Book Blog: CREWEL

CREWEL was one of my favorite YA's from a few years ago, and the second book in the trilogy just came out last October. I first heard about CREWEL at BEA, where it was presented on the YA Book Buzz Panel. I tore through my ARC copy (y'all know I love debuts) and eventually had the opportunity to chat one-on-one with Gennifer about the book and her creative process. If you're in need of personal or professional inspiration, I hope this blog post brightens your week. 

If you've ever...

*felt invisible.

*been through some of life's toughest challenges.

*wondered when it was going to be your time.

*found yourself through a creative outlet.

*wanted to write a book but didn't know how to start.

then this is a post you don't want to miss. I chatted with Gennifer back in 2012, when her debut CREWEL hit the shelves, and we talked about her writing process, work-family-life balance, her journey to publication, and so much more. Here's our archived interview with more details about her debut novel CREWEL... But also check out the second book in the trilogy, ALTERED, which released in the fall of 2013. 

CREWEL (FARRAR, STRAUS, & GIROUX; October 16th, 2012)

"Incapable. Awkward. Artless.

That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: she wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen as a Spinster is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to embroider the very fabric of life. But if controlling what people eat, where they live and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and wove a moment at testing, and they’re coming for her—tonight.

Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her Dad’s stupid jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because once you become a Spinster, there’s no turning back."

Author Gennifer Albin 

JK: I first heard about Crewel from your editor at BEA this year, and it's primed to be a break-out YA novel of 2012.... When did the novel concept first come to you, and what was your writing process like during those early drafts? Why YA?

GA: My editor, Janine, did a lovely job on that panel. BEA was a whirlwind experience.

The concept for Crewel first came to me late summer of 2010, and I wrote the initial prologue that evening. I played with it for a few days, writing a very different version of the story that featured two narrators. But it wasn't going anywhere, and after I accidentally fried my computer with a cup of water, I just put it aside and started over from the prologue with a whole new world and narrative structure.

I think I write YA because I rediscovered my love of reading by picking up middle grade and young adult novels. I'd been working on various degrees in literature for so many years that reading became work. I loved academics, but academic reading was not great escapism. I know from experience that whether you're young or older if you wander into the teen section, you're looking to be swept away. I wanted to sweep people away with my book.

JK: I heard Crewel started as a NaNo novel.... I love NaNo! But, alas, I've never been a 50,000 word "winner." [JK's note: NaNo is short for National Novel Writing Month. Learn more here.]

GA: NaNo is tricky. It's so easy to get behind or frustrated. I think the reason NaNo worked for me is that I'm very competitive. But seriously, it's an amazing community with lots of support and resources for first time writers.

[JK's note: read more about Gennifer's NaNo experience on this blog.] 

JK: Yes, the NaNo writing community always feels so electric during the month of November. So, are you pretty aware of word count in general, then, when you're writing? Do you try to keep chapters/scenes at a certain length for pacing, or attempt a daily word goal target, or are your writing sessions more organic in nature? I'm sadly obsessed with word count when I write.

GA: I pretty much always have a target goal for the day, but I don't beat myself up if I don't reach it.

One thing I've realized recently is that my chapters are much longer than typical YA novels, because mine are always multi-scene, I'm currently playing with tossing in a few shorter chapters to see how it reads. I think pacing is one of those things a writer needs to continue to play with each book.

JK: Your dedication to craft and creation through some of the toughest life challenges (unemployment, bankruptcy) is so inspiring. What kept you writing through bouts of self-doubt, lack of motivation or time, fatigue, and so on?

GA: I think my book was the one thing I could control. I never expected my book would, in many ways, become my salvation both personally and financially. It was something I did for me, and I certainly struggled with guilt for taking those hours every night. My husband was very supportive as well. He's a voracious reader, so when he read some early chapters and told me I had to keep writing, it boosted my confidence. During the low times, he was the one who pushed me out the door to go write. He always believed in the book, but one of my favorite memories is when we got the first publishing offer and he said "And Mollie [my agent] is sure they mean thousands not hundreds." Neither of us expected how well-received it would be, or how much it would change our lives.

[JK's note: Read Gennifer's story about how she signed with agent Mollie Glick here.]

JK: You're the founder of a wildly popular website, The Connected Mom. As moms, taking care of ourselves – our dreams, bodies, spirits, mental health – is often shelved. How did writing this novel make you more connected with you... and your family... your world? Did the creative release help you in unexpected ways?

GA: A long time ago I wrote a post on my blog about being the vanishing woman. It was written while I was maneuvering the agent process. I had told my mother-in-law several months before that I felt invisible. I didn't meet people's eyes at the store, no one held open doors, I had no real friends. By the time I finished the book, that had all changed. I'd found myself again through my characters. When I was weighing offers of representation, my mother-in-law called and told me I wasn't invisible anymore. That's when it clicked, how much had changed intrinsically during the process.

