So much for being an introvert. Many of us who follow careers into writing do so partially because we are very happy sitting alone in front of a computers for hours at a time. Well, after your book releases, get ready to start standing in front of crowds, being the center of attention, and telling large audiences all sorts of information about yourself.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacqueline Friedland. Jacqueline holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a JD from NYU Law School. She practiced as an attorney in New York before returning to school to receive her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in New York with her husband, four children, and two overly pampered dogs. Her new book, That’s Not a Thing will be released April 14.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Nearly a decade ago, when I decided to get pregnant with my fourth child in six years, I realized that returning to a career in full-time legal practice was probably not in the cards for me. Rather than looking at the family building as an obstacle, I decided to view it as an opportunity. I had been working on a novel on the side of my various legal jobs for years, but within days of my positive pregnancy test, I began to take it much more seriously. I applied to MFA programs, ready to begin a full-time work-from-home career as a writer. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Here’s the thing about writing fiction. The most interesting things that happen to me usually happen inside my head. The director of the Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence, where I got my degree, once told me that until you’re crazy enough to start seeing your characters as real people, you’re not really a writer. Apparently, I have arrived. I often reach a point where my characters are so real to me that I can feel them directing the outcomes in various chapters, scenes, or even the whole book. I will outline a plot and expect the story to go one way, and then out of nowhere, a character will do something I never expected. Perhaps the most interesting story that has happened to me as a writer is being able to sit back and watch my characters lead me through their own trajectories, sometime leaving me feeling as though I had almost nothing to do with it!
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
The biggest challenge that I face as a writer, something that I think many writers struggle with, is finding a way to protect your writing time. As a woman who was working as a part-time attorney when my children were at their youngest, I was very available to help with school functions and other volunteering. As I began to devote my time seriously to writing, that free time dissipated. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult for many friends and acquaintances, and sometimes even family, to understand why I can’t just say yes to their requests for lunch, coffee, helping at the book fair, etc. They think I should just be able to write “later.” If you don’t safeguard your time, “later” often doesn’t come. I’ve learned to block out days and times for my writing and to simply say no more often. Sometimes I don’t even tell people it’s because I’m working. I might say I have an appointment, which others seem more willing to accept. But guess what? My appointment is with my laptop. The story I can share about this isn’t one episode but more general. I’ve noticed that when you tell people no, they accept it, and they love you anyway. We must be allowed to be busy.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m not sure I’d call it a mistake, but one of the funnier/most fun things that has happened to me in my career was when I participated in a speaking series during Alumni Weekend at the University of Pennsylvania, where I went to college. I was back on campus for my 20th reunion, and I had been asked to take part in something called “The 60-Second Lectures.” Several speakers from different backgrounds would each be given sixty seconds to present a talk on any topic of their choice. The other participants were professors at the university, current students, and fellow alumni, and I thought it’d be great fun. When I returned to campus, it felt so fabulous to be together with all my old friends on our old stomping grounds. Of course we were out at the bars reminiscing until the wee hours of the morning. I knew it would be hard to wake up early the next morning to present my sixty-second lecture, but I figured it was only one minute of speaking, and I could handle it. I rolled out of bed while my old roommates slept off their late nights, did my best to cover my dark circles, and showed up at Houston Hall for the 8 am start. What I didn’t know until about three minutes before I actually stood up at the podium was that this was a contest. Still, I took a deep breath and figured I’d just get through it, hangover and all. I spoke about my first book, Trouble the Water, which takes place a few years before the start of the Civil War. I told the audience a bit about the secret messages that were contained in slave hymns from the era. To my great astonishment, I didn’t embarrass myself, but in fact, I won the contest and even came home with a medal!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The most interesting thing that I’m working on right now is figuring out how to promote the upcoming release of THAT’S NOT A THING in the Coronavirus era. I was slated to have a number of public events, and now it seems pretty much everything relating to the book tour will be canceled. I’m excited to see how we can get readers to stay enthusiastic and engaged even from a distance. I’m a huge fan of innovation and adaptability, and I think we are all up to the challenge.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
THAT’S NOT A THING is a New York City love story. It features a young woman named Meredith Altman who is struggling to find her way both professionally and romantically. As a young attorney caught between her first great love and a path she thinks could lead to a better future, she has much to figure out. You’ll have to read the book to find out more!
