Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
Today, I’m pleased to welcome by Debut Author, Jen Petro-Roy, whose book, P.S. I Miss You, comes out TOMORROW March 6, 2018 from Feiwel & Friends
Hi, Jen, thanks for joining us today!
JR: Before we start, can you tell us about P.S. I Miss You and what prompted you to write it?
JPR: The broad inspiration first came from my local library’s used book sale. It’s one of my favorite events of the year (and so dangerous for my wallet) and a few years ago, I picked up an old copy of Dear Mr. Henshaw, which I hadn’t read since I was a kid. I loved how Beverly Cleary had written the book in letters and gave myself a challenge of doing the same. At that point, I was dealing with some of the same questions Evie has about religion and God, and had been talking with my best friend a lot about her experience growing up in our Catholic hometown and not coming out until she reached college. As I started writing, Evie’s sexual orientation gradually revealed itself to me.
JR: What was your writing journey to publication like?
JPR: I started writing seriously a little more than six years ago, after my oldest daughter was born. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and it was a way for me to have something for “me” in the haze of newborn life. I got an idea, wrote a book, wrote and rewrote, and actually got an agent. At that point, I thought I was all set. I was going to be published, right? Nope. Two books went on submission and didn’t sell, and for a while, I thought I’d never see my book on the shelves. I wanted to give up many times, but I couldn’t stop writing. P.S. I Miss You is my fifth completed book and was sold by my second agent, Brianne Johnson (who is absolutely incredible.) All of this is to say—don’t give up. You may have to write many books. You may switch agents. But keep writing. Keep dreaming.
JR: What did you do when you first heard that you were going to be published? How did you celebrate?
JPR: I was at work when I got the call from my agent that a publishing house was interested in publishing P.S. I Miss You. I’m a former teen librarian, and I was in the middle of setting up for a cookie decorating program. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone yet, so it was really hard to keep the news a secret from the kids who would (hopefully) be reading my book eventually! I somehow managed, though, and immediately called my husband to squeal as soon as I could. I think we bought a cake to celebrate. (They’re not just for birthdays, you know.)
JR: What’s changed in your life since you first knew you were going to be published?
JPR: On the surface, nothing dramatic has changed. I’m a mom of two kids, so I still deal with the morning routine, wiping noses, making lunches, tantrums, and so on. I think the biggest change is learning how to manage my time. I stay at home with my girls, so I get most of my writing done when in the few hours that my youngest is at preschool. So I have to be really conscious about staying on task and not getting distracted in that limited time.
JR: What authors influenced you?
JPR: Growing up, I was an obsessive reader of Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club and Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley Twins. Honestly, those were the books that inspired me to become an author. Through all of their adventures, I knew those characters so well that they became my best friends, too. I wanted—I want—to create characters so vivid that they come to life in my readers’ minds. In more recent years, I’ve been influenced by such amazingly talented authors as Rebecca Stead, Kate Messner, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, and Laurie Halse Anderson, authors who tackle serious, real-life issues in a warm way.
JR: What character in P.S. I Miss You do you most identify with and why?
JPR: I’d definitely have to say Evie, my protagonist. Like Evie, I’m naïve in a lot of ways and I like to believe the best of everyone. I’m often afraid to rock the boat, but I’m strong in my convictions. (She also has pretty fun tastes in movies—she’s a Rey fangirl.)
JR: An extension to the last question, was anything in the book inspired by something in your own life?
JPR: A lot of this book came from deep inside me, most notably Evie’s struggle with religion. I myself was raised in a Catholic home, and even though it was by no means as strict as Evie’s household, I still received a lot of those messages that I should act and think a certain way. The genesis of this book came around the time I started to question a lot of the beliefs I had been raised with, and simultaneously realized that it’s not only adults who question: kids do it just as often.
JR: P.S. I Miss You, deals with a difficult subject. How does that affect you, when you write?
JPR: I definitely do get caught up in the emotions of the characters when I write. It’s not so much that I cry (although I have on a few occasions), it’s more that I keep them with me a lot after I leave the keyboard. They become part of me, which is hard to shake when I’m starting a brand new book!
JR: What do you want readers to take away from this book after they read?
JPR: Above all, I want my readers to know that they are wonderful the way they are. Whether you like girls or boys or both, whether you believe in God or Allah or the Grand Power of Ice Cream, you are okay. I think that theme runs throughout all of my books—that we are all different, but we are all worthy and wonderful. It’s okay to question things and it’s okay to evolve. You are you, and that’s perfect.
JR: Did the story change in any way from when you started until you finished?
JPR: Oh, definitely. My first draft of P.S. I Miss You was about half the length of the book as it is now, and I expanded a lot upon Evie and Cilla’s relationship in the book, adding more of their backstory. A really big plot point was totally different in the early drafts, too. I liked those early drafts, but I’m so proud of the way my story has evolved over time.
JR: What are you working on next?
JPR: I’m currently working on edits for two books scheduled for release in early 2019, both also to be released from Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends. Good Enough is my second middle grade novel, about Riley, a twelve-year-old who is hospitalized for anorexia and trying to gain the motivation to recover amidst dealing with an overbearing mother, a gymnastics star sister, and a fellow patient intent on sabotaging her progress. You Are Enough is a nonfiction guide to self-esteem, body image, and eating disorder recovery, based partially on my own journey to recovery, and incorporates coping skills, how to deal with difficult situations that may arise for teens and tweens, and how to rebuild relationships and deal with our body-focused society. I’m also starting to draft my third middle grade novel!
JR: Any advice you can give new writers?
JPR: Keep writing! It sounds so trite, but it’s true. Like I mentioned, P.S. I Miss You is the fifth book I’ve written, and the first that will be published. Looking back, I still like things about those earlier manuscripts, but I can see how my writing has improved in so many ways. Keep writing and keep pushing through the rejections. Your time will come.
I thank you again for joining us here at Mixed-Up Files, and wish you the best of luck with P.S. I Miss You!
Jonathan Rosen is a transplanted New Yorker, who now lives with his family in sunny, South Florida. He spends his “free” time chauffeuring his kids. Jonathan is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country is really willing to accept responsibility. Jonathan is represented by Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency and his debut novel, Night of the Living Cuddle-Bunnies, is out now from SkyPony. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and HouseofRosen.com