Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Guestopia! YA debut author Maura Jortner

Welcome to 2017 and our first Guestopia of the year!

We have an amazing, incredible line up of authors this year and we're kicking things off with a very special young lady from Texas!


Here's a little bit about Maura.

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.

And let's get started...

Is this your first published book?


What’s it called?

The Life Group

Which genre?

YA thriller

Which age group?

YA, but I’d personally say 14+

Is it a series or standalone?


Are you an agented author?


Which publisher snapped up your book?

Lakewater Press

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?

I’ve been involved in a sense, but Lakewater does an excellent job. I’ve been kept abreast of all facets of publication, but not put in charge—and I haven’t been asked to do much outside of my comfort-zone as an author, which has made me very happy.

Do you have another job?

Yes, I’m a professor at Baylor University. I teach writing and literature.

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

LOL. Yes. Lots. Even good books get turned down.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?

I was driving to get my kids at their day care. Here’s the longer story—

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 engage in activities he perhaps should not be doing (blowing off homework when he’s a full-time student), and maybe even lead him down a bad path (flunking out of school). Could they convince him to do something even more dangerous?

The second event was of greater significance: one of my colleagues went missing. The vanished professor wasn’t gone long—less than a week. And good news is, she was fine.  It turned out to be mental illness showing its ugly head. But the events of those five days when she couldn’t be located struck me to the core.

Later that semester, as I drove to the local daycare to pick up my kids, thoughts of my colleague 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 been abducted and her attacker told her in a calm voice to place them there before he tied her up, gagged her, and took her away. 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, and I knew my next book had to be about a missing person and the desperate search that followed.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

Once the plot was fully in my head, I started writing. I’d been waiting for an idea to hit me, so I was ready to sit down and work. I ended up writing the first draft during the dates mentioned in the novel—February 14 to mid-March. Then I started the editing process. I think it went out to readers in May of 2015.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

It flowed naturally. I work with an outline, so I always knew what came next. Some sections emerged onto the computer screen quicker than others, but it all basically poured out.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

I have a handful of wonderful, trusted CPs (critique partners). They include: Tracy Townsend, Michelle A. Barry, Rebecca Waddell, Jennifer Griswell, Emily Bleeker, Aften Brook Szymanski, Oriel Offit, and Heather Brewer. Mostly, I get a draft as well done as I can and then hand it over to a couple of them. Then I edit it, change it, wrangle it, and send it off to a few more. I keep doing this until I feel like I’ve handled most of the “problems” in the text and lots of people have seen it.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

Lots. Too many to count.

How many drafts until it was published?

Once it was accepted by Lakewater, I didn’t have to work on it for long. But from beginning to end, there are always many, many edits and drafts.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

Surprisingly, no. I had to do some work for character consistency, and I played with some plot points, but it mostly stayed the same.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

I’m pretty happy with how it came out. J

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

The beginning—no. Certainly not. The middle tedium—no. Definitely not. Perhaps writing the ending. I love getting the thrill of reaching that exciting conclusion that I’ve been building up to and imagining forever.

What part do you find hardest?

The beginning—maybe. The middle tedium—maybe. But I think I probably find editing the most difficult. Trying to fix and alter all the repercussions of some small edit—changing a character’s height, for instance, or relationship to another character—that’s the tough stuff.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

Push through.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time? I mostly have one that I’m actively working on… but I might have one that I’m querying while I’m writing, and most of the time I have an idea for one that I might start after the one I’m currently working on.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned? It can absolutely be learned. There needs to be discipline and desire—that’s all.

How many future novels do you have planned?

One’s running wild around my head right now… but I need to finish the one I’m editing first. But I guess the real answer to the question is “a bunch.” I hope to never stop writing. I don’t necessarily have them planned in that I don’t know what they’ll be about, but I intend to keep going, to keep writing ad infinitum.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

Not well, but I’ve been working on it. I have started a blog as part of my website ( I also wrote a short story to send out to readers who sign up for the newsletter on my blog. So I’m trying new things all the time! I’ve written scholarly articles in the past, too, but my passion is for novels.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

Having one of my books “out there” has been a dream of mine for a long time, and I’ve been pursuing it for about five years… so the answer is something like “all of it.” It’s all such a wonderful experience; I couldn’t be happier.

Give me one writing tip that work for you.

Sit down and do it. I push myself to write 1,000 words a day. It’s not much—really just 3-4 pages. But after a month, I’ll have 30,000 words if I’m true to my goal. That keeps me going.

And one that doesn't.

I’m sorry to say, I don’t know. I haven’t heard any writing tips that simply don’t work.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

The one in my head right now is about a drama club where the kids keep being killed off. The main character has to wonder if she’s next… and who’s murdering her friends one by one.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

Oh, gosh. Again, I don’t know. Sorry! I guess I don’t really think up questions I want people to ask me. When I have an interview coming up, I try to prepare for it; I try to imagine what the person might ask so I’ll be ready. But I don’t spend my time or mental capacity imagining myself being interviewed. I’m a bit too nervous about making mistakes, putting my foot in my mouth, or generally being boring to fantasize about such things. I’m much more likely to take the time thinking about plot points or main characters than an anxiety-producing interview!

And that's it! Thank you so much for joining YAtopia today, Maura. We wish you heaps of luck with The Life Group and recommend anyone who loves a suspense-filled, gripping novel that's totally unique buy it now! Here are some links that might help.



  1. Using EasyHits4U you can earn free advertising credits by visiting other ads from a membership base of over 1,200,000 accounts. Earn credits faster with a 1:1 exchange ratio.

  2. There is a chance you are qualified for a complimentary $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.