Fizzy Fangirling – An Interview with Sarah “JJ” Jae-Jones

Hello my loved readers!

Today I bring you a fangirl session with the brilliant Sarah “Call her JJ” Jae-Jones.

JJ is one of my favorite peoples. Possibly ever. There is literally nothing this gal can’t do. While this started out as a standard Fizzy interview, it morphed into tales of skydiving and sound-bites of fabulous German compound nouns that I am delighted to now know.

Aside from being a fabulous industry source for all your literary needs on Twitter (I’ll wait while you click over to follow her…) she also has a geek that runs so blissfully deep, it’s unfathomably adorable.

1. As an Editorial Assistant, tell me, what is it that you do for St. Martin’s, and how long have you been doing it? Bonus points for sharing what made you wander into this festive business in the first place.

An editorial assistant sounds exactly like what it is: someone who assists other editors. Editorial assistant responsibilities vary from person to person, and editor to editor. When I first started working at SMP a little over 3 years ago, I assisted Dan Weiss, which included a lot of editorial work: reading submissions, rejecting them, writing editorial letters, etc. Earlier this year, I began assisting three other editors here, but I only handle their administrative tasks for their titles; they edit their own books. Assisting three editors might sound like a lot (and it is), but it also frees up a lot of time to focus on building my own list.

I wandered into this “festive business” almost entirely by accident. In my previous employment lives, I was a legal assistant at a corporate law firm, and then I worked at a boutique private wealth management firm. Oh yes; I was power-suiting all the way to the bank–that is, until the economy collapsed in 2008. 23 years old, unemployed, and 3000 miles away from home, I did what any self-respecting young twentysomething would do: I learned how to skydive. Oh, and I got an internship at Writers House.

At that point, I knew the intern director there; he ran a reading series at Kettle of Fish and I read something of mine there. My roommate at the time had also worked at Writers House, and between the two of them, I practically browbeat my way into a position. I was given a manuscript and told to write an editorial letter, and based on that editorial letter, the various agents at Writers House would select their interns. I ended up working for Al Zuckerman.

I was extraordinarily lucky to have worked for Al. He was very giving of his time and guidance, took me out to lunch, counselled me on where he thought my career should go. I mostly did editorial work for him: I read his client manuscripts and wrote editorial letters, which he forwarded on to them. He nurtured my editorial side, and for that I will always be grateful.

2. What genres do you take on? Do you have any genre that is your specific Happy Place, or do you tend to go where the stories pull you?

I’m open to nearly anything, really, but where my heart truly lies is in the Bildungsroman, the coming-of-age narrative. Because of that, I’m drawn most to middle grade and young adult, although there are coming-of-age narratives in adult fiction too. As far as genre goes, I am much more interested in What Was, What Might Be, and What Could Be than What Is, so I tend to read more science-fiction, fantasy, and historical than say, contemporary. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love a good contemporary either! So I suppose in that regard, I go where stories pull me. Yet I always feel there’s a certain type of “JJ book”: gothic, arch, witty, whimsical, and clever, or else creepy and beautiful. (I was goth once. A happy, cheerful one.)

I can probably tell you what isn’t a “JJ book” better: anything with FEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELINGS. 😉 I’m sort of (in)famous for not liking books in which romance dictates the actions and self-esteem of the protagonists. I’m an eminently practical person, and I have no patience for characters (or people) who wallow in their emotions at the expense of what needs to get done. (So don’t run to me for comfort; I’m more likely to slap you upside the head and distract you than give you a hug.) Yet despite this, I do consider myself a romantic at heart; in fact, I like romances in books. Just as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the story. 😉

Oh, and I also like nonfiction. I’m shallow and super-girly, so lifestyle, health and fitness, and fashion and beauty books are also totally my jam.

3. Tell me about your ever present picture friend, White-Harp.

White-Harp is kind of more than ever-present picture friend; she’s sort of an ever-present friend in general. Right, so despite my chronological age, I’m actually about 7 years old. White-Harp is a plush baby harp seal who has been in my life since I was 3. (Fun fact: she is older than Daniel Radcliffe. Okay, that’s not such a fun fact. For me.) We met at Sea World San Diego. White-Harp still sleeps in my bed, and in fact still goes on outings with me. For example, I took her out to see Breaking Dawn, Part 2 last week. (White-Harp goes to the movies a lot.) Sometimes she comes to work for moral support. I suppose some children grow out of having plush friends, but I never did. What amazes me more is how willing people are to play along with me, or perhaps they just feel sorry for the delusional woman-child. I’m not sure which.

However, luckily for me, my Bear (my boyfriend–perhaps you are sensing a pattern about me) plays with White-Harp just as much, if not more, than I do. She’s accompanied him to some of his med school classes and residency interviews. 😉

I have a baby brother who is 10 and a half years younger than me. (Okay, not so baby anymore since he’s almost 17 and 6’2″.) I refused to let him play with White-Harp when he was a baby, so we got him his own. My brother named him Chubby, which unfortunately gave the poor thing a complex, so we retconned his name to Charles and now only refer to him as “pleasantly plump”. White-Harp and Chubby have pretty fully-developed personalities; they’ve even matured as they’ve grown older. (For example, White-Harp used to have a lisp. I’m not sure how; I didn’t. She’s grown out of it now. Chubby used to sulk and cry a lot, but doesn’t anymore. Of the two of them, White-Harp is much more self-assured, while Chubby is a little insecure.)

