Jennifer Baker author

I met Jennifer Baker at a writing retreat and I always thought she had such beautiful writing. Her debut YA novel, FORGIVE ME NOT, is not only both captivating and engaging,  it also offers an informative and critical lens into juvenile justice system.


Forgive Me Not coverAll it took was one night and one bad decision for fifteen-year-old Violetta Chen-Samuels’ life to go off the rails. After driving drunk and causing the accident that kills her little sister, Violetta is incarcerated. As a juvenile offender, her fate is in the hands of those she’s wronged—her family. With their forgiveness, she could go home. But without it? Well…

Denied their forgiveness, Violetta is now left with two options, neither good—remain in juvenile detention for an uncertain sentence or participate in the Trials, potentially regaining her freedom and what she wants most of all, her family’s love. But the Trials are no easy feat and in the quest to prove her remorse, Violetta is forced to confront not only her family’s pain, but her own—and the question of whether their forgiveness is more important than forgiving herself.


According to your website bio, you’ve been a publishing professional for over 20 years in various roles (editorial, production, media). In what ways, if any, did this influence your relationship with storytelling?

JENN: I wrote before I got into publishing and always studied it (in high school, undergrad, grad school). I got into publishing as a career because right after undergrad because I needed a FT job, and working in books seemed like a good opportunity. I went to conferences and residencies and workshops for years, and still do when time/money permits, so for me most of my learning on the craft of storytelling was in those spaces as well as in reading. Working in publishing taught me about the business of writing, not necessarily about storytelling. So, I think that’s helpful for writers to understand is that there’s a business side to how you talk about your work, how others will talk about/sell your work, and knowing the ins & outs of how the business runs overall.


That definitely sounds helpful. The beginning of FORGIVE ME NOT is one of the best I’ve read. What, in your opinion, makes an effective story beginning?

JENN: That’s super kind of you, thanks! I was at Tin House in 2017 when author Aimee Bender gave this great craft talk about beginnings or at least where to begin. And she said, mind you I’m paraphrasing, if there’s a car accident in your story are you starting the story with the accident or writing towards the accident? If the latter, then why? So that made me think a lot more about where to begin stories as well as when I edit work, be it stories, novels, essays, is that when we’re dealing with long-form, but especially short form, you have but so much time to hook a reader. That doesn’t mean working towards something is bad, but I think stakes could be established upfront. In Forgive Me Not, the beginning you read was always the beginning. It got revised, sure, but the first two chapters were always the first two chapters of this book because the Trials are where everything begins. So, to me it wouldn’t make sense to start this book elsewhere. And I think writers can consider that because maybe we’re starting a book in someone’s childhood, navigating to their adult life, but why is the childhood the place to start? There’s no wrong or right answer, it’s mainly about reasoning and what the aim is to convey or bring the reader into your story. I think in some books your intro may require action or setup or something else, but the reader does have to get a sense of what’s at stake or why we’re in this, which can look many different ways.


Excellent advice! Your Podcast, Minorities in Publishing just celebrated its 9th anniversary. What have you enjoyed most about this experience?

JENN: I love the conversations, broadening my community, and getting to share stories/work of other underrepresented folx in the business. I continually learn from everyone I speak with on the podcast and I’ve been so excited to see how people’s lives and careers have flourished. Nine years is a long time and to have hosted folx like Vashti Harrison–whose new book came out on 8/29!–get all these deserved accolades after interviewing her for her first book or Lisa Lucas who was one of the first year guests and is now the publisher at Pantheon, it’s been so amazing to see the ways folx have earned deserved accolades, kept their visions, and support others. It takes a while to edit an episode, but when I do sit down to do so it’s always such a fruitful experience that I cannot wait to share with others. Often, listeners really find a way to connect with the guest and that means a lot to those who take the time to converse with me.

Connection is definitely key! What are some of your current projects?

JENN: Some short stories, a new adult novel, as well as my next book for Nancy Paulsen Books. I tend not to talk at length or in-depth about my projects until they’re done.


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