Greetings my faithful and rabid readers! I have on more than one occasion sang the praises of Jen Blood. I’m rather lucky to have been getting to know Jen and she’s promoting her new and damn wonderful novel Sins of the Father, the second of her Erin Solomon series. Instead of a straight forward interview (you ALL know I’m not straight) we are going to do a sweet game of round robin. I will ask a question, which Jen will answer, then she will ask me a question, and I’ll answer – so on and so forth. We are both going to try and have some fun, while letting you, the reader, learn about us as writers and as the crazy human beings we are!
Janet: With your 2nd novel out (whooohooo!) is there something you’d go back to in All The Blue-Eyed Angels and change, and why?
Jen: Holy cow, what a great question. Hmm. I went through so many revisions with Angels (it took about ten years to write that sucker) that I think by the time it finally went to print, it really was the book I wanted it to be. The layout for that first book was difficult because not only was I introducing all of these characters and their back stories, but I was also laying the groundwork for both the mystery central to that book (who set the fire that wiped out the Payson Church of Tomorrow) and the larger mystery (who was Erin’s father, and why was he with the Church in the first place) that will drive the first five books in the series. So, trying to keep things flowing and hold the reader’s interest while I was getting everything else in there turned out to be a real challenge. I don’t get a lot of complaints about the pacing, however, so I think I managed to strike that balance as well as I could have.
Because I have such a clear vision of the arc for these first five books, there’s not much room for error in terms of the placement of clues, how the characters’ relationships progress, and how much needs to happen (or not happen, for that matter) in each novel. So, I couldn’t change any of those things without compromising the whole infrastructure of the series. There WAS, however, one question I never addressed before winding up the All the Blue-Eyed Angels, that a couple of readers have asked me about. I obviously can’t say here what that question was without giving away all the secrets in Angels, but I will be addressing it in an upcoming short story I’ll be publishing in an anthology this October.
So… Overall, um, yeah. Not much I would change, it turns out! That’s gotta be a good thing, right?
Jen’s Question for Janet: Along the same lines… You’ve been writing on wattpad for a couple of years now. Looking back at your earliest pieces, are there things you would do differently? Any techniques or insights you have on writing now that you wish you’d had then?
Jan: Oh you’re so good! I’ve been on WP for 2 years on Aug 15th. I actually published some 1st draft stuff to sort of gauge what people we reading, sort of testing the waters with my little toe before I dipped my foot in. One was Dark Ridge (a vampire piece that ties in with my Kindred series (JADES and stars) the other a straight (pun intended) romantic fluff with characters that really are the younger versions in a way of Leigh Drake and Emily Black (my Girls Next Door novel characters).
So I posted a story after those two 1st drafts, J*A*D*E*S that I wrote, initially when I was 13, which was/is a lot like Angels and Sins of yours there are clues in book 1 that are answered in book 5, etc. I wrote and still do in sweeps and arches that leave you turning the page and swearing when it ends. I would change nothing, not really, since it’s gone through a gazillion revisions (I have J*A*D*E*S 1-7 written BEFORE I published them there). I just put JADES-1 on Kindle (for my fans, and for fun) that is edited, fixed, grammER-tized and with some fun stuff added (mainly the supernatural stuff and the tug and draw of Jo and Amy, had this couple seen the light of day 25+ years ago it would have been scandalous!). I think because I’ve been writing THAT for so long it’s about as good as it gets.
I think that s*t*a*r*s is technically a better story; my imagination is different as opposed to when I was 13 (I’m 38 now), but the cast is uber huge and that sometimes bogs me down, but if I kill anyone, my fans will hunt me down and I’ll have to hide in the woods with Erin’s father. Yet, Jo Wheaton (the character that everyone loves!) is still the same in s*t*a*r*s, she’s just grown, shifted, melded and is about as deep a character as I can write. I wish I’d been a better writer when I began JADES all those years ago, and since I have nightmares about editing, it’s a difficult task to do it, but my WP readers deserve the best, darn it. I am, at the moment, writing s*t*a*r*s (the final part!!!), a companion/stand-alone piece called Off The Grid, and editing my Thriller/Mystery novel The Girls Next Door. I am an insane woman!
