Jen Furlong‘s Hidden City is more than a debut novel. It’s the first book in The Unimaginables Series, a breath of fresh air in the crowded young adult market, and the culmination of years of hard work. I recently sat down with Jen to discuss how she found the idea and grew it into a series, the way she approaches writing for teen readers, and what the adventure has been like for her.
Get to know more about Jen and her incredible book in our interview, then be sure you venture over to Amazon to pick up your copy of Hidden City in your favorite format. It’ll be the best novel you read all year.
Brittany Frederick: Take me back to the genesis of Hidden City. Where did that first idea or spark come from, and what made you decide it was right for a novel?
Jen Furlong: If I knew where ideas came from, I’d have written that down and sold a lot more books! (laughs) I knew Hidden City was an idea to stick with because I fell so in love with the Stacy/Finder/Tully triumvirate and I believed other people would, too.
BF: You spent quite a bit of time working on the novel. How much is what we’re reading now different from the original idea that you started out with?
JF: It’s not the same book at all. The core of each character is the same, but they grew so, so much. The world grew. The bad guys grew. The first draft started with Stacy pulling what she could salvage out of her ruined bedroom three days after 9/11; that scene and many others aren’t even in this book. Stacy was too passive in those early drafts. It’s an hours’ long discussion, really.
BF: Writing for a young adult audience is very specific; how do you write for teen readers while not writing down to them?
JF: I just think back to how I was at that age. I paid our electric bill with the money I earned babysitting and walking dogs. Kids, especially teenagers, are smart and competent and philosophical. They have a lot of energy and power. There is no way that teenagers are helpless or boring or nearly as filled with ennui as our culture proposes.
Right now, the level of overstimulation they deal with is incomprehensible to me. I think it’s hard to grow when you’re forced to watch yourself growing. I choose not to write some things in graphic detail because television and social media provides plenty of that. I want to contribute stories that respect who teenagers are and offer a window into their strengths as well as their depth, emotional tenacity and wholeness.
BF: How would you describe actually writing the book? Do you have a particular creative process?
JF: Pretty ordinary, I think. I write stuff down, I call my friends and make them listen to me hash out stuff I can’t figure out without talking about it, then I rewrite what I wrote over and over until it does the thing I intend.
BF: Now that you’ve finished Hidden City, are there parts of the book that you’re particularly proud of? Or ones that you still think about?
JF: I love Stacy’s chess coach’s advice: Make a plan. Stick to the plan. Be ready to change the plan. Keep your mind on the mate. That makes me happy over and over in this book. I think the thing that I love most is that almost every reader has reported laughing out loud while reading certain sections of the book. And I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t particularly proud of Chapter & Mercy as a location. People have asked for directions and I’m sad to tell them I made it up.
BF: Did you have a favorite part of the publishing journey?
JF: Performing and mastering the audiobook! I loved writing the whole thing, but once that was done, it was a real joy to read the book aloud and create a performance of it bringing the story to life on a different level. Plus, I learned how to produce and engineer an audiobook—which I never in a million years thought I could do!
BF: Books that are part of a series can suffer because writers are always looking ahead. For you, how did you figure out the balance of telling a great story in Hidden City while also laying groundwork for what’s ahead?
JF: Everything present in Hidden City, from characters to events to random dialogue references, lays ground for the rest of the series and is crucial to telling this first story. In my mind you can’t do one without the other. The series world is built on story. The expectation and standard I held for myself as a storyteller was to layer the book so that when someone reads book 1 at [age] 11 and comes back to reread the series in its entirety when they are 24, there are still “A-ha!” moments to be found. Book series should be like treasure chests that deliver over and over again. I just hope I can do it!
BF: Aside from entertainment value, is there anything you’re particularly hoping readers come away with when they’ve finished Hidden City?
JF: Confidence. Belief in themselves. Wonder about the world and a healthy respect for the unanswered questions that we may or may not actually know the answers to, even when we think we do. And lastly, I hope this story triggers more questions than answers—even if the questions are simple like, is the thing happening to me or around me that seems bad, really bad? Or is it just the thing that is happening? I guess I’d like to see the effect of looking at life with less judgement and more curiosity.
BF: What’s your aspiration for the rest of The Unimaginables Series? Since you already have the next book, Tattooed Angel, available for pre-order.
JF: My dream is for this book, and series, to be a librarian go-to for young adult readers. My life has literally been changed by books put in my hands by librarians and I hope someday that my books can be among the books librarians recommend. I would love to see it as a TV series. I imagine it as the scary of Supernatural, the spunk and humor of Buffy, the cinematography of The Queen’s Gambit and the heart of Ted Lasso.
Hidden City is available on Amazon in digital, paperback and audiobook (read by the author!) formats. For more on Jen Furlong and to pre-order the second book in the series, be sure to visit her website! You can also follow her on Instagram.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.