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
The main empowering lesson that I would like readers to take away after finishing THAT’S NOT A THING is that the way we handle the circumstances fate doles out to us is what either destroys us or builds character to make us stronger. I hope readers will finish the book filled with a sense of both optimism and motivation.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
- You must be willing to write and re-write and re-write. When I wrote my first novel, Trouble the Water, I finished the manuscript and knew that it wasn’t good enough. I edited and edited it to the point that I worried I was doing more harm than good. Eventually, I put the whole thing in a drawer and started writing the book over again from page 1. The result was something I was proud to put out into the world, but I never would have gotten there if not for all the time and effort I had spent on the previous drafts.
- Whatever genre you’re writing in, you will have to research. My first novel was historical fiction, which obviously requires a great deal of research. THAT’S NOT A THING takes place in NYC from 2008–2018, so since I’m a New Yorker, you’d think I wouldn’t have to research much, right? Ha. Multiple characters ended up having medical issues that necessitated an enormous amount of research on my part. You also never realize the minute details that you’re going to have to confirm before you can really finish a scene. For example, several scenes in the book take place at Columbia University, a campus with which I am pretty familiar. Even so, I couldn’t place my characters in certain areas of actual dorms or the Butler Library without confirming layouts, operating hours, rules pertaining to food, and more.
- You have to be willing to self-promote. Unfortunately, no one is going to know how great your book is unless you get the word out. Even with the help of your publisher and your publicist, you still have to be willing to toot your own horn, whether it’s posting self-congratulatory messages on social media when you get a high profile positive review or calling bookstores and various other organizations that might help promote your book. Once enough people read the book, word-of-mouth will start to do its thing for you, but it’s up to you to get the book off the ground.
- So much for being an introvert. Many of us who follow careers into writing do so partially because we are very happy sitting alone in front of a computers for hours at a time. Well, after your book releases, get ready to start standing in front of crowds, being the center of attention, and telling large audiences all sorts of information about yourself. The good news is that people are generally pretty excited and supportive when hearing from authors, but it does take some getting used to. My first book event was attended by approximately 150 of my friends and family, which was both wonderful and horrifying!
- Persist. Writing is a time-consuming activity that requires a great deal of commitment. The biggest stumbling block to writing a book is often just getting a project finished. It took me ten years from when I started writing my first book to when I finally had it published, but I am so glad that I had the fortitude to stick with it.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
I am extremely self-disciplined. When I commit to something in my mind, I tend to stick with it. I designate certain days of the week as my writing days, and barring a true emergency, I do not waiver or allow myself to miss them. Of course, I take vacations and the like, but once I make a schedule for myself, it becomes my personal law.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I draw inspiration from all sorts of fiction. I am an equal opportunist when it comes to reading literary fiction or commercial fiction. I believe they have both have so much to offer. I feel particularly inspired when I find a plot-heavy, commercial novel where sentence after sentence is expertly crafted. At the moment, I’m thinking in particular of Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid and Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson, but there are really so many wonderful examples of books like this.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Helping out others in your line of work! I’ve been blessed to discover an author community that is so extremely supportive. We are constantly promoting the work of other authors and trying to spread the word about new books on behalf of other authors. This community props each other up, attends each other’s events, posts on social media to help each other out. Technically, I suppose we’re all competitors, but it really just doesn’t feel like that. Imagine what the world could be like if this collaborative attitude could become rampant in other industries. We should all be helping each other to succeed!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow me everywhere!! I love to interact on social media. You can find me on Insta, Facebook and Twitter at the following handles:
Facebook: Jacqueline Friedland Author
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!