WeeReader Interviews: Jennifer Santucci!

This weekend I have an interview with the lovely Jennifer who I met through her gorgeous Bookstagram account! I have been following her writing progress over on Bookstagram and her blog for a while now, so I was overjoyed when she agreed to be on my blog! I hope you enjoy reading!

JFS

1. Introduce yourself! Who are you? What do you write / what genre? What are you currently working on? Do you have any published works?

My name is Jennifer Santucci. I was a middle school English teacher for nearly fourteen years and then became a stay-at-home for our four children. During my maternity leave with our youngest, I decided I wanted to pursue writing in earnest. When I wasn’t teaching, I was writing (or reading!) I’m currently working on a YA fantasy.

2. When did you first start writing and what motivated you to start?

I took a creative writing short story class just for fun, but I didn’t continue on because I was at the end of my teaching program and started teaching soon after. I took up writing again near the end of my first year teaching when I read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I love the story so much (it really helped me get through that first year!) that I wasn’t quite ready to let Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet go, so I wrote fanfiction. I wrote in the Jane Austen fandom for about five years and for other fandoms such as Twilight, Inuyasha, and Avatar: The Last Airbender series. I did that for another five years.

3. What inspires you to write? Can you tell us about the inspiration for any specific pieces of writing you have completed / are working on?

As a fanfiction writer, I was inspired by the what-ifs. I loved imagining what would happen to my favorite characters after The End or What-if instead of saying no the first time Darcy proposed, what if Elizabeth said yes! Writing fanfiction for ten years was really fun and it taught me story structure. Then when I started writing my original fiction, it was a different kind of challenge. Writing fanfiction was like riding a bike with training wheels—characters, setting, and plot were already in place and made it easy to write, but writing the story was still hard work. Writing original fiction was like riding the bike without the training wheels—creating everything yourself and writing the story too was/is a terrifying, but thrilling challenge!

My current WIP is a YA fantasy inspired by my daughter who is half Filipino, half white (European mix). The world building is inspired by ancient Filipino culture. The heroine is a mixed racewarrior who is learning to navigate her mother’s native culture and her father’s heritage. I’ve also incorporated a Filipino folktale that ties into the heroine’s journey into self-discovery. I wanted a story that my daughter could identify with when she was old enough to read. Hopefully, I’ll have it finished by then!

4. How important is the planning stage for you? Do you like to plan everything before you start or do you simply start writing with a vague idea in mind?

I’m a plotter! Even when I wrote fanfiction, I would plot out the original story and then my own where it would diverge. For my current WIP, I did write a scene and submitted it to a critique group. I got very helpful feed back that it needed more context, so I spent a month researching and then plotting out the scenes before I started writing the story again.

5. What is your writing process like?

Usually, stories come to me when I least expect it. Sometimes it’s from something I’ve watched on TV or a music lyric, etc. I jot down the idea for later and if something sticks, like my current WIP, I pursue it. For my current WIP, I was inspired by this quote by Samuel Lowe “Sometimes it’s the princess who kills the dragon and saves the prince.” From there, scenes would flash in my mind. I wrote out one of the first scenes (which I mentioned before). Then I plotted out the rest and realized I had a full story! After the research, I then started to write the story. My goal was to finish my first draft by the end of summer, but I didn’t factor in spending this last month with my family before school started again! So, I’m hoping I can finish by the end of September.

6. What are your writing essentials / what do you use when you write?

In the planning stages, for my current WIP, I used a traveller’s size lined notebook. I pretty much jotted down every idea, character and plot details, research notes—pretty much a brain dump of the story into this notebook. Then when I started outlining the plot, I color coded my notes into categories and then used a tri-fold presentation board to organize the scenes and climatic points in three acts, using sticky notes (I call this a plot board). Once my plot board had a story structure, I started writing. I use Scrivener to write my story and LOVE it.

7. What is your favourite thing to write? E.g. Dialogue, action scenes, saucy scenes…

I love writing dialogue! I love letting the characters talk (sometimes too much!). Second would be action scenes. Action scenes are new to me and I enjoy the challenge.

