Jennifer G. Edelson is a writer, trained artist, former attorney, pizza lover, and hard-core Bollywood fan. She has a BFA in Sculpture and a J.D. in law, and has taught both creative writing and legal research and writing at several fine institutions, including the University of Minnesota. Originally a California native, she currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her husband, kids, and dog, Hubble after surviving twenty-plus years in the Minnesota tundra (but still considers Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and Santa Fe all home). Other than writing, Jennifer loves hiking, traveling, Albert Camus, Dr. Seuss, dark chocolate, drinking copious amounts of coffee, exploring mysterious places, and meeting new people–if you’re human (or otherwise), odds are she’ll probably love you.
Describe yourself in five words
Adaptable. Adventurous. Sensitive. Ferocious. Extroverted.
What fact about yourself would really surprise people?
I think because I come from a highly educated family and have a BFA and a law degree, people are often really to surprised to find out I didn’t have a traditional education. I dropped out of high school in tenth grade after being kicked out of a few to many high schools and really floundered for a few years. I was a difficult teenager. As in really, really, really difficult. I was also super sensitive. Like many teens, I felt misunderstood, and alienated, and just really lonely in this ‘who am I really, what’s the meaning of life’ way. Because of that, I spent way too much time looking for ‘answers’ and ignoring consequences. There’s this quote by Albert Camus that goes: “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Though I take it with a grain of salt, I’ve also taken it to heart, so though I still spend a good amount of time thinking about meaning, I don’t let it interfere with having a productive meaningful existence. Still, the stuff that’s lingered really informs my writing. It’s also why I love writing in the YA genre. Most adults don’t give kids and teens enough credit for being the smart, savvy, sensitive, and super creative people they truly are. I acknowledge that, and like writing stories that both resonates with them AND respects those feelings.
How do you work through self-doubts and fear?
In the past I’ve tried everything from hard-core psychoanalysis to psychotropic and psychiatric meds. But I find overall, that time, lots of magical thinking, exercise and a bit of journaling seems to do the trick. Perspective is also really helpful.
What scares you the most?
My super personal answer would require me to dig deep, and that would take pages to answer, so how about I just stick with something little less philosophical . . . .
drowning, suffocating, or being buried alive top my list.
What makes you happiest?
Spending time with family, writing, traveling, feeling unbound and being outdoors.
Why do you write?
Other than that I love it? I wish I had some deep answer for you, but the truth is, for me writing is mostly about escapism. I can’t live the thousand different lives I’d love to, or travel the world, or be an astrophysicist or spy, so I write to get away and appease my own curiosity and wanderlust. I get lost in myself when I write, so it also satisfies all that romantic and adventurous yearning. Though I also get A LOT out of imagining that my writing touches other people. I love humans and am all about connecting on fundamental levels.
Have you always enjoyed writing?
I have. I don’t remember I time when I didn’t write. I wrote tons of poems and stories in elementary school, and even (very bad) screenplays. During high school, I wrote music and film reviews for my high school paper. Throughout lower school, college, and law school I wrote poems, commentary, policy and review articles, and short stories. I’ve always written, and I’ve always loved writing, but until the last few years or so, I never really thought of myself as a ‘real’ writer. ‘Real’ writers were like unicorns or UFO’s; I suspected they existed but also knew I’d never be invited to the party. I guess you could say it took some time for me to start taking myself as a writer seriously.
What motivates you to write?
Sheer unadulterated love and a driving need to escape myself and reality once in a while 😉
What writing are you most proud of?
I won first place in our city paper’s fiction contest (The Santa Fe Reporter) the last two years in a row. I was both embarrassed and proud of that. Mostly because the first year I entered I’d never written a short story before. I’m long winded, so writing books have always been more of my thing. But I really enjoyed the challenge the contest presented and winning reinforced this idea I have that sometimes, when in doubt, I just have to leap.
What books did you love growing up?
As a kid, I loved Dr. Seuss and Judy Blume and Lois Lowry, and anything that dealt with the paranormal. I remember really loving books like ‘Island of The Blue Dolphins’ and ‘Clan of the Cavebear.’ In my teens I read a lot of classics by authors like Steinbeck, Vonnegut, Austin, and the Brontes, but I also adored Stephen King. I’m such a reader it’s hard to pinpoint what I loved best though, because I pretty much read everything. I’m a little more selective now, and much shorter on time, so as an adult I have distinct favorites; but when I was a kid, the sky was the limit!
Location and life experiences can really influence writing, tell us where you grew up and where you now live?
