2020 was your debut year. How was it?
My debut year started off strong, with From the Desk of Zoe Washington releasing on January 14. I had a couple of in-person launch events at local bookstores, and was able to attend Winter Institute, ALA Midwinter, and the North Texas Teen Book Festival. And then the pandemic shut everything down. Despite that, it’s still been a mostly positive debut year for me. Readers are discovering and enjoying Zoe’s story. Now, From the Desk of Zoe Washington is appearing on several “Best of 2020” book lists. I’m so grateful!
With the pandemic many authors were unable to do the school and in-person bookstore visits they had planned. How did you navigate that?
One disappointing moment this year was when the book tour my publisher had planned was canceled due to the pandemic. I had been looking forward to visiting those bookstores and meeting readers in person! I had no choice but to pivot. Fortunately, I’ve been able to do a lot of virtual panels and school visits. Also, three of my middle grade debut friends (Shannon Doleski, Lorien Lawrence, and Tanya Guerrero) and I planned an online book festival called Middle Ground Book Fest. It was a great opportunity to connect with other middle grade authors and help them reach teachers, librarians and readers during a difficult year. We had a lot of fun with it! The video recordings are still available on our YouTube channel.
What does your writing schedule look like?
Before the pandemic, I had a schedule. I woke up early a few times a week to write. (I could never quite make it to #5amWritersClub, but I’d write from 6 - 7:30 am). My day job is three days a week, so on the other two days, I’d write while my daughter was in school. I also wrote a lot on the weekends. But now that my daughter is doing remote learning, I don’t have those quiet days to write anymore! Now, I have to try to squeeze in writing whenever I can.
What are you currently working on?
I recently completed copy edits for my second book, A Soft Place to Land, which comes out on September 14. Now, I’m getting to work on what I hope will be my next published book - another standalone contemporary middle grade.
Do you plan on venturing into YA? (I know your debut initially started out as YA if I’m not mistaken?)
I did start out writing young adult books! The three (unpublished) manuscripts I wrote before From the Desk of Zoe Washington were YA, and I even thought Zoe’s story would be at first. I started out with her as sixteen years old instead of twelve. But a critique partner who read pages early on helped me realize that the book would be stronger as a middle grade. It was an adjustment to make the shift from writing YA to MG, but I’m so happy writing MG now! I do want to venture back to YA at some point, if I find the right idea.
What are some free or inexpensive resources you use that help you as a writer?
One free website that I like to use to track my progress when I’m drafting or revising is www.pacemaker.press. I like all the ways it lets you customize your plan, and it adjusts if you miss a day. Also, some authors and publishing professionals share fantastic writing tips for free on their website and newsletters: Susan Dennard, Patrice Caldwell, and Erin Bowman, to name a few. Finally, I love listening to writing podcasts like First Draft with Sarah Enni, 88 Cups of Tea, and Deadline City.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
What is your favorite quote?
One of my favorites is, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” - Maya Angelou. I even incorporated it into From the Desk of Zoe Washington!
What are you hoping for in 2021?
I really hope that the COVID-19 vaccine will allow life to return to “normal” sooner rather than later!
Last but certainly not least, how is Zoe doing?
I don’t want to spoil the book by saying too much, but if Zoe were in this pandemic, she’d absolutely use all her extra time at home to bake. In addition to cupcakes and other sweet treats, she’d join in on the bread-baking trend!
Janae Marks is the author of the critically acclaimed novel From the Desk of Zoe Washington and A Soft Place to Land (9/14/21). She grew up in the New York City suburbs, and now lives in Connecticut with her husband and daughter. She has an MFA in Writing for Children from The New School.
Visit Janae online at http://janaemarks.com.