Q: Jenny...what made you become a writer?
A: I’m an Air Force brat which meant moving at least every four years. It was tough growing up, constantly trying to make new friends. I didn’t always have someone to talk to and things only got worse in high school when my best friend took his own life because of bullying. After that life-altering moment in my sophomore year, I began dumping all my feelings, thoughts and frustrations onto paper. It started as poetry mostly, which I’ve always described as an overflow of emotions too intense to be contained. Short stories began to slowly develop and then I wrote my first novel at age 22, 436 handwritten pages set in the world of Vampire LARP [live action role-playing]. Due to copyright complications, it was never published, but it inspired me to create my own world instead of just writing White Wolf fan fiction. Twelve years later, Blood Lily emerged. In a way, I feel that writing chose me, picking me up during the dark times in my life to turn tragedy into something powerfully beautiful.
Q: What is your typical writing day like?
A: I’m currently a full time student in RN clinicals, so writing is usually constrained to winter and summer breaks. Once my son is asleep, I turn off the TV, the music, and take my laptop into the dining room. I find that sitting at a table puts me in the right mode to do some serious writing. Then the personalities come out and my fingers fly across the keys and I don’t stop until I start falling asleep at the keyboard or I get to a point where the well runs dry. If inspiration doesn’t immediately strike, I quickly read back over the previous chapter to get back in the groove.
Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?
A: I do outline large plot ideas and timelines. I actually keep a little database of characters, research, timelines, and locations, anything I may need to revisit in later books. Beyond that, I may write out a quick chapter outline if inspiration strikes and I can’t sit down and actually write it out. However, when I’m sitting in front of my laptop, the outline doesn’t necessarily matter. Most of my best ideas come to me as I’m writing, just popping into brain connecting dots I didn’t know I even had. It’s like organized chaos in my brain.
Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?
A: I have to limit myself. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and if left to my own devices I would do edits and revisions until the end of time. I utilize beta readers (what I refer to as test bunnies) to help guide my revisions and keep me from going overboard on edits. Still, I will typically edit the first half of the book at least a dozen times, the last half only two or three times.
Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?
A: Read it out loud. Your mind already knows what you wanted to write and when you’re speed reading through edits, your mind will fill in blanks and change words without you realizing there was a typo. So take your time. Always be vigilant for repeating words and use [an online thesaurus] to vary your vocabulary, but be sure the words fit the tone of your writing style. Don’t throw in long, sophisticated words into a casual conversation. It hurts the suspension of disbelief.
Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?
A: Research, hands down. I've learned to map out the locations in my book, research history for intriguing stories that I can utilize with my own tweaks. When I'm writing, I always leave Google open for quick searches, but I do a lot of digging up front, before I really start writing. A great tool for writing about a house or a hotel is to look it up online, take an online tour or use the photographs. This allows you to pull the important details into your writing that truly make it spring to life. Also, it's important to engage all the senses of the reader. Too many times I've seen descriptions based only on sight or maybe sound. Smell is often neglected, but it is the most powerful sense for retrieving memories. Use it.
Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?
A: I believe every writer does, especially a new writer. I have three methods of overcoming it and they have yet to fail me. The first thing I do when the well really runs dry and I have no idea how to get back into it or where I want the story to go, is to go back to the beginning of the project. I will read and edit all the way up to the point I’m stuck at and by then inspiration typically strikes. If I still struggling and I haven’t nailed down a cover for the book yet, I get with my awesome cover artist, Chris Howard. Sometimes the final book cover will inspire a whole rush of things or give me the push I need. If neither helps, it’s typically not an inspiration problem, but a confidence problem. At that point I send what I have to my beta readers (test bunnies) and their suggestions and/or praise will drag me out of my self-defeating funk and get me back on track.
Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?
A: I have always been fascinated by the supernatural, forensics, and mysteries. I love new takes on old traditions and that is very much embodied in my books. There is something thrilling about taking the normal world and turning it on its ear in a very believable and plausible way. I wanted to take vampires and strip them of almost all their supernatural qualities. I wanted the reader to completely forget the characters weren’t human, at least for a while.
Q: Do you utilize beta readers?
A: Absolutely! I have a few of them for different reasons. Emily Kirk is my voice of reason. She’s brutally honest with me and will tell me when something is cliché or doesn’t fit the story/character. Robin Sullivan and Amanda Clark are my cheerleaders. They may be light on the constructive criticism, but we all need enthusiasm and support. May Sage is my newest test bunny and a fellow author. Like Emily, she provides the honest opinions that I need to make things even better. I feel that beta readers are absolutely crucial because we, as authors, know our story and it’s hard for us to picture the mind of reader who doesn’t. Maybe your foreshadowing is too subtle and the punch comes completely out of the blue. Maybe your character’s behavior is too erratic for what the reader knows about them. Perception is absolutely everything.
