Recently I read an interview on Literary Rambles with a 15-year-old published author. Not only was she young, but I learned in the interview that her path to publication was quite a unique one. (You can read the interview here). Naturally, this made me curious. And what should one do when they are curious about something (or in this case, someone)? Why, learn more, of course! So today I'm going to interview the lovely Jenna Gustafson, young author of the middle-grade novel Saving Fort Smoky.
Here's a bit about Jenna:
Jenna Gustafson lives happily in Montana with her parents and brother. While she has won local short story contests, this is her first book. She hopes to inspire other children to chase their dreams and understand that they are never too young to accomplish something.
Here's the blurb from Goodreads:
There's only one hope for Fort Smoky to survive. After a devastating fire ravages the homes of Fort Smoky, it's up to young Ben Clearwater and his sister and friends to help the residents and get to Fort Futureland to save the people before the harsh, cold winter sets in. To get there, they will have to trek through unknown mountains, relying on Running Wind's compass and Big Jim's maps of the land while struggling against the harsh forces of Mother Nature. Fort Futureland is a place of new and interesting contraptions, like cars and computers, the four children have never seen, and they are captivated. But the children soon uncover a sinister plot to destroy their beloved Fort Smoky. Will they be able to stop the evil leaders of Fort Futureland? Will they ever make it home? Will they be heroes for Saving Fort Smoky? Join young author Jenna Gustafson in this action-packed adventure of four friends teeming with courage, bravery, and determination. Readers will be caught up in this action-filled, futuristic adventure as they follow Ben, his sister, and friends while they struggle to save their home and family using their skills and cunning. It's an enjoyable read for upper elementary students.
Now the interview!
When did you first get into reading and/or writing?
The magic of reading began with my parent’s animated voices, bright colors, rhymes, and the feel of the pages between my pudgy fingers when I was little. Before kindergarten I went through a learn-to-read course which I detested. I was just in it for the sparkly stickers I got when I completed an exercise. Now, however, I realize that the course was the key to my reading and writing success. The priceless knowledge of literacy put me far ahead of my kindergarten peers, and allowed me to go places and do things I will never encounter in real life. In 4th grade I really took up an interest in reading and read Winnie the Horse Gentler and the Heartland series for hours on end, and haven’t quit reading since.
I began writing when I was about nine, when I received a journal for my birthday. It was just SO FUN to write about the interesting parts of my day, express my thoughts, my frustrations. My journal was where I could blow off steam, and being an introvert, this was a very therapeutic tool. My love for writing has only grown since then.
Why did you decide that you wanted to go through the hard work of publishing in seventh grade?
Mrs. Knudson, my English teacher at the time, gave us our children’s book assignment and made the fatal mistake of showing us an example of another young author’s hardcover children’s book. The fact that it was even possible to publish so young ignited my interest, and after some big dreaming and encouragement from my teacher and good friend librarian, I made up my mind, gave myself a challenge, and dived in headlong. I never really decided to publish my book. I was called. Publishing, to me, was something I had to do. Little did I know how hard I would have to work to get there.
Do you ever regret getting published so soon?
Absolutely not. I have lost nothing in the process, besides maybe my childhood. It has made me a better, more educated person, and has taught me a lot about entrepreneurship. Admittedly, I look pack on my old writing and see where I could make drastic improvements had I had more time and experience while I was drafting, but I still do not regret the leap of faith I took to get my story out to readers like you.
Why didn't you feel the need to get an agent or have your book bought by a larger publishing company?
Every so often I stumbled across an agent in my search for publishers. The idea of getting published by the big leagues was enticing, but judging by other first time author experiences, it was nearly impossible to secure a publication with top-name companies, and hardly worth it in the end. Traditional publishing houses are all about being, well, big. They’re after mass distribution, mass publication, and large sales, and if you fail to produce what they need, you are mostly worthless. Does that cold, executive-feeling world sound like a good starting place to you? It didn’t to me, either. I wanted a company that would allow me to keep my rights and walk me through marketing step by step. This is my first book, and I needed someone to hold my hand. Secondly, I didn’t have enough experience to interest quality agents. I also was working with a tight budget and didn’t know what an agent would cost, so I played it safe and choose Tate Publishing, the best of both self and traditional publishing worlds.
What is one reason you think people would enjoy your book?
I designed the storyline of my book around the fast paced adventure that I crave in novels. A child’s brain is exploding with imagination, and I gave them some western styled brain food that they will appreciate. I hope they are inspired when they learn that the author is not much older than they are, proving that in actuality, dreams are entirely possible.
What was your favourite part of writing Saving Fort Smoky?
I loved being able to manipulate the twists and turns of my plot just like my favorite authors, and watching the story unfold beneath my finger tips at my every whim. It gave me a sense of control, like being the queen of my own little world.
What is your favourite thing to do that is not writing related?
Between dancing, running, illustrating, and hiking, I have to choose hiking as my number one thing to do. I love the challenge and adventure of surviving off a pack on your back and tackling breathtaking terrain that the average person never sees in their lifetime. It’s funny how this interest reflects in my writing.
What would you say to other teen writers looking to make it in the publishing business?
I would encourage other teen writers to journal (it helped me express my voice a ton), and remind them to write from their hearts. People are drawn to passion. I would tell them to take as much advice from all the constructed criticism as possible, and to completely ignore the realist in themselves and in well-meaning adults. Also, never give up. If you don’t get accepted by a publisher the first time, don’t stop there! Take the steps you need to take and try again. Persistence is critical in overcoming the odds. Lastly, do your homework. A major pain, yes, but sooo worth the quality publisher in the end. You don’t want to get tangled up in a company that is actually a scam!
Just believe in yourself, trust in God, and you will go far.
Thank you so much, Jenna, for the interview!
Here's some places where you can find Jenna and her book, Saving Fort Smoky! Pass along the word to all the elementary school kids you know. :)
More information on Saving Fort Smoky:
Saving Fort Smoky on Goodreads
Saving Fort Smoky's website at Tate Publishing
Saving Fort Smoky on Facebook
Where to buy:
Saving Fort Smoky on Amazon.com
Saving Fort Smoky on Amazon.ca
Saving Fort Smoky at Barnes & Noble
Where to find Jenna:
Jenna Gustafson on Goodreads
You can also find Jenna on twitter @mockingjay14 (although she says to be warned, she doesn't use it often).