WG: Welcome Jennifer. Thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.
JA: Let’s see. I grew up in the military, so I lived everywhere, then I married into the military so I lived everywhere again. Good thing I love to travel! I lived for years in Japan and Germany, which I think did good things for me. I went to college for too long and finally emerged with a master’s degree in literature. That led me to a job as an editor at a non-fiction publisher, which I eventually quit to write full time. Pets—one cranky cat who is getting very old. Hobbies: building dollhouses and playing flute and guitar.
WG: Let’s talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.
JA: I can’t really think of a catalyst, because I’ve wanted to write for soooo long. I just started in when I was little and never stopped. I always had the dream of walking into a library or a bookstore and seeing my books on the shelves, and never stopped believing it would happen.
WG: Tell us about your journey.
JA: I really started twice. In 1994 I sold a short story to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, the very first thing I ever submitted, which made me think getting published was easy (ha ha). I couldn’t sell anything for two years after that, though I kept on writing and submitting. That was a hard lesson to learn!
Then I got sick. I had to have surgery and while recovering, writing took a back seat. I read a lot but mostly what I did was go to work, come home, and sleep. Planting flowers on my back porch was about as energetic as it got.
In 1999, I took a very inexpensive seminar at my local Y by a woman who’d written The How to Sell Your Novel Toolkit. She had terrific ideas on how to get out there and get sold, plus she made me believe I could do it! So I went back home, dusted off my keyboard, and started writing again. That was spring 1999, and in February 2002, I got The Call.
During those three years I wrote a lot, submitted to contests and won several, finaled in RWA’s Golden Heart and had many nibbles, but no real bites.
I submitted Perils of the Heart to Dorchester when they were doing their “New Historical Voice” contest in 2001. I didn’t final in the contest, but they liked the ms. and kept it for consideration. In 2002 they bought it.
That particular ms. had been in no contests, nor had I submitted it anywhere else. It was picked up on it’s first time out, which stunned me, but of course made me very happy! But I doubt it would have sold if I hadn’t learned my craft on those mss. I wrote before it.
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
JA: I think I completed about seven romances before I sold Perils of the Heart. At the same time I sold Perils, Berkley bought a mystery series from me, but with that, it was the first mystery novel I ever wrote (The Hanover Square Affair).
Those first seven romances? In the drawer! And there they stay. One or two ideas are good and could be used, but mostly those were learning books. I might be able to sell them now, but they aren’t very strong and would need extensive rewriting. Everything I’ve written and sold since the first sale has been fresh.
WG: What changed most about your life as a direct result of joining the ranks of published authors?
JA: I work a lot! Wow, do I ever. When I had a day job I drove to work, did the job, drove home, and left work behind. But as a writer, you work by the project, not by the day. When you have a deadline you write any time you find a moment, be it the middle of the night, the middle of your weekend, whenever. I try to keep to a schedule, but sometimes it goes out the window.
On occasion I’ve dropped everything and written proposals over one or two days just because an opportunity opened up. I’ve had to give up vacations and parties and other things because I had a deadline.
One interesting aspect of becoming a published author is that my colleagues are now worldwide. At my day job, I interacted with people from all over the city--now I interact with people from all over the world. I’ve become very good friends with Bonnie Vanak who lives in Florida while I live in Arizona. I have “met” an Australian author I really like, newcomer Denise Rossetti. I correspond with author Sandra Schwab, who lives in Germany. I collaborated with Joy Nash and Robin Popp for the Immortals series without any of us being in the same state. A lot of my readers are in Europe and Australia and Scotland as well. It’s really fun, and since I love world travel, I enjoy communicating with people from all over the planet.
WG: What about your writing process: Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
JA: I do try to maintain a schedule. My husband and I go to breakfast together at a coffee house/bakery near our house. He leaves from there for work and I stay for a couple hours and write. I return home, check my email and do whatever I need that’s non-writing, then I go back to writing off and on until my husband comes home. I like to take evenings and weekends off, though when I’m on deadline, I often write 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week.
WG: Do you have a ‘mood setter’, something you use to get you going when you sit down to write?
