Monday, September 3, 2012

Jennifer Fry Is Playing the Part

We all play a role when we write. It’s how we get into character and, not unlike actors, it allows us to feel and understand firsthand what is going on. This lends authenticity to the story and even more so to the characters. It is the ability to be authentic that flows through young adult author Jennifer L. Fry, whose book A Part to Play is like natural music to the reader’s ears.

“Writing is as natural to me as breathing - I don't really think of myself as living to write so much as the written word being a natural extension of myself. I write because I must. That being said, I could never say that writing is my life because life is much too full of interesting things to learn and know about, to limit my view to only one thing that defines me. But writing is certainly a very important aspect of my life.”

Fry was always the storyteller, especially in her parents’ eyes. It was about second grade that her first memory of being a writer came about.
“We were asked to produce an illustrated storybook, and while many of my classmates had no idea where to begin, I was busy trying to narrow my ideas down to just one! My idea of a great school assignment was being shown a picture, then asked to write a story about the picture - my pen couldn't keep up with my head.”
Apparently Fry’s head kept filling with stories, and by the time sixth grade rolled around, she and her friends had a story club, where they would write with fervor and then read their stories to each other. It was clear from the get-go that Fry took writing to a deeper level.
“My friends tended to write about fun and silly topics, but my stories always explored a deeper side. I couldn't have articulated it at age 11, but I now recognize that I wanted to learn more about the human experience by writing about it. All of my stories tended to have a darker element – my characters experienced the breadth of human tragedy."

Like many young writers, Fry wrote short stories and poetry, but as she grew older her tales became longer. In high school she made the first attempt at writing a novel.

“I wrote about 25k words with no clear direction, and finally gave up because I had no idea where it was going. That was when I first realized that if I wanted to write something of that length, I needed to have an outline.”

The idea to writer young adult fiction came from an awkward childhood that lends to the realistic writing that Fry composes today.
“I had a tough time in middle school because I didn't fit in, and I didn't know how to relate to the other kids. As an adult, I am compelled to help adolescents through that awkward age - to make it a little less hard. In truth, I wrote my first novel for a YA audience at a time when I went through an emotional crisis where I had lost all self-belief. I realized that my scars ran deep and that I wanted to help teens find their way a little sooner than I did.”
When it came time to take a stab at novel writing again, Fry went at it with gusto, committing completely to the process. An online writing course helped her understand plot structure and enabled her to write the outline. After that, she gave herself a mere 30 days to write the first draft.

“The hardest part was turning off the inner critic that told me that I shouldn't bother writing unless it was brilliant. Once I got my head right, I made a goal of 80k words, and then figured out how many words a day I had to write to get that done in 30 days. I just let the story flow through me, and it was the best time of my life. I didn't let myself care what anyone thought. I had a story to tell and I let it come. Of course the hard part was spending the next two years ripping everything I wrote to shreds so that I could improve what I wrote. But my book is definitely better for it.”
Fry rose to the occasion and ended up with A Part to Play, a contemporary coming-of-age story that centers around 15-year-old Lucy, who has just been sent away to boarding school because her parents have fallen apart after the death of her sister. Lucy doesn't know who she is without her loving, supportive family - she is completely lost. She hears music coming from underground, and follows it to eventually discover a mysterious musician who inspires her to find her way in the world again.
According to Fry, A Part to Play is a contemporary re-imagining of Phantom of the Opera.
“Teenage girls will be enraptured with the bittersweet romance between Lucy and Chris, and relate to these ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances,” says Fry.
When it came time to query her story, the querying environment was anything but welcoming.

“My first query letter was a disaster and I received many a rejection as a result. It contained too much information about myself, and not enough about the story I had written. Writing an 80,000 word manuscript seemed a simple task compared to writing 250 words to summarize my story in a compelling way. The second version of my query garnered a little bit of interest, but nothing groundbreaking. It's no secret among aspiring authors that the query process is discouraging, and also incredibly slow.”
In the meantime, Fry continued to revised her manuscript based on agent suggestions. Yes, several like the idea of A Part to Play, but thought the story structure needed work. After awhile on the query-go-round, Fry decided to go directly to publishers with her story.
“I decided to query indie publishers rather than go through agents, and that's when I finally found Rogue Phoenix Press, who liked my story/writing enough to offer me a deal.

“I went directly to an indie press after trying unsuccessfully for over a year to get an agent. I liked the idea of cutting out the middle-man - it's a pleasure to work one-on-one with the publisher.”

Now that A Part to Play is out for reading, Fry is hard at work on ideas for her next novel, which may include a continuation of the story of one of the characters from her debut.
“But I am not writing full-time. I am also a graphic designer, art teacher and I run my own after-school business, plus I am promoting my first novel, so it's definitely a balancing act.”
You can learn more about Jennifer L. Fry on her website, and purchase A Part to Play on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


  1. IT is encouraging for me to read about Fry's journey, because it bolsters my own confidence in choosing to go with a smaller publisher. I know exactly how she felt, all the questioning that one goes through in deciding to finally send a story out there. The idea of Lucy following music reminds me so much of Phantom of the Opera.

  2. I really loved this. Thank you so much for letting me know about this novel and also about the struggle she went through. I mean, it's so similar to my own, as Michael (above) has said.

    My favorite part, and something that Haylee, one of my fellow bloggers touched upon in todays post, which was “The hardest part was turning off the inner critic that told me that I shouldn't bother writing unless it was brilliant.

    Don't hold yourself back. Write!

  3. Michael and Jolene, thanks for your comments. It's an unreal feeling to be out there sharing not only my writing but my personal story, and hopefully encouraging others to keep pursuing their goals. I've never been much for doing anything the traditional way and I think that technology has made publication within reach for just about anyone who's willing to put the work in. Best of luck to you both!