A Part to Play
by Jennifer L. Fry
When fifteen-year-old actress Lucy Carter loses her older sister in a car accident, her mother shuts down and her father can’t hold the family together. Their only choice is to ship Lucy off to the Edmond School for Performing Arts. But boarding school is no cure for Lucy’s grief. With failing grades, wooden stage performances, and curfew violations, Lucy is threatened with expulsion. For the once talented Lucy, it feels as though she has nowhere to turn.
One night, Lucy hears mysterious music drifting through the school’s old heating system. The music leads her to a troubled but passionate songwriter whose brilliance gives her the strength to perform like never before. Yet their intense relationship puts Lucy in a precarious position: if she follows her muse, will she lose herself? And if she breaks it off, can she stand on her own again?
1) Where did you get the idea for the novel?
In planning A Part to Play, I started with the emotional journey I wanted my main character to experience. I knew immediately I wanted to write a young adult story, and I wanted my story to have a strong message – that is, the importance of believing in oneself. Then, to develop my plot, I thought of my most favorite stories of all time from movies, plays, and books. One of these happens to be The Phantom of the Opera. I didn't want my book to be a retelling of that classic story, but rather I wanted it to draw inspiration from what I considered the most captivating parts. I loved the mystery and the powerful role that music played in the story; I also found the dark side of the Phantom intriguing.
2) Your title. Who came up with it? Did you ever change your title?
Deciding on a title was agonizing! I came up with it, but only after tormenting my husband for days on end with my list of ideas. None of them seemed right, but once I settled on it, I let it sink in for awhile, with the idea that I could change it, or that my publisher might want to change it. In the end, the original title stuck around so I think it was the right one all along.
3) Which came first, the title or the novel?
Definitely the novel. The book didn't have a title until I finished the first draft and I realized I couldn't keep calling it Untitled. I actually dread titling anything – essays, poems, novels, artwork. I put it off until the absolute last second. I think feeling the pressure of a deadline is the only way I can finally make a decision.
4) Why did you pick this genre? What do you like about it?
I don't think I'm alone in feeling that my adolescent years were the most difficult time of my life. In fact, the combination of my chaotic family situation and my own inability to be anything but my awkward, know-it-all, foot-in-the-mouth self, led to some lasting scars that have survived into adulthood. The reason I write YA is simple. I hope to help young adults get through this painful right of passage with less permanent damage to their psyche. I want to bring them stories with characters that are real – they make mistakes, they have emotional needs that are deep and difficult to articulate. And I want to show YA readers what happens when they deal with their problems with self-reliance and inner strength.
I know that the painful experiences we have as teenagers teach us, make us stronger, and ultimately help us to become who we are. But the shining moments in my own teen years come from certain adults who supported me and encouraged me to develop character traits that will always win in the end. Traits like integrity, perseverance, and never letting your own personal value be defined by others. While I still, to this day, remember those lessons from great teachers and other adults, I don't think I was exposed to these ideas enough. It's so difficult to drown out the media blitz flashing before teens eyes day in and day out. I make it my goal through my writing to be one of those positive influences that I don't think YA readers can ever get enough of during these impressionable years.
5) Since becoming a writer, what’s the most exciting thing to ever happen to you?
The obvious answer I suppose, publishing my first novel. Actually, publishing my book was great, but having it be well received by readers has been this amazing blessing – more than I could have ever hoped for.
6) What book are you currently reading or what was the last book you read?
Currently, I am reading a non-fiction business book (exciting, I know) because I own a small business so I'm trying to learn everything I can in hopes of helping my venture succeed. The most recent fiction book I read was Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green. I LOVED this book! John Green writes incredible YA novels and he inspires me to write equally gritty, realistic books that explore important teen issues.
7) What was your first book that you ever wrote (very first one you wrote, not published)?
I believe it was called “The Magic Carpet” - I wrote it in second grade. It was a picture book (also illustrated by me) about a young boy who receives a magic carpet as a gift, and learns that with great power comes great responsibility. Pretty deep stuff for an 8-year-old. I believe I still have it stashed in my attic somewhere.
