Congratulations on your debut novel, Jennifer, and thanks for celebrating your launch with us. We’re so honored!
What would you like to tell us about your book?
‘The Secret of Ferrell Savage’ begins with Ferrell entering a sled race to impress a girl he likes and, for reasons that are beyond his control, he gets her attention and becomes a celebrity in his town. A jealous racing competitor threatens to reveal a secret about Ferrell that even he, Ferrell, didn’t know: he’s a descendent of the infamous Colorado cannibal, Alfred Packer.
So it’s a cannibalism story! Excellent! That’s rare in MG fiction.
Ha ha! Actually, it’s a not-too-gruesome story about an awkward first crush. Thank goodness, none of the main characters get eaten. The main thing that Ferrell has in common with his great, great, great uncle is that they both became unexpected legends.
What inspired you to write ‘The Secret of Ferrell Savage’?
It was the character himself that came to me before the actual story. He didn’t have a name at first, but I knew his personality. He’s lovable and easy-going. He isn’t a good student because he’s too daydreamy and he’s not good at sports because he doesn’t like to compete. He hates it when other people feel bad for losing. I would be driving in my car or taking my dog for a walk and this 12-year-old boy’s voice would come into my head and say funny things that would express his own quirky interpretation of the world and I couldn’t wait to find out what his story was.
Ferrell Savage is the most awesome character name I’ve read in years. How did you come up with it?
Most of the names in the story give clues to the characters. Just like real-life Alferd Packer himself – he was a meat packer. J Ferrell and his friend Mary Vittles have a discussion about their names in the book. She finds it humorous and somehow suiting that his name is pronounced “feral” like a wild, brutal animal. Then she points out that her own name sounds like it could be a title for a cookbook because “Merry Vittles” sounds like happy food.
Have you always written?
When I was ten years old my sister, Mary, bought me a journal and I loved having a place to write my thoughts. Soon, I was so hooked on writing that I would put off doing my homework because I needed to write about my day first. I have a huge trunk filled with my writing in colorful notebooks of different sizes.
Wow! Sounds like you had a really awesome sister? Does she still encourage you to write? Have there been any other key encouragers of your writing?
Both my immediate family and my in-laws have been very supportive and excited about my publication and that means so much to me. My agent, Wendy Schmalz, has been my greatest supporter of all. I’ve heard of agents parting ways with clients when the first book didn’t sell, but Wendy never lost faith in those earlier manuscripts, nor in me as a writer. Ariel Colletti bought Ferrell Savage for Atheneum and she was wonderful to work with. She is easy going and very approachable. She’s also got a great sense of humor. Sadly for everyone in publishing, Ariel decided to choose a different career path. My new editor is Ruta Rimas and while the editing part of the process was finished when she took over, she has been a champion of the book and I’ve been grateful to have her on my side. I hope to have the opportunity to produce a book together with her, from start to finish.
Speaking of gratitude, I also want to bring attention to the book’s adorable art work. Sonia Chaghatzbanian’s interior illustrations are the perfect highlight to each chapter heading. There are several that made me laugh so hard!
And how did you choose middle grade as a focus for your writing?
When we lived in Costa Rica I bought a composition book with Tweety Bird on the cover. In this book I wrote about our experiences as I imagined them from my eight- year-old daughter’s perspective. I had a lot of fun with it and both my daughters loved the stories. I thought, hmm, maybe I should try writing other stories for kids. So, I wrote a book with hopes of selling it. I was lucky enough to get the interest of a fabulous agent, but unfortunately the book didn’t sell. I wrote two more books, both a little bit dark and serious, and they came close to selling, but unfortunately the time wasn’t quite right. Ferrell Savage is actually the fourth book I wrote.
The view from Jennifer’s writing desk in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica! Wow! Have you ever lived any where else?
After college I joined the Peace Corps and taught organic agriculture on a West Indian island called Dominica. Later, I taught English as a second language in Barcelona. For a brief time I worked in a printing press on a kibbutz in Israel. By the time my husband and I met, we’d both seen a lot of the world. We adopted our second child in South Korea and as soon as she and our older daughter were grown up enough, we wanted to give them a view of the world outside of the U.S. We hope they’ll always be aware of the whole wonderful globe we all share.
And now the lightning round
Your favorite beverage and soundtrack while writing?
Ha! I’m going to sound painfully boring, but I like water best and complete silence when I’m writing.
Your favorite place to write?
At my desk or on the couch with one foot resting on our dog, Susi. She likes to always be within my reach.
Your favorite quote or writing mantra?
I can really relate to Gertrude Stein’s quote: “It takes a heap of loafing to write a book,” because when I’m working my hardest, I’m usually staring out a window.
And now in honor of the day A Cannibal Valentine! Yes, that’s Alfred Packer! Thanks to Meghan Gates for the artwork.
Thanks for sharing your book launch, Jennifer!
If you can’t wait to get your hands on this book, leave a comment and you are automatically in the drawing for a free signed copy!
The giveaway winner will be announced on Thursday, February 20! Stay tuned!