Today I’m pleased to host fellow writing colleague, Jenny Storm. She’s celebrating her new release, a YA mystery called Dixie Dust Rumors, and took time out to do a little interview with me.
Here’s a quick blurb about the book:
Who could be luckier than a young girl whose father trains racehorses? That is, until false accusations could cause the loss of not only their livelihood and the horses they love, but their dreams. Due to the belief that horse racing is a crooked sport, even unsubstantiated rumors can be fatal to a trainer’s career. Twelve-year-old Rose Olen is determined to find out why a journalist printed innuendos that make her father’s business practices sound unethical without checking facts. Aided by her friends Maya Sanchez and Libby Kim, and her younger brother Simon, they investigate the charges and come up with a scheme to foil the reporter. They juggle responsibilities at school, the contempt and ridicule from other students, and responsibilities at the track as they search for the truth behind the Dixie Dust Rumors.
And, now, meet Jenny Storm!
Hi, Jenny! Thanks for taking time to answer a few questions about writing YA and mysteries.
1. My sister-in-law is an avid horse racing fan, so I’m no stranger to the sport. When did you first get interested in horses and horse racing?
JS: I watched and won my first Kentucky Derby in 1969, when I was seven years old. Majestic Prince was the winner – I fell in love with him. Gorgeous, gorgeous horse. I now have photos of him I will frame for the study in my new house. Along with photos of horses like Point Given, John Henry, and Holy Bull. My mom, dad, and I watched that first race on TV – in black and white – they thought it would be fun, and my grandfather worked part-time as a parimutuel clerk (the guy who takes your bet at the window) in MA on a harness track (He was a lawyer by day). I just fell in love with the sport. I grew up watching the races and took riding lessons at summer camp in New Mexico the summer I was 15. Because I was a girl, they only let me learn English-style riding, but I learned to jump and saddle and take care of horses, and just loved them. Being a city girl, working in theatre on both coasts, I didn’t really have much chance to follow that joy. When I worked on Broadway on MISS SAIGON, I started getting into it again, and some friends and I used to go the New York tracks, which expanded to Florida, Kentucky, and California tracks, and I started focusing my volunteer work on horse-related charities.
At the time I researched this book, I went to the track once a week. Now, I only get to go every few months, although this is my tenth year covering the Triple Crown. I hope to get back into more regular race-going over the next year or so.
2. How different is writing YA from adult fiction?
JS: You still have to tell a really good story and let the characters remain true to themselves. I found myself second-guessing parental response more than changing anything because of the kids. DIXIE DUST is on the younger, more innocent end of the middle grade spectrum by choice. You can’t have dark and intense ALL the time! 😉
3. Any pointers you can give people who want to write cross-genres?
JS: Know each genre that interests you inside out. Read constantly. Pick elements you like best, or that you want to read and can’t find, and use them in your work.
4. I’m sure you get this question(s) all the time, but I’m going to ask it anyway. 🙂 What are the benefits of having a pen name? The disadvantages? Why would someone choose a pen name over their own?
JS: It’s more for marketing ease than anything else. Different names in different genres. You can choose where to cross-market and where to keep names separate. There are people on the marketing side of it who have trouble wrapping their minds around anyone who’s good at more than one thing. One of the few positives about the bulk of marketing now dumped on the writer is that the writer can shape the individual campaigns better, and choose where to cross-market.
Pen names give you a huge amount of freedom. Each name has a personality and a voice, and yet you still can keep your life separate. It’s a luxury a performer doesn’t have. And, as you evolve, you can retire pen names that no longer suit your work or your life. Much easier than changing your real name over and over! It keeps you from being locked in other people’s boxes. You get to build and rebuild your own.
5. Will there be a sequel to DIXIE DUST RUMORS?
JS: It was originally conceived as a stand-alone, part of – hmm, I don’t want to call it a “series”, but an array of novels for this age range with protagonists in different sports. I’ve got one nearly done where the protagonist is a twelve-year-old female hockey player. And I’ve got notes on books featuring rowing and archery and fencing – all sports I’m interested in.
