Monday, April 6, 2020

Jessica Pennington Interview - Meet Me at Midnight

Photo Credit: Sheena Pearce

Jessica Pennington is no stranger to the combination of love and drama. She’s a wedding planner, after all. A writer since the age of ten—when she sought publication for her poem about a tree—Jessica likes the challenge of finding the humor in a sad situation or highlighting the awkwardness in a romantic one. She lives in a Michigan beach town suspiciously similar to the one in her novel, with her husband Josh and their son, Rory. Love Songs & Other Lies is her debut novel.

Tor Teen
On Sale: 04/07/2020

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Tor Teen (April 7, 2020)

ISBN: 9781250187666


"Sweet and real, and fans of Sarah Dessen or Meg Cabot will find themselves hoping these pranksters find true love. With a light romance, humor, and summers full of swimming, parties, and bonfires, this is a perfect beach read." —School Library Journal

"Pennington crafts two believable teens ensnared in a hate-to-love romance that is addictingly enjoyable. The comedic matchup between Sidney, a meticulous overthinker, and the charming yet snarky Asher will have readers rooting for the duo. A steamy, prank-filled summer romance that readers will devour." —Kirkus Reviews

“Does Jessica Pennington have a PhD in chemistry? Because the sparks were FLYING! Meet Me at Midnight is full of wit and romance, with a plot that kept me guessing and characters that I couldn’t help but root for.” ―Lauren Morrill, author of Meant to Be

“A swoony, snarky, perfect romance, set during the summer before college when anything (even falling for your sworn enemy...) is possible. A must-read for YA romance fans!” ―Kerry Winfrey, author of Things Jolie Needs to Do Before She Bites It and Waiting for Tom Hanks

“Meet Me at Midnight is the young adult answer to The Hating Game, set at a picturesque Michigan lake house. Readers will fall for Asher and Sidney as they figure out if they're better as sworn enemies, friends, or much more. A fantastic addition to any romance lover’s shelf!” ―Christina June, author of It Started with Goodbye and No Place Like Here

Greatest thing you learned at school.
Probably how to multi-task, because I went to a really small school, so it was easy to be involved in multiple things. I played volleyball in the winter, softball in the spring, was in band (and marching band), acted as class vice president, was in several clubs, and I had a part-time job. Okay, in retrospect, this may be more of a cautionary tale and not actually a good lesson to learn, because I still struggle with not taking on too many things!

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
When I was in fourth grade, I had a teacher who was obsessed with books, and writing and poetry. A poet came to our class for a visit, and I got really into poetry. I even attempted to have some of it published that year. I sent letters (handwritten, because early 90s) to editors at poetry journals, and because I was a thirty-year-old in a nine-year-old’s body, I refused to send my poetry to children’s magazines. Only adult. As you might guess, I wasn’t published. And honestly, I didn’t even think at that point that I wanted to be an author someday. But that’s when I found my love of writing, and for years to come I’d scribble in journals, and write poems.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I had an amazing debut year when Love Songs & Other Lies came out. I attended a lot of events and book festivals, and all of those first-time moments were really amazing. But even more than that, I think the second year I went to events, for the release of When Summer Ends, it was even better, because there were librarians and readers who actually knew me at those events. It was the first time I met readers in person who said, “I loved your first book and I can’t wait to read this one.” There was something really special about that, and really validating. I think, when you do something for the first time—whatever that thing is—it’s easy to wonder if it was a fluke. Like, maybe you tricked publishers into liking your book. So hearing people say they like you as an author really is sort of magical.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
For the first time since 2016, I don’t have a project that I’m locked into. Which means my brain is coming up with story ideas all over the map. Currently I’m brainstorming several new contemporary romance ideas, and I’m plotting a romantic fantasy I’m very excited to start drafting.

If you could work for anyone you choose, who would it be?
Oh, definitely for myself. I worked a corporate job for two years right out of college, then quit to start my own business, which I ran for twelve years, right up until I sold it to write full time. My husband jokingly says that I have been ‘ruined for the traditional work place’ after my years of self-employment. But it is sort of true.

One of my most favorite things about Sidney and Asher is their endless, snarky banter. And how personal they get in their attempts to push each other’s buttons. This is a little snippet (Sidney’s POV) from the first time they’re seeing each other this summer, when they’re walk-racing from their houses down to the coveted deck chair.

“This is probably our last summer, Chipmunk.”

“Don’t call me that.” I practically growl the words.

