Episode 28

Adding Emotional Suspense to Women's Fiction with Jen Craven

In today’s episode, we chat with women’s fiction author Jen Craven. After two historical fiction novels, Jen made the jump forward to contemporary times, now focusing on stories in the present day, featuring flawed protagonists making split-second decisions. Her books target readers who are drawn to complex families, morally gray characters, and fast-paced plotlines that serve for excellent chit-chat well after the last page. In fact, one of Jen’s favorite things it to join in on book club meetings—she’s Zoomed into everywhere from Florida to New England.

As an indie author, Jen learned the ins and outs of self-publishing and how to make her books stand out. Her contemporary debut, Best Years of Your Life (Aug. 2022), is set on a fictional college campus where both professors and students get wrapped up in cheating scandals. Her next two books, scheduled for fall 2023 and spring 2024 will be published by Bookouture.

When she’s not writing— Er, well…actually, she’s always writing, whether that’s at her computer, in her head on long walks, or at her three children’s sporting events in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Jen is most active on Instagram @jencravenauthor, where she loves to create relatable, uplifting writing and book content.

Learn more about Jen and her books at www.jencraven.com

or

Support your local bookstore & this podcast by getting your copy of Best Years of Your Life at https://bookshop.org/a/

Transcript

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Shawna Rodrigues [:

Life, published in August of:

Jen Craven [:

Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to chat.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

I am so excited to get to know you a little bit better. Tell me what is the most interesting thing about where you are from?

Jen Craven [:

So I live in northwestern Pennsylvania. I'm about an hour south of Erie, the Great Lakes sort of area. 1 interesting thing about my hometown, which is Meadville, Pennsylvania, is that the zipper was founded in my town.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

Oh, that is fun. I have a bad memory about the zipper. That's the 1 time that I threw up because of a... Oh, no, you're talking about a zipper on clothes, not the carnival ride.

Jen Craven [:

No, I'm talking about the actual zipper on a coat or pants or whatever. The factory was called the Talon Company and it was located here in my hometown of Meadville, Pennsylvania.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

That is so funny, because I always think of it was the X, Y, whatever, the letters and the zippers, and think of that being in a different country that is so much fun

Jen Craven [:

Yeah

Shawna Rodrigues [:

That is so random I love it how long ago was that like discovered do you know?

Jen Craven [:

an it's I don't know like the:

Shawna Rodrigues [:

She's like I write contemporary women's fiction I know about now

Jen Craven [:

You know my hometown's very like it's an old you know I'm sort of in that steel mill area. A lot of manufacturing was here and those sorts of things.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

That makes good sense. That is very interesting. I like that. So what is something about you that people are surprised to find out?

Jen Craven [:

I think they're surprised to find out that I'm a lot more introverted than they think I am. A lot of people, you know, find me on social media and follow my accounts and, you know, sometimes leave me comments like, oh my gosh, like your videos are so funny. Or it's like, I'm actually really introverted. I'm such a homebody. And so my author journey has really forced me to come out of my shell a lot and, you know, try to step outside of my comfort zone to connect with readers and just be like really transparent and authentic, which I'm doing online.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

Yes. So that was hard for you to do that? Or did you kind of find your groove with it?

Jen Craven [:

I think at first it just felt awkward, you know, like you're making reels and TikToks and whatever, but I never try to make it feel forced. Like if I'm in the mood to film something or, you know, comes to my mind and I'm like, oh, that's kind of funny or clever, then I'll do it. I don't want to force it because then it just comes off like too fake. But yeah, I think at first it was kind of like weird, but now I'm used to it. And I just think it's a fun community.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

Nice. Yeah, it helps. It helps when you have a good community that's there. That's very fun. So when you wrote your book, what do you think was the hardest part of it to write?

Jen Craven [:

For me, this was my first time experiencing writing a multi-POV story. So I had 2 moms and their daughter. So I had different ages that I was trying to put my head into. One's a teenager, the other ones are like, you know, midlife sort of thing. So really trying to capture those voices, making sure they were distinct and making sure that they were all balanced and, you know, worked together. That was definitely the biggest challenge with this story and I enjoyed it and I love like the way it turned out, But it was definitely a different writing experience.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

Yes, that is. So Best Years of Your Life, I love that title. Was that instantly there for you, or did it take a while for you to come up with that?