I grew up in Los Angeles at a time when Los Angeles still felt really iconic. There’s no doubt that the city’s vibe informed a lot of my earlier writing. I had a lot of angst as a teen and L.A. definitely fed that; it’s absolutely thematic in my earlier writing especially. I live in New Mexico now after spending some years in the Tundra (aka Minnesota) and admit that New Mexico 100% affects my writing. People call New Mexico the land of enchantment, which is pretty apt. Everything about it makes me want to write these wild, whimsical and unbridled stories. My latest book, Between Wild and Ruin initially came about because I fell in love with the Glorieta Pass and the Pecos Pueblo in Northern New Mexico — which are both magical places — after exploring the area. I’m a place-centric person, and often fall for scenery, land, and the feel of a location, and end up wanting to write novels about an area long before I figure out the plot or story. In that way, my story’s setting is often as much a character as the people, which is definitely the case in Between Wild and Ruin.
How did you develop your writing?
Lots of reading. Lots of practice. I just never stop writing. Training and a passion for it really does make a difference.
What is hardest – getting published, writing or marketing?
The writing part is usually the easiest part for me. I love writing with a boundless passion so for the most part it comes easy. Publishing takes perseverance but I hate the word ‘no’ so though the road at times has been bumpy, the fight usually motivates me. Marketing though is a different beast. It takes a lot of energy and I find it tends to suck up my creative mojo so that it’s harder to write and promote my work at the same time. There’s a learning curve there I’m still trying to figure out. The surprising thing about publishing that a lot of new writers don’t get, is that it’s really hard work. Writing your book is only a 1/3 of the equation. Publishing and promoting are entirely different beasts
What else do you do, other than write?
“What don’t I do? (she giggles nervously).” I’m married to someone who’s out of town for work a lot and have two sons, one in college and one who’s a junior in high school, so they keep me pretty busy. I also have a whole host of hobbies and legal editorial work to attend to. I run a fairly large social group here in Santa Fe as well as a pretty awesome writing group, so I plan a lot of social events and outings. And I love being outdoors, which means since I live in New Mexico, I get out a lot to hike and explore. I’m all about adventure especially. It fuels my writing. In general, I also really enjoy cooking, history, research, nerdy sci-fi stuff, movies and people . . . honestly, it’s virtually impossible to bore me and I secretly sometimes wish I was just less interested in the world. I really tire myself out sometimes. Which is both a blessing and curse.
What other jobs have you had in your life?
My undergraduate major was a BFA in sculpture so I’m a trained artist. Unfortunately, like a lot of artists, the paying gig part wasn’t that great, so I went on to law school afterwards. I clerked for a judge for a few years out of law school and then practiced law for a few years after that, but still worked with glass and metal art on the side. And I taught legal research and writing at the University of Minnesota Law school. After I left my law practice altogether, I went back to art, predominately working with glass. For a time I showed my art at shows and select galleries. I also had a side business making and selling gourmet organic candy. I still do a bit of legal editing and intend to go back to my glass work, but these days I mostly just write fulltime.
If you could study any subject at university what would you pick?
That’s a really hard question to answer because I love learning and find almost everything interesting. My dream studies, I guess, would include astrophysics, marine biology, museum curator, intelligence work, forensics, and archeology. But if I had to make a list, I could easily think of another twenty things I wouldn’t mind studying.
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
Santa Monica, Rome, Auckland, Tokyo, in any quiet tropical costal area, or here in Santa Fe.
How do you write – lap top, pen, paper, in bed, at a desk?
I’m pretty boring. I write when I want to (and I always want to) and lack any particular routines. Unlike a lot of authors, I don’t outline, or have special rituals, or writing spaces. I don’t feel married to any one method, space, or time, and write anywhere from 10 am to 3 am depending on my energy levels and mood. I write on my laptop pretty much anywhere there’s room for me to open it. I’m as likely to write sitting in my car in a parking lot while I’m waiting for my kid, as I am to write at my bike-desk at home, or at a coffee shop, or in bed at three in the morning. Likewise, I can write almost anywhere as long as it’s not too noisy.
How much sleep do you need to be your best?
About 8 hours. If I don’t set an alarm, no matter when I go to bed, I usually wake up about 8 hours later.
Every writer has their own idea of what a successful career in writing is, what does success in writing look like to you?