However, working on the proofs for DIXIE DUST made me realize that there’s more to say with these characters. I’ve outlined the next book with them, which takes place in Saratoga over the summer months, tentatively called DEAD MAN’S STALL. The title sort of gives you the gist of the mystery! 😉 The vibe in Saratoga in summer is fascinating, because you’ve got the flat race meet, where there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of quality horses, and the horse people are incredibly busy with that. Then you’ve got the rich, who flock to town to throw around money and their attitude around million dollar horses. Some of them are great, but there are plenty of people who show up who are really nasty individuals. And you’ve got the ballet, up for the summer, and all the other arts and charity events. Seriously, I take more clothes up for three days in Saratoga than I do for three weeks in Europe. It’s all the same people at a variety of events all day every day. I feel like I’m the wardrobe girl/quick change artist of my own life. I’m constantly changing clothes. And there’s polo. I love the sport and the horses; have very little use for the people and attitude around it. And harness racing. And slot machines. Then you’ve got the college students, both working summer terms and those just up from other places for summer term. And you’ve got the townies who couldn’t afford to flee or rent their houses for $3K/week and have to stay in the middle of all that chaos. It’s an interesting dynamic. The town’s much more mellow in the middle of winter. Mix that in with teen hormones, and well, it’s something I want to explore.
6. Since I know you write an adult fiction series (or two!) as well, tell us a bit about that. What is the best thing about writing a series? What’s the hardest?
JS: What’s great about a series is learning and growing with the characters, for both the writer and the reader. If you haven’t outlined the whole series in advance, you really have to make sure you don’t contradict too much in the earlier books, and make sure changes are rooted in past experiences and either compliment or contrast to them. If you’ve outlined the whole series, you have to give yourself enough freedom to let the characters surprise you.
The hardest is not to get caught up in the fear that the series will be dropped and you won’t get to finish it. If something happens and you leave or lose one publisher, just keep going and find another.
And, the longer the series runs, the more carefully you have to track details. I keep notebooks and, once the final proofs go up, I update details, like what backstory was revealed, any new character details, things like how a character takes his coffee, etc. That way, when I write the next book, I just flip to the page and make sure I keep details consistent. Or, if I deviate, there’s a choice and a reason, and I make sure it’s clear to the reader and not just a mistake.
7. Tell us a little about Dixie Dust Rumors. What inspired you to write it?
JS: Several things came together at once. I wanted to write a middle-grade novel, on the younger end of that age range. I love the series fiction from the early twentieth century: Trixie Belden, Ruth Fielding, Judy Bolton, Beverly Gray, all of those. I wanted to write fiction about horse racing. If you hang around a racetrack, you can find dozens of fascinating stories on any given day. I’d love to see a scripted cable show set at a race track. It’s fascinating, and the dynamics and the insular aspect of the world are complex. And yet, you still have to function in the outside world – especially the kids of trainers and owners and jockeys. I wanted to explore it, but also pick particular elements and explore it more simply than I could in adult fiction. I would have approached the same bones of plot very differently in an adult fiction piece, but I wanted to explore it living in Rose’s psyche as she lived it, not as an adult remembering it.
8. What appeals to you most about mysteries?
JS: As a reader, I like to try to figure it out, but also be surprised. I don’t want to get too far ahead of the protagonist, but I don’t want the protagonist to have and act on information I don’t have. I also don’t want the protagonist to be an idiot and keep making the same stupid mistakes. There are definitely mysteries I’ve picked up where I wished the protagonist would get killed off! I like the logic, the puzzle, figuring things out, the why, especially the psychological why. Also, for me personally, I like the sense that there will be some form of justice at the end, and the good guys win. I know that doesn’t always happen, and I respect writers who can pull off something more existential and complex and depressing, but for me, personally, I want the death to have meaning, even if I don’t agree with it, and to feel, by the end, that things have been set right with the world. Watch – having said that, I’ll go in a totally different direction with something like, next week!