February 2010


J.L. Penn has self-published a Facebook-inspired story called Reunion. She lives in Maryland with her husband and daughter. (Interview by Paula Phillips)

Return to interview list

  1. 1. How did you get into writing?

    I have been writing for as long as I can remember but never professionally. My parents used to tell me that I was the next Erma Bombeck, and I have had professors recommend that I write articles and such. I have also been called upon to write complaint letters for people because I apparently have a knack for that sort of thing - go figure. I don't always write quite as sarcastically as I did when my parents proclaimed me the next Ms. Bombeck, but I do try to inject a bit of wit into everything I write. I had always wanted to write a novel, and had tried on a few occasions previously but without any luck. This was the first time that I had a very clear and thorough inspiration and vision of a story, so much so that the hardest part of writing it was typing fast enough.

  2. 2. What inspired the Reunion storyline?

    The story was born of a very small kernel of truth. I really did happen upon my old high school crush online, and that yearbook passage that is in the book is directly out of my 10th grade yearbook. Sad, eh? Anyway, we exchanged the usual pleasantries - how are you, what have you been up to, etc. He even mentioned perhaps getting our kids together for a play date sometime, but that was it. However, it got me thinking and wondering how many people all over the world were going through a similar scenario but perhaps taking it a step further. Even with the most innocent intentions, reconnecting with old flames or high school crushes could prove to be a very slippery slope.

  3. 3. How have you found the success of your first book Reunion?

    Success is a relative term. What I have experienced so far has been a lot of hard work with rather surreal results. To see "fans" on my Facebook page, to have people ask me to autograph the book, even just to hold the book in my hands is all very surreal. There really is no better word for it. However, in the grand scheme of things, the book has not even scratched the surface of success. I, of course, hope that it will, and I do have complete confidence in its ability to take off, but the ultimate measure of success lies in the hands of the readers - many of whom just have not found it yet because the book is self-published. The book is doing phenomenally well by self-published standards, but what I really need now is the elusive major publisher to help me push it the rest of the way up the hill. I am nothing but encouraged by the feedback that I have received thus far, and that is a huge relief and a fantastic feeling in and of itself.

  4. 4. Could you live without Facebook?

    I could definitely live without Facebook because it was not even around not so long ago; however, I can honestly say that it has changed my life. All the silly apps, all the status updates - all of that I could easily live without, but having Facebook be the launching point of the novel I always dreamt I could write makes Facebook very important to me.

  5. 5. Tell us about the sequel.

    I have been asked about a sequel since the first person read the book. The funny thing is that the notion of a sequel did not really cross my mind as I was writing it. Afterward, looking back at it, I could see where people could expect a sequel that would likely revolve around one of the secondary characters. I never said there would not be a sequel but I also did not want to commit to one without having an inspiration for a story. Nearly a year after I started writing Reunion, inspiration finally hit. I will only say that the story does revolve around one of Jessica's friends and that Jessica will be a secondary character in the sequel. The writing will likely have a bit more wit and bite to it this time around. It is way too early in the writing process to divulge any more than that unfortunately. I can, however, tell you that an unrelated novel will likely make its appearance prior to the sequel. It is as yet still untitled but I have been working diligently on it, and expect it to be completed this year. In fact, the first two rough draft "teaser" chapters are posted on my website.

  6. 6. What have you learnt from going the self-publishing route?

    Oh my, I could probably write a book on this question! To be brief, I have learned that it is definitely a worthwhile endeavor, but it is also a lot of hard work. Writing the book is the easy part in comparison to what it takes to market a book. For a reader, finding a self-published book is like finding a needle in a haystack. So every single book that sells, either to a consumer or to a bookstore, feels like a huge accomplishment for me and nothing short of a miracle in some ways. I am, of course, still pursuing a major publishing contract, but in the meantime, websites like and several others have been a huge help in getting the word out about my book. Word of mouth is a powerful thing and I am grateful that it has been working for me rather than against me.

  7. 7. What are you doing to market the book?

    The first thing I did was cover all the basics - Facebook, Twitter, and an author website. Lately, I have been focusing on reviews and interviews. I am constantly looking for people to review the book because I really do believe in it. Critics can be fickle so it is a little scary every time a copy goes out to a reviewer, but I have to have faith that the professional reviews will back up the consumer reviews I have had to date. I also just launched a book trailer (YouTube, Facebook, etc.). I am planning to schedule some book signings, am working on getting into public libraries, and I continue to query literary agents. New means to promote seem to crop up every day so as I find the time, I take advantage of all that I can to get the word out.

  8. 8. What is your second novel about?