Q: In your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed writing—and why?
A: In Rose of Jericho, the second novel in my series, there is a scene near the end of the book where I really get to explore typing a heavy accent. It was frustrating and complicated to do to get the right aesthetic while still making it readable. However, it was completely worth it. It was also a lot of fun to really flesh out that character and lead to the big twist reveal. Writing that chapter I had goosebumps most of the time. It was really difficult to pick a favorite though, because every single scene has lines or dialog that I absolutely love.
Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?
A: Heroines can be tough to write well. In a lot of novels they come off as weak and whiney or badass and closed off. I just wanted one that was real. She is based a lot on my own personality with some of my own quirks, but more than that I wanted to show her journey. There are times when she is stubborn and naïve, there are times when she freezes completely and then there are times when she really shines in her element. As the books progress you start to see a change. She learns to compromise, learns to fight for what she believes in, learns those hard lessons of loss and grief. You see her evolve and the other sub-characters are the same way. It’s important to me, to build that connection with readers, to reflect the same soul-searching journeys we all go through even if we aren’t typically surrounded by a sea of deadly chaos.
Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?
A: Do not count on your friends to be as passionate about your work as you are. I have a handful of truly wonderful and amazing friends that pimp my books at every single opportunity and are so thoroughly supportive that I’m not sure I could have done any of this without them. Still, if you have a thousand Facebook friends, maybe ten of them will buy your book and 5 of them may write you a review. I know this sounds harsh, but if you want real movement, you have to pound social media’s metaphorical streets and put yourself out there.
Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?
A: It depends on the type of review. While a one star rating with no accompanying review is extremely hard not to take personally, constructive criticism is crucial. I want honesty that I can use to improve my craft, but I also know that people don’t always supply that honesty in a pretty package. I always try to take a step back and see what they are really trying to say and recognize that I am not a completely innocent victim. I do poke fun at some pop culture phenomenons, like Twilight, because it makes sense for my characters, but it does open me up for rejection and attacks. Just know what you are willing to compromise and what you are not. Stay true to your overall vision, but try and see things from the reader’s point of view.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: I’m sure most indie authors will have the same answer. Freedom. I have a fairly hectic life at the moment, and if I was under the gun of a looming deadline, I know my stories would suffer.
Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: Feeling lost in the masses. Even if you have the best novel ever written, if you can’t scream over the crowd, no one will hear you. It’s a frustrating nightmare of merchandising and promotion that sometimes makes me feel like some sleazy used car salesman. I constantly have to manage my own expectations, pop my own balloon before the slow sales do it for me. I just keep at it and eventually, hopefully, even if it’s decades later, it will take off. For now I just relish in the simple fact that I did it, I published two novels and strangers with no motivation to lie have read them and loved them. That alone is an amazing thing that will forever make me feel like a success.
Q: What is your current writing project?
A: Currently I am plotting out notes for the third installment in my series, Ghost Orchid. It’s in the very early stages and I’m not projecting a publish date until possibly Fall of 2017. With RN clinicals I don’t get any chance to write except during winter and summer breaks so progress is slow and my books are traditionally lengthy.
Q: What are three of your favorite novels?
A: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, and Obsidian Butterfly by Laurell Hamilton. Each one of those made a big impact on my life at some point and influenced my writing style.
Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would you talk to them about?
A: Piers Anthony. This was the first author I ever read and his many books were so imaginative and varied. From light-hearted pun-filled books to dark twisted thrillers. With his Xanth series, I imagine having lunch with him would be a hilarious, side-splitting good time.
Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?
A: You hear it a million times over. Write what you know. This is so incredibly true. Too many people try to write whatever genre is topping the charts at the time, grabbing onto the coattails of success for a glimpse at greatness. Don’t. If what you know happens to be the current trend, then fantastic, but don’t force it. The reader can tell. Just like a singer who is technically perfect but doesn’t connect to the message in the song emotionally, the book will ring hollow. Be passionate, be brave, be bold and most importantly, be you.
Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?
A: This may not have much to do with writing, but it is the one quote that has always stuck with me and guided much of my life. “There are too many mediocre things in life and love should never be one of them.”- Dream for an Insomniac