Monday, February 20, 2012

YA All The Way With Jennifer Hubbard

Many young adult writers have tried their hand at other genres – romance, chicklit, sci-fi. With author Jennifer Hubbard, however, it’s mostly been YA all the way.

“I’ve loved books as long as I can remember, and for me part of that love meant writing them myself,” said Hubbard, who started cobbling together picture books at the tender age of 6.

Growing up, Hubbard wrote whatever genre she was reading. At 11, she “wrote” a book that was an obvious “rip-off of Star Wars.” But this was not to last, as she discovered YA books, making her first serious attempts at fiction in this genre.

“I read a lot of literary fiction, especially short stories, and that’s what I write. But while I published short stories here and there, I would reread my old YA favorites from time to time. I was pretty slow to realize that ‘hey, someone had to write the kinds of YA books I loved, and maybe that someone could be me.’ That’s when I dedicated myself in earnest to learning about today’s YA.”

Before Hubbard’s break-out novel, The Secret Year, there was another that came within close range of a few agents and editors. It was not to be, even though they loved the premise.

“(They) felt that the book didn’t quite work – and didn’t all agree on what it needed, nor did I myself know how to fix it.”

Hubbard’s first novel, The Secret Year, was a different story. What started with an idea of a secret relationship, a sudden death, a left-behind diary… made her want to find out what would happen next.

“I submitted a sample to the Rutgers One-on-One conference, and another sample to a contest at a local writers’ conference. It was rejected both places, and I began to wonder if I was just deluding myself about the quality of this book. I submitted it for critique at my local SCBWI conference, so that I could talk one-on-one with an industry professional about the manuscript.”

The editor who saw The Secret Year there didn’t think it was for him, but he encouraged Hubbard by noting that the story was very strong, and encouraged her to submit it.

“I think the very next person who saw it was the agent who offered me representation and sold it to Penguin.

“From this, I learned that you can be closer than you think without realizing it. And that it’s worth it to keep trying – with a new manuscript, if you have to.”

The Secret Year looks at Colt and Julia, secret lovers for a year wherein nobody knew about them – not even her boyfriend. With nothing in common, and coming from opposite sides of the track, the couple is forever separated when Julia dies in a car accident. Colt’s penance for secrecy is that he’s not able to publicly mourn Julia, and when he is handed her personal journal, Colt relives their year together while concurrently trying to forget about her. His experience begs the question, “How do you get over someone who was never yours in the first place?”

A pantser with the writing process, Hubbard will occasionally do a minimal outline before she writes, as well as create an outline to figure out how to rearrange scenes or where to put new ones.

“I mostly wing it. I need the characters to react moment by moment; if I’m trying to force them toward a foregone conclusion, it feels contrived. But that’s just how it works for me,” said Hubbard.

This process has led to Hubbard’s newly-released novel, Try Not to Breathe, which addresses the dark subject of teen suicide.

“I had this idea in the back of my mind for a long time: I wanted to write about how people put their lives together after a suicide attempt.

“We are always encouraging people not to kill themselves, that there is hope. But I’ve noticed that much of our literature ends with the life-or-death decision, or it takes place after a suicide, when people are looking for answers about why it happened. And indeed, the second situation is a subplot in my book. However, I wanted to focus on the person who steps back from the brink: how does he put his life back together?”

With two novels under her belt, Hubbard knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the book cover and how things can change when you least expect them to.

“Do your research, keep trying, keep learning and improving your craft. Read a lot, write a lot, talk to other writers.”

You can find Jennifer Hubbard here and her books here. She's also on Twitter - @JennRHubbard.


  1. Jennifer,

    Thanks so much for stopping by YA Stands! I just ordered Try Not to Breathe and I cannot wait to read it.

  2. I'm almost done with The Secret Year - amazing concept, and accurate representation of how one must feel in Colt's shoes. A very good book! I'm moving on to Try Not To Breathe next!!!!

    - Julie

  3. This book looks great. I'm adding it to my list of must read books.

    1. Jennifer writes AWESOME contemporary YA! Just saying...