First Sale Stories: Jeanne Stein, "The Becoming," "Blood Drive"
Jeanne: First of all, thank you Lynda for asking me to participate. It's an honor. I can't tell you how I appreciate the opportunity.
Lynda: You're very welcome. What's the name of your book?
Jeanne: The first is THE BECOMING, the second, BLOOD DRIVE.
Lynda: When was it published (or when will it be published)?
Jeanne: THE BECOMING was published in Dec 2004, BLOOD DRIVE was released just this week.
Lynda: Which publishing house?
Jeanne: ImaJinn Books, a small CO publisher. The series has been picked up by Berkley/Putnam.
Lynda: What's it about?
Jeanne: THE BECOMING introduces protagonist Anna Strong, a thirty year old bounty hunter who is attacked on a job and turned into a vampire. She awakens in the hospital to find she has become Vampire, and her destiny is no longer with the living, but among the undead. With her mentor, the vampire doctor who treated her in the hospital, she strives to make sense of it all. But then her home is burned to the ground, and her business partner and best friend is kidnapped. Anna suddenly finds herself alone on a quest to save more than her missing friend, but herself as well.
BLOOD DRIVE continues the series. She is a vampire caught between two worlds, clinging to what makes her human, her family, her job, her lover. But the pull of the undead is a siren song becoming impossible to resist. She discovers she has a niece, Trish, a child caught up in the worst kind of human nightmare. To save Trish, Anna may have to surrender to the animal side of her nature. Concepts of good and evil are no longer clearly defined as Anna must determine who are the real monsters—the humans who prey on children or the vampire who tries to save them.
Lynda: What was the inspiration for the book?
Jeanne: A love of the genre. Anne Rice, of course, Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris. The television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. In my opinion, these shows were the first to show vampires as something other than evil.
Lynda: Is it part of a series?
Jeanne: Yes. Berkley has purchased three books. I'm working on the third now.
Lynda: What do you like most about your main characters?
Jeanne: In my series, my protagonist, Anna Strong, is a vampire and a hero in the true classic sense. She gets involved in trouble, both human and otherwise, and has to save herself or someone else to make it come out right. There's a mystery involved and conflict because she does not want to abandon her human family. She did not choose to become a vampire, she wouldn't have believed they existed except in fiction before being bitten. Now, however, she knows better. Her life is a balancing act between her human family and the strange world of the undead. The one common element in both worlds remains the same: monsters. Whether mortal or immortal, the battle between good and evil is a constant. Sometimes the challenge is distinguishing one from the other.
Lynda: What's your favorite aspect of your book?
Jeanne: Blurring the line between reality and fiction. I'm trying to achieve what Ira Levin did in ROSEMARY'S BABY. He makes you believe in the possibility that a witch could be living next door because he shows you the characters doing everyday things. He grounds the fantasy in reality.
Lynda: How long have you been writing fiction?
Jeanne: A LONG time.
Lynda: Is this your first paranormal manuscript?
Jeanne: Yes, actually. I should have started with paranormal. It's the most fun to write.
Lynda: Is paranormal your main focus?
Lynda: What attracts you about vampires (or whatever persuasion your paranormal characters might be)?
Jeanne: The idea of immortality and what the concepts of good and evil really mean.
Lynda: How long did it take to sell your book, from the time you finished your manuscript?
Jeanne: Not too long to the ImaJinn publisher. I pitched her at a local RWA meeting and she asked me to send her the manuscript. She contacted me not long after and offered me a contract so I'd say maybe three or four months max.
Lynda: Did you have an agent when you sold your book?
Jeanne: Not to ImaJinn. I subsequently obtained an agent and he made the sale to Berkley in about two weeks. It was fast!
Lynda: Do you recommend that a pre-published writer focus on finding an agent first, or do you think it's OK to submit directly to the publisher?
Jeanne: That's a hard question to answer because I tried for several years to get an agent on my own. It wasn't until I was actually published that I caught the attention of an agent. So I guess I'd say approach both publishers and agents. You have nothing to lose.
Lynda: Thinking about the notion of "It's always darkest before the dawn," what was the lowest point in the process for you? Was there a time you almost gave up?
