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April 20, 2010

Shirley and Mandy Jump: Mom and Teen Team Up to Write YA Novel

Posted by Anonymous

When Shirley Jump decided to stretch her wings writing a YA novel, her daughter Mandy, 16, became her perfect writing partner. Find out how they worked together and the challenges they overcame to publish THE WELL under the pen name A.J. Whitten

THe Jumps3.jpgWhat made you decide to write together?
Shirley: It sort of grew out of a conversation we had together. In my “downtime” between books, I write other genres, just to stretch my writing wings. I had started this young adult story and realized I really liked it, but didn’t know enough about the genre. My daughter had come along with me on a road trip to a book signing that was a couple hours away, and we started talking about the book on the ride. I realized she was a fabulous plotter and by the end of the trip, we’d decided to try and write this together.
Can you each share a story about one of the books you wrote together?
Mandy:  Our agent had said the first book was missing “something” but she couldn’t tell us what it was. Then I had an English assignment to write a short story and so I decided to write a story in the perspective of the monster in our story. My teacher and my mother really liked it, and we decided to include it in the book, as well as several other scenes from the monster’s point of view. Our agent said that was just the touch the book needed.
THE WELL_cover_AJ Whitten (Shirley, Mandy Jump).jpgShirley: I remember when Mandy read the first chapter of THE WELL, before we had decided to work on it together, and when she got to the end of the chapter, where it’s revealed that the main character’s mother is trying to kill him, she turned to me and said, “Mom? Is there something I should know?”
 How do you share your writing responsibilities?
Shirley: Mandy and I do most of the plotting together. We plan out as much of the book as we can, then I’ll get that first draft down. Mandy does the “teening” of the book --- meaning she reads what I write and tells me what’s just not working for the teen market or for the way teen characters would talk. Also, if she gets a great idea for a scene, she’ll run with it and write it herself, then hand it off to me to blend it with the rest of the book.
Do you outline, or do you write as the story unfolds?
Shirley: We do both. We write, and then we come back and say, “Okay, what can happen next?” Then we plan a few scenes ahead, then write, then go back to brainstorming. It’s a pretty loose outline, because we’re always adapting it as the book takes shape.
Who has final say? Does “Mom always rule,” or how do you handle writing conflicts?
Shirley: We have had very few conflicts in the writing, and I think we avoid a lot of them by doing all that brainstorming throughout the book. I think we both try to be very fair to the other, and make sure both people’s viewpoints are heard. In the end, it really comes down to what is best for the book, rather than for our egos. That’s what we try to use as our barometer --- will this option or that one make this the best possible book?
What do each of you bring to the table?
Mandy: My mom’s strengths are writing and plotting. She’s great at seeing the big picture for the book. She also handles most of the business part for us, which makes it much easier for me.
Shirley: Mandy is very creative and has a lot of amazing ideas. She’s also a teenager and is surrounded by the very world we are trying to create, so that gives the books that extra dimension of the real teen world.
What’s your favorite snack food/drink when you are writing?
Mandy:  Red Bull and burritos.
Shirley: Chocolate anything.
Do you have advice for anyone who would like to write a book with their mother or daughter?
Mandy:  You have to be open to their ideas and not just stuck on your own. Find a way to make it work more equally, so you both have a say.
Shirley: It can be a challenge to work around another person’s schedule (her school schedule, my other publishing commitments) so you have to really work at carving out time to work together. You also need to make sure to listen to each other at all stages of the process.
THE WELL by A.J. Whitten (Shirley and Mandy Jump) is available wherever books are sold. Visit Shirley Jump at