Welcome to Paranormality! Thanks so much for letting me interview you, Jennifer!
Lynda: What is the name of your first paranormal book?
Jennifer: My first book is called Once Bitten, Twice Shy.
Lynda: When was it published?
Jennifer: It hit bookstores and Internet outlets in early October 2007. Here's a cool aside -- I just learned it's going to be translated into French and Hungarian. I've been trying to imagine my protagonists with French accents. So far it just makes me giggle.
Lynda: Which publishing house?
Jennifer: I'm published by Orbit, which is a brand new imprint of Hachette Books USA.
Lynda: What's it about?
Jennifer: Once Bitten, Twice Shy is about two CIA assassins who are great at their jobs and lousy at their personal lives. Jaz Parks and her boss, the vampire Vayl, have never failed in a mission. And while the tragedies in their pasts haven’t broken them, they have had a somewhat crippling effect. Fortunately their partnership is more than professional, and together they may just find a way to be whole again.
Lynda: What was the inspiration for the book?
Jennifer: Several ideas came together at the same time to inspire the story. I wanted to explore a character who’d survived the death of not one, but multiple dear ones in a single blow. I wanted to talk about how we let the past control us so overwhelmingly, and the torture we sometimes go through to free ourselves from it. I thought it would be fun, and even cathartic, for people made tense by headlines full of terrorism to read about two ass-kicking American operatives whose job it is to knock those kinds of threats to their knees. And I wanted to insert some humor into the whole exercise, because I was tired of reading dark, depressing stories where nobody ever laughed.
Lynda: Is it part of a series?
Jennifer: It sure is. In fact, my publisher thought it would be best to release the first three books in quick succession. Which is why Once Bitten was followed by Another Once Bites the Dust in December 2007. And Biting the Bullet just came out early in February. The fourth book in the series, Bitten to Death, is scheduled to release August 12, 2008. And I’m presently writing the fifth, One More Bite, which will come out next spring. (Pause for breath.) Wow. Just reviewing it makes me tired. The upside? My next vacation is going to be absolutely stellar
Lynda: What do you like most about your paranormal characters?
Jennifer: I like Jaz’s voice. She’s sassy, cynical, prone to violence. And yet there’s a vulnerability and humor about her that emphasize her humanity despite her growing paranormal abilities. What appeals to me most about Vayl is his aura of mystery. Even to me he remains somewhat of a shadowy character. Very hard to pin down, yet fascinating as a result.
Lynda: What’s your favorite aspect of the book?
Jennifer: What I enjoy most about Once Bitten is the pacing. It’s a very quick read, because the story is designed to pull you from page to page to the point where you don’t want to put the book down. Many readers have told me they do it in one sitting. So, for their sakes, I’m kinda glad it wasn’t longer!
Lynda: How long have you been writing fiction?
Jennifer: Should we get technical? I mean, really, since I was twelve. But I’ve been doing novels since I was about twenty-five. The first three were crap. However I think they needed to be written just so I could gain the experience I needed and finally find my voice.
Lynda: Is this your first paranormal manuscript?
Jennifer: My first two novels were straight fantasy. My third was much more in this vein, what my publisher calls urban fantasy. And everything I’ve done since has contained paranormal elements. What can I say? I like a little freaky in my literature!
Lynda: Is paranormal your main focus?
Jennifer: I wouldn’t call it a focus so much as a joy. You write what you love, and this is it right now. I’m living a regular life, right? Why would I want to write about regular stuff? That would bore me. And I figure when I’m bored, so is the reader.
Lynda: What attracts you about the paranormal characters/situations you write about?
Jennifer: I like how they solve problems. They don’t call the plumber, or the cops. They whip out the mojo. Too cool!
Lynda: How long did it take to sell your book, from the time you finished your manuscript?
