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From Idea to Series: Adventures Abroad

I’ve always had a severe case of wanderlust.

When I was twenty, I finally found an excuse to leave North America, and by the end of that summer, I’d visited a friend in China before spending a month in Italy on a study abroad program. Oh, yeah, I’d also worked in a quick stop in the city of my dreams, Paris, and from that time, I was hooked on travel. I still price shop for airfare to the destinations I’m dreaming of, even when I know my next trip is probably years away; there’s something about travel that lights me up. Like Hunter says in What Happens in Paris, “It’s about living on your own and taking risks.  It’s the people you meet, the memories you make…It’s about being lonely, and that being okay, and it’s about being surrounded by strangers and feeling safe.”

When I sat down to write Adventures Abroad, that’s the feeling I wanted to capture. I remember vividly what it felt like the first time I set foot in a foreign country, and I think travel is more than an opportunity to make some amazing memories; for me, it’s been the best way to learn about myself, and the trips I’ve taken have shaped me in more ways than I can count. It was that sense of discovery, that sense of isolation that comes from suddenly finding yourself the “other” as everyone around you speaks a different language, not to mention the surreal sense of magic I wanted to explore within Adventures Abroad

Before Bloomsbury Spark acquired my first New Adult titles, the Isobel Key series, I had self-published the duology, but when Spark expressed interest in the books, I leapt at the chance to improve them and work with the fabulous team at Bloomsbury. Because of my self-publishing experiences, I tend to have a very hybrid approach to my writing career, and I’m usually working on more than one project at once. I knew I wanted to write a NA travel series for a while, and I hoped I’d have the opportunity to work with Spark again. Initially, I was going to write a trio of books following Camie on her quest for understanding (and love) as she backpacked around Europe for the summer. I started writing what would become What Happens in Paris, and when I submitted that manuscript to Meredith Rich, my awesome editor at Bloomsbury Spark, she zoned in on Sarah and Joelle, the two girls that Camie meets in her hostel in Paris. At Meredith’s suggestion, I started scribbling to see if either of these characters had a story to share, and realized that a series I’d planned to be just about one girl’s experience was going to turn into a summer of love, loss, and lasting friendship between three girls who started out as strangers.

As the series evolved and I got to know Sarah and Joelle better, I discovered the tiny seed I shared with each of the characters. With a hat tip to Ms. Rowling, I’ve long considered my characters to possess a sliver of my soul, a horcrux, if you will, and the three protagonists from Adventures Abroad are no different. I babysat all through college and seriously considered being a nanny for a time, so that (plus my ever-shifting body image hang-ups) is something I share with Sarah. Joelle is an avid reader, even pausing her amazing trip to read guilt-free while she sits in her hostel, which is something I totally did while I was traveling around that first summer. 

Since the series initially began with Camie, it’s a little easier for me to see the things we have in common. She’s a bit of a boho artistic dreamer, something that describes me both back in college and now, even though my medium is the keyboard rather than one of the visual arts that Camie excels at. I wish I were a confident sketcher or painter, but Camie and I still share that same desire to become immersed in our art, and the art of people we admire.

In many ways, this series is a nostalgic gift to my younger self, but as always happens over the evolution from idea to finished product, these books and characters took on lives of their own. The magical alchemy that happens when the seed of an idea meets a phenomenal editor and blossoms into something unlike anything the author expected is one of my favorite aspects of publishing, and I’m so excited to share this series with readers this summer!

On June 16, help Jen McConnel celebrate this series by posting your favorite travel memories, tips, or places you're dreaming about, using the tag #AdventuresAbroad. To connect with Jen, click on the links below:

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ABOUT JEN McCONNEL: A Michigander by birth, Jen McConnel now makes her home in the beautiful state of North Carolina. She writes NA, including the Isobel Key series (Bloomsbury Spark), the award winning YA novel Beautiful Curse (Swoon Romance), and various other works. When she isn’t writing, she can be found on her yoga mat or wandering off on another adventure. Once upon a time, she was a middle school teacher, a librarian, and a bookseller, but those are stories for another time. Visit to learn more!

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Author photo © James Barrett, 2013