Author Jennifer Irwin

Today, Write and Author is interviewing Jennifer Irwin, author of A Dress the Color of the Sky.

Jennifer Irwin graduated from Denison University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in cinema. While at Denison, she wrote a feature-length screenplay which earned her acceptance into the NY Arts Program. She spent a semester working in New York City with creative talents like Jane Pratt, founder of Jane Magazine and xojane blog. After graduating from Denison, Jennifer spent fourteen years in advertising and marketing. She was an associate producer with SSC&B Lintas, a global advertising agency, where she worked on major accounts including Citibank, Shield Deodorant Soap, Noxzema and Coca Cola. Jennifer then worked with Jack Morton Worldwide and Carabiner Communications, where she produced industrial theatre productions for companies like Burger King, Arby’s, Bacardi and Hardee’s. Now retired from advertising, Jennifer teaches private Pilates in Los Angeles and writes full time.

What was your inspiration for A Dress the Color of the Sky?
What began as writing a book to personally heal from a toxic, traumatizing marriage, turned into a story that resonates with women whom I never imagined would like it much less, have it speak to them. Throughout the writing process, I have sought out a variety of sample readers to critique my book in order to learn and improve the story. Some, I felt confident, would relate to the book and especially the main character but I was pleasantly surprised to find even women whom I imagined would find the story to be upsetting, or even offensive, turned out to find commonalities between themselves and the main character. As I pondered this, I went back to my roots of teaching Pilates. Asking myself, what commonalities can I find between my different clients? The women I teach range from high school students, athletes, strippers, housewives, playboy bunnies, freshly divorced, newly engaged, stay at home moms, career women, some fly private, some have multiple homes and some struggle to pay for lessons. What I found was this: all women, even ones with seemingly perfect bodies and lives, feel sad, insecure and ugly. The very same women a week later could feel confident, hopeful and beautiful. Women are complex but universally, they seek intimacy with other women through sharing the stories of their lives. I don’t claim to know all of their problems and secrets but I see that most women want to be heard, to listen and to give and receive advice. This sharing is how women grow, learn and feel better about themselves and their place in society. Teaching Pilates has been a fulfilling career because I can change lives one woman at a time. As I began to receive feedback from sample readers about how they related to my book and especially, the main character, I realize that I can have a greater impact on women through my writing than I could have ever imagined and this has been the most rewarding motivation to get my book published.

