First of all, how are you doing these days? The world’s gone to hell the last year and a half, what are you doing to maintain a healthy state of mind?
I am doing okay. It’s been a very rough year for everyone so I do not want to complain. However, personally, I believe I handled things better in the early days of the pandemic than I did toward the end. I teach middle school and it was a very, very challenging teaching year so I think I’m just spent. I’m looking forward to a quiet summer reading and writing and hanging out with my son, who is going into his junior year of college this September.
When writing a short story, novella, or novel, what are some things you think you have to achieve to write something that will stand the test of time?
I want my readers to be immediately connected to my main character and their situation. And remain connected. Character development and the world building around my characters are very important to me. Plot is necessary but I believe if your characters don’t connect with the reader, then all is lost—or at least, that’s the type of reader I am.
Who are some contemporary writers every writer today should be reading (and why)?
I tend to not read one particular writer but more various novels. I loved American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson and Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I recently read Joe Clifford’s The One That Got Away and I really enjoyed that, as well as Wallace Stroby’s Heaven’s A Lie.
If you had to make a list of the three most important rules when it comes to writing, what would those rules be (and why)?
a. Never write anything until you have the plot pretty much worked out in your head and a strong feeling for the main characters. Thinking about your story and novel is probably more important than forcing yourself to sit down and write every day (which I don’t agree that any writer should feel the need to write every day. Your brain needs to rest.)
b. Outlining is extremely helpful, even if it’s a scribbly mess in your notebook.
c. I’m a big present tense fan, but I don’t use it all the time. However, if I find that my writing isn’t popping, then I switch the tense to present. That usually works very well for crime fiction when you need your tone to be immediate.
It’s been said print media is dead. What is your response to those who claim audiences in the future will have no need for books, short stories, etc. (i.e., visual media will take over all modes of storytelling)?
I don’t agree with it. People love to read and will always love to read. Plus, we all know the book is always better than the TV show or movie! Seriously, yes, visual media is terrific but I still think there are millions of people who will always be drawn to reading, even if it comes from audio books. Which I’m okay with.
Who is an historical figure you’d like to sit down and have a drink and conversation with (and why?)?
Eleanor Roosevelt. When I was a kid, I read a biography about her and I just got obsessed with her as a person—I went on to find more and more about her. She had such a sad childhood and her marriage didn’t work out, but she had a way of just never giving up on life and trying to help those who were more unfortunate than her. She was raised to be a debutant so to speak, and she refused to live that life. She wasn’t perfect but as a woman, I find her to be one of the most inspiring people in American history.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
Probably nothing soon unfortunately. I’m doing a rewrite on my mystery novel and I’m also working on a horror novel. It’s going to be a while. However, I think when I get over this hump, I’ll have time to write a bunch of short stories, which are my true love. And then another novel. Hopefully.
Jen Conley’s stories have appeared in Pulp Modern, Thuglit, Needle, Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter, Grand Central Noir, Crime Factory, Trouble in the Heartland and others. Her books include Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry and Cannibals. She’s been shortlisted for Best American Mystery Stories. She lives in New Jersey.