Today I’m celebrating the release of the new adult novel The Secret of Isobel Key with an interview of the book’s author, Jen McConnel. In this contemporary romance, a recent college grad sets off to discover the secrets of a woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century.
You started out writing poetry. How did you begin to write fiction? What was it like to make that leap?
Jen: When I was young, I wrote everything, but the fiction sort of faded away by the time I got to college. Maybe because I was an English major, analyzing literature on a daily basis, I began to pursue publication with my poetry before I returned to fiction. I still write poetry, but my focus has really shifted, and the shift started when I was teaching middle school. Spending my days trying to get kids excited about reading and writing must have rubbed off, because the summer after my first year of teaching is when I started to seriously write fiction.
Several of your works revolve around the idea of witchcraft. What is it about that topic that draws you in?
Jen: Everything! I’ve always been fascinated with the history of witch hunts in the world (a huge source of inspiration for ISOBEL), and on the paranormal end of my writing, I love the freedom that comes with characters who literally can do anything. I’m also a firm believer in magic in my life, although I don’t think it’s nearly as flashy as some of my stories!
I’m always curious to know where on the page a story begins. What was the first sentence of your first draft for The Secret of Isobel Key?
Jen: What a fun question! I actually found the file, titled “Scottish Witch Story.” Here’s the first line:
As the flames rose higher, her rich voice ceased cursing and started in upon a shrill screaming whine, much like the sound of the sap boiling in the logs at her feet.
And what is the first sentence in the final manuscript?
As the flames rose, Isobel stopped cursing and instead started to make a shrill, screaming whine, much like the sound of the sap boiling in the logs at her feet.
As you can see, the beginning of the story remained fairly constant over the years and revisions. The rest of the book, however, has gone through way too many incarnations to count, and it’s been wonderful watching this story grow and change!
What are your optimal writing conditions?
Jen: I’m lucky enough to have an office (okay, it’s also the guest room, but it still counts!), and I love being able to shut the door and fall into my world. I like to putter around online in the morning (and maybe do yoga if I’m feeling ambitious…more about that in a minute!), and I usually get into the writing groove around 9. My best writing days are the days when I’m not teaching (like today!) and I can settle in for a full day. I’ve got south-west facing windows in my office, and a prism on the window sends rainbows into the room; it’s like my own little fairy tale! Oh, and I need plenty of caffeine (tea and coffee are both favorites) and snacks. Sometimes, I draft on my laptop, too, out at the kitchen table or in between classes on campus. Any day I’m playing with my stories is an ideal day!
As a composition teacher, what’s an assignment you give to help young writers develop their skills?
Jen: It’s funny; I use many of the same creative writing prompts teaching college that I used when I taught middle school. I love using story starters (sentences that you have to build from), and I’m a huge advocate for daily journaling. Because my class isn’t a creative writing class, unfortunately, I don’t make a lot of time to play, but I’ve come to appreciate the structure of academic writing, as well, and I try to teach my students to be creative within this framework.
You also teach a workshop entitled “Yoga for Writers.” What’s the connection between yoga and writing as you see it?
Jen: As a Registered Yoga Teacher, I’m interested in finding ways to bring yoga outside the studio. Yoga and writing are beautiful compliments in many ways; a lot of the yogic philosophy can be applied to writing (and any creative endeavor, really), and yoga postures are excellent for unblocking creativity, stretching your shoulders, and strengthening your back after a day hunched over the computer. I love integrating these two things in my own daily practice, and it’s exciting to be able to share yoga with other writers. The stress relief doesn’t hurt, either!
What do you hope readers of The Secret of Isobel Key will come away with at the end of the novel?
Jen: I just hope they connect with the characters and the story! Once a book’s published, it’s no longer only mine, and that’s intimidating and incredibly exciting all at the same time. I hope my readers find something that speaks to them in ISOBEL.
Lou is in the middle of a quarter-life crisis. Fresh out of college, she’s unemployed and unsure of herself. But when she gets the chance to escape to Scotland with her best friend, it could be the answer to her quest for self-discovery. The trip is not at all what she expected, especially when her tour guide turns out to be the dreamy historian Brian, and together they embark on a hunt for information about Isobel Key, a woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century.
They set out to learn the truth of the condemned witch, but Lou isn’t prepared for the knowledge that awaits her. She must face her own demons if she has any hope of righting the wrongs of the past.
Flashing between seventeenth century Scotland and a contemporary romance, THE SECRET OF ISOBEL KEY is a mystery that will please readers of all ages.
About Jen McConnel
Jen McConnel first began writing poetry as a child. A Michigander by birth, she now lives and writes in the beautiful state of North Carolina. When she isn’t crafting worlds of fiction, she teaches college writing composition and yoga. Once upon a time, she was a middle school teacher, a librarian, and a bookseller, but those are stories for another time. Her debut NA novel, THE SECRET OF ISOBEL KEY, arrives today — December 19 — from Bloomsbury Spark . Visit http://www.jenmcconnel.com to learn more.
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