“But it’s so cute.” I can hear the mock pout in his voice, can see his lake-blue puppy dog eyes, even without looking at him. I will never forgive my father for letting that nickname slip in front of Asher.

“I’m going to destroy you,” I say with a smile. “You’ll be calling me something very different by the end of the summer.”

“Sounds dirty,” he says, and I let out an irritated grunt. “Looking forward to it . . . Chipmunk.” There’s a smile in his voice.

As we descend onto the wooden deck, we both abandon our illusion of normalcy and race for the chair. It’s sitting along the far side of the square deck, its soft, thick cushion the lone pop of color in a string of hard, white plastic lounge chairs. The unicorn chair, as I like to call it. The one comfy, padded lounge chair. A mystical, magical chair amongst a sea of cheap plastic ones. I hip-check Asher and twist toward it, but he lunges from behind me, throwing an arm around my waist.

“Let me go,” I grunt, trying to pull away, my feet kicking at his ankles. But he pulls me tight to his chest and twists us. And then I’m falling. I’m free-falling, until I’m in his lap, on top of the lounge chair. I twist this way and that.

“How much do you hate me right now?” The words whisper against my neck and send a shiver up my spine.

“Hard nine,” I say through gritted teeth, and his chest shakes against me in unreleased laughter. “Let. Me. Go.”

“Gladly,” he says, loosening his arm and reclining back onto the plush green pad.

I stand there for a minute, staring down at him, his head tipped back, eyes closed, laid out on the unicorn chair like a summer prince. At his long, tan legs stretched out in front of him, and the messy golden brown hair that skirts across his forehead. Asher has a swimmer’s body. Broad shoulders, slim waist. Lean muscles I wish I could look at without scowling. But I can’t, because Asher Marin is the absolute worst. And by the end of summer, I’m going to make him regret all of the summers that came before this one. All of the pranks and the snarky comments. It doesn’t matter who started this between us so long ago, because this summer I’m going to finish it.

  • 1. The town it’s set in—Riverton—is also the setting of When Summer Ends, and the ‘Then’ chapters of Love Songs & Other Lies. All of the books are standalone, but if you’ve read either of my other books, you’ll notice a few things, including another appearance of River Depot.
  • 2. I grew up going to the same little lake house every summer (my cousins stayed in the twin house next door) and the setting was inspired by my love of that place.
  • 3. And yes, we were kicked out of our lake houses, though not in as exciting of a fashion as in the book.
  • 4. Some of the awesomely strange things you’ll find in MMaM: an elephant sculpture named Edith, a trunkful of boxed mashed potatoes, a landlady with a penchant for yard sculptures (including a red brontosaurus), and an almost-death-by-mini-muffins.
  • 5. There are so many pranks in this book—both executed and mentioned—that I had to start enlisting friends and family, and other authors to help me think of really great ways Sidney and Asher could torment each other. One of my favorites was though up by fellow YA author Rebecca Sky (Arrowheart), based on her own illustrious past as a prankster. Thanks, Rebecca!
  • 6. This book goes by days instead of chapters, to help you feel like you’re working your way through summer, just like Sidney and Asher.
  • 7. There’s a cool retro drive-in called The Cherry Bowl in this book, and it’s an actual place in northern Michigan!
  • 8. I borrowed the name Jordan (for Asher’s ex-girlfriend) from one of my street team members, Jordan at The Heart of A Book Blogger.
  • 9. Sidney paints rocks when she wants to get zen, so last summer (while on vacation at the lake) I attempted to paint some rocks as giveaway prizes. But it turns out I’m really (really) horrible at painting rocks.
  • 10. This is not a bully romance. I think those can sometimes be lumped together in the hate-to-love trope, and this isn’t one of those. Sidney and Asher have a very tit-for-tat relationship, and despite all of the ways they antagonize each other, they also have a deep respect for one another.
Age: 17 (but she turns 18 during the summer and there might be a birthday scene I absolutely adore)
Physical description: Auburn hair (curly if she lets it go wild), broad shoulders, long legs
Hobbies/Passions: Long distance swimming, painting rocks, overthinking things.

Skills: Spreadsheet creation and to-do list checking. Mini golf domination. Escalating pranks to a nuclear level when she’s mad. Setting goals and crushing them.

Age: 18
Physical description (from Sidney): Asher has a swimmer’s body. Broad shoulders, slim waist. Lean muscles I wish I could look at without scowling.

