Welcome to March, where the debuts are plentiful and the books are awesome!
The Next to Last Mistake
by Amalie Jahn
Tess Goodwin’s life in rural Iowa is sheltered and uncomplicated. Although she chooses to spend most of her free time playing chess with her best friend Zander, the farm-boy from next door, her skills as a bovine midwife and tractor mechanic ensure that she fits in with the other kids at East Chester High. But when her veteran father reenlists in the Army, moving her family halfway across the country to North Carolina, Tess is forced out of her comfort zone into a world she knows nothing about.
Tess approaches the move as she would a new game of chess, plotting her course through the unfamiliar reality of her new life. While heeding Zander’s long-distance advice for making new friends and strategizing a means to endure her dad’s imminent deployment to the Middle East, she quickly discovers how ill-equipped she is to navigate the challenges she encounters and becomes convinced she’ll never fit in at her new school.
When Leonetta Jackson is assigned as her mentor, she becomes Tess’s unexpected guide through the winding labyrinth of disparities between them, sparking a tentative friendship and challenging Tess to confront her reluctant nature. As the pieces move across the board of her upended life, will Tess find the acceptance she so desperately desires?
March 19th, 2019
Introduce yourself and your debut novel!
My name is Amalie Jahn, and I’m the author of The Next to Last Mistake, a quiet, character-driven YA contemporary about cows, friendship, and finding your place in the world. The story follows Tess Goodwin from her dairy farm in Iowa to a military base in North Carolina. With the help of her new friends (and the best friend she left behind) Tess learns to navigate her new reality.
What’s the most surprising part about your debut journey so far?
Honestly, one of the most surprising and frankly difficult things has been keeping the momentum going for the book for so long! Many people outside the industry don’t realize how long traditional publishing takes. I began writing The Next to Last Mistake in 2015 and here we are, finally getting into readers hands four years later. In the time since writing TNTLM, I’ve poured my heart and soul into two more books, so going back to promoting this book after so much time has passed is sometimes strange. This book is as much a part of my past as it is my present and consolidating those two realities has proven tricky for me!
Give a shout-out to a fellow debut!
I’m giving my shout out to Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds. It’s a time travel story about the lengths we’ll go to in order to get things right. I love the heart of this book and how invested I was in the characters, Jack and Kate. It’s a must-read.
Who is your favorite character?
Asking me to pick my favorite character would be like asking me to pick my favorite friend which, of course, is impossible. So, if I can’t pick one of the girls, I think I’ll pick Tess’s dad. I’ve written a handful of books with dreadful fathers, but mine is truly wonderful so I wanted to put a little of the relationship I had with my own dad when I was a teenager into this book. My dad was always someone I could confide in and look up to. I love that Tess has someone on her side no matter where she goes.
How long did it take you to write this book?
The first draft only took about 4-5 months but the editing—the editing took FOREVER! There are so many versions of this book on my computer. So many deleted chapters. So many revisions. Since I was paying homage to real people and the gift of their friendship, I couldn’t afford to get a single word wrong. In the end, I took the time it needed. So, years. The answer is years.
What inspired you to write this book?
Most of my book ideas stem from a desire to honor the people in my life in some way, and The Next to Last Mistake is no different. The time I spent with the women who inspired the book was probably the most transformational period of my life, and the friendship we shared changed my entire outlook on life. Although we were only together a few short years, the impact we had on each other’s lives is something I think about nearly every day, and I always knew at some point it was something I wanted to share with the world.
Describe your main character in 3 words.
What was the hardest scene to write?
There’s a scene in the book where Tess and Leonetta are getting ready for a party together in Leonetta’s bedroom. It’s based on an actual event, but still, I wanted to make sure I got it absolutely right. The characters’ interactions and the message I wanted to come across needed to be perfect, and I STRUGGLED to make sure it left readers in exactly the right frame of mind moving forward. I think I got it. I hope I did.
What advice would you give to a new writer?
Read—especially in your genre.
