My guest today is a debut novelist with quite a story to tell. Please help me welcome Jennifer Worrell! Let’s peek at her bio and then find out more about her and her story.
If Jennifer were to make a deal with the Devil, she’d ask to live—in good health—just until she’s finished reading all the books. She figures that’s pretty square. In case other bibliophiles attempt the same scheme, she’s working hard to get all her ideas on paper. She writes multi-genre fiction and the occasional essay, and is currently working on a sci-fi novel and a handful of picture books that may or may not be suitable for children.
Jennifer works at a private university library in Chicago. Edge of Sundown is her first novel. She’s always been drawn to “what-ifs” and flawed characters, and has never quite mastered the happy ending. You can sign up for her newsletter and read pieces published in various nifty literary magazines and anthologies at linktr.ee/JenniferWorrell.
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
Jennifer: The notion of covert extremists covertly eliminating people who outlived their worth seemed deliciously surreal, and since I’m frequently anxious about one day losing my ability to write, I was excited to explore the connection between the two. But I started writing the novel before conspiracy theorists grew so much larger and louder in real life.
Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?
Jennifer: My protagonist, Val Haverford. He and the plot were entwined from the start, though he mellowed out a little as the drafts became more polished. The story is character-driven, so although he’s more of a passive fellow, everything that happens stems directly from the type of person he isn’t.
Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?
Jennifer: My villain, who shall go unnamed to prevent spoilers. I’d like to think it’s because I’m not quite as evil or misguided. I also feared readers would perceive them as a little too enthusiastic about their obsessions and consign those attributes to me.
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
Jennifer: I read all sorts of history on supremacist groups, which was not fun. The aftereffects of garroting was much more interesting, as was traveling a few hours downstate to Val’s childhood town (fictionalized in the novel). I also rediscovered my own, in order to avoid making mistakes. Unfortunately, I still made some incorrect references, which proves that setting the majority of your book in your own city doesn’t make things any easier.
Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?
Jennifer: I lost count. I believe it was in the ballpark of eleventy billion and three, and it wasn’t so much a feeling of completeness as “you’re going to tweak this into oblivion.”
Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?
Jennifer: I spent roughly six years on it. In my defense, I also wrote short stories whenever I needed a break or a shiny new idea wouldn’t let me alone. But I am the world’s slowest writer, and often work when the muse strikes rather than on a daily schedule.
Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?
Jennifer: Unfortunately I can’t seem to get in the proper mindset until mid-afternoon. Then I need to be at the keyboard (I only handwrite while taking notes) with coffee. I log off social media because the temptation to noodle around on there is too great, and suddenly it’s tomorrow. I need to have a big block of uninterrupted time in order to get lost in the project.
Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?
Jennifer: A friend pointed out that passive voice ruined my prose, so I’m trying to watch out for that. And I tend to repeat words and phrases, but every story repeats different things, which makes the habit impossible to break!
Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?
Jennifer: Marilynne Robinson and Jeanette Winterson’s writing is so delicious. I’m in awe of what they do with prose and mood. I discovered new favorites recently: John Mantooth and Hank Early, whose characters and settings wouldn’t let me go. Ditto Howard L. Anderson, who also does amazing things with tone. He was even kind enough to blurb my book.
Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
Jennifer: I love writing outside. Since the pandemic, I got tired of bending over TV tables, so I bought a nice proper table and set it near a window in the living room, and it’s the next best thing in bad weather. I do most of my reading on the train to work, and at home it’s either the couch or a comfy chair in the bedroom, depending what the cat allows.
Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?
Jennifer: I’m the assistant to the dean and office manager at a university library. It’s the first job where I really feel at home, with people who are supportive of my writing. And I’m surrounded by books!
Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?
Jennifer: I wanted to be a novelist since I found out such a thing existed. I’m lucky that I found publication with a small press, and got my start with many great literary magazines and anthologies.
Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?
Jennifer: I think once I reach all my goals without justifications or caveats, I’ll finally feel successful. I’m not quite there yet, but I have one toe on the path.
Val Haverford’s sci-fi and western novels made him a household name. But that was then. A decade of creative stagnation and fading health has left him in the literary wilderness.
Attempting to end his dry spell and secure his legacy, Val pens a dystopian conspiracy theory set in a tangential universe where alien invaders eliminate ‘undesirables’ perceived as drains on society.
But as he digs deeper into violence plaguing his adopted home of Chicago, he discovers unsettling similarities between his work in progress and a life he thought he left behind. Soon he finds his fictional extremists are not only real—they’re intent on making sure his book never sees the light of day.
As he pieces together haunting truths about his city and his motives, Val realizes his last chance to revive his career and reconcile the past could get him—and the people he loves—killed.
Will he make the right choice? Or will it be too late?
Edge of Sundown is a provocative story that shows how the desperation of lost opportunity can lead to drastic and unexpected consequences.
Buy Links: Amazon
That’s quite a tale! I hope it all works out for Val. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Jennifer!
Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
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