Jen Craven [:

Oh my gosh, no. Titles are so hard. My author friends and I laugh all the time that it's just so hard to come up with the right title and being an indie author with this book, it was totally up to me, right? I had the full voice and, and all of that. Whereas a lot of traditional authors, you know, the publisher decides the title. And so I really wanted to capture a few essences of the story, 1 being the college campus setting. And so, you know, the classic line of like, college is the best 4 years of your life, right? So I kind of played with that. And then it's also has a little bit of satire to it because 1 of the main characters is really struggling with memory loss and early onset Alzheimer's, and she's young. And so it's sort of like a satirical flips the script a little bit that like she's supposed to be in the best years of her life in her profession and she's kind of spinning out of control like mentally. It's kind of like two-fold and once I came to the title it was like oh my gosh this is so right. It was definitely the right title.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

It's wonderful. I absolutely love it. That was great. So for the writing process, like did you always like want to be a writer and this book just came easily to you or did you stumble on writing? Tell us how you came to your writing.

Jen Craven [:

I did kind of stumble onto fiction writing. My writing, aside from being a child who liked journals and, you know, all of that kind of fun stuff and English class and essays, and I started professionally writing personal essays. And so I was writing a lot about things that I experienced in my own life, a lot of motherhood pieces that I placed in places like Huffington Post and the Washington Post and Motherly and those sorts of blogs and online publications. It never occurred to me to write a book. I have always been an avid reader. And then I would say just a few years ago, it was kind of like, all right, I'm really loving this writing. I wonder if I could turn it and spin it into more of like fictional stories. And once I did, it was sort of like, okay, this is where I'm headed and I love it and I have no turning back.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

That's so exciting. So did you first have the idea for the book or just kind of wonder about doing it or meet people who are writers? Or what do you think kind of tripped you over into doing the fictional writing?

Jen Craven [:

Started out, actually my first 2 before this book were historical fiction. And really the first 1 was a family project. It's based on my great aunt, like a fictionalized biography. And I really did it as like, oh, this would be so great for my family to have as a memory, a keepsake sort of thing. No intentions of really going any bigger or further with that. But then once I completed the process of writing a book and had it in my hands, it was so intoxicating. It was kind of like, okay, let's try to learn. And I did a lot of studying of what it takes to really write a book and the craft behind it and all of those sorts of things and just love it.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

That's amazing. And then you found, it sounds like you found a really great writing community. Is that more local or online or how have you found that?

Jen Craven [:

Definitely online through different organizations, through different Facebook groups and those sorts of things, just kind of like finding people that I really meshed with that write in similar genres of me and we would like swap pages, swap manuscripts and finding like just people that you really connect with. It's been wonderful and I also belong to the Women's Fiction Writers Association who is amazing at pairing people up for critique partnerships and just like, I don't know, just really building that community and going to different retreats and conferences. And it's been wonderful.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

That is incredible. And this is actually, this week is Women's Fiction Day. They have a Women's Fiction Day. So this is coming out for that week. And so this is kind of incredible that we get to talk more about that. And that is an amazing organization. That's actually where I found my home in writing too, is with the Women's Fiction Writers Association. Yes, it's nice when you find that. It makes such a difference with your writing to actually connect with other people that are in the same place.

Jen Craven [:

Totally, because I live in this very small town. I'm not in a big city. I don't know any other writers around me locally and you know even semi-locally to connect with. So it feels very isolating a lot of times and even though I have a very supportive family who's very excited for me and those sorts of things, they don't get it like another author does. So having that author community is so important.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

Yes, and I started my novel once I found things is like right when the pandemic hit. And so I think that having the online community is of the Women's Fiction Writers Association made such a difference and the first conference I ever went to was 1 of their retreats and everyone was so welcoming and it was so nice to have other people who couldn't describe their book. That was like a moment.

Jen Craven [:

Oh my gosh, it's so great because at those types of events and not just this 1 specifically we're talking about but any sort of get together like that, you're going to meet so many people who are in every different stage of the process. So you'll find people who are just where you are, which is great, but then you'll find people who are a little bit behind you, a little bit ahead of you, and it's just so important to kind of like have people along the way that you can connect with.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

Yes, and to normalize that it is part of the process and that the fact that you love writing it and you have it and it's finished, but you just can't find the words, makes you feel better, like, okay, this is part of the process, that you can be with it and in it so deep that it's hard to come out and find all the words and then to practice that and to be with people that are also figuring all of that out. It's a great people. So what is the best place for people to be able to find you online to be able to connect with you?

