Today welcome Jen White to the LaunchPad! Jen started VCFA with my class and all of us couldn't be more delighted to welcome her debut novel SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE!
Survival Strategy #50: If you can, be brave. It’s important to be brave when your little sister looks up to you. Twelve-year-old Liberty feels it’s her job to help take care of her eight-year-old sister, Billie, once the girls are sent to live with their father, whom they haven’t seen since they were very young. Dad is unpredictable on his best days, but when he abandons Liberty and Billie at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, Liberty’s courage is truly put to the test.
As she and Billie struggle to make it home on their own, they encounter a cast of helpful and not-so-helpful characters, including a man with caterpillar eyebrows, a tattooed trucker with a soft spot for cats, a kid who is a little too obsessed with Star Wars, and a woman who lives with a houseful of very unusual pets.
Along the way, they learn that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.
Jen now thanks her parents for accidentally leaving her at a gas station almost thirty years ago, because that experience inspired her to write SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE. Thanks, Mom! Thanks, Dad!
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Welcome to the LauchPad, Jen! I'm so excited about this book and it's great to have you here! What was the spark that ignited this book?
When I was twelve and on vacation with my family, my parents accidentally left me, my sister, and my cousin, at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. They didn’t see us climb out of the back of our camper truck to use the restroom. They thought we had fallen asleep and drove three hours to their destination before they realized we were gone. We were so scared. Eventually, a policeman came and took us to the police station, where we were interviewed, and then sent to a foster home where we ate bean burritos, and watched the movie Mary Poppins. After six hours, we were finally reunited with our family. I remember I looked out of the foster home window at the desert, and wondered if I had to live there. I could not figure out what had happened to my parents. I knew they wouldn’t leave us on purpose, but I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t returned. That raw emotion is what propelled me to write about Liberty, and her sister, Billie in SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE.
Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out?
I began writing SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE during my last semester at VCFA. After I graduated, I finished it, and went to a local writer’s retreat where Joy Peskin was the visiting editor. She read twenty pages and then asked for the full. I was so freaking happy! She then sent me a lovely editorial letter with many questions. She had some suggestions for the book, and said she would be happy to see the manuscript again, if I incorporated some of her suggestions. It took me forever to figure out what I was doing with SSOTAB. In fact, I wrote two other books while I was trying to figure out how to get Liberty and Billie across the desert safely. Once I figured that part out, I wrote SSOTAB quite quickly. (But, the middle part took forever!) And the cool thing was: I was at VCFA as a grad assistant when I found out SSOTAB was going to acquisitions with Joy Peskin at FSG! What a perfect, satisfying, ending for my manuscript.
As you know, Joy is my editor, too! Isn't she wonderful. It's a gift to work with someone as talented and supportive as Joy! Who were your advisors at VCFA?
I had the great opportunity to work with Ellen Howard, Phyllis Root, Marion Dane Bauer, and Jacqueline Woodson.
What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?
I wish I would have know that the student body and faculty at VCFA are so generous and lovely. It was, and is, such a great writing community. I also wish I would have realized that I was enough. Initially, I was terrified of VCFA. I wanted to attend, but I was scared. It felt like a huge accomplishment to even admit to myself that I wanted to write. I spent my first semester convinced that everyone was more talented than me. If I could go back now, I would skip the worry part, and just jump into the beauty of having time to learn and to write. I finally learned that my voice was just as valid as anyone else’s. VCFA shaped me as a writer. It was one of the best creative, decisions I ever made.
And connect with Jen on Twitter at @jenwhite and @almostbravebook
SURVIVAL STRATEGIES OF THE ALMOST BRAVE is published by Farrar Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers and it's available in bookstores everywhere TODAY! Thanks for dropping by, Jen!!