Meet My First Reader, Jason W. Allen-Forrest

by Julie, enjoying more mild weather in Somerville

I worked with Jason Allen-Forrest while I was at Emerson College, and we bonded over our love of mysteries. At that point I wasn’t yet published, but he knew that was a goal of mine. When I got the contract for the Clock Shop series, I asked Jason to be my first reader. I sent him the manuscript, along with several questions. My first question was “is it a book?” We had dinner a week or so later, and he went over the copious notes he’d made, and assured me that it was a book. His notes were fabulous, and helped me shape Just Killing Time.

dedication in A CHRISTMAS PERIL and a picture of Liz Mugavero, Jason Allen-Forrest and Julie Hennrikus
Liz Mugavero, Jason Allen-Forrest and Julie Hennrikus

He’s been my first reader ever since. I dedicated A Christmas Peril to him. Jason is a fan of the Wickeds, and has taken on the role of reader for Liz/Cate and Sherry as well. I thought it would be fun to have him on the blog, and ask him a few questions.

How many books do you read a year?

I average about 150 books per year.

That’s a lot of books! Do you remember when you fell in love with reading?

When I was a child, about 7 or 8 years old. Growing up we weren’t allowed to watch television on Sundays until Mutual of Omaha came on at 7pm and then Wide World of Disney at 8pm. My Mom would spend Sundays curled up on the couch in the family room, with jazz on the radio and a book. She would lay on her side with her legs bent, forming little nest like nook between the back of the couch and her knees. I would sit in that space and prop my book on her legs and spend the day reading with her. All these years later, I still love reading and still snuggle on the couch with jazz on the stereo and good book in my lap.

Do you have a favorite genre?

Cozies/Mysteries/Thrillers

What are some of the skills do you use when you are reading a manuscript?

I don’t know what skills I use specifically. I read the manuscript as I would any other book. After all the years I’ve spent reading, I have an innate sense of what works and what doesn’t. You know-does it read like a book? Does it make sense? Are plot points clear? Are all story lines satisfactorily wrapped up? Are the characters interesting? Does the story move? If the author has specific questions that want me to ponder while reading, it helps me to look for certain things, based on those questions. Even though I’m not an editor, for some reason typos leap off a page for me, as do syntax issues, so those I note for the author. If I read several manuscripts within a book series, I also look for areas where characters may be doing or saying something that is not in line with their character as demonstrated in previous books in the series. Likewise, I look for continuity in settings and circumstances.

You have a background in theater. Does the work you do as an actor re script analysis help with reading manuscripts?

As an actor I always read a script to look for what my character says about myself, what my character says about others in the play, and what other characters say about my character in the play. I apply that same thinking to characters in a manuscript-it helps in terms of keeping track of who is who in the manuscript as well as how they would/should react in any given situation. It’s also helpful for continuity across a series to inform whether or not a character does/says something that doesn’t mesh with ow their character has been speaking/behaving in previous books.

As someone who has directed and stage managed, I look for flow in the manuscript as I would transitions in a script. Stage management (as well as some deign and run crew experience) also help me to see if actions within a manuscript could actually be possible as described.

As a performance junkie, I also visualize everything, so reading a manuscript or a published book or a script needs to come alive in my mind visually and my theatre experience helps with how I visualize the world on the page.

You also review books. What skills do you use there?

I just put down my honest thoughts on what I’ve read. My reviews are exclusive to Goodreads and I also post them on my blog. I’ve never liked reviews that tell me what I should and shouldn’t like, see, read or do. Reviews are opinions, nothing more. Some are more educated than others, but at the end of the day they are just someone’s opinion. When I write my reviews, I try to remember to speak for myself only, and put in enough information so that anyone reading the review might get a sense of the general storyline of the book, and why it did or din’t work for me. I don’t claim to be a professional reviewer or a critic, I’m just someone who’s been reading for 50 years and (at the risk of sounding arrogant) has a competent sense of what works and what doesn’t.

You don’t sound arrogant at all! I am so grateful for the help you’ve given me, and continue to give me on this journey. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give your wonderful husband Scott Forrest-Allen a shout out for his title help. Thank you Jason!

Readers, do you ever read works in progress for friends? Writers, who is your first reader?

32 Thoughts

  1. How lucky you are to have such an amazing friend and first reader. I’m about to read a cozy/fantasy by an as-yet-to-be published writer friend of mine. I don’t usually have time to be first reader for others, but we’ve been talking “writing” since before I was published and I want to see this book make it. I have an amazing first reader. Caitlin is my dearest friend’s daughter (I’ve known Caitlin since she was 12 — she’s now in her 30s), who also happens to be an editor. She’s so generous to be my reader and her insights are always spot on.

  2. This is one of the most interesting posts I have read, thank you for writing it! I would love to know where to read Jason’s blog?

  3. Welcome to the blog, Jason, and what a delight to read your thoughts about manuscripts. I just read your paragraph about reading as a child to my two sisters (I’m in Puerto Rico for my son’s wedding, and we are also a family of readers) and they (and I) loved it. What a lovely scene.

  4. Welcome to the Wickeds, Jason! Jason has always accepted ARCs from me and has generously reviewed my books. I cannot say how much I appreciate it. Happy reading.

  5. Jason is wonderful, sharp, and insightful. I’m so lucky to have him as my colleague-in-crime here at Emerson!

  6. How fortunate you have Jason. Clearly, he is very good at what he does. I love that, as a kid, he read with his mom.

    I’m with Jason in that I have to see what is going on in the book for me to enjoy it. If I can’t visualize the story, the author has failed in my opinion.

    Thanks for posting this great interview.

  7. This is so cool! From time to time, I’ll read a friend’s work in progress. She’ll do the same for me, too. It’s a life-saver having the support of fellow authors.

  8. Hi Jason! I’ve seen your name pop up quite often in Wicked books, so it’s nice to find out a little more about you.

    I took an acting class in high school, and I thought at the time how skills from that would apply to writing, so it’s nice to see someone else saying the same thing.

    I have read one or two in progress books for people over the years, but I don’t do that very often. I just don’t have the time, and I definitely don’t have the time to do it on the deadlines author need them done.

    1. Hi Mark-so cool that my name rings a bell! and Julie is correct-I spend a lot (A LOT) of time waiting for the rain to show up and a lot of time on the train, so I get a lot of reading done. My husband and I also have reading nights at least once a week.

  9. I loved reading this post/interview with Jason today. I’m a little envious that he can read so many books in the course of a year. If I read that fast, maybe I’d actually make a dent in that corner of my room that is my to-be-read piles of books.

    I’ve read a couple of manuscripts for one author, one that is coming out this year if I remember correctly. I had some comments but nothing approaching “copious notes”. I also got offered another book by another author but at the time I was experiencing a book review crunch and had to pass on that one.

    Since I’m not reviewing for Mystery Scene anymore, my reviews are back to being on Goodreads only. Though I do cross-post them to Amazon and Barnes and Noble when I have the time. Plus posting them on my Facebook and Twitter profiles.

    Like Jason, I don’t pretend the reviews I do are anything more than just my opinion. But I do like to share them and help spread the word about books that I love.

    1. Hi Jay,
      That’s why I post my reviews too, to get the word out 🙂 I also do a top the books I’ve read every year for a snapshot.
      Jason
      PS: LOVE Mystery Scene

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