Jen Craven [:

So I'm most active on Instagram. It's where I've really kind of like found my community, my people, and I don't know, I think it's the most fun platform for me. So you can find me at Jen Craven Author on Instagram. I'm also on Facebook. I'm also on TikTok, which I'm still kind of learning a little bit, but Instagram is definitely my primary platform. My website is, you know, I update a blog there whenever I have time, you know, what's going on in my world or in my writing life, so I try to keep that fairly active, but those are kind of my main places.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

Wonderful, and what's your website?

Jen Craven [:

It's jenncraven.com.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

That is so easy, I like it. And Jen with 1 N, and Craven, C-R-A-V-E-N, So not too complicated. And do you have a title for your book that's coming out in the fall?

Jen Craven [:

No, this has actually been a really interesting process for me because I've been indie up until now, a self-published author, which I've enjoyed totally by choice. And I've like shouted it from the rooftops of making that decision. Very happy with it. This time around, I did send my latest manuscript out to a few small presses to kind of like gauge interest, see if there was anyone who would be interested, just to kind of like experience what that route would be like. And I actually ended up signing a two-book deal with Bookateur. So I'm now working with a publisher and it's been a really interesting sort of shift. We'll see how it goes and I've enjoyed it so far, but I don't think my indie days are done. I think I'll probably still try to do both. So this time around I'll be working with a publisher for creating a cover, finding the title, but none of that's complete yet. So I have nothing else, no other fun tidbits I can share other than sometime this fall we'll have a new novel out.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

Yeah, so watch your website, watch your Instagram because there'll be more details on that to come. So that's 1 of the challenges for people who aren't as connected with authors, that when you do, that's the great thing about being an independent author, is you are able to watch your statistics better, track things better, control things more. That's 1 of the beautiful things about it. That's why a lot of people like being independent and once you work with publishers.

Jen Craven [:

It's a catch 22 for sure. I mean, I'm gaining things going with the publisher this time and I'm losing things going with the publisher this time. And so I'm just really interested to live the whole experience and then see, you know, which I prefer.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

Yes, and I think it's going to be hard because there will be things you like about both. And so you're like, well, what do I feel for this book is going to be the best route with it. Yes. Yeah. So what book or story inspires you the most?

Jen Craven [:

So this is such a hard question. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. So I kind of have 2 answers. 1 would be if I had to pick something that's like my all-time favorite story, which is little women. And I always am posting about little women. But I just love the sister story behind that. I find a lot of inspiration from the March sisters. 2 of my daughters are named after the March girls. And if I would have kept having girls, I would have kept naming them after the Marchers, but I had a boy from my third and then I was done. So I love little women, and I just think there's so much you can pull from there, from classic storytelling that really relates to people. So that would be my first answer. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I am listening in audio right now to Know My Name by Chanel Miller, which is a few years old. And it's based on her true account of her sexual assault on the Stanford campus in like the late teens, like 16. It was a big like news story. It's a backlist title now and I never read it when it came out but I'm reading it now and finding so much inspiration from her courage and her storytelling, the female empowerment, so it's a really amazing audiobook to listen to if anyone's interested.

Shawna Rodrigues [:

Oh nice, I love that. I love that there's like a classic and there's something more contemporary. Thank you. So valuable. Thank you so much for being here with us, Jen. This has been wonderful and a great way to celebrate Women's Fiction Week and to have you share with us.

Jen Craven [:

Absolutely. So great. Thank you for having me.

About the Podcast

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About your host

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Shawna Rodrigues

Shawna Rodrigues, Founder and Director of Impact at Authentic Connections Podcast Network, Host of The Grit Show (https://podcast.thegritshow.com) and Author Express (https://bit.ly/AuthorExpressPod) and coming in 2024- Authenticity Amplified. Shawna is a Podcast Mentor, Internationally Best-Selling Author (www.shawnarodrigues.com) and consultant.
Find her on Instagram @ShawnaPodcasts.