When you’re ready to give up, keep going.
Hone your craft. No writing is ever wasting because every draft, every scrapped idea is an opportunity for growth.
Keep your eyes on your own paper. Don’t worry about other people’s successes.
Don’t query until at least a dozen people have read (and critiqued) your manuscript.
Spellcheck is a tool, not an editor.
Describe your writing space.
There’s this wasted little nook in our house that’s too small to be a real room, so I put my treadmill in the corner and a chair and a lamp and my bookshelves on the other side, and this is where I spend my days. My husband built a desk over my treadmill so I can walk and type at the same time!
How do you develop your plot and characters?
My books are typically character-driven so the first several chapters of anything I write are always messy. They’re just me at a party with a bunch of people I don’t really know making introductions, trying to figure out how they are going to react to whatever situations I throw them into. Usually, by about 10,000 words, I’ve started to develop relationships with them, and I can better predict how they’re going to act. Honestly, it’s a bit like falling in love. You don’t really know each other, but you think you could have a connection, and the more you get to know them, the closer you get. That’s how character development is for me. I fall in love with them, a little at a time. And once I know them well, I go back to those early chapters and rewrite them to reflect the people they truly are.
How do you select character names?
I Google baby name sites like everyone else! LOL! But seriously, as a former teacher, I know tons of kids with tons of different names so I usually try to steer clear from using names of students I taught. I use names that I think fit the personality of the characters. And sometimes they change in the middle as I get to know the characters better.
One of my favorite characters is named Charlie Johnson and when my dad read the story, he asked why I named a character after his old barber. I guess that name was just stuck in my memory somewhere, and I plucked it out!
Who is your favorite author?
It’s a tie between Jandy Nelson and Nicola Yoon. Don’t make me choose. I can’t.
What book or author has most influenced your own writing?
Honestly, probably the Harry Potter Series. I’ve read them so many times. To myself. To my classes. To my kids. I must have picked up on Rowling’s style at least a little bit, don’t you think?
If you could only buy one book this year, which book would it be?
Um, mine? LOL! No really, I already have On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, and the other I’m looking ridiculously forward to is Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus. So, that’s three. You asked for one, but I gave you three. Whoops. I’m still allowed to get all the other books out of the library, though, right?
What are two of your favorite covers of all time?
Laura Weymouth’s The Light Between World’s is beyond stunning. I also love The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason.
Share a recipe with us!
I’m a terrible chef. Like, the worst. Here’s a recipe I use a lot:
· Boil some water. Add salt. Six shakes? Who knows? It’s up to you.
· Open a box of macaroni & cheese. Try not to spill it all over the floor.
· Pour macaroni in the BOILING water (the boiling part is important). Be sure to take the cheese packet out first. If it gets wet it’s nearly impossible to open and you won’t be able to get the cheese out.
· Stir the noodles so they don’t stick to the bottom. 8-10 minutes in, take a noodle out of the water and see if it’s tender. Blow the water out so you don’t burn your tongue. If it’s done, turn off the burner. If it’s not done, wait another minute.
· Now is not the time to empty the dishwasher. Or help your kid with math homework. Or let the dog out. If your extra minute turns to five, you will end up with a pot full of mush. Trust me on this.
· When the macaroni is done, drain the water into the sink. DO NOT dump the pasta into the sink.
· Add some butter into the macaroni. Some is a relative term. Go with your gut. Make sure it’s melted BEFORE you add the cheese so it gets evenly distributed.
· Tear open the cheese packet and pour in the cheese. Add a little milk. Stir it all up.
· The end. You’re done. You made Macaroni & Cheese. Demand a parade from your family.
Link to a favorite song!
I can’t listen to music while I draft, but I can while I edit. This album has gotten me through a lot of edits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X981MVGabmE&list=PL_9TaevaMOW3Kyb85eaQVFbTXEJ4VcUIH
Show us pictures!
Go grab Amalie's book! It's out 3/19/19!