The time I wasn’t murdered

Posted May 9, 2015 by Stacee in Signings | 2 Comments

I found out about Jennifer Niven doing an signing at Glendale Library on accident. I was meeting Keiko at the Jessi Kirby signing and happened to see a conversation between Keiko and Jennifer about it. And just like that we were planning a trip.

Keiko picked me up and we got up to the library early. Like almost 3 hours early. We went there first to see if they were selling books and just to check out the event area. There were so so so many posters promoting Jennifer’s event. They even had bookmarks and calendars.

1 2

The librarians so nicely confirmed that they would be selling books. Sadly, The Bookstore Which Shall Not Be Named was going to be the bookseller, so we walked across the street to B&N. We also stopped to have the best garlic parmesan french fries and a pretty sleeve of macarons.


Around 6, we made our way back to the library. They had the event area open and we were able to grab front row seats.


We were just hanging out, waiting for everything to start and the librarian came up and offered us all day validation! Wheeeee! She had run after us earlier when we were leaving to tell us there was validation. It was a nice little treat.

By 7pm, the room had filled up pretty well and around 7:15, Jennifer came out.


She started talking about how she became to be a writer.

I have been writing since I was a little girl. My mom was a writer and she taught me to see the story in everything. I used to take stacks of pages and however many pages I had was how long the story was. It made some for some short endings.

I put it off for a little while because it seemed a bit daunting. My major in college was English Lit, but I just couldn’t stop writing, so I went to film school. I grew up in Indiana like Violet and Finch and I always wanted to come back.

I went to AFI and got my MFA in screenwriting and it was a great basis for writing. I came across a story of a deadly arctic adventure and told my mom that it would make a great movie. She said it would make a good book because there was a lot of first person accounts from the event. And that turned out to be The Ice Master.


My first 2 books were non-fiction and both were based on the arctic. I was dubbed “arctic girl” and that was fine, but it wasn’t the only subject I could write about. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I wrote Velva Jean and a memoir about growing up in Indiana. It ended up being able to provide me with a lot of ideas for AtBP.

My agent ended up dying unexpectedly. And he was so old school that when he died, the agency died. There wasn’t an assistant or anything. I had to find a new agent and I knew they would want to know what I was working on. My agent had told me that I needed to write something that I could put my whole heart into.

I thought about this boy I knew who was bipolar and watching him deal with the world every day was something I wanted to write. But it was so personal, that I didn’t know if I could do it. I sat down to try writing a chapter and knew that if it was horrible, no one would know. I had the first line right away. Then I saw a boy on the roof of a bell tower. Then there was a girl with him.

I wrote the book in 6 weeks and sold it to random house a month later. I was so proud to find out that I could write about this topic.

Then Jennifer read some of the first chapter.

14 15

It’s sort of hard to read from this copy because I have people sign my copy and I encourage them to write over the text.

As you heard, it’s being made into a movie and Elle Fanning is going to be Violet. I’m so happy about it because she’s who I saw on my head. I had a picture of her next to where I was writing.

Do you have any advice for future writers?

Write and read. I know a lot of writers who say they don’t read and I don’t know how. Reading opens so many doors to ideas. And of course if you’re a writer, you’re going to write. You have to know that it’s not going to be perfect. You can always go back and edit.

Always write the sort of book you want to read. If you do, you’ll always be invested in it.

Also? Germ magazine is real. When we started, it was about 3 people and now we have 55 people from all over.

Are you afraid there’s a scene in the book that won’t make it to the movie?

I feel really good about it. This team wants to capture the book and Elle is really passionate about it too. As long as the ending stays intact, which was made clear, I’ll be okay.

How did you come up with their names and who do you see for Finch?

Finch’s name had to be unconsciously influenced by To Kill a Mockingbird. As it unfolded, it came very easily. For Violet, it was a little more work. Her voice was also a bit harder, she wasn’t as easy as Finch was.

I would love Nicolas Holt, I had a picture of him by the computer too. When I told Elle, she told me that she had just done a movie with him and could text him. But he looks too much like a man now. He doesn’t look 17 years old.


Were you inspired by any other books?

I wasn’t inspired by anything just because it was such a personal story and I knew what it was. I was reading some David Levithan and Perks of Being a Wallflower, but not until the first draft was done.

How did you write the ending?

I wrote what how it ended in real life. I didn’t know how it was all going to happen, but I knew how it would end because it happened to me.