JK: I can definitely relate to the "vanishing woman" concept. Being a mother is so rewarding, but oftentimes we don't give ourselves permission to fuel our own dreams, grow our own relationships.... and it can be easy to lose ourselves... I love hearing how your reclaimed your identity through a positive, creative outlet. In what ways do you foster creativity at home with your kids? Any favorite creative activities and excursions?

GA: My 5 year-old is an avid artist. It's a great distraction when he's getting a little too wild at night to point him in the direction of the drawing supplies. I think he has true talent, and we talk a lot about his creations and the stories behind his pictures. My two year-old is starting to love to draw, too. Otherwise, it's mostly about the books in our house. Both my kids love stories, and I think nothing fosters creativity like great storytelling.

JK: You mention the power of characters, as a writer. And as readers, characters make us care. What resources helped you create dynamic, layered characters in your book? We talked the other day about the villain as an onion. Do you draw, chart out, or create documents to keep track of your character arcs?

GA: I do have charted out arcs for each character. In fact, I often have multiple charts for one character. Adelice, the protagonist of Crewel, has a plot arc, an emotional/personal revelations arc, and then arcs for each of her major relationships. This way I can look at her and say, "this arc is underdeveloped, where can I add a scene or revelation or interior that builds that relationship for her?"

If that sounds like a lot of work, I recommend drafting for a while first. I tried recently to do this pre-writing a draft and it made me throw things across the room. When I reached the midway point of the draft, I could see everything much more clearly and that's when I started, making my Arc Charts.

JK: How long did you work on your book before submitting to agents?

GA: I didn't really get going on the book until November of 2010. By the end of NaNo, I had a very messy draft. I think I did about 2 more big revisions, taking the book from 50k to 78k. I was planning one more revision when I did theWriteOnCon event that garnered my first offer. So the idea percolated for about 2 months, and then it was about 6 months of intense writing and revision before I submitted.

JK: I hear you've recently turned in (or finished?) the sequel to Crewel... How are you able to squeeze in precious writing time with two young children at home?! Help me. (UPDATE: The second book, ALTERED, is now on shelves!)

GA: I'm actually still editing it, and to be honest, it's a constant evolution. Some weeks work time and family time flow seamlessly back and forth, and other weeks its a struggle to be on top of everything. There's no real balance in my life! My son is in Kindergarten now, and my daughter is attending preschool, so I do have that time, but I'm constantly amazed at how much being a writer involves business and publicity and marketing. I've learned to be strict with my goals and to lean on writer friends for support. Like exercising, writing a novel can be easier when someone else is holding you accountable.

JK: I agree, having writer friends for support, encouragement, and advice is so important! Are you part of a critique group? What have you learned about yourself as a writer through those workshops?

GA: I have critique partners, but we don't have a formal meeting, simply because we're all over the country! One thing I have learned is that each of my critique partners brings something vital to the process. Having worked on two books with them now, I know who to go to for help if I'm having a particular issue .

JK: As you prepare for the release of your highly anticipated debut novel – one that was sold at auction between five houses – what's going through your mind? What's been the biggest surprise of this whole journey?

GA: That it's actually here? Seriously, it's hard to wrap your mind around. I'm sort of reminded of the time before I got married. All the same stress, anticipation, happiness, fear that I felt then, I feel now. I'll admit that I get stuck worrying about expectations a lot, but there's so much to do between finishing the second book and launching Crewel that thankfully I have to snap out of it pretty quickly.

JK: It's so easy to censor yourself as a writer when thinking about critics, isn't it? In the early stages of my own work, I struggle with self-editing all the time. What helped you release yourself to your characters and their world during those first and second-draft writing sessions?

It was a lot easier when writing the first book to let go. At that time my writing was only for me. I'm tinkering with an entirely new project and there's a similar relaxation when working on it. But I think the sequels to Crewel will also be harder since I'm working with established characters and worlds.

It hurts sometimes when you get a bad review, but you will really have to let it roll off your back and look forward and reread Beth Revis's great post about bad reviews. It's true, no one loves every single book. I don't like every book that I attempt to read, even sometimes ones that I finish! But I realized recently that a lot of times the things one negative reviewer hated, another reviewer loved. I try to focus on that and remember who my audience is. If I tried to write a book no one objected to, it would probably also be a book that no one loved.

JK: What advice can you offer other stay-at-home moms hoping to write and sell their first book, or follow a personal dream but aren't sure how to start or lack the confidence to get going?

Find support. Surround yourself with people who understand what you're trying to do. Communicate with your partner about your needs. You won't always believe in yourself, but having others who do can help you get back on your feet.

Links: Gennifer's website, follow her blog, Twitter, Facebook, event calendar.


Fantastic interview - and great advice. Thanks Jodi.

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