Last Friday I posted my review of Audrey’s Guide to Witchcraft by Jody Gehrman. I loved the book and approached Mrs. Gehrman for an interview, and she said yes! I’m so happy So let’s get right into it!
Jody Gehrman is the author of seven novels and numerous plays. Audrey’s Guide to Witchcraft is her most recent Young Adult novel. Her other Young Adult novels include Babe in Boyland, Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty, and Triple Shot Bettys in Love, (Penguin’s Dial Books). Babe in Boyland won the International Reading Association Teen Choice Award and has recently been optioned by the Disney Channel. Her adult novels are Notes from the Backseat, Tart, and Summer in the Land of Skin (Red Dress Ink). Her plays have been produced in Ashland, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and L.A. She and her partner David Wolf won the New Generation Playwrights Award for their one-act, Jake Savage, Jungle P.I. She is a professor of English at Mendocino College.
Rae: First, I want to say thank you so much for the opportunity to review your book, Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft. I really enjoyed reading the book, but for my readers have not, would you mind telling us the general idea of Audrey's story?
Jody Gehrman: It’s about a 17-year-old witch-in-training who must hone her newfound magical powers in order to save her mother from an evil necromancer. Oh, and it has magical chocolate cake plus cute boys!
R:What inspired you to write such a neat story?
JG: I’ve always been fascinated with witchcraft. I even dabbled in it a bit in my youth. I started writing it about seven years ago as a book for adults, but I never felt like it was quite working. Then I realized it would be better as a YA novel, so I pulled out the old draft and gave it a radical makeover, including a brand new protagonist and a totally different plot.
R: What about the background love story? Why did you choose to not make the love story the focal point of the novel?
JG: Audrey’s attraction to Julian needs more time to really develop, and while I do see the love story getting fleshed out in the next two books, in this first book she’s got her hands full. Her primary concern here is getting her magical powers up and running so she can save her mom. Still, Julian’s too cute and charming to ignore completely! She feels an irresistible connection with him. I do love romance, when well done, but Audrey’s story isn’t just boy-meets-girl. She’s busy!
R: What would you say was the most difficult part about writing this story?
JG: This book took me longer to write than anything I’ve ever attempted. I had to be patient and wait until the story unfolded. That can be super frustrating, but I do believe you can’t force a book into being–or if you do, anyway, it usually shows.
R: Which of your characters do you feel like you relate most to?
JG: That’s a hard question. I relate in to Sadie, Audrey and Megan in very different ways. I relate to Sadie’s mentoring style, to Audrey’s intensity, and to Megan’s drive to be a rock goddess. Not that I AM a rock goddess, but I’d like to be! I guess all of my characters reflect a different part of my psyche.
R: What lessons or feelings do you hope your reader will take away from the experience of reading your novel?
JG: I hope they’ll see the magic in everyday life. Audrey’s ability to absorb everything around her and channel it does happen all the time on a subtle level; we pull ideas and emotions from our environment and channel it into our work, our art, our interactions. It would be gratifying if readers resonated with that and started to recognize it more. On the other hand, the wonder of being a writer is that readers always see something I never intended to show them. Maybe they recognize reflections of people they know in the characters. Maybe the setting reminds them of someplace they’ve been. In a way, the responses that surprise me are even more delightful than the ones I predicted. It’s the ongoing alchemy that happens when a reader’s imagination encounters the words on a page.
Questions about Life And Other Works
R: Would you like to tell us a little bit more about yourself? What kinds of things do you like to do when you're not working?
JG: Yoga, kickboxing, swimming, theatre, thrift shopping, reading, movies and eating. I’m a big fan of bacon and chocolate, though not necessarily together.
R: I’ve read you’re also a playwright. How does play writing differ from writing a novel? Which do you enjoy most?