    In very rough terms ... Emily Sullivan's life is in the crapper. She is barely on speaking terms with her mother and sister, she has a dead-end data entry job at the Department of Public Records, she is new to the area with only her boyfriend to call a friend, and bad things seem to give way to worse things for Emily. That is, until her boring dead-end job offers her the unique opportunity to become someone else - a wealthy reclusive heiress who is presumed dead after a major fire at her mansion. Stephanie Watson is the ill-mannered perpetually half-drunk British heiress who has led the kind of lifestyle Emily could barely imagine. With the opportunity for a new life of wealth and the potential for fame, what will Emily do with it, and will she get away with it?

  9. 9. How was it creating your first book trailer?

    Creating my first book trailer was actually a lot of fun. I enjoy doing just about anything creative so it was easy for me to jump into it and play around with some graphics and animation in PowerPoint. The hardest part was turning it into a video - that nuts and bolts stuff is not my gig!

  10. 10. What inspired you to choose to write in the chick lit genre?

    I write what I like and I like me some chick lit! In all seriousness, I am not the kind of person that watches sad movies or reads books that promise to move or enlighten me, not that there's anything wrong with that. I read to escape and to be purely entertained. I want to laugh, or at least chuckle, and I do not under any circumstances want to cry over a book. I could never write something I would not want to read so writing in this genre just came naturally.

  11. 11. What author has inspired you the most?

    I can honestly say that every single book I have read influences my writing - I can see it even if no one else would notice - but if I had to pick one author it would be Emily Giffin. Something Borrowed was particularly influential to me, and one of the last novels I read before starting to write Reunion. I really identified with the style and became more attached to her characters than most others. I think that a lot of books wind up either having a great writing style with a slightly less wonderful plot or vice versa, but rarely do they strike a perfect balance. Something Borrowed has that balance. That book should be required reading for anyone who claims to be a fan of chick lit - it's that good.

  12. 12. If you could invite three fictional characters to dinner, who would they be?

    I would probably invite Frodo Baggins because I am a big fan of the Tolkien books and would imagine he would have some amazing stories to tell. I might invite Deidre McIntosh from Good Things (by Mia King) because I would like her to teach me a thing or two about baking. And I would invite Michael from Sundays at Tiffany's (by James Patterson) because I imagined him looking like (American TV host) Carter Oosterhouse and that would make dinner that much yummier!

  13. 13. What are your goals for 2010 , and do you plan new year’s resolutions?

    I have the same new year’s resolutions that every other American woman has - lose a few pounds, exercise more and be more organized. The thing about resolutions is that they require you to do something to make them happen, and that seems to be where things fall apart ... right around January 2nd. I can honestly say that I am a bit more organized than I have been in the past though (a very hectic life dictates I get organized or get buried alive in clutter). As for a goal - it's lofty but I can dream, can't I? I would love to see Reunion hit the NY Times Bestseller list!

  14. 14. What is your favourite :

    • Book - Ooh, this is very tough, especially after I just sang the praises of Something Borrowed, but I think I will go with a classic here and say The Hobbit.
    • Movie/DVD - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.
    • CD/Music - Sorry, I refuse to be tied down to just one! I will, however, limit myself to three artists - Journey, Def Leppard, and Gary Puckett.
    • Celebrity - I'll go with Meg Ryan because she is in so many of my favorite romantic comedies.
    • Season - I think I am most partial to autumn. I love cool crisp air - just cool enough for a sweater without a jacket.

  15. 15. Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into writing and would you recommend the self-publishing route?

    For anyone who wants to write, I would say you need to be committed. Writing a novel alone takes some measure of organization, diligence, and hopefully talent, but the real work lies ahead. Unless you are fortunate enough to be immediately picked up by an agent (you are probably more likely to win the lottery!), you will have your work cut out for you in cramming into a comparatively infinitesimally small number of words the crux and monumental importance of your book, while also differentiating yourself from the sea of other aspiring authors. Then you will second-guess yourself time and time again as the inevitable rejections begin to flow. I say all of this not to discourage anyone but to give a realistic picture. I very naively thought that writing a novel was the hard part - not so. Again, commitment and follow-through are key if you want to find any success, or at least help it find you. As for self-publishing, I would recommend not ruling it out. I am by no means an expert on any of this so I can only speak from personal experience, and I imagine every writer's experience is a bit different. I chose to get the ball rolling on my own after receiving just a few rejections from agents. At this point, I feel as though I made the right decision because self-publishing has given me the opportunity to build some credentials in the form of positive feedback to show an agent and to attest to the marketability of the book. Now, if I am still self-published and chugging along in double-digit sales each month next year, I reserve the right to throw everything I just said out the window.

Back to top