Late in the Fall of 2017, the Pine Reads Review (formerly known as Tucson Tales) staff was lucky enough to have dinner with the award-winning author Jillian Cantor. Jillian has a BA in English from Penn State University, an MFA from the University of Arizona, and a plethora of knowledge regarding the trials and tribulations of the publishing industry. Her critically acclaimed novels include Margot, The Lost Letter, The Hours Count, and Searching for Sky. Her novels have been published and distributed by a variety of houses including Bloomsbury USA, Riverhead Books, Scholastic, HarperCollins, and Penguin Random House. Jillian’s The Lost Letter was praised as a “captivating historical novel” by Kirkus Review and a “total page-turner” by the New York Magazine. Although she is a Philadelphia native, Jillian now resides in Tucson and was kind enough to meet with us and give us a glimpse into her world as a novelist.
After the slew of interns grabbed appetizers (meats, cheeses, bread, and salad, oh my!), we settled around the table to listen to Jillian talk about her experiences as an author.
Jillian began by telling us that she didn’t actually intend to write for young adults. Originally, she wanted to be a strictly adult author, but early on in her career she was told that her subject matter would be more successful if targeted toward young adults. Jillian then talked us through the changes that accompanied this, such as the process of going through her already written novel and altering the dialogue to make it more suitable for young adults. She described situations in which she presented her books to her publisher and had to go back and change minuscule things a multitude of times. One of these details was changing the color of a car because her editor preferred a different color. Between bites of delicious pasta, Jillian explained to us that this is all part of the process (except the car bit!). Typically, her publisher will change the title of her books, which she usually doesn’t mind. Jillian’s original title for The Lost Letter was The Stamp Engraver’s Daughter, which was swiftly thrown out by her publisher to her disappointment. Jillian mentioned that the hardest part of her writing process happens at the fifty-page mark. She laughed and said that she can usually get fifty flawless pages done before she has some serious decisions to make, such as where the book is going to take the characters.
One of our interns expressed her dissatisfactions with the ending of Searching for Sky and Jillian apologized and mentioned that although there are no plans in place, it is possible she’ll write a sequel (good news for us!). As she detailed her laborious journey through her career as an author she described the different agents she has encountered. More often than not, agents are assigned to her. This may complicate things considering some agents are more dedicated to their jobs than others. Jillian’s current agent has been with her for eleven years and they have built the foundation for Jillian’s success together.
Doing the necessary research for her historical fiction novels is a major part of Jillian’s writing process. She stated that sometimes there is a particular historical event that she wants to write about and other times she simply stumbles upon an interesting subject and runs with it. She described her research process in stages. Initially, she will conduct all the research on the historical event she is writing about, and then she will create a draft that delineates the plot and the characters. As she writes, she narrows her research to insert specific and believable details into her manuscript. Before she revises her manuscript, she researches the era she is writing about to insure that everything is accurate.
While she noted that the stress of being a writer (particularly when it comes to having to sell books) doesn’t necessarily get easier, she enjoys what she does and already has a new novel in the making. Ultimately, Jillian provided a room full of aspiring authors and publishers with valuable insight into her journey as a young adult author.
PRR Writer, Sarah Devaney