2014 Debut Author Bash: Jennifer Longo (Interview + Giveaway)

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Hey everyone! Welcome to my stop on the 2014 Debut Author Bash! I’m so excited to be hosting Jennifer Longo, author of Six Feet Over It (August 26th 2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers). Today, I’m pleased to share with you an interview with Jennifer. First, here’s the awesome cover and synopsis:

Six Feet Over ItHome is where the bodies are buried.

Darkly humorous and heart-wrenchingly beautiful, Jennifer Longo’s YA debut about a girl stuck living in a cemetery will change the way you look at life, death, and love.

Leigh sells graves for her family-owned cemetery because her father is too lazy to look farther than the dinner table when searching for employees. Working the literal graveyard shift, she meets two kinds of customers:

Pre-Need: They know what’s up. They bought their graves a long time ago, before they needed them.

At Need: They are in shock, mourning a loved one’s unexpected death. Leigh avoids sponging their agony by focusing on things like guessing the headstone choice (mostly granite).

Sarcastic and smart, Leigh should be able to stand up to her family and quit. But her world’s been turned upside down by the sudden loss of her best friend and the appearance of Dario, the slightly-too-old-for-her grave digger. Surrounded by death, can Leigh move on, if moving on means it’s time to get a life?

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And now here’s the interview!

Question: Describe your book in ten words or less – But avoid using the words in the title and the word “death.” Go!
Answer: How to ask for help and accept it.

Question: Why a graveyard? In what ways does the setting aid the plot? The character development?
Answer: Six Feet Over It is set in a graveyard mostly because my parents bought our town cemetery when I was 12 years old, and the time I spent working and hanging out there presented more story ideas faster than I could ever put them down.

The story I was interested in writing was one about a young person learning to let herself rely on other people, when she’s been repeatedly taught not to all her life. The cemetery felt like the perfect setting for both character and plot because it is a confined place that is almost always viewed (by Americans anyway) as an ending, a desolate place of loss. What a challenge then, for this to be the place where Leigh blossoms; where she must strain not only against the confines of her own fear of death and guilt but also her fear of being physically trapped, living in the graveyard separated from the ‘regular’ world.

For Leigh, it feels like a punishment. She isolates herself while outside her window, people love and are loved, they mourn without being mocked and she watches it all and wants so badly to figure out how to live that way. The cemetery breaks her heart and is her doom – then ends up being her absolute joy and freedom. It is her destiny, as she suspects, but for a beautiful reason rather than the seemingly inevitable and sad reason she dreads.

Question: What life lessons can be learned from dealing with death (both pertaining to your character specifically and your readers generally)?
Answer:For the characters in the book, there are several aspects of death involved – near death, violent death, child death, typical-old-person-in-your-sleep-death, death of strangers, death of family, death of friends, death as a business, death as a livelihood – and each of these kinds of death present their own unique lesson. For our main character, Leigh, her deal is that she experiences all these kinds, as a participant and as an observer, in a really short amount of time, and she’s a kid. She’s never been allowed to mourn so much as a scraped knee or broken bone without being mocked, so she’s got a blank slate as far as lesson-learning via death goes.

Dealing with death in real life teaches one to accept and grapple with mortality – it presents the realization that life as we currently experience it cannot last forever. So, does that realization make you terrified to ever leave the house lest you die, which ironically robs you of life before yours is over? Does it make you be all YOLO and take stupid chances and be selfish? Is being sad about death simply self indulgence? Or, as Leigh learns from the gravedigger Dario, can death be the gift of a new beginning; a chance to experience the unknown? The way one feels about death, Leigh learns, really colors the way a person lives their life. And that perception can change. These all seem like very run-of-the-mill lessons that most people already have a handle on, but for Leigh, it is all brand new information to navigate. And having to navigate it all in a graveyard? Come on! This book should be sub-titled “Someone Needs To Call CPS!”

Question: SIX FEET OVER IT is a very catchy title. Who thought of it? How accurately does it describe the plot of the book?
Answer: My editor, Chelsea Eberly at Random House, came up with the title. Sometimes it felt like every person who worked at Random House and Folio Literary was helping to figure it out. (“Hey, Dave from the night cleaning crew says to say “How about When Graves Talk. No? Okay.”) It was a really difficult book to title because of the dark nature of the subject, which is then given a pretty funny treatment. At Need was the original title, and my agent and I still refer to it as that, as our journey with that title has encompassed years. But it needed to be something that reflected the very present dark humor without being corny or too flippant. Six Feet Over It gives the teenaged, completely-empty-of-any-more-patience feel of Leigh’s state of mind, while simultaneously providing a very clear picture of where we are and what the book is about. I think it’s the perfect title, and when Chelsea thought of it my agent (Melissa Sarver White at Folio Literary) and I were incredibly relieved and happy.

Question: Craziest thing you’ve had to Google for a work in progress?
Answer: Um. Well, “Size of bone fragments in cremation urn – human” and more recently “Hair stylist median income in Antarctica – Winter Over Only” Good stuff, Interwebs! Also, no parental lock can ever keep up, porn was in both those image searches! (Do NOT do it, get back to your homework, Kids!)