Jan’s 2nd question for Jen: I ask this from personal experience a few summers ago. When I started writing I never did research, there was no internet, etc. How much does research figure into your writing and does it sometimes hinder or spark inspiration where your story goes?
Jens’ answer: Well, first off, I can’t wait to read your stuff. I’ve promised my mom I would edit her fanfic (yup, my mom writes fanfic) for her birthday this year, so I have a moral obligation to do that. But as soon as I’m done, I want to start reading your work!
Okay… Onto the question. Research is huge for me, as I think – particularly for the mystery genre – readers are more and more well informed about the subject matter (procedure, forensics, all that jazz). Nowadays, writers lose big points – and readers – if they don’t go that extra mile to make sure their story is as credible as possible. But, since I too started in those prehistoric days before the internet, I came up with a method so that all the research-y stuff wouldn’t interrupt my flow. Basically, when I’m just starting out of the gate with a novel, I make a list of the things I know right off the bat I’ll need to research, with pointed questions related to each subject. That usually includes things like geography, relevant investigative procedure, social history, forensics, etc. Then, for a category like geography, I’ll have a list of questions like: What significant landmarks do I want to use in the story; what route would my characters likely travel to get there; what’s the weather like during the time of year the story is set?
I set aside time to do that research, but that time is completely separate from my writerly time. When I’m writing, I don’t worry about the details. If there’s something I don’t know, I write in a question mark and highlight it so I’ll know to go back later and fill it in. That way, I don’t find myself stopping and starting sixteen million times before I get five pages written. So… In answer to your question: Research is huge, but I go to great lengths to ensure it doesn’t snuff out that all-important spark of inspiration.
Jen’s 2nd Question for Jan: I’m forever ranting about people who ask me if my character – Erin Solomon – is actually me, and I have to explain to them that fiction is, y’know, fictional. With that said, I will admit that there are certainly elements of Erin in me, and elements of me in Erin. With whom among your many characters do you identify the most, and why? Who do you most wish you were like/most admire?
Jan’s Answer: Eh merde, I get the “Are you Jo Wheaton?” question all the time, anyone who has ever met (or even chatted with) me and read J*A*D*E*S/s*t*a*r*s has asked me that and rolled their eyes when I say non. She’s short, like moi, she’s Acadian (sort of) like moi, she swear in French, like moi. I have to admit, Jo was created when I was 13 years old while I was visiting my best friend Jason in Florida and at that age, don’t we all want to be the hero, the perfect character. But she isn’t perfect, by any means, I’m rather sure she’s my most flawed character, which is why people gravitate to her, and why I’ve now written about, oh a gazillion words having to do with Jo and company.
Jo’s loyal, steadfast, smart, creative, a great lover ;), and she’s got fangs and is going to live a long, long time. What isn’t there to admire and want to be? I think each character we, as writers, create is a part of us, so that means there are elements of them that come from us. That’s what a good writer does, in my opinion, they take slivers of themselves, of reality, and mold those slivers into a whole, using elements of, not only themselves, but of people they know. Physically, if casting a movie, I’d be Jo (but a few pounds lighter and cuter, she’s got the metabolisms of a god, after all and Jesus H Christ is her granddaddy). The rest is wholly made up, oh and the fact that Jo is a raging bisexual, oh, see ANOTHER trait I share w/Special Agent Jo Wheaton, but she’s made-up I don’t bite my lover, unless they ask – nicely.
Jan’s 3rd Question for Jen: One of the biggest disappointments to me is when they cast TV shows/Movies and they aren’t even close to who I imaged in my head when I read the book, from look, to quirks, to age. (The Hunger Games NAILED Katniss for me because that actress was who I imagined the character to be from the first line of the book when it came out). Who is your dream “Cast” for your series; we all have images in our heads of our characters, so who are yours?