Another important subject covered in my book is that of addiction. Addiction is something that most people have encountered through a variety of ways whether it be a family member, friend or themselves. Recently, an addiction specialist who read my book told me that he felt it would diminish people’s fear of rehab. My book could “help people overcome the fear of seeking help by providing insight into the experience from a very raw and honest perspective.” As the child of an alcoholic, drug addict, I spent a lot of time covering up the pain and over compensating for the fact that I felt fatherless but I had to choose not to have it ruin my life. I wanted to convey this message in my book through the main character so that other people can see that it is possible to rise up from bad things and lead a fulfilling, healthy life. I did a lot of research to write this book, attended AA, SAA and NAA meetings and interviewed many people. My hope is that this book can help people see that rehab isn’t a scary, degrading place but rather a place to grow, change and dig into self-discovery.
When do you plan on publishing your book?
Last year, I won the I Heart SOOP publishing contest and was awarded a contract. I did not to sign the contract as I had just sold the film rights and decided to invest in a writing coach and polish my manuscript. Since then, I have received a few more indie publishing contract offers, one which I am highly considering. A few months ago, I signed with, Karen Gantz Zahler, a literary agent in New York City. Since my book will be made into a feature length film, I decided to pursue the traditional publishing route. Traditional publishing is very difficult to break into and there is a chance I won’t get picked up. If I don’t land a big five publisher in the next few months then I plan on signing with an indie publisher. I don’t have an exact date as of yet but one thing is for sure, A Dress the Color of the Sky will be published this year!
How did you come about selling the film rights to your book?
Throughout the writing process I sought out reviews from a variety of readers. Reviews give me a pulse check on how the book is being received and where I can make improvements. A rough draft of my manuscript got into the hands of someone who is what Hollywood deems, a private money investor.  She will be the executive producer for the film and absolutely fell in love with the story. She offered to purchase the film rights a few months after reading, A Dress the Color of the Sky. My novel has a strong, flawed female protagonist which is  currently very hot in Hollywood so I’d say the timing was right as well.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Naming characters is something I find to be difficult. I keep character description sheets in my work area because picturing a character helps me name them. Sometimes I’ll jot down about ten names and run them by my family who are all very opinionated and outspoken. If a character was born in a certain decade then I will look up names from that era. Naming a character is as important as naming a child except a child’s name is harder to change after the fact! Recently I changed the name of the antagonist because I wasn’t happy with it. After playing around with names for a week or so I made the change and haven’t looked back!
How have you successfully marketed your book?
Entering the I Heart SOOP publishing contest was one of the smartest moves I have ever made. Throughout the contest they had homework milestones, most of which were based on marketing your book using social media, specifically Twitter. I currently have nearly 50,000 followers on Twitter. The earlier the author markets a book the more success they will have with sales. There are outsource applications that can be used to load tweets and Facebook posts a week in advance. They even tell you what are the best times to post. Although it was a ton of work to build my following I feel it was well worth it. My Instagram has the least amount of followers because I kept that private for a long time and only recently opened it up to the public. I am incredibly grateful to Twitter. Through Twitter I learned about how supportive the author community is and I was able to build a fan base prior to publishing my book. Twitter has also presented me opportunities such as this interview as well as multiple podcast and blog talk radio interviews. The application I use to load my tweets is called Klout but there are many options. The only advice I have is to keep at it and try to post something every single day. The other unique thing that I have done on Twitter is to use personal photos with quotes from test readers. The reason I use personal photos is because I own the rights to them. What I didn’t count on was that the personal photos allowed my followers to get to know me as a person as well as learn about my book. The real proof to my hard work will be in book sales so I will have to update you on that after the book is published!
How often do you write and what is your process? 
I write every single day. To quote my son's cello teacher, only practice on the days that you eat! In other words, I take the craft of writing very seriously and try to strengthen my writing muscle through daily practice. Some days I work on my novel since it’s not yet published. I continue to obsess over the story and constantly tweak it here and there. I also practice through exercises from a book called, The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long. When I’m not writing, I read my genre which is commercial fiction. It’s great to know your competition and clearly understand what is exciting readers. My latest venture is to try and write a short story every single week and submit work to publications. I am also working on outlining the screenplay to my novel as I am throwing in my hat to be the screenwriter. A friend and mentor of mine is a film and television writer and he told me that I should go for it. He made a good point, no one knows the story better than I do!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
In five years I will have published a highly successful novel and the feature film will have been released. My second novel will be out and I hope to be regarded as an accomplished writer. My next book will be a stand alone sequel and in five years the name Prudence Aldrich should be well recognized. Of course I also dream of winning a few writing awards as well as making best seller lists! I also dream of mentoring writers and helping guide them through the difficult maze of the publishing world.
What advice or tips would you give other writers?
Stay positive and thicken up your skin. You will get a lot of rejection but you have to pick yourself up and keep at it. Write every day but make time for friends and take breaks. Writing can be lonely and it’s good to get out and socialize. There is a story everywhere. Keep notebooks and write down things that you see or hear. Take a moment to write descriptions when you’re waiting for someone or have a quiet moment, observe colors, style, clothes, feelings that places have. Put it all in your computer brain because you can use it someplace in your writing.
Can you create a short writing prompt for us?
The street bustled with people. Bland, haggard workers desperate to get home. We passed each other, brushing shoulders even but I didn’t realize it was her until moments later.
clip_image001A Dress the Color of the Sky
by Jennifer Irwin

For too many years, Prudence Aldrich has been numbing the pain in her life with random sexual encounters. Her marriage to cold, self-centered Nick is, not surprisingly, on the rocks. But after several dangerous experiences with strangers, Prudence finally realizes that she needs therapy to stop her self-destructive behavior, and so she checks into the Serenity Hills rehab center.
Prudence blames herself for her irresponsible behavior and is filled with self-loathing. She’s convinced she’s totally at fault for Nick’s manipulative attitude and that, with therapy, she can return their relationship to its idyllic beginning. However, her therapist and the other members of her rehab group see the person behind the pain. As Prudence learns more about herself and the reasons for her behavior—including startling revelations about her childhood—she begins to understand the basis for her lack of sexual self-respect. She also learns that she’s not entirely to blame for the failure of her marriage. With the positive reinforcement from everyone at Serenity Hills, Prudence learns not to define herself by her past. But moving forward would mean letting go of Nick for good—and Prudence isn’t sure she can.
clip_image001[4]Jennifer Irwin