Is there anything in your book you’d go back and change?
I’m totally happy with this book. There are minor things I’d change in earlier ones, but ETCHED ON ME feels refined and complete. What inspired your last book? ETCHED ON ME was inspired by the true story of Fran Lyon, a 22-year-old pregnant woman who fled the UK for Sweden so that social services wouldn’t take her baby into foster care at birth. Their rationale for planning to do so was that Fran’s history of sexual abuse and self-harm as a teenager made her unfit to parent – even though she’d received intensive treatment and gotten a clean bill of mental health from her psychiatrist. As a recovered self-harmer and mother myself, I was just heartbroken and shocked to hear that such a thing could happen, and knew I had to write a similar fictionalized account.
Do you write as you go, or do you have the book all planned out from page 1?
I have no idea where I’m going when I begin a new book. Once I’m about two-thirds of the way in, I’ll sometimes jot a quick list of upcoming chapters and the basics of what will happen in them, but I can’t imagine writing completely from an outline that was drawn up beforehand. That would completely kill the joy of writing for me. I love writing a scene here, a scene there, and seeing how they emerge to fit together. Plus, when you’re writing about characters’ very personal inner journeys, it’s fun to watch them take over and surprise you.
How long does it take you to write a book?
I’ve been all over the map on this. In my late teens and early twenties, I could knock out complete novel drafts in three months, but even those had been preceded by a lot of pondering and scene-fiddling. Now that I’m older and a parent with chronic health issues, I go much slower. ETCHED ON ME took over ten years to write, but that was mainly because its focus was originally on Gloria and Jascha’s relationship and resulting adoption from Russia – it took a while for Lesley to materialize and steal the show!
How do you go about revising/editing?
I have a nasty habit of compulsively revising and second-guessing as I go. This frequently results in a beautifully-polished Chapter One but no forward momentum. I’m slowly learning to embrace first drafts as what one of my MFA professors calls the “vomit draft” – one that just gets spewed out (sorry, I know it sounds gross, but it’s a pretty apt metaphor!). Having worked as a freelance editor, I’m almost too meticulous and perfectionist for my own good.
How do you juggle writing and family life?
That’s a tough one, for sure! We spent a small fortune on preschool when I was getting my MFA and working on ETCHED ON ME. My health issues are exacerbated really horribly by lack of sleep, so I can’t do the whole “write after the kids are in bed” thing. Now that my daughter is in elementary school, the juggling act has gotten somewhat easier, but there’s still a lot of schedule-shuffling that has to happen. Maybe you should ask me again after I’ve done all my book promotion traveling!
What is your view on self-publishing?
I’m probably one of the few people writing literary fiction with this viewpoint, but I think self-publishing is great. I fail to see how having an expanded range of empowering options can be a bad thing for writers.
What is your favorite part of the writing/publishing process?
In the writing process, it’s that moment when, after lots of frustrating floundering, you feel the whole machinery click into place. For me that’s usually when a character “speaks” to me in a way that makes us connect and start taking the journey as partners – oftentimes, the route the journey will take is much clearer after that. In the publishing process, there’s nothing better than getting that first box of review copies in the mail, and seeing the cover and all the beautiful blurbs you were shocked and delighted to find writers you admire actually wrote about your work, and flipping the pages and realizing that yes, this dark messy unwieldy thing that took you years to wrestle is now actually a Real Book. I’ve experienced that moment three times now, and it never, ever gets old.
What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?
As a teen writer and budding feminist, I found Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to be a life-changer.
Do your characters really talk to you?
Are you kidding? They never shut up! And they’re really persistent – if they think I should write about them, or write about them again, or take their story in a different direction, they’ll let me know in no uncertain terms.
Born and raised in rural Pennsylvania, Jenn Crowell found herself the subject of international media attention (including a New York Times photographer documenting her high school graduation) when she signed a two-book contract with Putnam in the spring of 1996, a few weeks shy of her eighteenth birthday.
Her first novel, Necessary Madness, was released to wide critical acclaim the following year, with publicity tours of the US, UK, Italy, and Australia. Following her college graduation (sans NYT), Crowell published Letting the Body Lead in 2002. She then ventured into screenwriting, joining a select group of young independent filmmakers as a 2003 IFP Market Emerging Narrative nominee (for her screenplay adaptation of Necessary Madness) and a 2004 Berlin Film Festival Talent Campus Fellow.
Never one to work by a traditional timetable, she earned her MFA in 2011, fifteen years after signing that first contract. She now lives near Portland, Oregon with her husband, young daughter, and two spoiled longhaired dachshunds. Her latest novel, Etched On Me, is due out from Washington Square Press in February 2014.
A redemptive and edgy coming-of-age story about a young woman who overcomes a troubled adolescence, only to lose custody of her daughter when her mental health history is used against her.
On the surface, sixteen-year-old Lesley Holloway is just another bright new student at a posh all-girls prep school north of London. Little do her classmates know that she recently ran away from home—where her father had spent years sexually abusing her—and that she now spends her afternoons working in a fish and chip shop and her nights in a dingy hostel. Nor does anyone know that she's secretly cutting herself as a coping mechanism…until the day she goes too far and ends up in the hospital.
Lesley spends the next two years in and out of psychiatric facilities; overcoming her traumatic memories, finding the support of a surrogate family, even falling in love with a fellow patient. Eventually earning her degree, she is a social services success story—until she becomes unexpectedly pregnant in her early twenties. Despite the overwhelming odds she has overcome, the same team that saved her as an adolescent will now question whether Lesley is fit to be a mother. And so she embarks upon her biggest battle yet: the fight for her unborn daughter…