Jennifer Echols was born in Atlanta and grew up in a small town on a beautiful lake in Alabama—a setting that has inspired many of her books. Her nine romantic novels for young adults have been published in seven languages and have won the National Readers’ Choice Award, the Aspen Gold Readers’ Choice Award, the Write Touch Readers’ Award, the Beacon, and the Booksellers’ Best Award. Her novel Going Too Far was a finalist in the RITA and was nominated by the American Library Association as a Best Book for Young Adults. Simon & Schuster will debut her adult romance novels in 2013, with many more of her teen novels scheduled for the next few years. She lives in Birmingham with her husband and her son.
Jennifer, welcome to my blog! I’m thrilled to be able to interview you today!
Thanks so much for having me, girl! Long time no see!
I know you write YA, New Adult and Adult romances. What’s your favorite thing about writing for teens and college-aged readers?
Younger readers tend to be way more enthusiastic! If I get reader e-mail with the subject line “LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I’m pretty sure it’s from someone who enjoyed one of my YAs. And I appreciate these messages so much, because that’s exactly how I felt about my favorite YA writers back in the day.
I’ve seen you mention in other interviews that you listen to the soundtrack of whatever book you’re working on while you’re running so you can continue working on scenes. Tell us a little bit about your process of developing your soundtrack and how that works with your writing.
Sometimes the type of music is particular to the book I’m writing. For instance, my next book out in the United States is called Dirty Little Secret, and it’s about friends-turned-lovers trying to make it big with their country music band. So of course that soundtrack is filled with all my country and bluegrass favorites. (If you’re curious, you can listen to it on my web site here: http://jennifer-echols.com/dirtylittlesecret.html) But more often, I download a bunch of cool songs when I start to write a book, and those songs become the soundtrack. I was a music major before I was a literature major, so for me, the structure and mood of the songs are more important than the lyrics. The songs are background for the book rather than specific material.
Having a soundtrack works great for me. Nowadays, I’ve got so many books coming out that I may be writing one, revising a second, and proofreading a third. All I have to do is dial up the soundtrack, and I can remember exactly the mindset I was in and how I felt about the characters when I first wrote the book.
Like me, I know you’re also a mom. I don’t know about you, but my kids’ schedule is busier than mine! How and when do you find the time to write?
I have only one kid and he is eleven, so at home he’s often doing his own thing. I do take him to lots of activities—football, soccer, drum lessons, rock band practice—but I just park myself in the waiting room or on the sidelines and keep writing. I’ve noticed, though, that his activities are creeping into my books. The hero and heroine of my May 2014 YA are both drummers!
Your novel Going Too Far is an edgy story about a teen girl who falls in love… with the cop who arrested her. I know my fans enjoy stories that push the envelope, so this should definitely be on their lists! Please tell us more about it.
Meg and John are on opposite sides of the law, and on opposite sides of a dividing line between childhood and adulthood. But when she’s assigned to do a ride-along with him on his night shift, they find that they’re only a year and a half apart in age, they’ve actually been in a high school class together…and they have a lot more in common than either of them could imagine when he was first putting the handcuffs on her.
Everyone knows that I love a bad boy! In Such a Rush, you make Leah choose between golden boy Alec and adrenaline junkie Grayson. Tell us more about these boys and your inspiration for them.
Ever since a college class called “Sociology of the Family,” I’ve had a fascination with the middle child—the one who doesn’t feel responsible like the oldest or carefree like the youngest, and often acts out just to avoid falling through the cracks. Though Alec and Grayson are twins, their older brother always created that middle child dynamic for Grayson. But when their brother dies flying a US Navy jet, Grayson steps up to become the responsible adult in the family. And it nearly tears him apart.
Doing hands on research is one of my favorite things about writing. For example, when I was researching Chicago-area gangs for my Perfect Chemistry series, I went on a ride-along with a detective in the Chicago Police Department’s Gang Homicide/Sex Crimes division. It was scary and exciting all at the same time! What’s the most interesting/exciting thing you’ve done in the name of research?
I got the idea for Such a Rush by watching banner-towing planes. They’re usually tiny two-seaters with every spare instrument stripped out of them to make them lighter. The pilots are often very young, college-age, because they’re trying to accumulate enough hours to become airline pilots when they turn 23. These daredevils take off, circle back over the airport, dive for the pavement, throw a hook out the window, and zoom low enough to snag a long advertisement banner that the ground crew has laid out. The banner is so heavy that they have to point the nose of the plane up sharply to keep from crashing back to earth with the load. But if they point up too sharply, the engine will stall. If they make it into the air, they take a few turns around the area, drop the banner so they can pick up another, and do it all over again.
