Ask the Author: Jen Marie Hawkins
What would you like readers to know about you?
I’d like readers to know that I write with my whole heart. Usually, I simmer an idea for years before the story takes its full shape. I’m also a mother and wife, a nurse–though I quit my full-time job as a nurse when I started writing and editing–and I enjoy a range of hobbies: archery, pottery, and Crossfit. (Though I’m still pretty terrible at the last one.) We have a house full of animals. Two dogs, two snakes, a chinchilla, and next week we’re getting backyard chickens. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d probably run an animal rescue. I’m also a book coach for Author Accelerator, and I’ve been a Pitch Wars mentor since 2015.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
My book is about the intricacies of human communication. I believe we are wired to crave connections with one another, especially when we are in difficult situations like my main characters, Evie and Oskar. And oftentimes, it’s art that brings us together. Here’s a quick synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old artist Evie Perez is cut off from everything—her Abuela, her friends, and the comfort of the Miami heat—when her father’s job transfer drops her into Iceland for the summer. Angry with him for upending her life, and desperate for a connection to home, she takes her canvas and paintbrushes into the picturesque cherry orchard behind her guesthouse. As she stains her lips with stolen cherries in the midnight sun, her muse takes over, and she paints a boy she’s never met.
Oskar Eriksson is startled to discover Evie in his family’s orchard, and even more surprised to see himself on her canvas. Too ashamed to reveal his stutter, he allows her to believe he doesn’t speak her language. When Evie returns day after day to paint, spilling confessions about her family she wouldn’t tell her priest, Oskar remains silent. At first, he’s content to be near the charming girl who looks at him without pity. But what began as an innocent escape from loneliness becomes a mutual passion when he realizes her paintings are messages from the orchard itself, evoking images of the family he lost—to an accident he believes was his fault.
As Evie’s life back home unravels and she struggles to forgive the people who’ve let her down, she leans on Oskar, grateful he listens, regardless of his understanding. Oskar wants to comfort her with words, but he knows he’s waited too long, so he uses music to communicate with her instead. Soon, though, he realizes he must tell her the truth, even though he risks losing her trust and the last connection to his family. If Evie can’t forgive him for lying, he may never forgive himself for surviving.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
My inspiration for writing it came to me in layers. First, as an intense curiosity for the harsh and beautiful landscapes of Iceland. Then as a curiosity in the supernatural–the everyday magic we all take for granted. I read an article about things that grow in harsh landscapes, and I thought it would be interesting to tell a story in which something like this might occur, against all odds. I wanted to play with the themes of fate and art, and how both can seem like magic. And then finally, the characters came to me. They were all inspired by my own personal experiences or experiences of people close to me. Though they aren’t based on anyone, in particular, their struggles are. The dementia of Evie’s grandmother and her denial about it is something I’ve witnessed time and again in my years as a nurse. Oskar’s reluctance to let people in and see the real him because of his shame is another thing I’ve seen many times, both as a nurse and in my own personal experience. I think those are things a lot of people can relate to, no matter where you come from or what language you speak.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
My favorite part to write was Oskar’s journal entries. His point-of-view came to me pretty naturally, because I was once that broody teenager who wrote bad poetry because I struggled to express myself. I really enjoy reading verse novels and novels that experiment with format, so doing this myself was challenging in a good way.
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
Oh my goodness, so many books and authors have inspired me along the way, but I’m always most enchanted by books that have hints of magic in everyday life. Latin American magical realism is one of those genres I have never been able to get enough of. I remember reading Like Water for Chocolate in high school and being absolutely mesmerized by the way she told the story. I knew I wanted to write like that someday. I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I also adore Sarah Addison Allen, both for the hints of magic and for the southern setting that’s so familiar to me. Alice Hoffman is, of course, incredible. My husband got me a signed (personalized!) first edition of Practical Magic for Valentine’s Day one year, and I won’t even let people touch it.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
My advice is pretty simple: Never stop learning. Take every opportunity you can to improve your craft. Get critique partners and learn from other writers. Find a community of other writers and be active in it. Read lots and lots of the kinds of books you want to write. And above all, never give up. Publishing is a long game. I sent my very first query to a literary agent in 2013. My debut novel released this year. Seven years later. There were lots of bumps and setbacks along the way because, in publishing, you often have to rely on other people. And those people don’t always come through for you. But in late 2016, I signed with my current agent, and after revisions, she worked tirelessly until she found a home for my book. The Language of Cherries is very special to me. I’m sure you’ve heard writers talk about ‘the book of my heart’ and that’s what it is for me. I never gave up on it. Aspiring authors: never give up on your stories, either. The one thing you can control is the writing. So keep doing it.
My author website: www.jenmariehawkins.com