Question: What books would you recommend to a reader who loves your book, and wants to read something similar?
Answer: A book (s) readers may enjoy if they like mine are all favorites of mine as a tyke! Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, A Summer To Die by Lois Lowery and Bridge To Terrabithia by Katherine Patterson. Get yourself some Xanax and read them all. Gorgeous, beautiful writers and incredible life-changing stories. Oh, and a contemporary book that is along the same lines is Suzy Vitello’s The Moment Before. This girl’s sister dies in a cheerleading accident – cheerleading! – and she must navigate the world without her, and find her own place in it. It is written so beautifully it makes me jealous and I can hardly stand it. You’ll love it!

Question: Name one book you read within the last six months and STILL can’t stop thinking about.
Answer: Two are fighting for attention every day in my mind. I’m going to have to go with E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. If you’ve read it you’re already nodding. Also, Karen Finneyfrock’s Starbird Murphy and The World Outside. It just came out and I’m telling you, it’s about a girl raised on a commune who then gets a job as a waitress in Seattle – yeah. It’s as good as the premise. Karen Finneyfrock is an actual poet, like for real, for her job – and it shows. It’s another book that makes me jealous of the writing. Amazing YA. Karen. You jerk.

Question: What has been the hardest part of the publishing process so far? The best part?
Answer: The hardest part about publishing so far has been the crushing mood swings of total self-deprecation and adulation caused by rejections and spec revisions requested by agents and editors. I majored in acting all through under grad and grad school till I changed to playwriting, I’ve acted my whole life and have been scrutinized and criticized for really embarrassing things, personal attacks, and I thought I had the thickest skin on the planet. Then I tried to write and sell a book. It really wears on one’s psyche to go from one hour – sometimes one minute – to the next alternatively thinking, “I am writing such a beautiful book!” and then “Oh God who do I think I am, this is embarrassing, readers will hate this, why am I even attempting this I am not a real writer, real writes will never stop laughing at me!” then back to “Oh, I am a genius!” and of course rounding the hour out with a nice, “I am a complete hack.” It was amazing to slowly learn to filter out the criticism that was subjective and not helpful in a certain situation, and to embrace the objective critical advice from people who know how books are written and marketed. I have since learned that all writers go through this. All. If they say they don’t they are liars. Or they are Stephen King and they write genius in their sleep. Oh also, the lesson of ignoring the sad trolls on Goodreads and Amazon? That was a good one.

The best part has been meeting so many agents, editors, authors I’ve admired for years – and finding out what their jobs actually involve, discovering they are all real people, and that 99% of them are hilarious, smart, kind, and most of all THEY NEVER STOP WORKING. That’s the best. Everyone at Random House and Folio Literary seem to be reachable at any hour on just about any day, like I’ve called to leave messages to ask Dumb Question number 8,232 – and someone picks up, ready to help, and scares the crap out of me! I’ve hung up in a panic! These people absolutely love books more than anyone in the world and want, also more than anything in the world, to find and help bring wonderful stories to readers. There are few more noble pursuits in the world to my mind, and getting to work with the people I’ve met has been just – it’s a dream come true. That is cornball but honest.

Question: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
Answer: My favorite part of the writing process is the first revision. The draft has been banged out, I know where the story is going, and now I’m armed with an editorial letter and notes from my agent and readers I trust, and I get to carve the path with all the twists and turns to get where the story needs to be. It is magical, and this is when I will often get all goosey while I’m typing and my hands sweat and I think, “Ooooh got it, yes, that is funny, that is sad, that’s it exactly!” It is so fun. First draft clay sculpted into a work of revision-ready art. Delicious!

Question: Are you working on anything new?
Answer: The WIP I’m revising for my editor is a novel about a ballerina in San Francisco who discovers, too late, that her body will never do what it needs to in order for her to become a professional dancer. Her entire life, it seems, has been moving toward the wrong end. And she kind of loses her sizzle and decides the best thing to do is go to Antarctica to Winter Over. I love this story and I hope it turns into something readers will, as well. It’s been nice to get out of the graveyard and onto some ice.

Jennifer LongoAbout Jennifer:
Jennifer Longo’s debut novel Six Feet Over It will be in book stores, libraries, and your hands August 26th 2014 courtesy of Random House Books, Edited by Chelsea Eberly and represented by Melissa Sarver White at Folio Literary. A California native, Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Acting from San Francisco State University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing For Theatre from Humboldt State University. She is a two-time Irene Ryan Best Actor award recipient and a Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Best Full Length Script honoree for her play, Frozen. After years of acting, playwriting, working as a literary assistant at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, then as an elementary school librarian, Jennifer told the occasional story at San Francisco’s Porch Light Storytelling Series and decided at last to face her fear of prose and actually write some. A recent San Francisco transplant, Jennifer lives with her husband and daughter on an island near Seattle, Washington and her every hour is consumed by writing, running marathons, walking her kid to ballet class eleven thousand times each week and reading every book she can get her hands on. Contact Jen at jenlongowrites@gmail.com or on Twitter.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads


Finally, thanks to the lovely Jennifer, we have an AMAZING giveaway for you guys! One lucky winner will receive a hardback copy of the book, a crap ton of York Peppermint Patties, and a Sierrawood Hills Memorial Park tank top!

So, the rules:

-Giveaway is US/CAN Only

-Winner has 48 hours to respond. If winner does not respond, a new winner will be selected.

-You must be 13 or older to enter OR have your parents’ permission.

-I am not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged items.

-I reserve the right to change any rules as I see fit for each individual giveaway

*The above giveaway rules were borrowed and modified from Jessica @ Just a Book Lover.

With that being said, I wish you luck! May the odds be ever in your favor!

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