I’m not a pilot, and I’ve never wanted to be. But my dad and brother are pilots and my son has the flying bug. I’ve always thought having that urge to be in the air would be a powerful driving force for a novel. I was with my dad when I first watched the banner-towing planes, and he got me excited about the idea. Then he took me up in his plane quite a few times and talked me through what a pilot would be thinking as she cycled through this death-defying feat.
In my latest YA novel, Wild Cards (due out in the states in October!!) my main character is from the South, which means I had a lot of fun researching Southern phrases! As a Southerner who grew up in Alabama and the author of Such a Rush, which takes place in South Carolina, what’s your favorite Southern saying?
I hope this is your football book—I’ve really been looking forward to this one! Well, you have come to the right source for Southern phrases. I am so immersed in them that I don’t know I’m using them half the time, and my Northern editors make me cut them out of my books because they have no idea what I’m talking about. As for a favorite saying: the South tends to be Protestant, and the ladies here have a reputation for dolling themselves up by adding volume to their hair. What we say about that is, “The higher the hair, the closer to Jesus.”
I’m super excited to read Dirty Little Secret when it comes out in the states in July! Please tell us a little more about it.
Thanks so much, Simone! I’m so pleased with how this novel turned out, and I’m thrilled about the beautiful cover. A lot of country and bluegrass musicians got their start as children, playing their instruments in festivals. They and their parents hope they’ll be discovered by a scout for one of the Nashville record companies. I wondered what would happen if a sister duo grew up playing those festivals, but only one of them was tapped for a record contract, while the other was left behind and hushed away. This book is about the sister left behind, and what happens when she’s finally discovered—by a devastatingly sexy 18-year-old with a lot of bar gigs under his belt and a band of his own that he wants her to join. And he won’t take no for an answer.
All of the chocolate. All of it.
Oh no. I just can’t. There are a million. But I could start with the Dirty Little Secret soundtrack above!
Favorite vacation spot?
Anywhere at the beach: the entire beautiful panhandle of Florida, La Jolla in California, the Hawaiian island of Kauai. I love them all.
What’s the one book you wish you had written?
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn.
What’s your favorite movie from the 80s? (Mine is My Cousin Vinny…I quote from it all the time!)
I have never seen that movie, even though it’s set in Alabama! I’ll have to see it now that you’ve given it such a high recommendation! There were so many great movies in this decade, but my vote goes to The Empire Strikes Back. And Han Solo.
Do you think white chocolate should count as chocolate?
No, it’s only cocoa butter with cocoa solids taken out. They separate the two in processing and then put them back together to finish the product. With white chocolate they just don’t put them back together. Well, we need our cocoa solids. Otherwise, what is the point? (Go ahead and tell me I know WAY too much about chocolate. I am aware.)
Thanks for visiting!
Thanks so much for having me, and best of luck with your book in October!
In a lot of the interviews I do, I get asked “what’s your guilty pleasure?” My answer is always the same…reality TV! I love it! I know it’s not “reality,” but I still love the way those shows make you feel like you’re seeing the secret side of someone’s life and watching it all like a fly on the wall. Here are some of my favorites and not-so-favorites.
Shows I Love:
Yes, I still watch it. I’m obsessed with it, even though the past few seasons have been less than stellar. Thank goodness they did away with Redemption Island- that was the stupidest idea. They are loooooooooong overdue for a celebrity version. I was super excited to meet Ozzy last year and went all fangirl on him. He was as adorable in person as on the show, and super sweet to boot. I think he’s single….too bad I’m not! J
I only like the original one, with characters who are as adorable as they are quirky – like my own family members. My relationship with my husband is like Brandi and Jared. I’d love to set up Barry with my mom, although I think even at his age he’s a player. Darryl is funny and Dave is a great villain. Even though I heard this show is fake, like every reality TV show, I am always entertained.
I seriously learn a lot about history on Pawn Stars. With Chumlee, the Old Man, Rick and Corey, you have a great set of characters (the only thing missing are the women in their lives!) I love watching them bring in their “experts” like the curator of the Clark County Museum, Mark Hall-Patton. I was at a book signing in Las Vegas and actually met Mark. He was so sweet in person!