Hobbies/Passions: All things swimming. Also, wandering off during parties to do secret basement things.

Skills: Pranks that require Sidney takes a shower (or two). Banter that is somehow both snarky and sweet. Remembering every random fact he’s ever heard about Sidney Walters (and then using it against her). Creating the perfect drive-in movie ambiance.

I didn’t start writing fiction until I was almost thirty. I was working seventy hours a week and having a hard time backing away from work, because when you own your own business there’s always something to do. So, I took a fiction class once a week in Chicago (a 3-hr roundtrip away) to force myself to take some time for myself. I’d write on the ninety-minute train ride there, walk around the city brainstorming, attend my three-hour class, and then read and write on the ride back. Suddenly, I was figuring out how to do my work in less time, and had an excuse All of the writing spurred more reading (I read 154 books that year) and all of the reading spurred more writing. After that six-week course wrapped up, my instructor encouraged me to take a year-long novel writing class. And that’s where I wrote Love Songs & Other Lies. It all sort of happened by happy accident, and while saying I wonder if I could….write a novel, get an agent, sell a book. If you ever wonder if you could, I’d highly suggest just trying. You never know what new skill, passion, or career you might find!

Every book has been a different process for me, but the one thing they all have in common is that they usually start with something personal to me. In my mind, it’s sort of like a little piece of clay, and from that tiny idea (for Meet Me At Midnight it was the setting) I start adding other little pieces. I have notebooks and email folders and iphone notes full of random story ideas I collect and jot down all the time. I start looking through everything, seeing what pieces I can add on, until I have something that looks like an actual story idea. I always do some plotting before I get started, but how much varies from book to book. But I always have major plot points in place, so I at least know what I’m writing towards. Sometimes I even have an ending in mind, but usually I don’t. Honestly, this doesn’t feel helpful at all, except to assure you that however you’re writing your book, you’re probably doing it the right way for you and your story, and that’s fine!

What is the first job you have had?
I worked at a garden center, and aside from working with a few of my friends, it was a really horrible, dirty, hot summer job.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
How I want to go back to sleep, and I shouldn’t have stayed up so late!

What is your most memorable travel experience?
Honestly, my family’s lake house trip every summer has been the most pivotal travel for me, even the distance from home is quite short (<5 hours). That lake and the whole area holds a very special place in my heart. I vacationed there with my parents for 15+ years, and we’ve continued to go every year since my son was born. It’s my dream to buy a house on that lake someday!

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
True love with guarantee of a heartbreak. I’m a romance author, how could I not?

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
My mind used to race when I went to bed, and it would make it really hard to fall asleep. Now I meditate, so I’m usually trying to think about absolutely nothing! But if I’m in the middle of writing something, I’ll often play a song from my writing playlist, and see if I can come up with story ideas just as I fall asleep. For some reason my brain is extra creative at bedtime!

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I would have been braver in my teen years. Taken more risks, and not been so afraid of failing or getting hurt. This is probably why I write about the same kinds of girls, and make them do all of those things! So in a way, I did get a do-over!

Who has had the most influence in your life?
Aside from my parents, which is a pretty obvious one, probably my husband. There’s something about being loved unconditionally that really lets you find yourself and be yourself. I feel like I really started coming into who I am, when we started dating. And I honestly don’t think I would have done half of the things I’ve done in my adult life, if I had married someone who wasn’t as supportive of me chasing random dreams. But don’t tell him I said that, he’s already had a book dedicated to him, and it’s going to go to his head soon!

They have a love-hate relationship with summer.

Sidney and Asher should have clicked. Two star swimmers forced to spend their summers on a lake together sounds like the perfect match. But it’s the same every year—in between cookouts and boat rides and family-imposed bonfires, Sidney and Asher spend the dog days of summer finding the ultimate ways to prank each other. And now, after their senior year, they’re determined to make it the most epic summer yet.

But their plans are thrown in sudden jeopardy when their feud causes their families to be kicked out of their beloved lake houses. Once in their new accommodations, Sidney expects the prank war to continue as usual. But then she gets a note—Meet me at midnight. And Asher has a proposition for her: join forces for one last summer of epic pranks, against a shared enemy—the woman who kicked them out.

Their truce should make things simpler, but six years of tormenting one another isn’t so easy to ignore. Kind of like the undeniable attraction growing between them.

You can purchase Meet Me at Midnight at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JESSICA PENNINGTON for making this giveaway possible.
Skype or phone session (personal or school class). 
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