Of all of your questions, this one might be the hardest for me to answer. I’m not sure anymore. I started writing just to do it; because I love it. For the longest time I thought that was enough. But after writing for so long I started to wonder what being a ‘real writer’ meant and whether I was one if I didn’t publish. Once I got the ‘I can actually write’ part down, success started feeling more like it should also equal some kind of recognition. But now that I’ve published and won awards, and still feel like a poser wrier at times, I think I’m reevaluating what success means once again. It’s complicated. And you’re right, I think it’s also very individual. I can only speak for myself, but since I haven’t figured it out yet, I want to say check back in a few years.
Tell us about your new book? Why did you write it?
On its face at least, Between Wild and Ruin is a bit of a Beauty and the Beast story. I initially came up with characters that played with that idea, but really, they came up with themselves. I do not outline my book characters first or give them backstories before writing or map out my plot like some authors do. I kind of just write and see what comes of it. In that way, my writing process is more organic, allowing my characters and the story to figure out who and what they are for themselves.
Between Wild and Ruin’s actual plot though, the short answer is that it initially evolved over a sleepless night. I’m an insomniac, and like a lot of writers, tell myself stories about things that interest me in order to turn off my mind and fall asleep. I hate to being boring, but plot-wise, this was one of them. The longer answer is a little more mystical and would probably take a couple of blog posts to explain.
Over all though, Between Wild and Ruin is a paranormal romance seeped in local folklore. Set against a Northern New Mexico backdrop, the story is really a young adult coming of age epic that captures the wild and whimsical pulse of New Mexico through the eyes of teens Ruby Brooks, Angel Ruiz, and Ezra Lucero. The first book in the Wild and Ruin series, Between Wild and Ruin explores the time-tested credo ‘never judge a book by its cover’ through a paranormal lens, weaving Puebloan and Hispanic folklore and Southwest cultural narratives into tightly written, high-concept fiction ‘brimming with mystery, intrigue,’ and as Kirkus Reviews puts it, an “intriguing historical drama and an over-the top quadrangle romance.”
Here’s copy from the back of the book to sum it up:
Truth, like love, isn’t always obvious.
Seventeen-year-old Ruby Brooks has never had a boyfriend. After moving to small-town La Luna, New Mexico following her mother’s untimely death, boys aren’t even on her radar. Ruby just wants to forget the last horrible year and blend in. But when she discovers an ancient pueblo ruin in the forest behind her house, and meets Ezra, a bitter recluse whose once-perfect face was destroyed in an accident he won’t talk about; Angel, La Luna’s handsome sheriff’s deputy, and Leo, a stranger who only appears near the ruin, Ruby finds herself teetering between love, mystery, and other worlds. What happened to Ezra’s face? And why is she so attracted to the one boy in town everyone despises? As Ruby unravels her own connections to both Ezra and the pueblo ruin, she’ll learn surfaces are deceiving. Especially in the heart of New Mexico, where spirits and legends aren’t always just campfire stories.
If you could have a dinner party and invite anyone dead or alive, who would you ask?
I would invite Albert Camus, Dr. Seuss, and Amelia Earhart. That would be the best most fascinating dinner party ever, but I’d also worry myself into a tailspin. I’d be so tongue-tied with awe, I imagine I’d be tripping over myself just to say something witty and intelligible.
When you are not writing, how do you like to relax?
What is this word ‘relax?’
Who are your writing influences?
My writing influences vary. I read A LOT, especially in the genre I most often write in, which is Young Adult fiction. But I’ve been in love with Albert Camus since college. His work inspires me; his writing, both his prose and the subjects he writes about, challenge me to examine meaning, to dig deeper when I write and when I interact with people. Vladimir Nabokov, Brett Easton Ellis, Heidi Julavits, Phillip Roth, and Chuck Palahniuk are also big writing influences, for many diverse, weird, and divergent reasons. Deeply flawed characters that still manage to capture and hold a reader’s interest, and stories that challenge notions of identity particularly interest me.
What do you hope people will take away from your writing? How will your words make them feel?
I’m not sure I’m trying to communicate a message as much as a feeling. That exciting, sometimes breathless moment that comes from experiencing ‘firsts’ and facing the unknown. Of connecting over unexpected emotions, and backgrounds, and alliances, not to mention the rollercoaster that comes with being in love. A few reviewers mentioned how sensory and atmospheric Between Wild and Ruin’s writing is, that they could see, smell, and hear everything as they read, and that because of it, were right there in the Glorieta pass with Ruby throughout the story. I agree and hope readers find themselves immersed in a story that wholly transports them both emotionally and intellectually to the heart of La Luna, New Mexico and into Ruby’s unique world. But if people just walked away feeling like they’d spent a few fun hours reading something enjoyable — if all the book is for people is super effective escapism — I’d still be really happy.
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