Interview with Author Jen McConnel

Meet Jen!

She’s a fabulous author who’s dedication to the craft is shown in everything she does 🙂

Jen McConnel

(she also shares my love *cough*, obsession, of all things Ancient Egyptian!)

Check out my review of her fabulous book,

The Burning of Isobel Key

The Burning of Isobel Key

Hi Jen!  Can you introduce yourself  & your book?J…

Sure, Patrice!  Thanks for having me.  I’m a writer and teacher, and I live in North Carolina.  It’s beautiful here, and such a nice change from where I grew up in Michigan: I’m not a fan of snow.  My debut novel, The Burning of Isobel Key, tells the stories of two very different women: Isobel, who was accused of witchcraft in Scotland in 1667, and Lou, a modern woman in her twenties who’s going through a “quarter-life-crisis”.  Their stories converge when Lou travels to Scotland and starts searching for the truth behind the witch craze.

What is your favorite place to write?

I love my office (our guest bedroom), but my favorite place to write is across the country.  My husband’s grandfather built a cabin on a bluff overlooking Lake Coeur d’Alene, and I love writing there, staring out at the beautiful water.  We only get out there once a year at most, so it’s a good thing I like writing in my pretty blue office, too!

How did you get the idea for The Burning of Isobel Key?

I’m honestly not sure.  In 2009, I sat down on November 1st to participate in my first NaNoWriMo, and the words just poured out of me.  The first thing I wrote was the opening scene, where the witch is burning.  Everything else came from that moment, and I just went with it.

Are there parts of Lou’s life that you identify with?

There’s a piece of me in each of my characters.  In this book, I identify more with the best friend, Tammy, than I do with Lou, but Lou and I do share a faith.  I’ve also known the same confusion that she struggles with about her life and adulthood, but there isn’t much else that we have in common.  It was so fun getting to know her!

How did you choose the title and the main character’s name?

I can’t take credit for that: Isobel Key was a real woman who really was accused of witchcraft.  I found a great database of the Scottish witch trials and read through some of the cases.  Issobell Key stuck with me for some reason, even though her actual file only lists her name, the trial date, and the names of the judges.  I standardized the spelling of her name for the book, and spun a fictional world around her.  Since the first thing I wrote was the burning scene, The Burning of Isobel Key just made sense.

Are you a full time writer…why/why not?

I consider myself a full-time writer, despite the fact that I teach and earn income from things other than my writing.  For me, it’s an attitude choice.  If I consider my writing my full-time job, I am giving it the credit and value that it deserves.  When I was teaching full-time, I saw myself as a part-time writer, and my writing wasn’t my focus.  All that’s changed, and I am so thankful to be living the writing life.

What was your writing & publishing process for The Burning of Isobel Key like, from start to finish?

Long! *Laughs*  This was actually one of the longest start-to-finishes of anything I’ve ever written.  In 2009, I pounded out 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo.  I thought it was done.  I did some revisions, and started querying the book in 2010.  I had a full manuscript request, so I did some more revisions before I sent that.  I got a lot of positive rejections: the story was good, but agents weren’t sure how to market it.  So, I put it on the back burner and forgot about it for a few months.  In 2011, I attended a writing class at Duke University, and I used that class as an excuse to flush out and polish up the story.  It went from being 50K to 75K words, and again, I thought I was done.  Then I started writing YA, and I left this project alone.  In 2012, I revisited it and went through some MAJOR revisions, bringing the book down to 65k.  When I was finally satisfied with it, I found a copy editor and set out on my path towards publication.

I truly believe that we are never done with our writing, but that we can each reach a point where the story is as good as it can be in that moment.  I’ve reached that point with Isobel, and I’m ready to send the story into the world.  Could I keep tweaking it for years?  Yes.  Would that make me crazy?  Probably.

—(sub question)How did you find a publisher for your book, do you have a literary agent?

I had a literary agent for quite some time, but when she left the business, I was faced with a choice: find another agent, or consider an alternate path.  I decided to try going it on my own, and I am self-publishing this novel.  I’ve learned a lot about both traditional and indie publishing, and each day brings me a new adventure: it’s been hard, but a wonderful experience.

What is some advice you would impart to aspiring authors?

Just write.  Tell your stories, paint your worlds with words, weave magic into your life.  Writing is bliss.

If you could have breakfast with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and what would you eat?

Cleopatra.  We’d eat figs and honey, and I would pump her for information on her power and her life.

Last words???

Thanks so much for having me, Patrice!  Sorry if I talked your ear off, but this was a lot of fun!

Thank you as well, Jen!  My ear is still very much intact 🙂  I loved this interview…especially the wonderful, “just write it” advice!

Whimsically Yours,


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