Shows I Hate:
I used to watch this show, until it felt fake and contrived. When I realized that almost all of the couples break up even before the episodes even air, I was disgusted. Love and making a commitment to someone is not a joke. I would know…I write romance!!
Seriously? My kids watch this stupid, worthless show. I will tell you right now with 100% certainty that Bigfoot will not be found. I tell my kids this every time they turn on this waste of time, and they still watch it thinking that the people on the show will suddenly videotape the big guy. P.S. It’ll never happen!
I’m waiting for:
Real World/Road Rules Challenge
I’m not a fan of The Real World anymore. I used to love it, but then it got to be the same old, same old. I miss Road Rules, but I don’t think is ever coming back. It was a great show, with great contestants. And when there was a sweet romance like CT and Diem, my romantic side would root for them!
Please tell me I’m not alone in my obsession with reality TV!? What are some of the reality shows you love (or hate)?
I was going to write a blog about my favorite movies (think She’s the Man, The Cutting Edge, and Sixteen Candles), but then I thought it would be great to write about some of my favorite books that were turned into movies.
You can’t talk about books turned into movies without mentioning The Outsiders. What an amazing book and a great movie. I was obsessed with it as a teen – I can recite almost every word by heart. And the cast…probably the hottest cast of teen boys ever put in one movie. I can watch The Outsiders over and over! I had the biggest crush on C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio.
A very edgy teen book titled Sooner or Later was turned into a made-for-TV movie with teen heartthrob Rex Smith in the early 80’s. Rex sang “You Take My Breath Away” and he was super sexy. I haven’t seen the movie lately, but I’m mentioning it because it was one of my favorite books as a teen.
The Notebook. Ok, so I’ve heard that Nicholas Sparks says he writes love stories and NOT romance. What’s wrong with romance, Nick? Don’t knock it and embrace the fact that your stories are romances. I thought the acting in The Notebook was amazing and I loved every minute of it. I loved it so much that I bought the DVD.
The best middle grade romance in my opinion is Flipped. It’s funny and sweet and a great romance for all ages. I LOVED it! So when I heard it was being turned into a movie I was thrilled! If you haven’t seen it, watch it!
Beautiful Creatures came out this year and it’s a must-see. It has beautiful cinematography, a great cast, and a timeless romance. What more could you want from a great book turned into a great movie?
What are some of your favorite books turned into movies? I know I’ve missed a bunch. Hopefully one day my books will be turned into movies…I’m hoping this is the year that happens!
So here’s the deal, the last several weeks and months have been…BUSY! I really had the best of intentions to blog every other week, but it just hasn’t been happening. Here’s what I’ve been working on:
Most importantly, I’ve been working on the first book in my new series. I can’t say much about it yet because my publisher and I are still working out some of the details. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to reveal the series and book titles in a post very soon!
I’ve also been very busy traveling. I like going to new places and I LOVE meeting my fans! Just in the last few months, I’ve been to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Ohio, and Charleston, South Carolina. Thank you so much to everyone who came to see me at any of those events! Without you, I wouldn’t be able to do what I love to do…write books! By the way, if you want to know if I’ll be coming to a town near you, keep an eye on my schedule.
I’m headed back to Charleston, SC this Friday where I’ll be participating in YALLFEST on Saturday (Nov 10). I’ll be on two panels at 11 AM and 1 PM and I’ll be doing a signing at 2 PM. By the way, I’ll be bringing some of the Fuentes Brothers posters with me, so be sure to come and get one!
11 am YA GIRL BAND: BETWEEN TWEEN & TEEN – BALLROOM
Presented by Omnific Publishing
Alyson Noel (Immortals series), Elizabeth Eulberg (The Lonely Hearts Club), Stephanie Perkins (Anna and the French Kiss), Simone Elkeles (Perfect Chemistry), Jenny Han (Burn for Burn), Kathryn Williams (The Lost Summer). Moderator: Andria Amaral
1 pm GOOD GIRLZ & BAD BOYZ – CMH
Presented by Tumblr Ellen Hopkins (Crank), Gayle Forman (If I Stay), Simone Elkeles (Perfect Chemistry), Stephanie Perkins (Anna and the French Kiss), Cate Tiernan (Immortal Beloved), Kiera Cass (The Selection) Moderator: Kami Garcia (Beautiful Creatures)
You can find out much more about YALLFEST at their website.
