“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Jen Malone

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Jen Malone is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview today. Jen’s debut middle grade novel AT YOUR SERVICE, Simon & Schuster/Aladdin M!X,  releases on August 26, 2014! Congratulations, Jen!

Here is a bit about Jen:

 Jen Malone is a middle grade and young adult author. Her debut AT YOUR SERVICE publishes with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX in August 2014 and her new series, RSVP (Simon & Schuster), co-written with Gail Nall, launches with Book #1 in 2015. Her YA debut WANDERLOST publishes with HarperCollins in 2016. Jen lives north of Boston with her husband and three children and teaches at Boston University.

Here’s a description of AT YOUR SERVICE:

Chloe Turner has pretty much the BEST life. She gets to live in the super fancy Hotel St. Michele, New York City is her home town and her dad Mitchell Turner, concierge extraordinaire, is teaching her all the secrets of the business so she can follow in his footsteps. After helping him out with a particularly difficult kid client, Chloe is appointed the official junior concierge tending to the hotel’s smallest, though sometimes most demanding, guests.

Her new position comes with tons of perks like cupcake parties, backstage passes to concerts, and even private fittings with the hippest clothing designers. But Chloe hasn’t faced her toughest challenge yet. When three young royals, (including a real-life PRINCE!) come to stay, Chloe’s determined to prove once and for all just how good she is at her job. But the trip is a disaster, especially when the youngest disappears. Now it’s up to Chloe to save the day. Can she find the missing princess before it becomes international news?

Here is where you can connect with Jen online: Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest

And now it’s time to hear from our guest:

Smack Dab Middleview with AT YOUR SERVICE author Jen Malone

1. In a nutshell, what does your main character, Chloe, want?

Chloe wants to rule the world, but she’ll settle for following in her dad’s footsteps as one of the greatest concierge’s New York City has ever known, despite the fact that she’s only twelve. When she gets appointed Junior Concierge of the fancy hotel she calls home, she’s starting down the path!

2. What is in Chloe’s way?

I would say Chloe is in Chloe’s way. Her intent on making each guest have a magical visit means she’s a bit… er, intent. She gets called out on it when tasked with taking care of a trio of royal siblings. There’s all sorts of protocol to follow but Chloe has to learn that they only want to be treated like regular kids. But c’mon- one of them is a PRINCE (and a super cute one at that)! It all intensifies when the youngest princess sneaks off on her own and it’s up to Chloe, her best friend Paisley, and the other two royal siblings to scour New York’s best tourists spots on the hunt for her.

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote?

I got that tingle when I started on it, which is always a good sign for me that things are meant to be. I will say, this is the first manuscript I was as excited to research as I was to write. I spent time shadowing a concierge and interviewing a Rockette, and I sent my poor business-tripping husband all over NYC with a video camera, which was crazy fun (for me, not him)!

4. How did the story evolve?

Things flowed well at first because I was so enamored with the idea of living in a hotel and had tons of ideas for fun hotel-centered adventures Chloe could have. Sleepovers with room service sundae bars? Yes, please! But I did get a bit stuck on plotting once the princess went missing in NYC. I knew the remaining characters had to have some idea of where she was headed but I also wanted to take them all over the city. It was my own kids’ souvenir penny collection that gave me that Eureka moment. I knew if I sent Princess Ingrid on a quest for all the pressed pennies NYC had to offer, I could give the others a trail of sorts to follow and I also write about the best tourists spots the city has to offer. Once I hit on that it was a matter of poring over locations on Google Maps to figure out the order she should go in, the travel times between them, the time of year most attractions would be open (Yankee Stadium is pretty boring in February), etc. Eventually it all came together.  

5. Was AT YOUR SERVICE always for middle grade readers or not?

Always. Chloe couldn’t be too young or it wouldn’t be believable that she’d be hired by the hotel as their Junior Concierge, but this story is also fun and sweet and in line with something tween girls in particular might fantasize about. Living in a hotel, getting a first kiss from a prince…hmm… perhaps slightly older, ahem, girls (fine! WOMEN!) might fantasize about that too. Just kidding, sweet video-camera-toting husband. You’re my prince!  