8) What is your writing process?
The very first thing I start with is a basic premise – who is the main character and what is her flaw. Then I develop a clear outline so that I know all the major points in the story. Once I'm ready to write my first draft, I set myself a very clear deadline with a specific word requirement for each day. This keeps me motivated. When I sit down to write the first draft, I don't read it over or allow myself to do any editing. I just let the story flow naturally, connecting the dots on the outline. When the first draft is done, I shelve the project for at least a few weeks before I read it, so that I can approach the story with a clear mind. From there, it is a grueling process of editing and revisions, first by myself, then eventually with beta readers. When I think I've done all I can with book, I call it done and go about the process of getting it published.
9) Who are your favorite authors of all time?
Such a hard question because there are so many! John Green, for starters, as mentioned previously. Literary authors Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. And some of my most favorite authors come from childhood books - Lucy Maud Montgomery, William Pène du Bois, E. L. Konigsburg, Wilson Rawls, to name a few.
10) At a book signing, do you just sign your name or do you write a note? How do you come up with stuff to say?
I like to write a personalized message – usually the person's first name with something like 'best wishes'. Funnily enough, I got the idea from another author who wrote a blog post on how to personalize book signings. When I signed my first book, I had no idea what to write so I did what I always do when I don't know something – I looked it up.
11) What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Many people don't know that I designed my own book cover for A Part to Play. As a professional graphic designer, I had a very specific idea of how I wanted the cover to look, and what I wanted it to symbolize, so I worked hard to make that happen. In the same vein, I created my own book trailer with the help of my husband, who is a professional 3D computer graphics artist. Art and design are as much a part of me as writing is – all just forms of creative self expression.
12) How do you react to a bad review?
No matter how great a writer you are, there will always be readers who don't understand or like your work. Every time I receive a negative review, I remind myself that even my favorite writers, some of whom are bestsellers and award winners, receive one-star reviews. And that's okay – it doesn't devalue you as a writer or as a person.
13) How did you celebrate the sale of your first book?
I didn't specifically celebrate the sale of my first book, mostly because when you're working with a publisher, you don't see your sales figures in real-time, so I didn't exactly know when my first book sold. I did celebrate the day my book was released. Celebrations for me usually involve dinner at my favorite restaurant with my favorite person, aka my husband. I also hand wrote thank you notes to every friend or family member who supported my book in some way. I was proud of myself for publishing and selling my first novel, but I also knew I couldn't have gotten there without love and support from the people around me.
He reached for her, pulling her close. His scent was similar to last night, still slightly metallic, but also dusty. Lucy wrapped her arms around his neck. When he let go, she felt cold, with a strange emptiness that permeated every part of her body.
"Come here, I want you to hear something I started working on earlier." He reached for his guitar and patted the stool.
Chris looked natural with a guitar across his body. He held it like it was an extension of himself. Lucy sat on the stool, admiring his slightly rounded face and dark eyes, his hair falling forward as he looked down at the strings. She could think of nothing else. That was, until he started playing, then she lost herself in the chords and melody and everything in front of her went out of focus.
The song had a medium rhythm that she tapped her foot along with. Then he started singing, his voice caressing the notes with a rich, deep tone, and she was completely gone into another world where beautiful sounds filled every sense. Chris ended with a strong flourish, the last chord ringing for a while in the otherwise silent room.
"What do you think?" he asked. Lucy blinked, trying to focus her eyes. She didn't reply right away, and Chris wavered. "Well, I mean, it still needs work, but..."
She put a hand on his arm. "I loved it." She said it firmly, leaving no room for debate or misunderstanding.
Jennifer L. Fry is a writer, artist, and teacher in Marin County, California, where she lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable dogs, and orange tabby cat. Though she has been writing since she was young, A PART TO PLAY is her first novel.
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Jennifer will award 2 of each 8x10 autographed print of an original illustration of one of her characters to randomly drawn commenters on the tour, and a grand prize of an 11x17 autographed set of all three main characters in the book. (US/Canada only)
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