New Voice: Denise Jaden on Losing Faith

Denise Jaden is the first time author of Losing Faith (Simon Pulse, 2010). From the promotional copy:

A terrible secret. A terrible fate.

When Brie’s sister, Faith, dies suddenly, Brie’s world falls apart. As she goes through the bizarre and devastating process of mourning the sister she never understood and barely even liked, everything in her life seems to spiral farther and farther off course. Her parents are a mess, her friends don’t know how to treat her, and her perfect boyfriend suddenly seems anything but.

As Brie settles into her new normal, she encounters more questions than closure: Certain facts about the way Faith died just don’t line up. Brie soon uncovers a dark and twisted secret about Faith’s final night…a secret that puts her own life in danger.

Read an excerpt (PDF). Check out Denise’s blog and LJ.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore first, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

I began writing before I really knew anything about the technicalities of writing a book. If someone had told me that I should outline my whole novel back then, I probably would have thought they were crazy. “How can I write an outline?” I would have said. “I don’t know what the characters are going to do until they do it!”

Well, all that’s all changed. If you follow me on Twitter (@denisejaden) or me on Facebook, you may have caught wind of my recent 33k outlines. Yes, that’s 33 thousand words. For an outline.

To be honest, though, I’m still very much a plot-challenged writer. I learn better from experience than I do from textbooks, and so it’s very difficult for me to work under any kind of formula or structure.

Instead, I treat my outlines a little like a first draft. The differences being that I think of it as an outline and not anything I would ever expect anyone to read and enjoy, and it’s written in third person point of view, whereas my novels are usually in first.

This isn’t to say I start with a completely blank page and empty mind. I usually come up with an idea based on a character that I can already see in my head. I try to put that idea into a logline or very short blurb that has some hook to it. This logline doesn’t always end up as something formalized that I write down, but if I feel it’s hooky enough (and I usually send it off to my critique partner as well, to make sure she feels it’s hooky enough), I’ll try to come up with plot ideas that will enhance and show that hook.

Part of my reason for writing such long first-drafty outlines is that it takes me that many words to get to know my characters. Once I know my characters, I can tell if some plot points feel off for them, and I don’t have to wait until later drafts to realize this.

The reason I write my outlines in third person point of view, even if I know I will write the manuscript in first person, is because I always have my critique partner read and critique my outlines. In a full draft of a book, a writer has to take time to be careful with every word and give her reader a real sense of her character for the reader in chapter one, but in my outline I am still learning who my characters are, so I try to spell my revelations out for my critique partner in short form as they come to me, and I always try to think of creative ways to show these traits once the writing of the actual first draft comes along.

Now, I am still plot challenged, so anyone who feels some kinship there, all I can recommend is finding a critique partner who is strong on plot. My main critique partner has really helped me think outside of my own little box of ideas and make my plot arcs complete and more engaging.

I’ve written a novel during NaNoWriMo for the last three years, and I don’t think I would be capable of doing that without a thorough outline. But while I love outlining, I think the reason I love it so much is because it helps me develop my characters, helps me organize my thoughts on paper enough to get some feedback, and kills my fear over trying things to see if they’ll work. I recommend outlining for anyone at any stage of their writing career.

At one time, I saw it as something structured and confining. Now I see nothing but freedom in it.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

My agent is everything I could ask for or want in an agent, but the process of finding her was anything but easy!

During my very first year of writing, I began to query, without success, of course. But I learned a lot along the way.

In my early querying days, I sent my precious manuscript off to a single agent, often by snail mail because that’s how many of them were receiving queries at the time, and then wait, biting my nails and checking my mailbox incessantly.

Through critique friends I made on Critique Circle and after attending a couple of writing conferences, I started to understand that there is a better way.

One major blessing in my life is that I have one critique partner who loves to write and critique query letters. I know, crazy, right? She has helped me so much in getting multiple queries for multiple manuscripts ready over the years.