4. What is something you are completely super excited to be working on right now?

Ooh! I have a YA novel to be published in Winter 2014 (my first! Beer! Sorry, old skydive dropzone habits die hard…). Tentatively titled SING by Adi Rule, it’s about a young soprano who attends a prestigious music conservatory in a remote, gothic part of New England, where nothing, not even her mysterious young vocal couch, is what it seems. Sing (our eponymous heroine) struggles to find her true voice–literally–amidst conflicting doubts about what it means to be a diva, a performer, and an artist, and discovers herself along the way. My author Adi is amazing: she weaves together these beautiful fairytale and magical elements with Sing’s coming-of-age with lyrical prose, plus, she’s a singer herself, so she knows what she’s writing about.

Magical, lyrical, gothic, about classical music (if you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll find that I’m, um, obsessed with Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte), this is a “JJ book” is there ever was one. 🙂

5. What do you wish more writers knew about your job? Something that you find to be a common misconception, or that you think would be a happy surprise if they knew?

That we don’t actually edit at work. We do everything else BUT edit, in fact. During the day we don’t actually have time to edit or read submissions: we have to transmit manuscripts, write copy, have marketing meetings, discuss covers, go to editorial board, etc. All the “work” people imagine editors do happens on our own time: after hours, at home, on weekends. In many ways, we never stop working. It can be exhausting, but ultimately, I think it’s one of the most rewarding jobs out there.

6. Tell me about the skydiving. I find this terribly impressive.

So the skydiving thing. 🙂 Bear asked me back in early April 2008 if I wanted to go skydiving. Being an adrenaline junkie, I naturally said yes. (Um, remind me to tell you about the time I fell 1000ft during a skiing accident…) We called a number of dropzones in the area, and only one called us back: Skydive Crosskeys, our home DZ. Our first (beer!) jump was tandem with our instructors, so he and I were each strapped to someone else and we were mostly along for the ride. On the ground it was 60 degrees, but 10,000ft above ground, it was -12. It grew colder and colder and colder the higher we went in our tiny little Cessna prop plane; Bear growing quiet, me growing into an even bigger chatterbox. Finally, the pilot threw open the door and before I knew it, WHOOSH, Bear was gone. Out the door before I could even blink. Then my instructor and I crawled to the exit where I crossed my arms, looked out into the sky, and let myself go.

I can’t properly describe what it feels like. Physically, it feels a little bit like swimming and sticking your head out a car going 120mph on a freeway. But emotionally, spiritually, it is bliss. It is when I feel the most Zen, the most calm and centered, the most clearheaded, the most free. Such exhilaration is probably the closest I’ve ever come to an actual “high”.

7. All right. Hit me up with some of these ace German compound nouns of yours. I need to know how to say, “Grief Bacon”… (FYI, click on each one to hear JJ speak it!)

1. Backpfeifengesicht: a face that cries out for a fist in it.
2. Sitzfleisch (lit. the strength of sitting): the ability to sit through something boring.
3. Kummerspeck (lit. grief bacon): the excess weight gained from emotional eating.
4. Torschlusspanik (lit. gate-closing fear): the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.
5. Fremdschamen: the vicarious embarrassment one feels watching someone else make a fool of him/herself (i.e. the exact opposite of the more popular “schadenfreude”)

These are real German compound nouns that I’ve discovered. I collect these compound nouns in much the same way other people might collect stamps or action figures. I occasionally make up what I call faux-German compound nouns to fill what I perceive as THEIR lexical gaps. Like this one:

6. Tagesgetränke (lit. day drinks):the necessity of drinking during the day in order to restore sanity.
I mean, this is a language that literally has a word that means “a struggle to come to terms with the past”(Vergangenheitsbewältigung), yet there’s no word to describe the need for an 11 o’clock whiskey? For shame!

8. As you have been roped into my blog, it is here I will ask for a hilarious or embarrassing industry tale. *grabs popcorn*

I wish I could oblige you, but being as I’m not ashamed to bring a stuffed animal to work and leave her sitting on my desk, I’m not easily embarrassed, I’m afraid! I believe we agreed to a dance-off when we meet each other, Summer, so clearly I have no shame. But who knows, maybe that will end up being my embarrassing industry tale! 😉

And that’s it, my friends! Isn’t she faboo!? For funnsies, here is a video of her in her skydiving-ish indoor tunnel glory!

Until next time,

Peace, Love, and DANCE OFFS!!!


  1. I want to see that dance-off!

  2. Whoever does the PSY and Hammer mash-up dance from the AMA’s takes the trophy. Bonus points for whoever dresses the part.


    Please, Fizzy, don’t hurt ’em! Wait, is my age showing with that MC Hammer reference? Hey, can somebody tell me if my age is showing…because I think it may have…you know…fallen out at some point. Nope, well good. Carry on with the dancing. Great post as usual.

  3. That indoor sky diving looks spectacularly fun, and I’m obsessed with Superman so I definitely need to try this.

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