After a decade of burning the candle at both ends, working a full-time job and writing at night, Glenville author Jennifer Dugan’s debut novel has hit the shelves.
“Hot Dog Girl” tells the story of Elouise, a teen who is spending her summer working as a costumed hot dog character at Magic Castle Playland. The park is slated to close at the end of the season, unless Lou can cook up a plan to save it. Meanwhile, she tries to make Playland’s popular diving pirate, Nick Mulholland — who already has a girlfriend — jealous. She attempts to rope her best friend, Seeley, into scheme and needless to say things get complicated.
The novel, which was released this spring, has been praised by Kirkus Review, Publisher’s Weekly, and several popular authors of young adult fiction, like Mackenzi Lee and Becky Albertalli.
“It feels really surreal. I wrote this book sitting alone at night at my dining room table after everyone had gone to bed and it was just me and my cat.
Now it’s out there and people are sending me pictures of it and seeing it on end caps at stores” Dugan said.
Becoming a full-time writer, which Dugan has been since December, has been a longtime dream of hers.
“I always wanted to be a writer. So, when I was a little kid, I would be writing and forcing it on my whole family. I would give them all [short stories] for Christmas,” Dugan said.
Growing up in Clifton Park, she devoured just about every book that came her way, from Roald Dahl’s humors tales to Stephen King’s scary stories.
“I got into Stephen King really young, way too young. That became a massive obsession throughout my childhood and we would actually mark every event, like the end of the school year or Christmas or a really good grade, my mom would buy me a new Stephen King book. So I have this whole collection of Stephen King books with notes from my mom in each one,” Dugan said.
She attended the College of Saint Rose and graduated with a degree in communications. While she did some freelance work for newspapers, the bulk of her communications career was spent in public relations.
Dugan was writing nonstop, coming home from work, spending some time with her family, and then working on different projects from 7 p.m. to midnight. Though “Hot Dog Girl,” is her first novel, it’s not her first published work. She’s also written comics, “Circadia” and “Gnaw.”
“I’m such a big fan of comics, it seemed like a natural progression and some ideas just lend themselves better to more visual storytelling,” Dugan said.
While “Hot Dog Girl,” is visual, with a quirky setting, Dugan felt like the classic novel style suited the story, which was in part locally inspired.
“The first idea for setting it in an amusement park came while I was at the Great Escape,” Dugan said.
In 2015, while sitting on the gondola ride at the amusement park, she came up with her cast of characters, some of who worked as diving pirates and princesses, and one who had the worst job in the entire park—the hot dog girl.
“I am not a plotter. So I started thinking ‘What would be the worst job? You’re at this awesome place. What would be the worst [job] you could be stuck in?’” Dugan said. “When I get an idea, it’s almost like overhearing a conversation in my head. Then I [work] backward and forward from that moment to write the whole book.”
After getting the story written, she worked on getting an agent via a pitch party on Twitter.
“Basically, you tweet out a pitch for your book. Then agents like it if they want you to submit it to them and editors can retweet if it’s something that they want to see after you have an agent,” Dugan said.
She landed offers from seven different agents and it wasn’t too long until “Hot Dog Girl” was in the hands of an editor at G. P. Putnam’s Sons, the novel’s publisher.
“I feel like my editor pushed it to the next level,” Dugan said, “The heart of the story is pretty much the same. We [worked] on just fleshing it out more, making her story more vivid. We added some more subplots. She has an absentee parent; her mom isn’t in the picture [and] she’s raised by a single dad, so we explore that a lot more in revisions.”
Since the book was published, Dugan’s inbox has been full of messages from teens who appreciate the book and feel a certain kinship to Eloise, who is bisexual, and a believable teen character in that she’s takes chances and makes mistakes along the way. Not all the messages and reviews have been kind to the protagonist, though.
“A lot of times girls are not given the freedom to be messy and they’re expected to always be empathetic and compassionate. Eloise is a realistic teen girl who screws up and I let her make mistakes. So, to see the reaction of some people who really struggle with that has been really interesting to me. Because especially in young adult literature when we have these books about messy boys, the instinct from people is to protect them. But with girls it’s so much more critical. So, it has been really eye-opening to me,” Dugan said.
As a full-time author, she already has other projects in the works. Her next, a loose retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” set in the comic book industry, called “Fair Verona Comics,” will be out next summer.
Dugan’s advice to other writers out there who are trying to get started, burning their own candles at both ends is to persevere.
“Keep writing, that’s the biggest thing. Just follow your heart and write for you. When I started finding success it was when I started embracing the stories that really meant a lot to me versus what I thought I should be writing. Write with your heart but be open to feedback because you’re going to get a lot of it. So you can’t be too precious about your work, you have to let people read it,” Dugan said.
She’ll be visiting the Ballston Community Library at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 9, along with fellow author Becky Albertalli, who wrote “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” and other young adult books. Registration is required. Call 518-399-8174 ext. 3. For more information visit toblibrary.sals.edu. For more on Dugan’s books and upcoming projects visit jldugan.com.