to buy all of their books when they come out! We had a really talented group!
It’s important to have access to a writing community, even if it’s long-distance. Do you have any local writing colleagues?
I have a really great group of writer friends locally. I meet fairly regularly with friends to go for coffee and write. It’s great motivation to write with others. We usually get coffee and chat for awhile, and then write for an hour or so, and then chat some more. We’ll also bounce ideas off one another, and occasionally give each other feedback on sections of writing.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
Start with the first page. Then write a second.
I remember when I was in high school, I had an English teacher who was talking about books and how intricate and complex they are, and he made a comment about how authors put everything in books intentionally, and that every details serves a purpose and adds to the layers of depth to a story. I was in awe of authors… and I thought “I can never be one.”
For me, at least, I’ve found that the only real requirement to being a writer is to write. Your book can acquire layers and depth and that component of intentionality as you go and in revisions. I don’t think you need to be some magical all-seeing story wizard in order to be a writer. It took me years to unlearn that.
What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
“Write every day.”
There’s this idea out there that “real writers” write all the time. That they make writing a habit so that they can’t not write. That the only way to write a novel and to become an author is to write daily. I wasted way too much time feeling guilty about not writing daily and then continuing to not write because of that guilt. I’ve finally started practicing more self-compassion when it comes to my writing. I write when I can. Maybe if I wrote more regularly, I’d finish projects faster, sure. But also, “The Song of the Sea” wouldn’t be the book that it is if I hadn’t taken the time to sit with the book, to think on it, and to let it grow outside of days when I sat down at the computer. I’m going to embrace my haphazard “I’ll write when I can” schedule.
That’s so important. I’ve had to unlearn that myself. I was finding if I didn’t write every day, I was shaming myself over it. Writing Academy instructor Karelia Stetz-Waters finally told me that one of her writing friends said, “Writing is like a stream that sometimes has to go underground to be purified. When it comes back to the surface, it’s better.”
Exactly. I want to bring my best to the surface.
Of course, we always want to know—What books are on your nightstand right now?
Right now, I’ve got “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” by Rachel Joyce sitting on my nightstand ready for me to get started. It’s a companion book to her other novel “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,” which I absolutely loved. I’ve only ever been able to read one book at a time, so that’s it for now.
Is there anything you want us to know that we haven’t asked?
Yes, check me out on Bywater Books homepage. https://www.bywaterbooks.com/jenn-alexander/
You can find Jenn’s book on the Bywater Books website at https://www.bywaterbooks.com/product/the-song-of-the-sea-by-jenn-alexander/
On Amazon or at your favorite local bookstore. (Just ask them to order it!)
The GCLS Writing Academy is a yearlong intensive program for new or relatively new writers who have written at least part of a novel. In this course, students will learn the critical components of quality writing. The Writing Academy goes beyond craft of writing and takes students through all aspects of writing and publishing a novel.