8. What do you think is the most difficult part of writing?

The most difficult part of writing is finishing the first draft. It’s easy to come up with ideas and write scenes here and there, but finishing the first draft is hard.

What you create doesn’t have to be perfect!

9. It is always interesting to know what other writers listen to when writing. Do you listen to music whilst you write? If so, let us know some of the songs which have inspired you the most!

I used to listen to music when I wrote fanfic! Not for this original fiction though. I actually use an app Noisli (that Victoria Schwab mentioned she used because she can’t listen to music either while writing). It creates white noise to play in the background. There’s a “leaves rustling” track that I love! It gets me in the perfect mindset because so much of my story is set in a forest!

I do listen to the movie soundtracks for Lord of the Rings when editing and revising. Cutting and trimming down words is so much more satisfying when you have the music for killing Orcs playing in the background.

10. Do you ever struggle with writers block? What do you do to overcome it?

I’ve learned through my writing program that writer’s block is part of the process. It should not be seen as failing, but part of the writing process. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong, the writer should listen and observe. When you know this and are aware of when this happens, you can train yourself to accept it and let the story marinate, so to speak. All the things we do to avoid writing—washing the dishes, doing laundry, dusting curios—are actually part of your writer self trying to sort out that block. I was sceptical at first, but I hit my first block when I finished the first act of my story. The words had come so fast and furiously and then there was an abrupt stop. I knew there was more to tell, but I didn’t know how to bridge that gap from first to second act. So, I tried the things we learned about, mostly just giving myself time and I realized that I needed to look back at my outline. (At that point it had been five months since I started writing the story and forgot that I had done an outline!) It took about a month for me to come to this realization. (insert embarrassed emoji here)

Also, when you know you’re hitting that block or pause, it gets easier accepting that it’s part of the process and you’re able to get through the block a little faster because you spend your time observing and listening instead of despairing that you’re never going to write again!

11. How do you go about researching for a new book? Do you have any tips for others who are researching for a book?

For my current WIP in process, I knew I wanted it to have an Asian influence. So, I started researching Asian folktales, histories, and beliefs. I found so many ideas. It was great. Then I started focusing on the ideas that I really wanted in my story. I found a pattern that I was drawn to ancient Filipino culture, pre- Spanish colonial period. I dove into that period and found it so fascinating and also flags kept coming up that I was on the right path. I wanted my heroine to have strong ties to family, culture, and nature and a lot of pre-colonial Filipino history fit that way of life.

As for tips on researching, it can be overwhelming. It’s good to have some time of goal or set of questions before you start because it’s so easy to get sidetracked by all the resources out there. It’s also easy to spend all your time researching and not writing. Again, come up with a goal or questions and if you’ve reached that goal or if you’ve answered your questions about what you were researching, it’s time to stop researching and start writing.

12. Where do you find your inspiration for character names and place names? Do you ever name characters after people you know?

I’ve often used baby name resources. For my current WIP, I used a baby name generator for Filipino names. I have named some of my characters after people I know, but I might end up changing them during the revision process. I just couldn’t come up with a name at that time.

13. What are your future plans when it comes to writing or even publishing?

As mentioned before, I hope to be done with my first draft by the end of September. I’m currently workshopping my chapters with my writing group. Even though the writing program has ended, we have decided to stick together until we’ve all published. I anticipate the revision process will take another six months. I hope to be querying for an editor by September 2017.

14. As we all love books I wondered, what are your five favourite books?

My all time favorite is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. My other current favorites:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Seven Realms series by Cinda Chima Williams
  • The Graceling Series by Kristen Cashore. (I know you meant individual books, but I hope a series counts too!)
  • I also have to give a nod to JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer—both women are mothers who managed to make writing their careers! A feat that inspires me!

15. Finally, where can we find you on social media?

I really enjoyed this interview! Thank you for reading. You can find me here:


I hope you found that as motivational as I did! Make sure you follow Jennifer over on Instagram because her account is gorgeous! Let’s hope we all one day get to read her Filipino inspired YA fantasy!

Leave a comment and let me know what you thought, I’ll be back next weekend with another interview!

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