Jen Malone writes sweet and funny books about tweens and teens for readers of all ages. Her middle grade titles include At Your Service, the You're Invited series (co-written with Gail Nall), and The Sleepover, all with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Her Young Adult titles (with HarperCollins/HarperTeen) include Map to the Stars and Wanderlost. Jen's a former Hollywood movie executive who once spent a year traveling the world solo, met her husband on the highway (literally), and went into labor with her identical twins while on a rock star's tour bus. These days she saves the drama for her books. You can learn more about her and her titles at www.jenmalonewrites.com.
Attention: If you haven’t read the book yet, there are plot spoilers throughout the discussion.
Have you ever experienced with other genres or have you always been interested in teen writing?
My first books are for 8-13 year olds. I didn’t start to seriously write fiction until my daughter who is now ten went to kindergarten a few years ago. She was starting to learn to read, and I decided one afternoon to write her a short story, and she can read it to me at bedtime. It would just be a fun thing we can share. I never intended to write anything longer or intended for it to be a career. It was literally supposed to be this two-hour story I was going to work on, and that obviously snowballed. Most of what I started writing initially was for her and her age group. Then as I started reading more and reading more about kid lit., that redirected me to YA Fiction, which I LOVE to read.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you decided on the title Wanderlost?
It was definitely a play on the word “wanderlust.” I definitely have it. I have this friend who makes jewelry, and he made me this ring that has “wanderlust” carved into it. But this character is the complete opposite of me. She doesn’t have any desire to leave home or do any type of traveling. The original title was This is So Not in the Brochure. My editor felt as though that was a little too young so when we were brainstorming other titles, we sat down and we made a list of travel words. [Wanderlust] kept coming up, and it just evolved from there.
So you said Aubree is the complete opposite of you. Did any of your experiences as a teenager influence Aubree’s character?
No, but really she is my sister. It’s really weird because my sister is almost four years younger than me, and she is finally reading it now. I was literally Elizabeth in the book. It very much evolved out of that, but as I started writing, she became her own person, and she wasn’t my sister anymore. Now, I’m really curious to see what my sister’s take on it is. As I was getting started, though, I definitely used her as a reference point. Maybe she’ll forgive me.
How much did your solo trip around the world influence your writing in this novel?
Completely. As opposed to her, I definitely had the desire to go, and I had the sense of adventure. When it came to it, and I was standing there in the airport, I definitely had that moment where I was like, “I’m not doing this. This is crazy.” Then when I landed, my first flight was from Baltimore where I grew up to San Diego, and my uncle was there so he met me. Then I had to get on another flight from there with him, and I kept saying, “I’m just going to get a flight home. I don’t think I can do this.” From there I flew to New Zealand. I remember landing in New Zealand and thinking, “What did I do?” The weird thing was on the flight to New Zealand, we had a four-hour layover in Hawaii, and there happened to be four other people who were college kids and my age. None of them knew each other, but we were all hanging out at the airport and we all were going to the same place so we started talking. By the time the flight landed, we had all planned to spend the next two weeks touring New Zealand together, which we did. One of them did a work-study there before so he knew people. We stayed at their houses the whole time, and they had dune buggies and took us spelunking. Out of loneliness, you reach out to people, and that experience shaped Aubree. It makes you really vulnerable, but also really approachable. I tried to focus on that aspect of travel that can be really magical.
How did you decided to incorporate The Sound of Music into the plot?
When I knew I wanted to write about this bus trip, I went to AAA, and I got brochures of senior citizen bus tours. I didn’t know how quickly they would move through Europe so I modeled the tour on an existing tour. When I saw Saalburg, I knew I wanted to do it because I did that same Sound of Music tour, and I loved it so much. It was just something that really stood out when I traveled there.
What was your favorite part of the writing process?
I cast my grandmother and great-grandmother as Mary and Emma, which are also their names. My favorite part was making them do things that, if they were still alive, they never would do. Taking them skinny-dipping was literally my favorite scene to write. I was like, “Sorry, guys. You’re stripping down now.”
What was your least favorite?
At the time, it was probably my least favorite, but now, it’s probably one of my favorites. My editor really pushed me to make the Elizabeth-Aubree storyline more—stronger, more present in the story. Initially I had Aubree sort of checking in with her, but there wasn’t a ton of confrontation between them. I found it really hard to delve into writing those scenes just because it was so much of my sister and I’s dynamic at that age—not anymore though because we are really close—but it was weird to write. Now I am glad she pushed me to write that because I feel that it’s a really important part of the story.
If you could sit down with Aubree and give her one piece of advice, what would it be?
JM: One piece at the start of the story or now?
JM: Well, I guess I would say, “You have to hang on to Sam! Those guys just don’t come around in real life.” Other than that, I would have to think about it.
Were there any directional changes in your novel during the writing process? What were they?
Bringing the sisters’ relationship more to the forefront of the story. I had to also go back and edit out a lot of the details about the places. I found the facts really interesting, but I didn’t want that to overwhelm the story. That was a big thing I did in revisions. I wanted to make sure it was enough to give a flavor of the place, but not so much that you felt as though you were reading a travel guide.
What are your thoughts on a sequel about Aubree’s solo trip?
I try not to read too many of the reviews, but every so often people will tag me in a tweet, and then I have to click on it. It is funny to me how many people are saying in their reviews, “I wanted to see the wrap-up of her trip” or “I wanted to see her and Sam back in Ohio.” I would definitely do something like that, but I don’t know that it would be an entire book. I would maybe write a bonus scene. I think that would be kind of fun. She definitely has more growing to do, but I feel as though her growth ended in such a different place than where she started. I think it would be hard to have her have a similar amount of growth in another story.
Lauren is a Ball State University alumna with a Bachelor's degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. She enjoys breakfast for dinner with a side of literary enjoyment.