JA: When I write at home, I love to sit in the bay window overlooking my back yard, where all kinds of migrating birds stop by. I have binoculars and a bird book next to my computer so I can do a little casual bird watching if I see something interesting. I’m amazed at how many species turn up in my small suburban back yard. They must have put the word out or something.
For music, I love guitarists and guitar music—anything from classical to the blues of SRV and Eric Johnson. I use music to energize me. I don’t always write to music, though. I find myself so immersed in my story world that I tune out everything around me.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?
JA: I dive!! I can usually write the first 50 pages just from an idea burning in my head. After that I do stop and think about where I’m going and where I want to end up, but I do most of my brainstorming lying on my bed with my eyes closed (I have a tough life). I will jot notes to myself, for example (“next they go to the soiree and talk to XXX”), but that’s about as much plotting as I do. My editors, unfortunately, ask me for a synopsis so they can work on the cover and marketing copy, but usually by then I’m halfway through the book and have a good idea where I’m going. Synopses writing has never gotten easier for me. I still hate it<g>.
WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?
JA: I usually start by thinking of characters in a tense situation, then I let them go and see what they’ll do. I rarely have an entire storyline worked out in advance—even in my mystery novels I never knew who “did it” until close to the end. I enjoy seeing a plot unfold before my eyes.
WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?
JA: I do find that I love writing the out-of-the ordinary alpha male. So far I’ve done pirates (real pirates, not gentlemen in disguise), men from a fairy-tale kingdom, heroes who are dragon-shapeshifters, male sex slaves, and Immortal demigod warriors. Even my hero of the mystery series (Captain Lacey) is a tortured alpha male trying to find happiness. I have written a couple of “normal” men as heroes, but very few, and usually only in shorter works.
WG: Has anything about the way you work changed since you became a published author?
JA: I’d like to think that my writing improves every book. I strive to improve it every book, anyway. Each book challenges me to come up with something new, a fresh twist on what I’ve done before, or something totally new, without completely losing my readers. I feel like I remake myself every year, but with the market changing as rapidly as it does, that’s probably a good thing.
WG: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?
JA: I think I covered it.
WG: Other questions: Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?
JA: I love historicals. It’s not as “hip” to like historicals right now, but I love them and always have, and I will always write them. I love writing paranormals, and I absolutely love marrying historicals with paranormals. There won’t always be a market for the blend, but I will always write stories set in the past. I have two more historicals coming up in the next 12 months, and just signed a contract to do more.
WG: Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?
JA: I haven’t done romantic suspense. So far I’ve tried paranormal, historical, contemporary comedy, futuristic, erotic, vampire, mainstream historical, and mainstream mystery. I would like to marry suspense and romance one day, or do a mainstream suspense/thriller. And I’d absolutely love to write a police procedural. I have no idea if those are marketable right now, but I’d love to do one—a gritty, character-driven police drama.
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?
JA: I usually tell writers working toward publication the following:
- Every single person has the potential to succeed as a published author. You need dedication and persistence, and you need good, objective research of the market. You must not let your ego get in the way of figuring out what readers are dying to read. Likewise, you can’t let market research take away your creativity and the thing that makes your works unique. Once you can marry what the market wants with your unique voice and style, you got it!
- Keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, keep trying . . .
WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of ‘conventional wisdom’ that you wish you had ignored?
JA: I wish I had ignored all the people who told me I couldn’t make my historicals so hot! “They” told me to tone it down, when I, in retrospect, I should have been heating it up. Likewise, I wish I had ignored those in 1999 who said, “vampires don’t sell.” I could probably have had a kick-butt career in hot vampire romance if I had ignored them.
WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What do you struggle the most with?
JA: I love to create worlds and characters that didn’t exist before. I love immersing myself in the world and getting to know the characters, who become my friends, and watching the story unfold.
I do struggle with frustration when I think a book should have done better or gotten more attention, fear that my writing will deteriorate or people will be tired of my work and refuse to buy anything new. I also struggle with health—I threw out my back last year and it’s never completely healed, plus I’ve developed tendonitis, which makes writing a challenge!
