The Mixed-Up Files is very excited to introduce Jen Malone and Gail Nall and their new series about four girls who run an event planning business. The first book in the series, You’re Invited, was released just last month.
The authors recently stopped by to answer some questions about themselves and their books.
MUF: I see that the two of you live pretty far from each other. How did you meet? And what made you decide to collaborate on a book?
Gail: In summer 2012, we were both querying and doing blog writing contests. We “met” on one of those blogs where we each had an entry (spoiler alert: my entry was my upcoming YA debut, Exit Stage Left, which was MG back then!). We each read the other’s entry, and then I think we left simultaneous comments to the effect of, “Hi! You write like me. Let’s exchange manuscripts!” So we did, and quickly became critique partners. Not long after that, Jen snagged an agent, and then about four months later, I also got an agent. Then Jen’s book, At Your Service, sold to Aladdin, and a few months later, my book, Breaking the Ice, also sold to the same editor at Aladdin. So, collaborating on a story was almost meant to be the next step! We write MG with comparable voices, were already with the same editor at the same house, and we knew we could get along! It was a nice surprise to find out that we both drafted chronologically, and that neither of us was particularly skilled in plotting before writing. (We had to fix that last one, quick!)
MUF: What sparked your idea of a group of friends becoming event planners?
Jen: I love to write wish-fulfillment books (At Your Service is about a girl who lives in a fancy hotel) and I also love books about girl entrepreneurs, so I basically just asked myself, “What business would I have loved to do with my friends when I was twelve?” Party planning was something tween girls could kick butt and allowed for lots of creativity on their part, but also offered plenty of potential for drama and hilarious mishaps, which Gail is a master at devising! I was rereading Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants around the same time and loved the four best friends each writing from her own perspective. We always knew the tight-knit friendship would be the real story in You’re Invited, and we pitched the book as a cross between Babysitter’s Club and Sisterhood, which became a touch point for us as we wrote.
MUF: Have either of you had any of your own event planning disasters?
Gail: Okay, so back in high school, my BFF and I decided to throw a party at her house. It was very last-minute, and it was really more of a way to invite the guy she liked over without specifically inviting him, if that makes any sense. So it’s 7:00, and no one’s there. 8:00, no one. About 9, the guy’s friend calls and says they’re coming over. So rather than look like the girls who threw a party no one came to, we raced around filling up plastic cups with various levels of Coke, crumbling food onto paper plates, and generally making the place look like there’d just been some amazing party these guys had missed out on. The funny thing is, I think they bought it.
Jen: I used to work as a Hollywood publicist and a big part of my job was planning premieres and special screenings, so I’ve had my share. One of the most memorable was when I had to spend a weekend hiding the boyfriend of an A-list movie star from the press… and from his wife (it actually forms the basis for my YA out this summer, called Map to the Stars). And then there was the time a movie star ground her stiletto heel into the foot of a fan who just wouldn’t give her space on the red carpet at a film festival, and I had to distract the press so they wouldn’t notice the commotion that caused. Good times! I will say, that job taught me to be a little too hyper-organized in order to avoid any potential for disaster- when it was time to plan my own wedding everyone in the bridal party got three-inch thick binders of instructions. I cringe every time I think about those, and I’m sincerely lucky to still have them as friends today!
MUF: What was your process when you wrote? Did each of you take two characters? Or did you each have a hand in writing from the point of view of all the girls?
Gail: The book is a rotating, four-person POV, so each chapter is narrated by one of the girls. We each claimed two characters and wrote “our” girls’ chapters, but there was a lot of input and revision based on the other person’s comments. The other person also had carte blanche to go through and fix her characters’ dialogue and quirks in the chapters she didn’t write. There was a lot of “blah blah [insert Becca-speak here] blah blah”-type notes throughout the first draft. If it was something more than that, we usually wrote long margin comments to each other, suggesting changes to the scene that would better fit the characters and their motivations. Co-writing is sort of like working with a built-in critique partner!
We actually wrote a three-part blog series about the whole process (from idea to publication), which you can find the first installment of here: https://chasingthecrazies.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/behind-the-curtain-what-happens-when-you-co-write-a-book/
MUF: I love how each girl’s chapter starts with something that relates to her, e.g., Sadie’s chapters always start with To-Do Lists; Lauren’s start with definitions; Vi’s start with recipes; and Becca’s start with horoscopes. If you were characters in your own book, how would your chapters start?
Gail: A list of the books in my to-be-read stack. Wait, that would take about fifty pages to list . . . So maybe I’d be a Sadie and have my endless to-do list that lives on my phone. I have reminders to “buy groceries” and “clean cat litter boxes,” because seriously, who has time to remember stuff like that? 😉
Jen: This is a great question! Mine would probably start with a quirky or inspiring quote because I’m a total sucker for them (even if I never remember them later!) 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Brown’s Book of Precepts by R.J. Palacio is basically my nirvana. It would definitely not be a recipe, like Vi’s chapters have, because I can only cook pizza bagels and oatmeal.
MUF: I see that You’re Invited Too is already in the works. When will that be out? And do you expect to do more books together?
Gail and Jen: You’re Invited Too will be out on February 2nd, 2016! It was so much fun to write about the girls’ continuing adventures as they take on their first huge event (a wedding with a Bridezilla). We’d love to write more books for the RSVP girls, so fingers crossed!
Thanks for such great answers! Congratulations to both of you and thanks for stopping by!
Gail and Jen are giving away a signed copy of You’re Invited. To be eligible, just leave a comment below. A winner will be announced on Tuesday, June 9. (You must live in the United States or Canada to enter the giveaway.)
Read more about the authors here:
Jen Malone writes books for tweens and teens. Her debut At Your Service published with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX in 2014, and her new series, You’re Invited (Simon & Schuster), co-written with Gail Nall, launched with Book #1 in 2015. She has three young adult titles forthcoming with HarperCollins, beginning with Map to the Stars in Summer 2015. Jen lives outside Boston with her husband and three children, teaches at Boston University, loves school visits, and has a “thing” for cute hedgehog pictures. You can learn more about her and her books at www.jenmalonewrites.com.
Gail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail is the author of the middle grade novel Breaking the Ice, and is the co-author of You’re Invited (both Aladdin/S&S, 2015). Her upcoming young adult debut is Exit Stage Left (EpicReads Impulse/HarperCollins, 9/8/15), and two more middle grade novels, You’re Invited Too and Out of Tune, will follow from S&S in 2016. You can find her online at www.gailnall.com and on Twitter as @gailecn.
Dorian Cirrone has written several books for children and teens. Her middle-grade novel, The First Last Day, which takes place on the Jersey Shore, will be out in May 2016 from (Aladdin/S&S). You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @DorianCirrone. She gives writing tips and does occasional giveaways on her blog at: http://doriancirrone.com/welcome/blog/