Saturday, January 31, 2015

3 J.J. Howard, author of TRACERS, on using music to write

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

Cam meets Nikki when she crashes into him—literally—and this complex action scene was a fun challenge to write. I started, as always, with a playlist. I imagined what Cam might listen to in his headphones as he zooms in and out of traffic as a bike messenger.

My favorite scenes to write were the ones that had Cam and Nikki arguing back and forth—I love to write dialogue—and then, of, course, they always make up!

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

I would say that all of my characters share a certain dry sense of humor and they’re all outsiders, or feel they are, in one way or another. My writing professor in grad school called an early draft of my first book That Time I Joined the Circus “sort of The Catcher in the Rye with a girl”—and that’s still the best note I’ve ever gotten (or probably will ever get!)

How long did you work on TRACERS?

This book happened very quickly—the entire process from first pages to final copyedits all happened in 2014. The book came out just a few days in to 2015 on January 8.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

I learned that I really enjoy writing action scenes!

What do you hope readers will take away from TRACERS?

Cam is a really different character for me. For one, he’s not a snarky teenage girl with the vocabulary of a much older girl ;) But seriously, he’s really damaged by what’s happened to him in his life, but he hasn’t actually given up hope yet. He acts as though he has, that he doesn’t care, but when you read his interior monologue in the book you find out that in spite of everything he still believes in love—and, more importantly—he still believes in himself.

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

My debut novel was published in 2013. I’d been writing for over ten years by that point, so it was a long road. I write really fast, so I have several projects that I hope to see make their ways to bookstore shelves at some point.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

I’ve wanted to write for a long time. My AHA moment: that I could (and should) write a novel, well that happened a long time ago. It was 1996 and I was walking through the social sciences section of Borders bookstore (RIP) where I worked. It really was one of those light-bulb moments. I remember it vividly. And ever since then, I’ve never been bored. Because when you have a novel going, you’re never, ever bored!

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

Music is absolutely essential! I figure out the characters and the feel of the novel through the music. I make a playlist for every project, and refine it as the writing goes along. I work best at home, with my dog Willow snuggled beside me. I get the guilt eye when I pack up my laptop to head to a coffee shop. ;)

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

I wrote a short piece for Writer’s Digest online in which I compared a writing career to a theme park—and I still really stand by all of those observations. You will spend a lot of time in line, it is a lot of fun (with a lot of ups and downs) and, as with most aspects of life, I’d suggest wearing a pair of comfortable shoes.

What are you working on now?

I am writing my first middle grade for Scholastic! I’m excited to branch out into this age level! And there are also a few other works in progress there on the back burner. I can’t wait for summer so that I can write, write, write!


by J.J. Howard
Putnam Juvenile
Released 1/8/2015

An action-packed romance—now a major motion picture starring Taylor Lautner.

Cam is a New York City bike messenger with no family and some dangerous debts. While on his route one day, he runs into a beautiful stranger named Nikki—but she quickly disappears. When he sees her again around town, he realizes that she lives within the intense world of parkour: an underground group of teens who have turned New York City into their own personal playground—running, jumping, seemingly flying through the city like an urban obstacle course.

Cam becomes fascinated with Nikki and falls in with the group, who offer him the chance to make some extra money. But Nikki is dating their brazen leader, and when the stakes become life-or-death, Cam is torn between following his heart and sacrificing everything to pay off his debts.

In the vein of great box-office blockbusters, the high-stakes romance here sizzles within this page-turning thriller that will leave readers feeling like they are flying through the streets of New York.

Purchase Tracers at Amazon
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View Tracers on Goodreads


J.J. HowardJ.J. Howard is wearing headphones right now, most likely. She grew up in York, Pennsylvania, obsessed with music, movies, television, and pop culture. You can call her if you ever need to phone a friend for trivia on any of the above topics, but don’t ask about sports, because she is hopeless at those (along with math). J.J. graduated from Dickinson College with a BA in English and Tiffin University with an MH in Humanities. She has been some of her students’ favorite English teacher for a quite a few years (she even has a mug somewhere to prove it). THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS is her first young adult novel. J.J. would love to hear from her readers and is always ready to trade playlists. Visit at



  1. I love her interview, especially the question about Cam's characterization. He sounds like a wonderfully complex guy :)

    thank you so very much :)

  2. I am also hopeless when it comes to sports. Nice interview. I find it interesting that most authors seem to listen to music while they write.


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