Jennifer Mathieu is not perfect, but she is rather close. As award-winning author and favorite English teacher, Mathieu announced this week the upcoming publication of her third novel which promises to be as successful as her first two novels, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE and DEVOTED. Recently, I caught up with Mathieu and quizzed her about her writing process, inspiration and advice for young writers.
Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?
I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., in Northern Virginia. Specifically Fairfax County. It’s located just outside the Beltway. I went to college in Chicago and moved to Houston in 2000, and it’s been home ever since! I hope it’s home forever. I love it here.
Describe your creative journey to becoming an author.
I’ve always been a writer. As a little girl I would dictate stories to my mother before I could write and she would copy my words. Then I would illustrate them. As I got older, I would make up books, stories, and even a newspaper covering stories going on in my house. I was a voracious reader, too. In high school, I was editor of my school paper and a journalism major in college. My parents knew I loved to write, but they didn’t know how I would make a living writing, so being a reporter seemed to be an option. I did work for a few papers out of school. My last journalism assignment was for the alternative weekly paper here in Houston. But I just didn’t have the drive you need to be a reporter. I always felt like I was bothering people when I asked to interview them! So at 27 I became an English teacher at the suggestion of my mother-in-law, who had been a teacher for over 30 years. It was great advice as I loved the job immediately. I started reading some of the young adult novels my students were reading, and I decided to give it a try! My first novel was published in 2014, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE.
What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
Well I still work full-time as a teacher, so my writing is limited to the evenings and weekends. I also have a 5-year-old, so it’s really limited! But I have found that even just 45 minutes or an hour at night after my son is in bed and my husband and I have had some time to catch up on our days can really be productive. A little each day is my secret. During the day I’m often dreaming of my characters or letting ideas and scenes “marinate” in my mind, so by the time I sit down to write, I’m itching to go!
Who are your favorite writers and why?
I love the simple and clean language of S.E. Hinton. THE OUTSIDERS was one of my favorite books when I was young and it still is today. She gets right at the heart. I love Rainbow Rowell, E. Lockhart, and Laurie Halse Anderson for their rich and complex portrayals of adolescent life. I love a lot of nonfiction, too. Chuck Klosterman writes about popular culture and I find him so intelligent and interesting. The book RANDOM FAMILY by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is one of my favorite works of nonfiction ever. The author spent ten years following poor teenagers in the Bronx and then she wrote their stories. It reads like fiction. I read THE GOLDFINCH over the summer and found Donna Tartt’s work incredible. She has a true command of the language – lyrical yet accessible. I loved it.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Read for pleasure as much as possible and don’t ever let anyone shame you or make you feel bad for what you want to read. Read as much as you possibly can. Keep a journal. Don’t feel everything you write has to be “finished” or “good.” Just like a quarterback throws many footballs but only scores a few touchdowns, a writer has to write a lot before a few gems pop out. Write often and don’t be your own worst critic. Get words on the page and find a critique partner or writing group if you can. Above all, enjoy yourself. Writing is work in a sense and it can be maddening, but ultimately if you’re not enjoying it on some level, why are you bothering?
What are you working on now?
I’m revising my third book for Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan which is as yet untitled. It’s about two teenagers, Caroline and Ethan, whose lives are linked by a tragic crime – a kidnapping. It’s about overcoming guilt, trauma, and secrets, and it’s about finding a soul-saving friendship in the most unlikely place. It’s told in alternating points of view like THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE.
Do you have any upcoming appearances or events?
You can check my author website www.jennifermathieu.com for events. I will be interviewing contemporary YA authors Julie Murphy and Cammie McGovern at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston on Tuesday, October 6th at 7 pm. Thank you for your great questions!