JG: Plays are all about dialogue; it’s your only tool. I think writing plays hones my dialogue skills so when I go back to novels the muscle is stronger. Plays are much more communal by nature, too. You usually work with the director and cast; that helps fight the solitude of writing novels. When you see a play performed you get to feel what the audience feels; you know when a joke falls flat, when a kiss or a monologue moves people. With novels, you have a huge space between you and your readers; only through reviews and emails do you know what they’re thinking. But novels help me reach a wider audience, and I get a bigger canvas to paint on. I can delve into setting and pack in all kinds of sensory details. For me it’s ideal moving back and forth between the two forms. I call it “cross-genre pollination.” My work in one form inspires and strengthens my work in the other.
R: So Disney has shown interest in your novel Babe in Boyland. How excited are you to have the opportunity to see your novel in movie form? Will you be working on the script?
JG: Disney has their own distinct style, so they’re hiring a screenwriter. I’m fine with that. I actually think I can learn a lot more this way; I get to see how another writer transforms my story into something that will work on screen. I think it will be fascinating. Since I’ve experienced the “letting go” process plenty in theatre (hanging back as a director makes changes or interprets my play in new ways) I’d like to think I’m not as control freaky as most writers. Who knows, though! I’m just really excited. It’s kind of a dream come true, even getting as far as the option.
Questions About the Writing Process
R: For those of us who are aspiring authors, I can't resist a couple of questions about your experience. What inspired you to become an author?
JG: My first “novel” was really a very long letter sent to my best friend about us riding around on our flying dogs. I was eight. We’d moved to Canada for the year and I missed our imaginary games, so I wrote about them instead. I guess writing for me has always been about delving into imaginary worlds. I still tend to think of each of my novels as long love letters to a place, a time in my life, a person, a feeling.
In college I discovered playwriting, and after college I freelanced as a journalist. Both of these experiences really confirmed my commitment to writing, in part because they helped with the inherent loneliness that can become an occupational hazard. As a playwright I love working with actors and directors; as a journalist I love doing interviews. These more social aspects of writing balance out the isolation of writing novels.
R: Where do you like to write? Do you have a specific place or time of day that you like to do your work?
JG: I have an office, we call it “the writing room.” It’s my favorite place in the world. I’ll attach a picture. I’m generally a morning writer, though when I’m on a roll I’ll sometimes write all day.
R: What went into your decision to be a self-published author?
JG: Here are some of the reasons I decided to experiment with the independent route after publishing with large, established houses for the past decade:1) TOTAL CREATIVE CONTROL: While authors occasionally get to offer input into book design and marketing strategies, more often we’re sidelined or not included in the process at all. With AUDREY, I hired my own model and sketched out my own vision for the cover. We transformed my writing studio into a photo studio and my husband David went to work. For over a week obsessed over fonts and poured over Photoshop tutorials. We had a blast making it our own. I plan to attack every aspect of marketing with the same gusto. It’s liberating, taking control in this way. 2) MASSIVE INCREASE IN ROYALTIES: I know I’ll have to sell a lot of books to earn anywhere near the advances I got with my book deals. Still, considering that I’ll be going from an average of 10% royalties to a much larger percentage, even a moderate success has the potential to keep me afloat. 3) NO WAITING: Ask any writer and they’ll confirm that the waiting process is endless and creatively draining. You have to wait months for editors and agents to get back to you, your pub date gets delayed, your project is on hold until you can get more feedback. It goes on and on. With this process, publishing happens when I say it does.
4) IT’S FUN: I’ll probably be singing a new tune if my marketing falls flat and I join the fifty percent of self-pubbed writers who earn less than $500 a year at their craft. After living with the disempowering lack of involvement I often felt with traditional publishing, though, there’s a real skydiving-esque thrill to all of this. I’m taking the plunge. The outcome is uncertain. Wish me luck.
R: Do you have any advice to give to me and other aspiring authors?
JG: One: Write on a regular schedule.
Two: Surround yourself with people who support your writing dreams.
Three: Know that external validation (getting published, getting praise) can only take you so far. You have to love the process itself, savor it every day. That’s where a writer’s true pleasure lives.
I really want to say thanks again for the wonderful opportunities you've given me with both the review and this interview. I wish you the best in your future works and I can't wait for the next installment of Audrey's story!
If you missed my review of Jody's newest YA novel, Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft, Check it out!