US author Jennifer Brown was one of the fabulous hosts of my Letters to Leonardo blog tour back in July.
So I’m thrilled to welcome her today to talk about her gripping new YA novel, Hate List.
So, Jen, what is Hate List about?
Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saves the life of a classmate, but is implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things they hated. The list her boyfriend used to pick his targets.
Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.
Wow, what a gripping plot line. Jen, Can you tell us more about you?
I’m a stay-at-home mom and writer from the Kansas City, Missouri area.
I’m two-time winner of the Erma Bombeck Global Humor award. I’m a humor columnist for The Kansas City Star, and the Saturday Featured Blogger for Mom2MomKC.com, The Star’s “mom blog.”
Jennifer Brown may be a humor writer, but she’s definitely not afraid to take on serious subjects as well. “Hate List” is her debut novel.
Can you tell us about the writing process involved in ‘Hate List’?
Hate List isn’t just about a school shooting, but is about the healing that must take place after the horrible tragedy. It’s about the exploration of human emotion — how we make “snap judgments” about people, how we stereotype and how we can break through those judgments and stereotypes. Valerie Leftman has always had it rough — struggling family, outsider at school, in love with a tormented boyfriend — but it isn’t until she’s left utterly in pieces that she’s forced to face the “real stuff” at the root of her problems. The ugly stuff. She’s forced to define herself — and re-define others — which isn’t always easy when your concept of who’s good and who’s evil is turned on its head.
Because Hate List was about the emotional journey of my character more than anything else, I focused most of my research and attention on that. I sent Valerie to therapy — literally I had a psychologist “do therapy” on her — and I analyzed every possible emotion and emotional reaction to its very core. Much of this I did before writing the story at all.
Most of Hate List was written in the wee hours of the morning. It was the best time for me to come at it with a clear head (the day hasn’t yet had a chance to muddle it up!) and get a couple solid hours of writing in before my little monsters woke up. I always start the day by reviewing what I’ve written the day before, just to get me into the flow of writing again, and then off I go!
I’m not a plotter or an outliner or synopsizer. I like to dive in and write; let the story take care of itself. Of course, that can mean a plot that gets a little wild in places, and my editor certainly worked with me to take out some subplots that threatened to “take over” the main plot. In the end, there were whole characters deleted and whole chapters completely changed. But, truthfully, this is the way I prefer to work. I bristle much less at having to delete and rewrite than at having to outline.
I found it very fortunate, while writing Hate List, that I also write a weekly humor column. The emotions in Hate List run very deep and threatened to take a lot out of me emotionally. Switching to lighter themes and emotions every week for a few hours helped tremendously. Also, during the time I was writing and revising Hate List, I would jot out humorous/lighter pieces of short fiction just for my own pleasure and, again, to lighten myself up a little. I came away with a few short stories that I’m planning to pursue as novel-length work, which means not only did they help my spirits, but they could end up being something really interesting in the long run!
Thanks for dropping in Jen. “Hate List” is an amazing book, and it sounds like you’ve gone through an extraordinary process to get to this point.
Wishing you every success with your new ‘book baby’.