Finally, in the spirit of YALLFEST, I wanted to make sure I answered their interesting interview questions!
Who and what would you bring with you for the zombie apocalypse?
I would bring Marc Anthony because (I think) he looks like a zombie and he could protect me by helping me blend in. Zombies don’t attack other zombies, right!?
If you could spend a week in any book world, which would it be?
Harry Potter! Broomsticks, magic, delicious candies (although, I’ll try to stay away from the vomit-flavored ones!)
What is the best word (in any language) and why?
Yes…isn’t it obvious?
Who are you most excited to see at YALLFest?
The fans – they inspire me to keep writing even when I’m feeling stuck or down on myself. I’m also excited to see English teacher Dennis Jolley, who is a huge supporter of mine!
What is your favorite flavor of pie?
Pecan…and, as I learned during my last trip to Charleston, you have to say it the southern way! (PEA-can)
Okay, so even though I’ve been completely swamped with writing the first book in my new series, (sneak peak details here) I don’t want to forget to tell you that the Chain Reaction Paperback is going to be released THIS MONTH! On October 30, you will be able to purchase paperback copies of Chain Reaction with this incredible new cover.
That picture of Gabriel Chavarria and Krislian Rodriguez is directly from the Chain Reaction book trailer. When my publisher told me they wanted to use Gabriel and Krislian on the cover of the Chain Reaction paperback, I was THRILLED! Filming the book trailer for Chain Reaction was an amazing experience! (If you don’t believe me, you can check out the outtakes and after party videos on my YouTube Channel.) Now, every time I see the new Chain Reaction cover, it brings back great memories from our day of shooting.
In honor of the release of the new cover, I’m doing a 5 BOOK GIVEAWAY that starts right….NOW! For the next 24 hours, you have 5 ways to win an autographed copy of Chain Reaction with the NEW COVER:
1) Blog: Leave a comment on this post about why you love the Fuentes brothers! (Don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up right away, I have to approve them.)
2) Simone Elkeles Facebook Page: Tag me in a post or picture on your own page. (I know I’m at the 5,000 person friend limit, so if you aren’t my “friend” on this page, don’t worry, there are still 4 other ways to win!)
3) Simone Elkeles Fan Page: Post a comment on the page about why you love the Fuentes brothers!
4) Perfect Chemistry, by Simone Elkeles Facebook Page: Post a comment on the page about why you love the Fuentes brothers!
5) Twitter: Tweet #WinChainReaction
One lucky winner from each listed above will be announced tomorrow (Friday, October 5, 2012 at 8:00 AM Central). GOOD LUCK!
As always, thanks for your support!
ADDED 10/5/12: WINNERS HAVE BEEN CHOSEN!
My experience at the American Library Association’s national conference in Washington, DC. June 23-25, 2007.
So we’re meeting very cool librarians at a private cocktail party in Washington, DC (it WAS the American Library Association conference) and in walks none other than JUDY BLUME. Yes, the Judy Blume. This woman taught me about sex, relationships, how to be a brat, how to increase my bust (which she said, and I quote Judy directly, “Doesn’t work.” –but I insist it did for me!), among other important things and I’d never even met the woman.
I told Shannon, “We have to go over to her.” She agreed, but we were skeptical. Were we supposed to leave Judy Blume and her husband alone, not stalk them at the Penguin cocktail party? Or was she there to mingle with librarians and ogling authors of teen fiction (especially the two unsuspecting ones staring at her from the corner of the room)? After the initial entourage around her parted and she walked toward the cheese and bread buffet table, we moved in. If it didn’t feel right, we were going to pretend we just wanted some cheddar and Gouda. What we really wanted was to meet our idol and take a picture with her.
Side note: She was wearing a dark pants suit and her hair was stylish and curly. She didn’t pile on the makeup, and her husband has white hair and was really handsome. Judy must weigh a hundred pounds soaking wet, she’s probably five feet four or less.
She was talking with a group of people and we made eye contact. Yes, Judy Blume and I made eye contact! Then she smiled at me and Shannon and I knew. In my heart and soul I knew we would be talking to her. She was approachable! Not that she had to be, she could play the role of diva because she deserves the title just from writing such amazing books-the only books I liked to read as a teen! I saw her attempt to walk over to us, the two women smiling uncontrollably at her. Another group of smiling women intercepted her. And then some important official person came and said something to her quietly. I thought she would have to leave the party and be whisked away and into her sparkling, magical carriage before she would be able to meet me and Shannon.
