Interview with Jen McConnel

I’m so excited to introduce you folks to Jen McConnel and her work. Her debut novel The Burning of Isobel Key is out in October. I was sucked in from the first paragraph. I’ll have a review soon but in the meantime, here’s Jen talking about her work.

1.     When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Honestly, I don’t know!  I know it’s an old dream of mine: I remember writing “books” with my best friend in first grade.  Mom helped us use contact paper and cardboard to make hard-bound books.  It was so much fun!  That’s my first memory of wanting to write a book, so I can say for sure that I’ve wanted this since I was six years old.  (I honestly think I was born wanting to tell stories).

2. How long does it take you to write a book?
I have a really fast rough draft time, but that’s because I subscribe whole-heartedly to Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft” style: just get it down and worry about revisions later.  I can write a full-length novel (60k-70k is where I usually fall on the first draft) in a little over a month.  But then the revision process kicks in.  I always have multiple projects at multiple phases, so it’s hard to tell for sure, but I’d say I work on most books over the span of two years before I am satisfied. My books are never done, though: I have learned that I can ALWAYS keep tweaking.  For me, I try to reach a point where the book is the best incarnation of the story that I am capable of producing at that time.  When I’m satisfied, it’s time to set the book free into the world.

3. What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I write every day, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes.  Usually, if I’m drafting, my goal is at least a thousand words a day.  Depending on my teaching schedule (I teach part-time at the community college), I put in two to three hours each day on my books.  That can be divided up a number of ways, but I try to keep myself balanced between drafting one project and revising another.  It’s busy, but I love it, and I thrive with deadlines.

4. Tell us about your current novel:

My debut novel, The Burning of Isobel Key, is about a 26-year-old.  Lou is adrift, suffering her own version of the quarter-life crisis, but a trip to Scotland changes all that.  When she learns about the countless numbers of victims accused of witchcraft in seventeenth and eighteenth century Scotland, Lou starts to pay attention.  And when she finds the trial record for Isobel Key, she tumbles into a tale of murder and intrigue that is centuries old.  Scotland will transform Lou.

I had so much fun writing this story!  The topic of witch trials has always interested me, and Scotland has an untapped wealth of stories waiting to be told.

5. What’s the best writing advice you ever received?

Just keep doing it.  No matter what.  (I’ve heard that from various writers, and it is always, always true).

6. Where do you get your ideas?

Honestly, I’m not sure.  I love mythology and magic, and these two things tend to creep into my writing without my conscious thought.  Maybe that’s it: I steal my ideas from the shared subconscious that Jung talked about!

7. If you had to go back and do it all over again is there any aspect of your novel (or publishing) that you would change?

Not a thing.  Every step of this journey has been unexpected, but every step has led me to where I am today.  It’s all been good.

Thanks so much for having me, Ally!  This has been a blast.

Thanks Jen! Can’t wait to finish Isobel’s story. Visit Jen’s blog to learn more at

By Ally Malinenko

I live in Brooklyn which is good except when it’s not which is horrid. I’ve been writing for awhile, and have some stuff published and some stuff not. I don’t like when people refer to pets as their children and I can’t resist a handful of cheez-its when offered. I have a burning desire to go to Antarctica, specifically to the South Pole so I can see where Robert Falcon Scott died. I like to read books. I like to write stories and poems. I even wrote some novels. You can read them.


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