6. If so, why did you choose middle grade?

 I really love the upper middle grade/younger YA age range of twelve to fifteen. I love that it’s a short span where a ton of things happen for the first time. First tastes of independence (cell phones, staying home alone, maybe being dropped off at a movie or mall with friends versus being chaperoned), first serious crushes, first kisses- all of which are new and exciting. But because it’s such uncharted territory, it’s also intimidating and filled with drama. All of the feelings are more intense, both good and bad. Middle school is a big transition time where friendships are tested, interests change, and there’s a sudden self-awareness that didn’t exist before. Even the small things are a big deal and I love that about writing for this age group.

7. If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel?

Although this was always a middle grade novel, my editor did ask me to compress the timeline of the story, which previously took place over nine months. She was concerned that we’d eat up so much of Chloe’s thirteenth year that we’d bump up against YA age groups if we wanted to turn this into a series down the road. I promptly cut the timeline in half and also made Chloe twelve at the start of the book. She then has a birthday later in the story, so that on the day Ingrid goes missing (which is the second half of the book) she is thirteen. We both felt she needed to be a teenager to have the responsibilities of her job, but this way we can keep her thirteen longer if there are further adventures ahead for her!

8. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers?

I would have to say the enthusiasm of the readers. I have twin boys who are in sixth grade now and their classmates are my biggest cheerleaders. Some have read the book and it’s been so much fun to talk to them afterward. They’ll give me a really astute analysis of the plot but in the middle bounce up and down to illustrate a point. It’s fantastic! On the one hand, I think it’s amazing that YA has earned such a crossover audience, with almost half of YA books being purchased by adults, and I appreciate the doors that has opened for authors. I will confess that when I wrote a YA recently, I probably was more aware of/focused on potential adult readers than I was picturing teen readers. On the flip side, when I write middle grade, I really am picturing a kid reading it as I write and that does make it more fun!

9. Is there any downside?

To writing middle grade? Hmm… this doesn’t necessarily apply to my stories because I tend to write light and fluffy “chick lit for chicklets”, but I think content in MG is a tricky thing. There are eleven year olds who are staggeringly mature and are having very adult experiences and there are eleven year olds (mine included) who still think girls have cooties and put teeth under their pillow for the Tooth Fairy. Both groups deserve books they can relate to, without being preached to, judged, or talked down to. I think there are authors- Lauren Myracle comes to mind- who are very thoughtful and deliberate in the way they introduce “content” but at the end of the day there will still be parents who are upset by some of the topics explored in today’s MG, whether it be first sexual experiences, or drinking, or body changes brought on by puberty. What I love about the MG writing community is that it is something authors care about, talk to each other about, and approach with care, whether they ultimately choose to include it or not.

10. Is there one question you wish you could answer about writing, your book, or the author's life, but have never been asked? Here's your chance to Q &A yourself.

Well, I have to say, this being interviewed thing is still pretty new to me, so the list of questions I haven’t yet been asked is fairly endless. However, I attended a panel of YA authors at BEA last year and one of the questions they were asked was, “What could you never write?” I was fascinated by the answers, which ranged from a character drinking and driving without consequences to characters having unprotected sex to a rape scene. It was only on reflecting on that question that I realized there were some things I didn’t necessarily realize I was making conscious decisions about in my writing, but I was. For example, I won’t write a character who looks in a mirror and groans at what she sees there unless it’s a part of her character arc and she’ll reform herself throughout the story. I know that the reality is that lots of us do this daily—I definitely have my share of bad hair days—but I’m very aware that the age group of my readers means that many will be at a time in their life when self image is a new thing and I feel a certain responsibility for my characters to have a positive and healthy image of themselves. You won’t find one of them saying, “Ugh, I’m soooo fat and pimply and gross.” It’s also the reason that Chloe—who is no nerd—wears glasses.  It may be a bit Polyanna of me, but I’m okay with that. 

Thanks for joining us today, Jen. Again, congratulations on the release of AT YOUR SERVICE!


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