One Decision Can Change Everything: An Interview with Jen Craven

Author Jen Craven works with words a lot! In addition to being a novelist, she’s a professional copywriter, so she chooses her words wisely (don’t judge me, Jen!). And those words serve her well, as evidenced by the small stack of novels she’s already produced, with plans to write more. Last year, Jen’s first contemporary novel, Best Years of Your Life, released, but she’s also the author of historical fiction writing as Jennifer Craven: A Long Way from Blair Street and All That Shines and Whispers. Readers love her work. One reader wrote, “The suspense truly kept me turning page after page,” and another said, “With so many twists and turns you’ll stay hooked until the end!” Those words in particular probably make Jen smile, as they should. Like all the other authors I interview, Jen’s schedule is quite full, so I’m grateful she took the time to share her answers with me!

Christina: Congrats on the release of Best Years of Your Life. For those readers who might not have read the book, can you give us a brief description of it?

Jen: Best Years of Your Life is a campus drama that follows two professor moms and their freshman daughter, all of whom make questionable decisions, including crossing the line with a student, and stealing exams for profit. Over the course of the academic year, choices are made in the name of identity and acceptance, and the three women experience consequences they never saw coming.

Christina: You spent years in higher education, so how much research did you have to do to truly capture the college-campus drama? And what about for the dementia angle? 

Jen: I taught at a small, liberal arts university for eleven years, so my experience definitely inspired the setting and ambiance of the book. While the specific plot points were figments of my imagination, I pulled from personal experiences to write faculty dynamics, campus life, and the overall college happenings. In terms of the Alzheimer’s sub-plot, my grandfather had dementia at the end of his life, and I remember many of his behaviors and my feelings about it. I did additional research for the early-onset angle, including talking with caregivers.

Christina: Books with multiple narrators are my favorite. Did the story start out with three narrators, or did that arise organically? Does one narrator really own the story?

Jen: I love multi-POV stories, too! I always intended for Best Years of Your Life to have three POVs because each character has her own storyline, but they intersect at integral moments. Of the three, I felt like Christine was the primary narrator, which is the why the book opens and closes in her POV.

Christina: Best Years of Your Life is contemporary women’s fiction. Prior to that you wrote historical fiction. Why the switch? Do you feel that they fulfill different needs for you? Do you find one genre easier to write?

Jen: I truly love both historical and contemporary novels, but when the idea for Best Years of Your Life came to me, I knew I wanted to stick with this genre (which is what my next two in-progress books are). For me, present-day stories are easier to write because they often don’t require the research of a historical time period and getting all those details accurate. That said, writing a novel is a challenge regardless of genre!

Christina: One of the first things that struck me about your books is the idea of “secrets and lies” (as mentioned on your website). Why do those intrigue you so much? How much planning is involved in including secrets and lies into your work? And how do you balance what to reveal and what to hold back on?

Jen: I love a good plot twist—those stories are the ones I like to read and also the ones I like to write. I’m fascinated with secrets and lies because they’re such a natural aspect of human nature. Everyone has them. Some are bigger (and more dangerous) than others. And ultimately, I think it’s all about what you do with them and how you navigate any fallout. That’s why my books also include redemption and what that means for different people and situations. I like my readers to be appalled by the characters’ actions, but also say, “Ok, I see how that could happen,” and appreciate my author catchphrase: One decision can change everything.

Christina: I am so intrigued by your post, The Power of In-Person Events. Many authors I know do not share your enthusiasm! You give a great list of tips for having successful in-person events, but do you have any tips for those folks who just can’t seem to muster the courage or motivation to get out there?

Jen: It’s definitely been a course in personal growth for me to get to this point. I’m an introvert by nature, but I also know that part of the book-selling business is putting yourself out there. My tip would be to start small. Don’t create a full calendar of events if you’re not comfortable with that—start with one or two in your local community. Or consider connecting with readers digitally with a zoom chat or “Live” event on social media. Sometimes it’s easier to start behind the “safety” of your phone/computer.

Christina: What is your writing kryptonite? 

Jen: The small nuances of a scene. Why is it easier to write a car chase than a character crossing the room? At the end of a draft, I do a search for words like “smiled,” “turned,” “looked,” “sighed,” etc. and always laugh at how many times these words are used. I remind myself that not every single motion needs described. Less is more.

Christina: What does literary success look like to you?

Jen: Such a great (and important) question! For me, literary success is being proud of my work and having readers who enjoy my books. It’s not about numbers or cash flow (though those are nice), and it’s not about comparing myself with other authors. I’m happiest and the most content when I’m writing the story I want to tell.

Jen can be found in multiple places!
Instagram: @jencravenauthor
Facebook: @JenniferCravenAuthor
Twitter: @jencravenauthor

Thanks to Jen for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an artist, author, or podcaster who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.


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