Jennifer: It took me about a month to write a really kickass cover letter/synopsis combo. Then another fourteen to find an interested agent. Once she began trying to sell the book it only took her about four months to place it, which she informed me was a very quick turnaround. Since then everything related to the book has been fast compared to most, so I still don’t have a good feel for how the timing usually works. But that’s okay. I’m just grateful to be published!
Lynda: Did you have an agent when you sold your first book?
Jennifer: Yes. I felt if I couldn’t convince an agent the manuscript was worth selling, it probably wasn’t good enough to get a publisher interested on its own. Plus, my understanding was that the big houses wouldn’t even consider unagented material. And I figured I might as well think big—at least to start with.
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?
Jennifer: I’d definitely go the agent route to begin with. If that tact fails, then I’d try submitting directly to publishers. You just have such a better chance selling with an agent, because you’ve already convinced a publishing-savvy person that your story is worth the time and effort it takes to get it into readers’ hands.
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?
Jennifer: Yeah, I actually stopped writing altogether for a few months when I was in my mid-twenties. Just decided to give it up because the constant rejection was making me miserable. What I discovered was that not writing was worse. I developed a sort of spiritual constipation that only writing could relieve. So I realized I’d been doing it for the wrong reasons, and when I took it up again, I wrote from a new perspective.
I’ve always been very driven to “succeed.” My problem has been how I define that word. Writing for money alone, or putting out a product just because I thought it would be publishable, resulted in bland, boring material. I learned that the only way I can “succeed” is to forget about being published altogether, and let go of the notion that I must produce something one of my old professors would’ve touted as a “masterpiece.”
I have to write out of love. Love for the craft, for the characters, the story, and the reader. It’s not always easy, especially now that I’ve been published. Distractions abound now: sales numbers and reviews, interviews, blog posts . . . That kind of stuff made my fourth book especially difficult to do. But I’ve been able to refocus for my fifth one, and hopefully my regained perspective will stick with me as I create another of the kind of adventures I’d enjoy reading if I went into a store to buy a book.
Lynda: You don’t have to mention numbers, but did you get a nice advance?
Jennifer: Yes. It was enough to enable me to quit my part-time job as a grant-writer and write full time at home.
Lynda: What was the process of revisions/rewrites like?
Jennifer: For Once Bitten, Twice Shy the process was intense. I had revised the book several times already by the time it reached my editor. But she took me through a great many more, helping me sharpen the characters and the plot. A couple of times she even apologized for, as she said, “torturing” me with all her leading questions -- which, of course, required a lot of thinking and even more writing. I was surprised by how many rewrites I did throughout the publishing process. I figured I’d do a couple and be done. Nuh-uh. I revised right up to the final edit. All told, including the ones I did before the sale, I probably rewrote the book twenty times. I can imagine some people out there going, “Gag! Twenty times? Are you crazed?” Maybe. But I never got frustrated, because every time it just got better. And my editor was asking intelligent questions. Where she was confused I knew other readers would be as well, and the worst sin you can commit as a writer, as far as I’m concerned, is to yank readers out of the story. Confusing them is just one way to do that. There’s a whole laundry list of no-nos, and I’ve probably hit them all at one time or other. Which is why I’ve learned to cherish the rewrite.
Lynda: Did your agent suggest changes?
Jennifer: Yeah, she suggested that I write a new opening chapter. It wasn’t one that stayed with the final revision. That was written almost at the very end of the process. But we all knew the chapter I began the book with wasn’t how the book should start. Readers needed some sort of background before we threw them into the story. Which is how I came up with the prologue.
Lynda: What was it like, working with the editor at your publishing house?
Jennifer: It was a little weird at first, because she was trying to figure out my process and edit accordingly. So the first couple of edit letters she sent weren’t as helpful as the next few, once she figured out how I like to revise. Having said that, she is just the most marvelous person to work with. She’s not at all overbearing or nitpicky. Her approach is mainly to ask questions. Why did you do this? How come the characters are dealing with each other in this way? That’s her signal that I haven’t provided enough explanation. She also points out where I’ve confused her. Where I need to offer more detail on the world I’m creating. And she’ll always tell me I haven’t done quite enough scene-building. That kind of writing bores me the most—it’s pretty technical, yeah? So I save it for last and generally don’t offer enough comments about the background to make her happy until the final revision.