Jen: Oh, this is one of my all-time favorite questions – though it occasionally gets me in trouble with readers, who prefer to have their own vision of the characters. So, if you’re one of those readers, you may want to skip this.
I actually have a picture by my computer of the actors I have in mind for Diggs and Solomon. So far, Juarez has been hardest to cast… I can’t make up my mind, because he’s such a paradox. I imagine him as the kind of guy who just stops traffic, physically: tall, dark, mysterious… But then personality-wise here’s this guy who loves Top 40 music and is very rooted in that old ethos of honor and God and country. Compared with Diggs, Juarez is a very straightforward guy. I always think of Goran Visnjic when I’m writing him, because he has that wonderful combination of the dark, exotic looks, and this very open, sweet, earnest personality. Of course, Visnjic is eastern European, and Juarez is Cuban, so I don’t think that would actually work. So… Yeah. I don’t know. I welcome suggestions, though.
A couple of people have suggested Bradley Cooper for Diggs, but Simon Baker is actually my pick and has been for a long time. When I’m writing scenes, he’s the man I see saying the lines, walking the walk, talking the talk. Definitely Simon Baker. And whenever I say the actress I imagine for Erin, people are always like, ‘Really? Her?’ But… Yes. Really. Her: Amy Adams. I’m obviously not talking Enchanted Amy Adams (let’s face it, Erin has never been enchanted with, or about, much of anything), but she has awesome range and I loved her in The Fighter and Junebug and… Yeah. Amy Adams. That’s who I’m claiming – and I think she would be able to strike a balance between Erin’s hard edges and her inherent vulnerability. Not that I’ve given it much thought, you understand. J
Jen’s Question No. 3 for Jan: You can have a confab with any writer, living or dead – including TV and screenwriters, incidentally. Who do you choose, and what would you most want to ask?
Jan’s Answer: I love Amy Adams and I totally see her as stubborn Sol!
And Oh my god! Can I have 2? Non, just one – Joss Whedon (followed by JJ Abrams). I think Joss because he’s damn fearless in his writing and his work is timeless. He has these sweeping arches (what Dollhouse could have been in season 4 still keeps me up at night before I fall asleep), leaves and plants clues like a pro and has some of the best characters ever. He peppers his work with dead-pan humor, deep seriousness, and loves music. He’s also a fanboy (Avengers anyone? Truly) and owns it. I’d ask him how he approaches writing and creating and keeps such a human element even when most of his characters aren’t always oh so human.
Jan’s 4th Question for Jen: As you know I adore your 1st and 2nd novel, where did Erin/Diggs and Juarez evolve from?
Jen’s Answer: We’re so on the same page!! I love Joss – Definitely one of my all-time favorite writers out there, and what a dream to pick his brain!
And now, onto the question… The original All the Blue-Eyed Angels was vastly different than it is today. Diggs was actually Danny, and he was Erin’s psychologist (I knew – ewwww.) But then that relationship kept getting more and more inappropriate and I was like, “Okay, there’s no possible way we can keep him as a shrink with Erin his patient, because there are clearly some things happening here.” Oh, and incidentally? Danny was the bad guy. Juarez was Erin’s high school flame, so they had this whole complicated history thing happening… It was nuts. Very soap-y. OH – And Erin was a theologian, not a reporter. I put the novel away for a couple of years after grad school, and then went back to it and looked objectively at how best to chop all the fat off and turn it into the kind of novel I would want to read. So… Scrapped the theologian angle; scrapped the whole complicated history between Erin and Juarez; and turned Danny into Diggs, a rogue reporter and Erin’s mentor. Which meant much less of an ick factor when they started knocking boots.
Beyond that, I always reference the Ellis Paul (singer-songwriter from your neck of the woods, now making it big in the Big Apple) album Translucent Soul as my inspiration for Erin, and for setting the tone both for her character and for the novel as a whole.
Jen’s Question #4 for Jan: So, clearly you have experience writing short(ish) stories, poetry, and novels. What other writing mediums would you like to try your hand at? Which is your favorite thus far?
Jan’s Answer: Diggs a shrink? So not going there, non, reporter is way better!
I write shorts, badly, I think (Okay not so badly but I’m uncomfortable writing them). I’m much too long winded for a short to have enough meat and meaning to be good and remain in your memory long after it’s read. My poetry usually stems from what I’m writing and in JADES and stars I include them in my stories, and I like freeform and like to play with placement on the page and such.
I am a novelist, oh dear god I said it, is there a Novelist Anonymous I can go to? Why am I a novelist? Because my mind thinks in those long, epic, oh my god she planted a clue on page 3 and its coming back into play on page 323 or three novels later I connect X with Y and my readers call me the cliffhanger queen on Wattpad. 50,000 words is pretty easy for me, (On a typical day I tap out 2,000 words) 50K that’s the bones of a story, while 100K is total meat and potatoes. I wrote Bloodlines two summers ago in 4 weeks, it was 65K. This summer I’m tackling a Nephilim themed novel and I’ll hit 55K in a week or so, the novel will be done before I start school at about 70K. I write – a LOT!
I want to do screenplays and may well take a class after I’m done my Physical Therapy Assistant program. I have read many, many screenplays (I have a signed Alias script, the pilot epi that I cherish), I have an ex who works in that industry and she often sends me stuff, if only to make me drool. Many people, my writers group included, say I already write in “screenplay style” so I’d like to learn that medium, if only to expand on what I do now in novels. I think the pacing in a screenplay is more important than in a novel, a character can carry a novel even when the pacing is off, while in a screenplay the character only really comes to life once the actor grabs hold of it so to keep you glued with huey bluey to the script, it better be good.
Jen’s 5th and Final Question: We all know how some people can be negative and every writer gets that “bad” feedback. How did your writing evolve, change after you got back some feedback from All The Blue-Eyed Angels? How do you deal with those scathing reviews? How do you deal with the good reviews?
Jen’s Final Answer: I think grad school kind of inured me to negative feedback, actually. For the most part, everyone there was very positive, but there were invariably those few students (it was never faculty) who believed harsh criticism was the best criticism to give. Even then, however, I’ve always tried to maintain the perspective that it’s ultimately that kind of feedback that will be the most helpful for my writing. Not that I don’t love readers who sing my praises, because I soooo do (who wouldn’t?!), and in this day and age those positive reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble are worth their weight in gold. But ultimately, I don’t learn a whole lot about what I could be doing better from those reviews.
With Angels, the few negative reviews I did get were by and large from people unhappy with my ending, because they felt the mystery wasn’t resolved and now they were gonna have to hang out waiting for a sequel. While I didn’t let that feedback dictate how the next novel was written, I definitely took it into consideration and took care to tie up a lot of loose ends in Sins of the Father, and answer at least a few of the questions readers had about Erin’s dad – all the while ensuring that there was enough left open to keep people hungry for the next book in the series. I’m always in awe of writers who say they don’t read their reviews, and don’t care what people are saying about their work. I’m not someone answering some higher call to create a great piece of Art, answering to myself and my own muse alone. I love to write, want to tell a story people will keep coming back to, and I want to make a living doing it. To me, it would be foolhardy to ignore free feedback from my readers providing insight as to what I’m doing right and what I could be doing better, to achieve those goals. Ultimately, I think the challenge of any good writer is being clear enough on her own vision to recognize when her instincts are right and she needs to stick to her guns about the direction her story is taking, and when the readers really do have a point and it’s time to reassess and adjust either the writing or the story accordingly.
Jen’s 5th and Final Question for Jan: First off, how fun has this been? (That’s not the final question, incidentally). I’m totally using this technique for future interviews on my website, what a blast. Thanks so much for doing this, and for taking the time to come up with such stellar questions!
And now, my final question: I know you’ve been studying the writing craft in a collegiate setting for a while now with my fellow Stonecoast alum Jan Grieco, but you were clearly writing for many years before that. How has your writing changed since you’ve started studying in a more formal setting? Do you find there are some writing techniques or philosophies espoused by the more “literary” set that simply don’t apply to mainstream fiction?
