Professor debuts teen novel based in Waco

PUBLISHED Dr. Maura Jortner’s first novel is a teen thriller based in Waco. It explores the story of a girl searching for her missing sister and the adventures she comes upon along the way.

When some people think of student life groups, they think of big, rowdy events and evenings full of worship and games and laughter. However, in Dr. Maura Jortner’s new novel, “The Life Group,” suspense, mystery and a missing sister fill the pages instead.

This is Jortner’s first published novel, which debuted on Monday and has since received an overall rating of 4.8 stars on Goodreads. Jortner has been a member of the English department at Baylor since 2008 and set her YA crime thriller in Waco at a college entitled “Brazos University.”

What is your novel about?

There’s a high school student named Rachel who is looking for her sister, Leah. Her sister has been missing for 13 days. She’s kind of going crazy, and her parents at home are really losing it … They don’t know what to do or how to find her sister. Rachel is pretty sure that there’s some kind of clue to find at this local church, the place where Leah was last seen. She goes to the church and meets this really respectable guy that she’s seen around town through the pastor. He offers to help her look for her sister, and they go together and look all around town. It’s set here in Waco, so local readers will recognize “Common Grounds” and “Manny’s on the River.”

What inspired you to write “The Life Group”?

There were two events that really inspired this book. One of my students in class mentioned being a part of a life group … Just in class, in conversation. It was a totally innocuous comment, and it was very innocent. He hadn’t done his homework because his life group had needed him, and I thought, “That’s really kind of strange that this group of people could alter his life.” Another thing that happened, which was a little bit darker, I had a colleague of mine in the past that went missing. She kind of just vanished, and she was gone less than a week, but it really affected me. It was a scary event that turned out ok, but those two events came together and inspired me to write “The Life Group.”

When did you begin writing your novel?

I believe I began work on it 2015, but it has been a couple of years. I wrote the first draft pretty quickly … Once the story was in my head, I kind of just sat down and wrote it, in between grading papers and whatnot. I wrote it within the three weeks that are featured within the novel… But then after that, with all writing, there’s a whole bunch of revisions, so it’s a long process.

What made you choose Waco as the setting?

I mean why not? It’s the perfect place for this novel because it’s a college town, and it’s got a very religious feel here. This novel could happen here.

Are you planning any sequels to the novel, or a series of books?

It’s not really set up for a series… It’s really just a stand-alone book. I do have other books that literary agents are reading, and I’m hoping that something might come from those.

What advice would you have for students who wish to write or publish a novel?

This is going to sound odd… But the first piece of advice I have is to get on Twitter. There’s a huge writing community on Twitter… I met all of my critique partners through Twitter, and I now have friends across the U.S. and across different countries. The other thing I would say is that you just have to keep at it. This was the fourth novel that I wrote, and every novel I write, my craft is getting better. I would just say to find some great critique partners and keep at it… And they can always come see me too. I would love to mentor ambitious young writers.

wrote it, in between grading papers and whatnot. I wrote it within the three weeks that are featured within the novel … But then after that, with all writing, there’s a whole bunch of revisions, so it’s a long process.

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: justify; font: 9.0px ‘Minion Pro’}

What made you choose Waco as the setting?

I mean why not? It’s the perfect place for this novel because it’s a college town, and it’s got a very religious feel here. This novel could happen here.

Are you planning any sequels to the novel, or a series of books?

It’s not really set up for a series … It’s really just a stand-alone book. I do have other books that literary agents are reading, and I’m hoping that something might come from those.

What advice would you have for students who wish to write or publish a novel?

This is going to sound odd … But the first piece of advice I have is to get on Twitter. There’s a huge writing community on Twitter … I met all of my critique partners through Twitter, and I now have friends across the U.S. and across different countries. The other thing I would say is that you just have to keep at it. This was the fourth novel that I wrote, and every novel I write, my craft is getting better. I would just say to find some great critique partners and keep at it … And they can always come see me too. I would love to mentor ambitious young writers.

SHARE