Jen Minkman, author of the Tales of Skylge series, hails from the Netherlands, and has published novels and novellas in both Dutch and English. Some of her books, such as The Island, have been published in several languages.
In the Netherlands, she is a trade-published author of paranormal romances and chick lit, while internationally, she is known for her dystopian literature, poetry, and paranormal romances.
Below is the first installment of the Q&A with Jen Minkman, regarding her life as an author and her thoughts of the Dutch and English book industries:
1. The YA Fiction (young adult fiction) genre has exploded in popularity in the last decade. What do you like about YA lit and what do you not like about it?
What I love about YA lit is that it focuses on the troubles and worries young adults experience when they grow up. They’re discovering the world, and that’s one heck of a journey. It doesn’t matter if the book is peppered with paranormal or fantasy elements – people will be people, and I love reading all about ‘what-if?’ scenarios involving young people being confronted with tough choices, young love (with or without vampires or angels), and what to make of the world.
What I don’t like about it is probably that it’s so commercialized right now. Publishers are running the risk of only publishing run-off-the-mill stories that are a lot like stuff we’ve seen before. But I also read a lot of indie authors and they still write whatever they like without paying heed to ‘what’s hip this year’.
2. How is the Dutch-language book industry like compared to the English-language book industry in the Netherlands?
People like reading in Dutch a little bit more than in English, but both languages are very popular in my country. People generally speak good English and love reading the bestsellers from the US and the UK. Sadly, our market tends to be dominated by Dutch translations of those bestsellers, pushing out the local authors who want to shine (with the exception of some very famous names that have been around since forever). This is why I signed with and now work for Storm Publishers, because they ONLY publish local YA authors from Holland and Belgium writing in the Dutch language. Those are the authors who aren’t picked up by big publishing houses because they represent more investment risk than just buying the translation rights to a big bestseller from the US. I believe in Storm Publishers’ mission 100%.
3. How would you compare the experiences of writing a novel in Dutch and writing one in English?
Writing a novel in English sometimes feels like I can’t say 100% what I want to say. It’s close, about 90%, but there’s always that elusive 10% that tells me I don’t know all the right words to express myself or give my characters life. That’s why I will never give up writing in Dutch. Admittedly it’s a lot more work to first write stuff in Dutch and then translate it, but I think it’s worth the effort.
4. What is your favorite thing about being a writer? Least favorite?
My autonomy. I’m self-published abroad and trade-published in my home country, but I currently make most of my money selling books in English (no surprise there). I can write whatever I like. If my publisher in Holland doesn’t like something I’ve written, I go ahead and publish it in English anyway. My work always gets a chance to reach readers, and my hobby has turned into half my livelihood. The downside to that development is that I’ve had to become much more business-oriented, so much so that I now spend a lot of time on marketing and advertising too. If I don’t, people won’t find my books. Sometimes I feel like it eats into my writing time, so my New Year resolution for the year 2015 was that I should write ‘just for fun’ a little bit more. So that’s what I’m doing in the month of February: I’m translating a book as part of my job for Storm Publishers in the Netherlands, and I’m writing a sort-of Lost In Space sci-fi romance drama on the side. It will never get published, but I just enjoy writing it. Maybe I can use elements of that story in a novel that does have marketability potential later on! It’s all practice; writers have to practice just as much as Olympic sportsmen and sportswomen.
5. What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
When I sit down to it, I write about 3 or 4 hours a day. After that, I burn out. I just can’t go on anymore. But whenever I’m in a writing flow, I block out everything else in a sort of hyperfocus. That’s why I feel truly connected to my worlds. Sometimes, I’m in the car driving home and I literally can’t wait to ‘meet up’ with my characters again and submerge myself in my made-up world. It’s like meeting up with your best friends for the trip of a lifetime.
6. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Reading, traveling, making music (I play the piano, guitar, and viola), and watching good movies on TV or in the cinema.
7. How would you describe your writing style? What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I have NO idea, actually. I guess I write like a machine gun sometimes. Short, fast sentences. But on the other hand, I also tend to make sentences too long by inserting dashes. I love dashes a bit too much, haha! Whatever the case, I like writing original stories that hopefully haven’t been done before. And whenever I read a review on Goodreads or Amazon saying that the reviewer ‘has never read something like this before’, I feel like patting myself on the back. J
8. For your writing process, do you go by a rough outline or do you wing it as you go?
First, I wing it as I go along. Once I’m a few chapters in, I set up a rough outline. Sometimes, my main characters want to do something different, though, and I almost always oblige. They know best!
9. When did you start writing for fun? What was your first story or novel about?
I’ve written for fun as far as my memory goes back, I think! I learned how to read at a very early age and I always created worlds in my head. I wrote my first real ‘book’ when I was ten. It was based on a dream I had about a crash-landed UFO and I learned how to use my dad’s typewriter in order to write it.
10. Which books have influenced you most? (Could be fiction, non-fiction, your family’s cookbook, anything!)
My God… it would be unfair to just name a few. I read so much that I get inspired all the time. I guess when I really have to stick to just a few, I’d have to go for the books from my childhood, because they made such a huge impression on me. I loved all books by Enid Blyton, but I also read loads of books by Tonke Dragt and Thea Beckman (famous children’s writers in the Netherlands) that had the power to completely take me away to a different world. I regularly re-read those books even now.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed meeting Jen. Find out more about Jen Minkman: