Pen Friends ~ Our author interview today is with Jennieke Cohen, (who I met through the 2016 PitchWars gang.) Not only does she share about her debut, Dangerous Alliance, (which you can pre-order!) but about perseverance, Jane Austen, favorite books, fictional crushes, publishing, and more. Enjoy.
SP: Hi Jennieke! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and how long have you have been writing?
JC: Thanks so much for having me! Even as a child, I liked telling stories and acting them out, and by high school, I thought I wanted to work in the film industry. I wrote my first screenplay—a dark, suspense story about a serial killer—in high school and even made it into a movie for one of my classes. After college, I started my first novel, which would later become Dangerous Alliance. Having ruled out working in the film business, I decided to intern with a literary agent (I later got promoted to her assistant), and then at Prima Games (then an imprint of Random House) while I pursued a master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California. Nowadays, in my spare time, you’ll find me re-watching and over-analyzing old movies (a hard habit to break!), singing opera arias and show tunes, or discovering new foodie spots with my husband.
SP: Your debut, Dangerous Alliance, will come out December 3rd, 2019.
Here is the blurb:
Lady Victoria Aston has everything she could want: an older sister happily wed, the future of her family estate secure, and ample opportunity to while her time away in the fields around her home. But now Vicky must marry—or find herself and her family destitute. Armed only with the wisdom she has gained from her beloved novels by Jane Austen, she enters society’s treacherous season.
Sadly, Miss Austen has little to say about Vicky’s exact circumstances: whether the roguish Mr. Carmichael is indeed a scoundrel, if her former best friend, Tom Sherborne, is out for her dowry or for her heart, or even how to fend off the attentions of the foppish Mr. Silby, he of the unfortunate fashion sensibility. Most unfortunately of all, Vicky’s books are silent on the topic of the mysterious accidents cropping up around her…ones that could prevent her from surviving until her wedding day.
SP: Can you tell us a bit more about how this idea came about?
JC: This may sound somewhat cliché, but when I was twelve, I read Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre and they had a much bigger impact on me than I could have guessed. I was expecting them to be dry and boring because they were “classics,” but the witty intelligence Jane Austen brought to her novels spoke to me in a way not many of the other books I’d read had. And I simply loved the romance and mystery elements of Jane Eyre. I found myself looking for all the historical novels I could find. That led to reading a lot of adult fiction and nonfiction because, at the time, there were very few European-set historical novels written specifically for teens and young adults. With Dangerous Alliance, I wanted to create the kind of novel I would have really enjoyed reading as a teen.
SP: Which character in Dangerous Alliance should we watch out for? As in, which character surprised you the most while writing him/her?
JC: One of Vicky’s love interests, Simon Carmichael, surprised me in a couple ways, but without revealing too much, I think I shall just say that his charm is quite beguiling. 😉
SP: Is Dangerous Alliance your first book? How long does it typically take for you to write a book?
JC: It is my first book! I don’t think I have a typical writing time yet. All told, Dangerous Alliance took me about 11 years to write. I wasn’t working on it that entire time, to be fair, but I kept coming back to it. I’m hoping my next book will be a much…ahem, shorter experience.
SP: What kind of research did you have to do for Dangerous Alliance? Anything thatsurprised you along the way?
JC: Besides all the research I had to do about the world of Regency England, such as what people ate and how they got around and how long it took to travel from place to place, I had to do quite a bit of in-depth research into the murky legal world of how women could get a divorce. In a lot of Regency-set fiction, it’s taken as a given that women were stuck in their marriages. But I really wanted to write a book about teenagers with supportive parents who would help their daughter get out of a terrible, abusive marriage (which is what happens to my main character’s sister). I was surprised to find that under certain circumstances, there were ways to make that happen.
SP: You’re pretty open about your love for Jane Austen books, so if you could live any one character’s life who would it be and why?
JC: I think Emma has the best life of all the Austen heroines, so I’d probably try hers on for size (even though she’s not one of my favorite characters). I’m not sure I could handle all of Elizabeth Bennet’s embarrassing family or the indignities most of the characters have to deal with—well, I could, but if I’m going into an Austen book for a vacation, Emma’s life of privilege sounds pretty good!
SP: Who was the first person to read Dangerous Alliance (any drafting stage) and what was their response?
JC: My then boyfriend (and now husband) was my first reader way back when, and he always had every confidence that I would one day get it published. I’m thrilled to finally prove him right!
SP: Publishing is a tricky business, often slow and buzzing in all directions except for straight. What has your publishing journey been like so far?
JC: This will take a long answer! After I got my master’s degree, I had every expectation that I would soon have an agent and be well on my way to getting published before I turned 25. Instead I spent years querying, getting some requests, getting some feedback, but never an offer. I’d take another year or so to revise the manuscript and try it all over again. Each time, the novel got better but I still had no offers. I took a few years off to start other novels and do other things, and then in 2016, I decided to do one final pass on Dangerous Alliance. My plan was to do one last round of querying, and if nothing panned out, I would self-publish the book.
At the same time I finished revising, I found out that the submission window for PitchWars was open. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I applied. And, then, miraculously, I got a request! But since I only got one request (and was so inoculated to getting requests that didn’t pan out), I didn’t get my hopes up. Then, even more miraculously, I was chosen! I have a whole post on how I got my agent here, but suffice it to say, after Pitch Wars, things seemed to move faster. I signed with my agent in April 2017, we went on submission in late May, and by September we had an offer! I didn’t know how I would handle the waiting until my release date in December 2019 came along, but now it’s almost here! The waiting was always agonizing, but I don’t think that ever changes. The only thing to do is come up with distractions, whatever they may be, and enjoy the good moments when you’re in them!
SP: Any tips for aspiring (& querying) authors?
JC: Do NOT self-reject!! In other words, don’t talk yourself out of submitting your writing to X contest, or Ms. Bigtime Agent. You’ll never know who will like your writing until you send it to them!
SP: Now to lighten things up:
Favorite fictional crush? So tough! I think I’ll go with Henry Tilney from NORTHANGER ABBEY, though Mr. Darcy runs a close second!
Best recent read? HEARTS, STRINGS, AND OTHER BREAKABLE THINGS by Jacqueline Firkins (It’s a contemporary MANSFIELD PARK retelling with such a great voice!)
Favorite childhood book? THE NINE DAYS QUEEN by Karleen Bradford (Another book that influenced my love of British history.)
Fav drink/food while writing? Tea—all types!
Dream Vacation spot? Tetiaroa, Tahiti
SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Jennieke! We wish you the greatest success as Dangerous Alliance enters the world!
Nova, signing off