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Author Interview: Maura Jortner – The Life Group

October 3, 2017

This is the twelfth interview in my series of Author Interviews.

Pull up a chair, sit back and relax. Enjoy reading.

I am chatting with Maura Jortner, author of The Life Group.

I grunt loudly as the heavy door gives at last. I stumble inside. The chill kisses my skin immediately as darkness falls over my eyes like a curtain. There is a heavy silence that envelopes me. I slip into the nearest pew and shift uncomfortably on on the hard wood.

Hi Maura

Thank you sooooo much for chatting with me today. First up, tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m at professor at Baylor University, so I spend my days teaching. I have two children—a ten-year old, and a six-year old, so there isn’t much free time. But there is a lot of KC Undercover.

Whoa, okay so you are really busy. How on earth do you find time to write? I am very impressed. Now, tell me about your writing… What age were you when you started?

Age? Bwahahaha! I’ll never tell you that, Laurie.

Awwwwww 🙂

But I will say, I began writing about five years ago. My oldest daughter was five then, and she loved to hear bedtime stories. I began telling them to her, making them up as I went. But they got so long and complex, I couldn’t remember everything that had happened; I had to write them down. And suddenly, I was in love with writing.

My first novel was written for my daughter. She was the main character and she loved it.

It was terrible. Really awful.

But she loved it, and I was hooked after that.

Hahaha! Love it. How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I think I knew for real when I wrote my first query letter and sent it off. Before that, it was just for fun. After I took that step, I knew I wanted to try to make my way as a writer professionally. Even after it got rejected. (LOL)

Oh yes, been there! The trenches are hard work.

Okay, so tell me, what was your favorite book as a child and why?

As a child, I really loved Island of the Blue Dolphins. I found Karana’s story empowering. I wondered if I could make it on my own out in the wilderness.

And favorite book as an adult and why?

I have so many favorite books, this really doesn’t seem fair. But I guess if I had to choose, I’d say A.S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. It’s a fantastic read—two girls drink a petrified bat and then they can see the future. Who wouldn’t love that? But what I’m more drawn to is King’s feminism and her ability to draw wonderfully complex characters and family situations.

Tell me a bit about your novel? The Life Group. Where did you get the idea?

Two events inspired me to write THE LIFE GROUP.

First, one of my students mentioned being part of a life group. He said something about why he hadn’t done his homework–and it was completely innocent, some kind of charity work with his group–but it struck me as odd that people his own age had so much control over him. They could persuade him to do things and perhaps even lead him down a bad path.

The second event was of greater significance: one of my colleagues went missing. The vanished teacher wasn’t gone long—less than a week. And good news, she was fine—just mental illness showing its ugly head—but the events of those five days struck me to the core.

Oh my gosh, that is intense.

Later that semester, as I drove to the local daycare to pick up my children, thoughts of my friend swirled through my head. I remembered the gnawing feeling I had–my stomach alternating between tight clenches and high-up flips. I recalled my heart thumping as I trotted down sketchy streets in the bad part of town, looking for her apartment. In my mind’s eye I again saw my colleague’s office key sitting on the side table as if she’d left it there, not knowing she would be abducted in the next moment. My children’s daycare in sight, I gripped the steering wheel tighter, and then it came–the entire plot of The Life Group. It bounced straight into my head.

Wow, that is an amazing story. And scary. Tell me about Rachel? Is she modeled off anyone?

I’m a highly visual writer. I need to see the events happening in my imagination to get them down on the proverbial paper. So, I certainly had a picture of Rachel in my head as I wrote THE LIFE GROUP. Likewise, I had a picture of Tim and Leah as well. But they are not “real” people, per say. No one I knew or could point to.

This is a gripping story that goes to a dark place, what are you hoping your readers take away from this story?

Well, the first message, I think, is clearly about suicide. I don’t want to see any teens (or anyone, for that matter), become so filled with despair that they might think about ending their lives. I want them to get help.

But THE LIFE GROUP goes further, as your question suggests. Yes, there’s certainly something in there for me about becoming obsessed with another person to the point of losing one’s self. Leah was obsessed with Mason. Rachel became obsessed with Tim.

There’s also something in there about religion as well… but perhaps my readers can best judge what it is.

What is your writing process?

This might sound odd, but when I need a new project, I just try to open my mind to ideas. When it hits (and it always does), I take notes and plot it all out. I make sure the story is as fully formed as possible, the plot, ready and tight. Then, I start writing. I commit to getting one thousand words a day down at this point in the process. After about two months, I have a full first draft. Then, it’s time to shape and get it to other readers to read and critique.

How long did it take you to write The Life Group?

Not long, actually. Once that plot dropped into my head, I knew I had to get it all down. I plotted it out quickly and then just started writing. I wrote like a madwoman. I wrote as much as I could each day and I had a full first draft after about three and a half weeks.

WOW! That’s amazing.

Of course I took a long time to edit it—years, really. THE LIFE GROUP went through many drafts until it was finally ready to be published.

Are you writing a book two?

No. THE LIFE GROUP is a stand-alone work.

Are you working on anything new?

I’m always working on something new (LOL). I can’t say much about the manuscripts in development, but I *can* say that I finally landed an agent in April. I’m working with Jennifer March Soloway from the prestigious Andrea Brown literary agency.

Congratulations!! That’s fantastic.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to write a book?

I’d say just do it. Get it done. When Stephen King talks about writing, he says to take three months to write a book. One season should equal one book, he says. I think that’s great advice.

Work. Work hard. You can’t do anything until you have a first draft, so get it done.

Oooo yes, that is great advice. Thank you soooo much for chatting with me today, Maura.

 

Stepping out into the sunlight is blinding, sending a white haze over my vision. My skin still feels cool and I rub my arms. I feel like coffee… and to call my mum.

 

You can read my review of The Life Group here

 

About the Author

Maura Jortner grew up in New Hampshire and now lives in Waco, Texas with her patient husband, two amazing daughters, and one unruly cat. She teaches literature and writing classes at Baylor University. A lifetime ago, she used to direct plays and put on puppet shows for kids, which led to a Ph.D. in Theatre History. Currently, when Maura’s not writing, she’s spending her time like every native-born Texan: worrying about how many chiggers might be hidden in the grass outside her house or if she put enough sunscreen on her kids. Maura is represented by Jennifer March Soloway at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

You can find Maura at…

Twitter–@maura_jortner

FaceBook @MauraJortnerBooks

Website–maurajortner.com

You can find The Life Group on Amazon

 

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