Jeanne: That's an excellent question. And the answer is yes. In fact, I stopped writing for almost a year at one point. This was maybe five years ago. I had gotten an agent--a "big" name who represented a straight mystery I had written. I was so excited. But I was a very small fish in his large pond and when the manuscript didn't sell after he'd sent it to three editors, I got a "Dear Jane" letter from him! He couched it in what I'm sure he felt were sympathetic tones--he just didn't have the time to devout to such a talented newcomer, etc etc. But the result was the same. I was devastated. In f act, if it wasn't for the support (and nagging) of my critique partners, I probably wouldn't have written another word. They kept after me and it was then I started the vampire series. That's why (and here's another hint to newbies in the writing field) I can't emphasize enough the importance of a good support group. My critique partners and I have been together about six or seven years and in the last year, we've all either been published, (Jeff Shelby, Mario Acevedo and me), or soon to be published, (Sandy Meckstroth) or established in the teaching field (Margie Lawson) while completing her first novel with her husband (Tom Lawson). I owe them a lot.
Lynda: You don't have to mention numbers, but did you get a nice advance?
Jeanne: Not with the small publisher. But then again, if she hadn't taken a chance on me, I wouldn't have gotten the Berkley contract. That advance is larger, but still not as large as I hope some day to command!
Lynda: What was the process of revisions/rewrites like?
Jeanne: Not many revisions with ImaJinn. Now the editor at Berkley says she has some changes in mind. I have a feeling in editor-speak, that means some major rewrites. But she is the expert, and I'm glad to have the help.
Lynda: Did your agent suggest changes?
Jeanne: No. Actually, the agent sold the first two books just as they were.
Lynda: What was it like, working with the editor at your publishing house?
Jeanne: I've had good experiences so far. And the way I see it, they are the experts.
Lynda: Do you have any words of wisdom for us about revisions/rewriting, etc.?
Jeanne: Take them in the manner in which they are offered--to make a good book better. Now, I don't know how I'd feel if someone wanted to completely change my characters or plot! It just hasn't happened yet.
Lynda: Were there any surprises for you about the contract you signed?
Jeanne: Just how long it can take to actually get the contract from the time you agree to terms. Three or four months is not unusual.
Lynda: Do you get a lot of help with marketing your book, or do you have to do most of it yourself?
Jeanne: From ImaJinn, I've pretty much done it all. Berkley has a big marketing department and I look forward to letting them arrange publicity, etc. I do know, though, that it is up to the author to contribute time, money and effort on their own behalf as well.
Lynda: Did you have input about your cover?
Jeanne: Not too much. But I haven't heard that any author really has much input on covers. That's the purview of the marketing dept.
Lynda: Have you done any events or book signings? If so, what was that like?
Jeanne: Yes, and it's great fun!!! My first signing was in San Diego at Mysterious Galaxy. Since I grew up in San Diego, people came who I hadn't seen since high school and college! Former co-workers, friends, family and critique group members were there. A friend of mine recorded the whole thing on tape and it's still fun to watch.
Lynda: If you could go back and do something differently, what would that be?
Jeanne: Hard to say. My first impulse is to say "get published sooner". But I think I did everything I could possibly do to make it happen. And I'm a fatalist. I believe things happen for a reason and in their own time, as frustrating as that can sometimes be.
Lynda: What would you do exactly the same way?
Jeanne: Write the books I want to write.
Lynda: What's your next manuscript about?
Jeanne: It's the third in the Anna Strong series. This one will find Anna making tough decisions about her human involvements. And on a wild ride into the world of witches.
Lynda: What's the one book you absolutely must write?
Jeanne: Like most writers, I'd love to write something that resonates with a larger audience--a straight mystery or thriller. But for now, I'm enjoying getting to know Anna. I like her as a character and believe she has a few more adventures to share with me.
Lynda: What advice are you willing to give to all the pre-published writers out there?
Jeanne: Persist. Learn the craft, write the best book you can, keep knocking on those doors until your knuckles bleed. But never, never give up. By the way, I met my group (as well as our host, Lynda) at a conference hosted by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This is an organization well worth joining, especially if you live in the Denver area. Besides a monthly newsletter, RMFW offers classes and programs designed for the fiction writer. You can check them out at RMFW.org for more information.
You can contact Jeanne at: www.jeannestein.com