But, alas, that was not to happen. Judy HAD to meet us. It was fate, kismet, b’shert. She turned to Shannon and me and said with a huge smile as big as ours, “Hi!”. My brain fainted, thank God I didn’t because I weigh double Judy Blume soaking wet and would have probably killed the woman if I fell on her. Shannon stood there shaking while I said with a huge toothy smile not fading, “We write teen novels too!” I don’t remember what awesome thing she replied, but it was amazing. And then she said she’s passing the torch, or something like that where now it’s our turn. And then I said, “You’re bigger than…” I wanted to say God, but God does have one up on Judy Blume. So I thought of who is right under God and I said it. I told Judy Blume, “You’re bigger than…Oprah!” She laughed hard and then we asked if we could take a picture with her and then she took my camera (which I’m never washing ever again…not like I did in the first place) and handed it to her husband and Judy (not that we’re on a first name basis, but I can dream can’t I?) told us he’s a great photographer because he’s used to it. I remember when the photographer came to talk to our writing group he said to do “the turtle” so your double-chin doesn’t show and I remembered to do it even though my brain was mush. When we put our arms around Judy she said to my friend Shannon, “You’re shaking!” I, of course, was too worried about doing “the turtle” so my extra chin blubber wouldn’t show in the once-in-a-lifetime picture to shake. Mr. Blume?? took the picture (which I hope will accompany this article) and then I think I fainted. Okay, I really didn’t faint. But I have no recollection of the rest of the night. Did I put the camera in a safety deposit box? No, but I was tempted to.
Meeting Judy Blume was an experience I’ll never forget. What authors have you met that you were excited about? Anyone have any embarrassing experiences to share?
So, here’s the deal. (that’s my go to phrase…) I decided that it’s finally time for me to have a blog and this is my first blog post! Yay!
Before I could even start the blog, I spent a long time coming up with names for it. I want something more interesting than “Simone’s Blog.” I really wanted to call it “Simone’s Shit” but …. eh. If you have any suggestions for what I should call it, post it in the comments!
So, I started writing over ten years ago and even though I had this wild and crazy dream that I would someday become a New York Times bestseller, I never actually thought it would happen, but it has! It’s happened more than once which is amazingly awesome. At some point a few years ago, I had a total, “Wow. I can’t believe THIS is my life!” moment. Now, I’m living a dream.
You might think that writing or winning awards and getting to travel are my favorite perks of being a published author, but they aren’t. Nope. My favorite part of being a published author is getting to meet YOU! That’s right, if it weren’t for my fans and all the support they give me, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.
Listen…meeting and talking to my fans have been some of the most rewarding and emotional times of my life. I had one fan email me and tell me that if it weren’t for Perfect Chemistry, she would still be cutting herself. I’ve had fans in gangs tell me that Alex’s story is the reason they decided to get out of their gang. No matter how many times it happens, each time is the most amazing, surreal experience. When I started writing, I just wanted to tell a story. I didn’t set out to change lives, but I can’t tell you how humbled I am that these things have happened.
More than anything now, I just want to give back to my amazing fans that have changed my life.
A few months ago, I got a Facebook message from a huge fan of mine, Amber Moosvi. I was heartbroken to hear that she has Glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Amber happens to be doing her chemo treatments near Chicago, so I was able to visit her during one of her treatments. It meant so much to me to get to spend time with her, that I decided to fly in Alexander F. Rodriguez and Giancarlo Vidrio (Alex and Carlos from my book trailers) to spend some time with Amber as well. We went to Amber’s chemo treatment and then to a benefit concert for her. Then, we all hung out at my lake house for the weekend. Amber is just so special.
I know that Amber isn’t the only one of my fans going through a terrible time right now. I wish I could reach out and help all of you, because your support for my books means the world to me. I don’t know what I would do without all of you. I get messages from fans every day telling me “thank you” for writing my books, but really, this is my THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU from me to you from the bottom of my heart!
Thank you for buying my books and spending part of your precious life reading my stories. Our time on earth is limited – that you chose to spend yours reading my stories is surreal and amazing. Every other Wednesday, I will be blogging, so make sure to check back.