The Artist in the Nursery Interview: Jennifer McMahon

Jennifer McMahon is the best-selling author of Island of Lost Girls and Promise Not to Tell.  She lives in Vermont with her partner, Drea, and their daughter, Zella.

Although your first published novel, Promise Not to Tell, appeared in 2007, you’d been writing seriously for a long time before that.  Can you talk a bit about your history as a writer and what lead up to publishing your first book?

I studied poetry in college and for a year in an MFA program.  Then one day, a prose poem took on a life of its own and became the start of my first novel.  Once that novel was finished, I sent out a batch of queries and was overjoyed when one of my top agent choices expressed an interest and soon offered to represent me.  I was so overjoyed, enthusiastic (not to mention just blissfully clueless!) that I quit my day job to devote myself to writing full time.  I was sure that the book would sell and my career would be on its way.  The book did not sell.  Months went by, then a year.  I finished my second novel and sent if off to my agent, who pronounced it “a bit dark” but diligently went to work pitching it to editors.  In the meantime, I wrote book #3, a long, rambling mess that I stuck in a drawer, too ashamed to show anyone.   By this time, nearly another year had gone by and my agent hadn’t had any success selling either book.

I sat down to write book #4, determined that this would be “The One.”  It had to be.  So I asked myself, “What sort of book would I most want to read?”  And the answer that came back, loud and clear, was a ghost story.  So I wrote my ghost story and when I was done, I was sure that this was going to be the one that did it.  I knew it was good and had the potential to be a success.  So I sent if off to my agent.  I didn’t hear from her for weeks.  When I did, it was a letter saying the book just didn’t do it for her and much as she respected my work, blah, blah, blah, it was time we parted company.  I was devastated.  I drank a lot of tequila.  I thought about quitting.  But I knew I couldn’t quit.  Writing is too much a part of who I am. Continue reading