becoming_clementineOn September 15, I handed in the manuscript for the fourth book in my Velva Jean series (Velva Jean Learns to DriveVelva Jean Learns to Fly). Today the third book in that series comes out– Becoming Clementine.

I have now crawled out from behind my desk, Gollum-like– shrunken, blinking and shuffling into the sunlight– to get ready for the publicity phase of book three. I am trading my yoga pants, yoga tank, and flip-flops for pencil skirts, red lipstick, one very Charlie’s Angels-esque black pantsuit, and suede pumps, and heading out into the world to promote Becoming Clementine. Being an author is much like being Sybil, that famous possessor of multiple personalities. At various times throughout the process of working on a book, a writer needs many different sides.

jennifer_niven_clementine1You need to have a vivid imagination, able to conjure ideas and characters often out of thin air. You need to enjoy detective work and have the patience and determination to come at your research from all angles and track down just what you’re looking for. You need to like being alone, willing and able to happily, diligently spend month after month after month hermited away by yourself as you write and edit your book. You need to have the passion and ferocity of purpose to be at your desk for all that time and see your project through, no matter what– in spite of weariness and struggle and writer’s block and life. You need to be sensitive and observant to draw real, breathing characters. You need to be a critic, able to judge what you’ve written impartially and openly. You need to be analytical and impartial so that you can ruthlessly take your words apart and put them back together again.

jennifer_niven_clementine2You need to be outgoing and at ease in the spotlight, talking to nice folks who want to ask you questions and discuss your work and host you for book events, meeting readers, signing books, doing panels and speeches and book clubs and readings. You need to be tough and resilient to read and hear what people will say about your book– this book you’ve been pouring over and bleeding into and sacrificing everything for. (As my mother says, “To be a writer, you need to have the soul of an angel and the hide of an armadillo.”) You need to have enough stamina and fortitude to come up with an idea and do it all over again.

jennifer_niven_clementine3Book four will boomerang back to me sometime in the fall with my editor’s changes/notes/edits/suggestions/cuts, but for now it’s all about Becoming Clementine. It’s that time in a book’s life when I’m making the rounds, doing interviews, gathering reviews, answering questions, going on tour, etc. I love this part of it, even though it also carries its own degree of stress: reviews, feedback, sales. But I’m planning to enjoy it. After all, soon enough it will be time to pull on the yoga pants and retreat into the cave once again.

becoming_clementineMy grandfather Olin Niven was a postal inspector, traveling the country, investigating dangerous crimes. He also edited and wrote for the newspaper in his small North Carolina town. He was brilliant and kind and quiet, and one of the wisest people I’ve ever known (years after his death, I wove him and his warm and gentle wisdom into Velva Jean Learns to Drive, as Velva Jean’s granddaddy, Daddy Hoyt).

On days like today, when I am up at six a.m. and will be jennifer_niven_lifelines1working until nine or ten p.m., I try to remind myself of something Granddaddy used to say. Whenever my mother or I would grumble or cry or rant to him about our writing deadlines, he would gaze at us with wise blue eyes and, in his patient, steady voice tell us, “Remember: you get to do this, no matter how hard it can be.  This work is who you are. It is what you’re supposed to do.  And so it’s not a deadline, it’s a lifeline.”

jennifer_niven_lifelines2Some days that’s easier to remember than others. Today for instance. I am months into a seven-day-a-week work schedule, juggling pre-publicity and promotion for the soon-to-be-released (September 25) novel, Becoming Clementine, as I continue to research and write (and constantly restructure and edit) its sequel, which is due to my editor in September.  Between tasks, here and there, I try to squeeze in moments with loved ones in an effort to recharge, refresh, and remind myself that I’m human.  As Mom and I often say to each other, we feel like twelve dogs pulling the Iditarod.

But in the back of my mind, always, is Granddaddy’s voice. All through the day I repeat Granddaddy’s words to myself, just like a song: You get to do this. You are lucky to do this.  It’s a lifeline, lifeline, lifeline…

becoming_clementineOne of the latest phenomenons in the writing world is the book trailer. These trailers are meant to do what movie previews do– alert an audience to an upcoming project and inspire them to see (or, in this case, read) it.

When I was eight years old and beginning my writing career, I liked to promote my books and stories.  Back then I worked with crayon and construction paper, often illustrating one of the more exciting scenes and adding eye-catching slogans such as:  You don’t want to miss this!  Get your copy today!  Best Book of the Year!  Voted the Best Book Ever Written!

By the time I was ten, I had already written numerous songs, jennifer_niven_trailer2a poem for Parker Stevenson (“If there were a Miss America for men, You would surely win…”), two autobiographies (All About Me and My Life in Indiana: I Will Never Be Happy Again), a Christmas story, several picture books (which I illustrated myself) featuring the Doodle Bugs from Outer Space, a play about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s sister entitled Blindness Strikes Mary (which my fourth grade teacher very generously let me produce, star in, and direct), a series of prison mysteries, a collection of short stories featuring me as the main character (an internationally famous rock star detective), and a partially finished novel about Vietnam.  Even then, I understood the importance of promotion.  One day, when I very industriously mixed and packaged my own perfume out of my mother’s perfume, various household cleaning liquids, toothpaste, dirt—whatever I could find—and went, without my mother’s knowledge, door to door to our neighbors in our Maryland neighborhood, I made sure to tell them about my books at the same time.  My mother made me return the money I made, but even as I was handing it over I knew they would remember that I was a writer of very interesting stories.

jennifer_niven_trailer1All these years later and five books into my professional writing career, I’m still promoting.  But the book trailer is a brand new animal.  I’ve never had a trailer for any of my books.  For book number six, Becoming Clementine, my publisher suggested that it would be a good thing to have. Which translates to: Jennifer becomes a filmmaker over night. (Although publishers love to promote them, the book trailer is almost always the author’s responsibility.)

Now, I do have an MFA from the American Film Institute, but even so, to produce any sort of mini movie in a week or two (my deadline) is a daunting task, especially when you are still continuing to work fulltime on edits of the loose galleys of said book and the research and outlining of the next one. For that week and a half, I was producer, writer, director, prop master, continuity person, P.A., stylist, set designer, editor, researcher, rights coordinator, and actress. And my wonderful boyfriend– who taught himself Final Cut Pro as we went– was co-producer, co-director, co-editor, as well as cameraman, sound technician, sound mixer, and special effects man.

When we were finished making the trailer, I truly felt as if we deserved an Oscar simply because of the amount of time and effort that went into it. And so I give you my (abbreviated) Academy Awards acceptance speech: “I couldn’t have done it without my boyfriend. Period. But I also want to thank composer Michael Hoppé for his beautiful song ‘Tapestry,’ which was not only the soundtrack for the trailer, but the soundtrack for the actual writing of the book (the song I listened to again and again when I wanted to write the more poignant, heartfelt scenes). And I want to thank musician, friend, and Velva Jean fan Briana Harley for her oh-so haunting rendition of ‘Oh My Darling Clementine.’ She nailed it. There are others– my beloved and brilliant mother, my cats (thank you, Lulu, for allowing us to lock you away while we were filming so that you didn’t end up in every single scene), my stepmom for her savvy feedback, and all my friends and loved ones, who may not have held a boom or donned a blonde wig for this, but who helped out just the same…”

I could go on, but then my speech would be longer than the trailer itself.

So, without further ado, here it is: