It is our pleasure to have writer/illustrator Jennifer Hotes, author of the YA suspense novel, Four Rubbings with us today.
What is your book’s genre/category?
Four Rubbings is a crossover novel. It’s YA/mystery/suspense/thriller and has been picked up by a number of book clubs.
Jennifer, please describe what the story/book is about.
On Halloween night, when the barrier between the living and the dead is as thin as muslin, fourteen-year-old Josie, haunted by the death of her mother, leads her best friends through an old cemetery to make tombstone rubbings. Convinced she will come away with proof of her mother’s spirit at long last, the evening takes a very different turns.
Four graves are rubbed that set off events that will shatter their mundane lives. As the teens struggle to resolve the mysteries left unfinished by the dead, they’re left wondering if the graves would’ve been better off left alone.
How did you come up with the title?
There’s no creativity to it, (smile.) Four teens create four tombstone rubbings.
What is the reason you wrote this book?
Borne of a nightmare I had five years ago, the book was there in the images that clung to me when I woke up. I mentioned the dream to my sister-in-law, Stacy, and she encouraged me to write it down.
As the years went on and I had to table the project for lack of time, my teen daughter, Ellie, told me to finish the book. She said, “Only you can write this story.” And I think that’s great advice for all writers, actually.
What is your favorite part of writing?
Well, my favorite part is probably the thing that drives those around me most batty, but immersing into a fictional world – into the heads of my characters so completely that I lose myself. It’s tricky when I reemerge from the fiction world because often I carry the traits of the scene I’m working through. If it’s dark or tense, my husband will point upstairs where my art loft is and tell me to finish the chapter.
What is the most challenging aspect of writing?
I think that the attention it takes is along the lines of a newborn baby. You have to shut everything out to enter into this world. It’s a muscle that needs to be developed, and can be developed with consistent practice.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Well, no surprise to you, I’m sure, but Stephen King. I ate him up as a young teen and on into my adulthood. I adore Kaye Gibbons and count her novel Ellen Foster as one of my favorite books of all time. Maya Angelou is another favorite author, and I’d lump her in with Anne Tyler because both of them have strong voices and wise words.
What authors or person(s) have influenced you?
I’m an illustrator by trade, so when I decided to write Four Rubbings, I needed to learn how to go about it. I read “Novel Writing for Dummies,” but that didn’t help. Then, my step-mom, Kate Erickson, recommended I read Stephen King’s On Writing. It is amazing. I found out that I’m not strange to refuse to outline, in fact, King thinks outlining is a cardinal sin. His approach is to create rich, layered characters, then set them into a situation. Your job as a writer is to watch them react and “journal” the results. That’s what I do. Thank you, Mr. King.
Favorite place to write?
My art loft. It sits above the front door to the house, has three floor-to-ceiling windows and no door. The no door part is aggravating at times, but it has been called the best space in the house by all my nieces and nephews. It’s full of color, crammed with art – some created by me – but mostly made by others. It’s a great writing space.
Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?
My struggle is to balance social media with writing. It takes two very different sides of my personality to do each task. Social media means I need to be an extrovert – happy, cheerful, witty. And writing demands that I shut out the world, turn off the radio and dig internally for the characters, the world, the plot. So, that’s been my toughest challenge, learning to embrace my Jekyll and Hydeness and let one feed the other.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?
I recognized that I’d gone as far as I could go with my book. I needed my editor to swoop in and slice at the words with a machete, demand more from me as a writer, and that’s just what Toddie Downs did.
Any advice for writers looking to get published?
Well, be aware of your internal dialogue. Are you beating yourself up? Telling yourself that this isn’t worth doing? Become aware of that toxic thinking and then work to stop it. Replace the down talk with something shiny and positive. Sure, it’ll feel fake at first, but repeat it, and repeat it. Change your thinking and you can make anything a reality.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
People burned crosses in our lawn when I was a baby because my dad was trying to change the culture of a school district that had diversity but wasn’t yet embracing it. My father did amazing work, that resonates to this day in the district but at the time we were threatened and bullied.
What’s next for you?
I’ve pitched a children’s book to an agent, so keep your fingers crossed. Also, pinch me, because I’m ghost writing a book for a Grammy-award winner. I am also hard at work on the second book in the stone witch series; Four Rubbings was book one, so it ends with a cliffhanger.
Thank you, Jennifer! Good luck and happy writing!