In just over a week, Jen Gilroy’s second book in her wonderfully heart-warming Firefly Lake series will be published – she is, officially, Living The Dream.
How she got there is a fascinating tale – at one point it involved a daily target of 250 words so that she satisfied her need to write while also meeting the demands of a hectic full-time job and family life.
I am a big fan of her writing (a review of Summer On Firefly Lake is coming up. Edit: here it is) and I’m delighted to introduce Jen as my latest Behind The Book interviewee. She very kindly shares some of the details of her route to publication and offers great encouragement for others starting along what can be a long and winding path.
When did the dream to become a writer start? And how did you keep that dream alive?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in words and using them to tell stories. However, my dream of becoming a published author started in junior school when, as an avid reader, I imagined seeing my name on a book on a library shelf. I was also influenced by Canadian author L.M. Montgomery’s ‘Emily’ trilogy about a young girl who sought and achieved writing success.
As life intervened, my dream dimmed but never truly died. After several turning points and significant birthdays, though, I began writing seriously again. Despite rejection and personal and family traumas, I kept the dream alive because I was too stubborn to give up!
In one interview, you said that when you first started to write more seriously you not only had a full time job, which required you to travel internationally, but also a young child AND a husband who travelled too. When on earth did you find the time/energy to write?
When I look back on those years before publication, I sometimes wonder how I fit everything in. Yet, I did because I had a dream that I believed in and wanted to give everything I had to try and realise it.
I wrote in snatched moments—a few words here and there at lunch during my day job, while my daughter did sport and slept, and in hotels on business travel. I set myself a daily word count target of 250 words and little by little, the words added up to become books. I also reassessed what was most important in my life and since writing followed family, I gave up other things (like watching television) to prioritise it.
At difficult times, writing also provided temporary escape and emotional solace. Just after I’d started writing the book that became The Cottage At Firefly Lake, my mum was killed in a road accident. Brief forays into my fictional world helped me through those very dark days and, for that reason, the book is dedicated in her memory.
How long did it take to write The Cottage At Firefly Lake? How soon did you start sending it off to publishers? Was it an instant hit with them? And did you always envisage it as a series?
I started writing The Cottage At Firefly Lake in 2012 and worked on it on and off for several years. It also went through the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) for critique twice.
I sent the manuscript to agents first and, after many months on submission, signed with Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency in July 2014. Dawn began querying the manuscript with publishers early in 2015.
It was not ‘an instant hit’ and was rejected many times, even after it was a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s 2015 Golden Heart® contest for unpublished writers (under a previous title). I owe a great deal to Dawn who didn’t lose faith in the story (or me) and worked with great persistence to find it a home until it sold to Hachette Book Group USA, Grand Central, Forever that August.
Although I didn’t envisage the book as a series initially, once I finished the first draft and, as often happens for me, some of the secondary characters had taken on a life of their own and ‘demanded’ their own stories. Nick and Mia, the hero and heroine of the second book, Summer On Firefly Lake (which comes out at the end of this month), were two of those characters.
Luckily, the publishers my agent intended to query also wanted a series proposal.
What was your reaction when you found out you had a three-book deal? Did you immediately call your boss and quit your job?
Disbelief, joy and shock. Having worked for so many years towards a dream, all of a sudden it had come true. It was a life-changing, never-to-be-forgotten moment.
My book deal also came at a time of personal and professional upheaval. Two months earlier, there was a restructuring at my day job and I’d opted for voluntary redundancy. In parallel, and after much soul-searching, my husband and I decided to uproot our lives in England and return to Canada so our daughter could start senior school there.
The news that my book had sold coincided with an international move, and what (unexpectedly) turned out to be a protracted period of single parenting until my husband was able to join us in our new home.
The moral of this story? Life—and dreams—often happen in ways you least expect.
Your first book was published in January and has been well received with comments including “thoroughly absorbing” and “heart-stirring”. How does it feel when people connect with your story?
It’s so special to know that know that my story has touched readers’ hearts. It’s a bit like someone complimenting your child.
It’s also truly humbling when readers have contacted me to say that my book has provided solace, escape or much-needed distraction at a time of serious illness or other life crisis.
I’m grateful that I can give readers something of the pleasure and comfort my favourite authors have given me over the years.
What about the odd person who doesn’t enjoy it as much as you’d hope? How do you deal with that?
There will always be readers who, for whatever reason, won’t enjoy what I write. Although negative reviews sting, I remind myself that there are some popular books that don’t appeal to me, either, and all of my favourite authors have received their share of damning reviews, too.
If the comments are constructive, I consider if there’s something I can learn from them to help me become a better writer but, at the end of the day it’s only one person’s view.
Ice cream is also excellent consolation!
Setting seems really important to your books. I know you lived in the UK. Would you consider setting a book in England?
Yes, setting is hugely important to me as a writer, and I suspect that stems in part from how certain places have shaped my own life. Several areas of England—the Lake District and north Norfolk coast in particular—are special to me and would be lovely settings for books. In fact, I have several such story nuggets in my ‘writing inspiration folder.’
However, and despite spending so many years of my life in England, I haven’t yet developed a believable English writing voice, particularly when it comes to dialogue. I’ve tried and, as members of one of the writing groups I belonged to in the UK would undoubtedly attest, the result is awkward. Never say never, though!
How do you feel about social media? And how much effort do you put into it? Does it help you connect with your readers? Is that a positive?
I have active profiles on Twitter and Facebook and usually post on both platforms daily. Since I’m a new author, I’m still growing my audience but it’s lovely when readers reach out to me via social media.
I put a lot of effort into my social media work and to me it’s positive and time well spent. When I share bits of my life with readers, and they share bits of their lives in return, we build the kind of relationships and community that characterises the places I write about.
Social media is also how I connect with other authors and, alongside reader engagement, it’s a learning and professional development tool.
In addition, I maintain an active blog and post fortnightly on Fridays. Since it’s reader-focused, posts are about life and not writing craft or industry.
Are you already thinking ahead to what comes after book three? A completely new series? A one off?
The third book in my Firefly Lake Series, Back Home At Firefly Lake, will be published in North America on December 5 this year.
I’m currently working on something new—the first book in a romantic women’s fiction series due to my agent later this month.
Although it’s been a bit of a wrench to leave the cosy world of Firefly Lake, I’m enjoying getting to know new characters and a new small-town community.
What one piece of advice would you give to a writer perhaps struggling to get published?
Something I’ve said before and that a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) said to me when I was struggling in the unpublished trenches: The only difference between a published and unpublished writer is that the published one didn’t give up.
Yes, you will get rejections, many of them if you’re like me. You’ll also question what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, also like me. But if the dream of becoming a published author is important to you, don’t stop believing in yourself even if others do.
Thank you so much to Jen for sharing her journey. I loved all of her answers but her final words are especially stirring. I’m sending her all my best wishes for a happy publication day (on July 25) and I’m already looking forward to the final instalment of Firefly Lake (a place I would quite happily move to in a heartbeat).
I’ll have two more interviews for you next month.