At the conferences I attended, I was able to sit down face to face with editors and agents, as well as other more experienced writers. The best part about this was that I could finally see the professionals in this business as human. I realized they were not sitting in their offices back in New York with an evil grin just waiting to stamp my query with their big REJECTED stamp. They wanted to like my work. They just couldn’t quite yet.

So I continued to improve my manuscripts, my queries, and learned to query widely. For me, this meant sending out batches of about five to six queries at a time, and each time a rejection rolled in, replacing it with another attempt. If I received five or more rejections without a request to see at least a partial manuscript, I took another serious look at my query. If I had a few partial rejections in a row, I took a closer look at my manuscript again.

At this point, I began to understand the meaning of the phrase “the right match,” but honestly, I didn’t understand it fully until after the process of submitting to editors much later in the game.

One other thing that made the query process a little less painful was that I started writing and submitting short stories during this season of my writing life. Not only did I find some small success there to bolster me back up from endless rejections, but also, because I was submitting multiple manuscripts widely, plus short stories, I think I became very close to immune to rejection. I had rejections pouring in almost every week, and I got to the point where I just said, “Huh, guess it’s not for them,” to myself, and shimmied that rejection over to my rejection file (and yes, I have kept all of my rejections, which could easily wallpaper a room).

Imagine my surprise (read: elation) when my answering machine spouted a message from a well-known and respected agent who loved my full manuscript and wanted to talk about representation! I later spoke with her on the phone, and as awesome as it all was, I remembered what I’d read from other writers who had gone before me. I quickly shot off an email to other agents who were reading my novel and informed them of my offer.

I was sure, completely positive, that I would sign with that agent who phoned and offered to represent me. I mean, after five or so years of querying and getting rejected, take the offer, right? But my critique partner talked me down, kept me sane, and I waited until other agents came back with their responses.

And some of them were positive! Wow, could life get any better?

After a long week of weighing pros and cons (not that there were many cons to the whole situation) I decided to sign with one of the later agents to offer, Michelle Humphrey.

At the time, she worked out of the Sterling Lord offices as an assistant agent. She had not made any sales of her own, and she was not the most widely known or experienced of my choices, however I did get a very good feeling when talking to her. I loved her eagerness, and while I felt that some other agents I had spoken to were somewhat tired and weary from the publishing business, Michelle was still full of zeal and hope. Besides that, she had looked up the blurbs for my other books on my website and loved those concepts as well.

I think the important thing is that an agent really gets your writing and jives with your outlook on submissions, no matter which agency they work with. (Michelle has just recently settled in at ICM Talent and is open to queries there.)

I know those who are looking for an agent have likely had moments (or years) where they don’t think it will ever happen for them. I certainly have been there.

My advice is to keep plugging away and get as good as you can at the manuscript writing and at the query writing. Keep submitting, and try not to take the rejections personally. It is possible to go from multiple, multiple, rejections to more than one offer overnight.

The Perfect Match will show up when you very least expect it!

Cynsational Notes

Check out this video featuring Denise from Simon & Schuster:

Check out the book trailer for Losing Faith:

6 thoughts on “New Voice: Denise Jaden on Losing Faith

  1. Great post! Our paths to becoming agented writers are eerily similar. And I'm a brand new Simon Pulse author as well – cue the mysterious "do do do do" music ; )

    I especially like how you consistently looked within when faced with rejection instead of blaming others for the rejection or making excuses for it!!!! What a proactive mindset.

  2. Great interview, Denise!
    And it sounds like you have THE BEST CRITIQUE PARTNER EVER!!! (Who may or may not be me.)

  3. Besides being agent mates, Denise and I seem to have shared a similar querying process 🙂 You always ask such good questions, Cynthia. Thanks for another great interview.

  4. Great interview. I had the same experience of resisting the urge to sign with the first agent who called. I mean, she was so enthusiastic and nice! Ultimately, however, I signed with a different agent–it was just a gut feeling at some level I think–and am very happy. Loved the 33k outline story, too! 🙂 Stasia

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