Are you a pantser or plotter?

I used to be a comprehensive plotter for the non-fiction and when it was time for the novel, I did the same thing.

Fiction is like a road trip. You know where you want to end up and there’s some interesting spots a lot the way, but there’s so many great detours to take. Now I know some scenes that have to happen and I fill in the details later.

20 17

How do you deal with writer’s block?

Try to write through it. Even if you have to write garbage, sometimes that will loosen things up. If that doesn’t work, I try to take a couple of days off and come back refreshed. I’ll always make playlists and listen to music. Sometimes that will help me come up with scenes.

I also do something that Hemingway used to do. I try to stop before I get to the end of something I’m really excited about so it’s easier to pick up the next day.

Is this a true story?

The feeling that is in the book is real. Finch is very close to the boy I loved, but he’s also very Finch. Now I think of it as Violet and Finch’s book.

Will there be a sequel?

I was going to write a book from Decca’s POV, but Random House thought it needed to stand on its own and I agreed.


Would you ever consider writing Decca’s story as novella?

If I would had time, I would love to.

What made you make Finch have all sorts of personalities?

It’s what my boyfriend did. I don’t think he was ever comfortable in his skin, so he was always trying something new. I made Finch go to the extreme a little more.

What made you make Finch obsessed with death?

A friend gave me a book about suicide notes from famous people and thought it might have something that would be helpful.

Did your mom help you write this?

No, but she was always my first reader. I always got to a point in the draft where I couldn’t do anything else with it and then I would give it to her.

AtBP wasn’t the first title choice. It was going to be called She Makes Me Lovely, but random house thought it might turn off the make readers.

51 52

Did you have post-it notes all over the house?

I did have a lot of post it notes all over. Or index cards. It just happened that way.

I’m not familiar with publishing. What was the process?

The first time, I sent out a query letter to see if anyone was interested, but it’s not normally the way you do that. I heard from 7/10 of the agents and they all wanted to read it. And when I had to find a new agent, I did the same thing. I wrote about the book and they all showed interest. That’s how I wrote it so quickly.

How many books does a writer have to sell to be self sustaining?

Non-fictions sells a lot better than fiction, so they tend to pay you more. With my first two books, I was able to quit my job at ABC. When I started writing fiction, it was like starting over again. You just have to believe in the work. I’ve been able to be a profession writer for the last 15 years. You just have to be prepared to do it, no matter how up and down it is.

102 103

What did you do at ABC?

I was an associate producer on, so I was assigned shows and I would interview the casts and then write an article about it. I also maintained show websites.

Have you ever encountered extreme sexism?

Yes. In my first book, it was about a bunch of men in the arctic and it was really gritty and a lot of research. I came across a lot of men who acted like I was an interloper. I used to have people who would ask if I wrote romance books. But then the book did well.

Have you kept any of your old writings and would you rework them?

I just found the Vietnam book I wrote when I was 9 3/4 — I was always really specific with my age — and it’s hilarious. I would never rework them. My mom kept them all, but I could never publish them.


After that, the Q&A was over and someone brought Jennifer some flowers before we lined up for the signing. When we got up to Jennifer, she jumped up and hugged me. I asked her how I was doing and she said she was better now that I was there.

While she was signing my books, we talked about her book being signed. I showed her my hot pink sharpee that I had just for the event. I went to the front page where {at Jennifer’s suggestion at YallWest} I had circled Finch’s name and wrote “he’s mine”.


She told me I should go through the whole book and circle all of the Finches. Sooooo I did. Well, not all of them, but as many as I could get to while she was signing Keiko’s and my books.

jn2 jn3

We took photos and hugged again before leaving and her fiancé told us to drive safely.

As always, Jennifer is absolutely lovely. She’s gracious and charming and delightful to watch with her fans. If you get a chance to see her, don’t miss it.

And if you’re reading this post, it means I wasn’t taken to a cornfield and murdered. Good job driving us home in the rain, Keiko. <—- All of this murdering stuff is a joke, obviously. It’s a bit of a long story. Sorry?

Tags: , , , ,

2 responses to “The time I wasn’t murdered

  1. Love this post. And I love Jennifer Niven! I am so excited that there will be a movie. I just hope they do a great job with it.

    • Stacee

      Thank you! I’m also quite excited about the movie, even though I know I’m going to be a weepy hot mess.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

Leave a Reply

(Enter your URL then click here to include a link to one of your blog posts.)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.