Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to host author Jen Petro-Roy on our Spotlight Friday! Jen will be at our 65 James Street store, along with L.J. Cohen, on Sunday, June 10, from 1:00 – 3:00 PM. As part of our Pride Month Celebration, co-hosted with Rainbow Readers of Massachusetts, the two authors will be talking about the importance of representation in younger readers’ literature.
Jen Petro-Roy was born, raised, and still lives in Massachusetts, even though she rejects the idea that snow and cold are ever a good thing. She started writing in third grade, when her classroom performed a play she had written. As a kid, numerous pictures of Jen often featured Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins books clutched in her hand, so it was just a matter of time until she started writing her own books for children. Jen has worked as a teacher and a teen and children’s librarian. She loves running, board games, trivia, and swimming, and has a mild obsession with the television show Jeopardy! Her debut middle grade novel is P.S. I Miss You, and which has been the center of several hot-button debates about school visits due to its inclusion of “controversial” topics, such as religion and sexuality.
Thank you so much for being on our Friday Spotlight, Jen! Can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?
Absolutely! P.S. I Miss You is my debut novel, about twelve-year-old Evie, who writes a series of letters to her older sister Cilla after Cilla leaves home after getting pregnant in high school. Both Evie and Cilla were raised in a very Catholic household, and after Evie gets a crush on June, a new girl in school, she starts to worry that her parents will disapprove of her, too. I write books for middle schoolers about girls and boys who are strong, determined, unsure, struggling to fit in, bubbly, shy, and everything in between.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from P.S. I Miss You?
Along with telling a good story, my main goal when I write is to let my readers know that they are okay the way they are. That no matter what issue they’re struggling with or how different they feel from their peers, that they are important and loved. In P.S. I Miss You, as Evie comes to term with her sexuality, she learns that it’s okay to not be what her family might expect from her and that she can find acceptance out there, both from others and within herself. In my 2019 books, I draw from my own experience struggling with and recovering from an eating disorder to reassure readers that no matter what they look like, they are wonderful and perfect the way they are.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
The hardest characters for me to write were definitely Evie and Cilla’s parents. On the surface, the Morgans are extremely strict, and the rules and dogma of their religion are a guiding force in their life—to the point where it can make them hardheaded and stubborn. While writing, I got angry at them, as I’m sure readers will, too. However, one of things I tried hard to do was to make them nuanced, as well. I wanted to give Evie’s parents a back story, which, while it doesn’t excuse their actions, does make them more human. I think every character needs to have that same nuance, which also leads to a potential for growth and change.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? Of the whole writing and publishing process? What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?
There are many wonderful parts about being a writer, but above all is the chance to connect with readers and hear how my book has affected them. After spending so much time alone with my computer, it’s a joy to talk to people about the power of story. I also love writing itself—it’s so much fun to be able to create a world and characters that I love and care about—and that can be hard to let go of, too! In the publishing process itself, one of my most treasured memories is the first time I held an advanced copy of P.S. I Miss You in my hands. Being able to see my story in book form after so long was so amazing. And that’s definitely a lesson I’ve learned from publishing—be patient. Publishing takes a long time, and I’ve had to learn that waiting and persisting are so important. Keep going, don’t give up, and wait. Things will happen in their time.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Try to block out the chatter. Writing is a profession and passion that affects a lot of introverts and a lot of sensitive people. I myself tend to compare myself to others a lot, and that’s something I’ve been working on through this entire publishing journey. There’s always going to be someone with a better-selling book or a better-reviewed book than you. But they have a different book, too. You wrote your book, and it could only have been written by you. Don’t worry about what other writers are doing or achieving. Stay in your lane and you will be much happier.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
As I mentioned, I have two books coming out in February 2019. Good Enough is about twelve-year-old Riley, who’s struggling to recover from an eating disorder in the face of parents who just don’t understand, a gymnastics star younger sister, and a fellow patient who Riley thinks is trying to sabotage her recovery. You Are Enough is a nonfiction guide for tweens and teens on self-esteem, eating disorder, recovery, and body image, in which I discuss my own journey to recovery and how to deal with common situations a reader may encounter as they navigate our appearance-focused world.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
Absolutely check at Annie’s first. J But you can also find P.S. I Miss You at most indie booksellers and Barnes and Noble, along with *whisper* Amazon and other online retailers. P.S. I Miss You is my debut novel, and I have two more middle grade books coming out in February 2019, both on eating disorder recovery. Good Enough is a novel and You Are Enough is a nonfiction guide to body image, self-esteem, and recovery.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
I am definitely guilty of stalking people in a totally non-creepy way, so I’m on board for this question. You can find me in various places online! My website is at jenpetroroy.com and I love to hear from people through my “Contact” page. I’m also on Twitter at @jpetroroy, Instagram as @jpetroroy and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JenPetroRoy/.
Thank you, again, for being on our blog, Jen! We look forward to seeing you and L.J. Cohen on Sunday, June 10, from 1:00 – 3:00 PM to talk about the importance of representation for younger readers!