So, there is good and bad—writing is such a bipolar profession. For every fantastic thing that happens to us, a bad or frustrating thing happens as well.
WG: When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?
JA: One of my favorite things is building dollhouse miniatures. I subscribe to magazines, I go to shows, I take classes, I build way too many things. I’ll need a larger house soon for all my small houses<g>. You can see some of the things I’ve done at http://www.jennifersromances.com/Miniatures/miniatures.php I do this entirely for therapy and to display the beautiful things. I don’t sell my work (at least not at this point—I might have to when I run out of space!)
I also love to read of course! I love romance, mystery, scifi-fantasy, historical novels, and many, many more.
I also play music—guitar and flute, which is very therapeutic. When I’m trying to master an A minor arpeggio on my electric guitar, I so focus on it that it clears my brain.
WG: I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.
JA: The only quote that springs to mind is something I read from Nora Roberts that appeared in a Writer’s Digest magazine a long time ago. She said that all writers need the three D’s: Drive, Desire, and Discipline to succeed. I think she has something there. I’ve always remembered that quote and pass it on whenever I give workshops or lectures on writing.
WG: Please tell us about your current project.
JA: The main project this year is the Immortals--a contemporary paranormal “continuity” series published by Dorchester. I came up with the concept and wrote books 1 and 4. Robin Popp and Joy Nash signed to write books 2 and 3 respectively.
The Immortals are four warriors: Adrian, Darius, Kalen, Hunter, and the fifth brother, Tain. They have lived since the dawn of civilization, each created to help humans stave off the forces of Death Magic (vampires, demons, and the like). They are (of course) tall and sexy with bad-boy attitudes. They might have been created to save the world, but they’re going to enjoy the heck out of existence while they’re at it.
At the beginning of The Calling, Adrian, the oldest Immortal, is searching for his missing brother, Tain. He helps Amber Silverthorne, a witch, try to find out what happened to her murdered sister, which overlaps into his own quest. Together they discover that a demon, an Old One, is trying to destroy all Life Magic, and they soon realize that they can’t fight without all the Immortals together. The problem is, the Calling spell to summon the Immortals has been lost, and they have to race against time to find it.
It was fun to brainstorm the series details with Joy and Robin. I didn’t want to be too rigid in my world building, because I fully believe that a team of writers can produce wonderful, strong ideas better than following one person’s set of unbending rules. If you notice, the best TV shows out there have a team of terrific writers feeding off each other. Robin and Joy are both very creative people and thought of things that never would have occurred to me.
We put it all together and came out with a fun series. The books tell one story, so they should be read in order (although books 2 and 3 happen simultaneously). There is a definite beginning, middle, and end.
All the books are out in 2007: The Calling by Jennifer Ashley (May 2007), The Darkening by Robin Popp (June), The Awakening by Joy Nash (August), and The Gathering by Jennifer Ashley (Sept.)
WG: Sounds terrific! Can you tell us any plans you might have for future books?
JA: I have many things coming up (last year I wrote a lot!). The Immortals series (May and September) as Jennifer Ashley.
As Allyson James, I have a Dragon series at Berkley Sensation, which starts in July: Dragon Heat (July) and The Black Dragon (November 2007).
I also have a historical novel set in the court of young Elizabeth I (before she became queen), called The Queen’s Handmaiden. That will be out in October 2007 by Berkley Trade, written as Jennifer Ashley.
At Ellora’s Cave, Allyson James will continue the Shareem series and have a book in their new Tarot series.
In April 2008, the third book of the historical/fantasy Nvengaria series (Egan McDonald’s story) will be out from Dorchester (I’m writing that one right now.)
Plus I’ve signed a contract with Dorchester to do another Immortals book and more historicals after that.
WG: And before we close, tell us how your fans can get in touch with you.JA: My main website: www.jennifersromances.com lists all my upcoming books under all names, with links to my other names. www.allysonjames.com focuses on my erotic romance and Dragon books. You can contact me via email links on either of these sites.
Thanks for the interview, Winnie!