We sat down and had a chat with J. L. Willow, author of the coming-of-age suspense novel The Scavenger, and talked about her work, writing habits, hobbies, and readers.
First off, Willow shares why she prefers using her pen name over her real name, Julia Wierzbicki. “Simply because my real last name is way too hard to say or pronounce.” On the origins of her pen name, for that matter, she explains that Wierzbicki actually means “white willow” in Polish. “L is my middle initial. And that’s how J. L. Willow came about.”
Although Willow began writing in the first grade and kept writing throughout elementary and middle school, it wasn’t until high school that she began to take the craft seriously and lay the foundations for her debut novel, The Scavenger. “I really cared about telling this story. It was the first time I . . . related to the characters on a personal level... There were so many touching moments that I wanted to share with the world.”
The Scavenger, according to Willow, is a coming-of-age story that follows a police investigation. “It's told in four perspectives to show how the police investigation impacts multiple lives,” shares Willow. Four people of different backgrounds find themselves caught in the web of secrets and suspense as they become more and more involved in a mysterious drug case: high schoolers Catherine and Samuel, drug dealer Frank, and NYPD investigator Nathan.
Willow spent a month writing the novel’s first draft and worked to gradually improve it, hoping to convey a clear message to her readers. “The main message . . . is that even good people can end up in bad situations. Life is complicated, and sometimes things don’t go as planned. Even if someone is involved in something bad, we should still give them the opportunity to redeem themselves.”
As someone raised on the Harry Potter book series since childhood, Willow mentions J. K. Rowling as her favorite author, from whom she developed a love of fantasy and writing despite her preference for realist fiction. “Her rags-to-riches story is truly inspiring.” Her favorite novels include Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
When Willow isn’t writing or reading, she enjoys playing the guitar, flute, and piano. “Music really helps to detox the mind and calm me down when I’m stressed. I really need that help sometimes when I’m trying to get in the right mood to write.” Willow also takes part at her local theater. “When I’m acting, I’m literally placing my mind into that of the character. I do the same thing with writing, which is why I think I like both of them so much.”
As an author, Willow recognizes that editing her novel is just as important as writing it—and it’s certainly not an easy process. “When I was in the heat of editing The Scavenger, I was editing upwards of eight to nine hours a day.” Despite the long hours, however, she adds that every writer can benefit from editing their own works. “Even the best writer’s first drafts aren’t perfect . . . Although it can be tedious, it’s rewarding to know that each editing sweep that a writer does brings their book that much closer to completion.”
Nowadays, authors connect easily with their readers through social media, and Willow makes the most of this while communicating with her reader base—“some of the most passionate and supportive people I know”—and expressing her gratitude. “It’s easier than ever to meet and connect with people who share my passion of books.”
Finally, Willow shares some advice to those who love to write and hope to have their works published in the future: “Just keep writing. Some days, the words are going to flow like water. Other days, you’re going to have to force them out. The important thing is that you keep the words coming. Because one day, those words are going to form something great.”
J. L. Willow is currently at work on another realist fiction novel. She posts about her published and ongoing works on her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@jlwillowbooks) as well as her personal website, jwillow.com.
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