So, who the heck is Amalie Jahn... for real?
Award-winning #YA author. #TED speaker. #HuffPost contributor. #Ironman. Cancer survivor. Laundry folder. Berry eater. Skinny jeans opponent. Here to serve & <3
When Pitch War mentees were asked to pimp our bios here on our blogs, my gut reaction was just to expand on those 140 characters. I mean, they do a super job of reflecting the accomplishments of Public Amalie Jahn, the person who's on display for the whole world to see. The bio's perfect.
Maybe a little too perfect.
The truth is those 140 characters represent the shiniest 8x10 Glamour Shots version of myself. Elegant lighting, mild retouching, and the Mayfair filter. In real life, I am about as far from perfect as one person can get. So maybe that's what I should be explaining here instead.
Who is Amalie Jahn? The Unfiltered Private Amalie Jahn?
Much like my manuscripts, I see myself as a work in progress. I remember when I was younger I assumed becoming an adult meant having All The Answers. When I reached some magical age of maturity I would have it All Figured Out.
I could not have been more wrong.
When I started my publication journey five years ago, I didn't know what I didn't know, but somehow I thought I would be able to lone wolf myself onto the New York Times Bestseller list. That dogged perseverance would see me through.
And I quickly discovered that was never going to happen.
Being an author is a terribly isolating profession. You sit at a keyboard alone, talking only to the imaginary people inside your head. I should not have been surprised when the depression set in.
But I was.
I learned eventually that I needed other authors. And editors. And beta readers. At first, I thought I needed them to make my books better. What I discovered was that I also needed them to make ME better.
So, that's why I'm here doing Pitch Wars. Would I love to land a mentor and even an agent? Absolutely. But over the years I've learned success isn't measured by what you can cram into a 140 character bio. It's measured in growth. Growth of my craft. Growth of my community. If I come out of this with a more polished manuscript and a bunch of really great new friends, I'll be thrilled. Because if I'm ever going to make it in this industry, I won't be doing it on my own. I'll be doing it with a whole lotta help from all of you.
What's the Deal with The Next to Last Mistake?
What follows is Tess's indoctrination into southern black culture with the help of her school-appointed mentor, Leonetta Jackson. As Tess encounters hair extensions, southern food, step teams, and racial profiling for the first time, Leonetta is there to offer guidance and support. The two girls bond quickly but not everyone is happy about their budding friendship and their faith in one another (and society) is tested.
Although Tess's story is fiction, the friendship it portrays is not. The Next to Last Mistake is based my own forced relocation from Maryland to North Carolina in my early twenties. Like Tess, I grew up in a rural community, but when my military husband and I moved from home to his first assignment, I found myself one of the only white teachers in a predominantly black school. It is not hyperbolic to say that the grace and wisdom I was shown by a group of very understanding black women forever changed my life.
I'm telling my age when I share that experience happened almost twenty years ago. So why'd I choose to write this story now?
I'm sort of a masochist when it comes to current events and can't stop scrolling through my newsfeed despite the pervasive feelings of utter hopelessness it often induces. I look around my community and worry that I'm not doing enough to institute positive changes, especially when it comes to race relations. I take classes, attend rallies, and volunteer, but because writing has always been an outlet for me, on my worst days the best I can do is journal through my emotions.
Then I get angry at myself because retreating into my own world feels like a cop out.
I was having an especially craptastic day when I was struck by the notion that my writing might be my very best contribution to the cause. Because maybe what young readers need now more than ever is a story about a unique friendship between a white girl and a group of black girls. A story that shows how - with Leonetta's guidance, an open mind, and some understanding - Tess is finally able to confront (and conquer) her own underlying prejudices. Ultimately, my hope is that Tess and Leonetta might serve as models for how amazing the world could be if we all spent more time just getting to know one another.
(There's also a crazy house party, a farm boy from next door, slut shaming, a chess competition, a drunken marriage proposal, a triflin' heifer named Monika, an overseas deployment, waffles, and cow named Sunshine. So, yeah... Lots going on in Tess's life.)
At its core, however, The Next to Last Mistake was inspired by the beauty of interracial friendship. This is a recent photo of the three amazing women who taught me all those years ago not to shy away from things I don't understand, to ask questions, and to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Thank you, Ladies, from the bottom of my heart.
(PS - Just for the sake of clarification, I'm the white girl, second from the right.)
- My name is pronounced A-mal-ya. I'm the fourth generation Amalie in my family which is pretty darn cool.
- I taught elementary school for seven years before my children were born. I learned more from the students than they ever learned from me.
- I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. Germs are my weakness. If we meet I probably won't touch you, but I might ask you to use some of my hand sanitizer. And I swear, it's not you, it's me.
- I have three cats: Felix, Freckles, and Flint. They are grumpy, lazy, and naughty, respectively.
- I married my college sweetheart and followed him around the country with the Army. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Two decades in and we're still fumbling our way through adulthood.
- I'm ridiculously uncoordinated except in the water. Swimming is my favorite therapy.
- I can not cook. I can not bake. Boiling water has presented challenges in the past. It's not really a meal unless my family is scraping off burnt bottoms or cutting around the parts that "aren't quite done." My go-to meal is spaghetti. Yeah, I know.
- I'm a vegetarian. My favorite food is chocolate cake.
- My dad was an industrial arts teacher so I know my way around a workshop. What I lack in culinary abilities I make up for in miter saw prowess. I can also change the oil in my car.
- My greatest regret in life is that I teased my little sister when we were kids. I'm sorry is never enough.
- If I wasn't an author I'd be an interior decorator or a professional organizer. I dream about cleaning your closet.
- The Cure is my favorite band of all time. #RobertSmithForever
- If I had to pick one book I wish I'd written myself it would be I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. It's literary perfection. My favorite children's book is The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman. All. The. Feels.