Jan’s Final Answer (play jeopardy tune here): This has been TOTALLY fun! I told you, it’s more work but the back and forth feels like we’re sitting at a table somewhere talking.
Actually, I’m not studying writing at all (insert gasp here), I’ve just taken a few classes. I’m a Health Care major, Physical Therapy Assistant in fact, I’ve never wanted an English degree or anything . I’ve always written because that was my release valve on life. I stopped for ten years, right after high school in 1992 and didn’t write again until 2001. I was told it was silly and that it would never get me anywhere in life. Perhaps those people were correct, who is to tell. I have taken 3 different creative writing classes, one with Geraldine Becker (in Fort Kent) Melissa Crowe (at UMPI) and with Jan Greico (at NMCC). In my 1st class I really learned how to read beyond the enjoyment, at this time I had started to write again (It’s all my wife’s fault, my muse!) and I have this problem. See, I’m French, really French and I never had any formal teaching/learning in Grammar, ever. (I call it grammER, as in error). I’m also dyslexic. Reading is a big part of writing, but I’d always done that. Then I quit school for 5years due to a whole slew of things and that brought me too…. A Lit class, with Jen Graham, and for extra credit we wrote a short story. I then had a meeting with her and this was what was said: “On April 17th, Jan Grieco’s creative writing class is going to be reading in the library, and so are you.” The short story was called I Remember. I had never met Jan before, we met, shook hands and I read (hands shaking, feet thumping the floor so hard it sounded like the Indians were ready to attack). All the while I was reading, Jan’s face kept changing, the “Holy shit this is good!” face. Then…… I had to sign up for her CW class (In 2008). I still wanted to die, Jan (the other Jan that is, not me) is brilliant, as is Kasey, her daughter and I in no way could ever measure up to them.
Jan really taught me how to craft. My story is good, it’s never been bad, but word choices, how things are scripted out – there were things I did naturally that she told me writers struggle to do, and eased me into knowing when, how, where to do those brilliant little moves. Also voice, point of view, structure, how a story can arch and crest, ebb and swell. I knew nothing of this! Then she invited me to her just formed writers group. We critique (as you’ve seen), we talk about where we want things to go, why we wrote something a certain way. I’ve learned that writing in present tense for me is better, due to how my mind thinks (in French) and I’ve really adopted into that style well. My novel, The Girls Next Door (which is in your inbox, btw) was in past tense, and we kept stalling on it, trying to see why I just wasn’t getting it to work. Finally, after reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I got it. I needed to make it present tense (and after a discussion with an ex of mine, she pointed out The Hunger Games and it totally made sense to me). Do you have any clue how hard that is to change tense? Never do it, Jen! Don’t! Do! It! I think my writing is crisper, cleaner, more defined – while in the beginning it was good, but you had to work to see the goodness – now you see the good. I’ll never be a major author, I’ll never have a best seller, but I will always have people who read what I write and say “Damn, can I read that again?”
Now I think with self-pub mainstream has changed, I think that mainstream is in for a whooping surprise at how good some self-pub writers are. I think that a lot of the old set ways are going to the wayside because, face it, readers are smarter now and with technology comes change. You don’t always have to have this sort of structured act, but if you are going to break the rule, at least have the balls to do it well. One GREAT review is gold on Amazon, but 1 BAD goes the same way. Now, you don’t always have to have an agent and a publishing house, you can be all of that – with work. Nothing comes easy! The downside to self-pub is that ANYONE can do it, but with the reviews, you can weed your way through the good, the bad and the simply oh my god ugly.
This is has been total fun, I hope my readers go and pick up Jen’s books, All The Blue-Eyed Angels and Sins of the Father (which has, I was told, a nice thank you to MOI, which I didn’t see because I was to anxious to read the book! So I have to go read that later, quit laughing ppl!) Jen also has a wickedly wonderful blog. I hope Jen has as much fun as I did, and that my readers and fans take the time to explore a new writer.