Lynda: Do you have any words of wisdom for us regarding rewrites/revisions?
Jennifer: I’d suggest that this is a great point to let go of the idea that this piece of work is your baby. Be wide open to suggestions, because anywhere your editor is confused or has questions is a place your reader will probably be stopped as well. You don’t have to make every change they suggest. I don’t. But at least consider them seriously. These folks really know their stuff.
Lynda: Were there any surprises for you about the contract you signed?
Jennifer: No. I read it over very carefully, and my husband is extremely familiar with contract work, so he did as well. I thought it was cool how the rights were all so well detailed and the numbers lined out. Writer’s contracts can’t always have been so well defined. But they’ve got them down to a tee now, thank goodness. I’m delighted with mine.
Lynda: Do you get a lot of help marketing your book, or do you have to do it yourself?
Jennifer: I’m so incredibly fortunate to have two publicity professionals working with me. Before I’d ever sold a book I really expected to have to hire one myself, out of my own pocket. And I would’ve done so if Orbit hadn’t already had these great folks on staff. Because publicity is so key to an author’s success. Alex Lencicki is the online marketing pro, and Katherine Molina focuses mainly on print stuff, though they do work closely together. They’re just terrific and have helped me immensely so far. I always try to remember to thank them for the work they do with me, and still don’t think I’ve thanked them enough.
Lynda: What’s your best marketing advice?
Jennifer: Never underestimate the power of the Internet.
Lynda: Did you have input about your cover?
Jennifer: No. That was the one item I would’ve liked to have power over in my contract, because I understood how important covers could be to the success of the books. But as a new writer I felt it wasn’t my place to ask. Better to save that for the second, or maybe third contract when I had the track record to give me some leverage. Luckily Orbit has a fabulous crew in their art department and I loved the covers they came up with.
Lynda: Have you done any book signings? If so, what were they like?
Jennifer: No, I haven’t. Orbit’s publicity folks feel it’s counterproductive at the moment. I’m still such a new name that people would be unlikely to show up to a signing because they wouldn’t recognize me yet. To be honest, this has been a huge relief for me. My biggest nightmare is sitting alone at a long, empty table while people walk past as if I didn’t exist. Ugh!
I think when I finally do a signing I’m going to bring stuff to give away, just so I have a reason to stop people and talk to them. Or maybe I could hire a couple of Chippendales dancers to drum up a crowd. They could wear leather thongs and those criss-cross ammunition belts. But somebody would probably sue me for false advertising since there’s, like, no graphic sex in my books. At all. (Just couldn’t go there—my kids read them after all.) Shoot, now I’m back to the freebies. Anybody for bubblegum and pencils?
Lynda: If you could go back and do something differently, what would that be?
Jennifer: I’d have started writing about vampires sooner. Not that I think I would’ve been published more quickly. I think I had to write those three unpublished novels just to learn the craft. But I would’ve had a lot more fun doing them if they’d contained vamps!
Lynda: What was the biggest happy surprise in the process?
Jennifer: The fans. They are so adorable! I can’t even believe how much they love these characters! And I’m surprised how many have written me to ask if I’m planning on doing more books after the fifth one. It just inspires me to do my very best every time I sit down to the laptop.
Lynda: What are your writing plans for the future?
Jennifer: I’m not really sure! I’ve developed a pitch for a new series, which is with my agent right now. So when I’m done with One More Bite on May 1, I may begin working on that. However, if the Jaz Parks books really start to fly off the shelves, my editor may decide she wants to do a few more in that series. I had also nearly finished a book for young adults called Shadowstruck when Once Bitten sold, so I’d really love to get that done, polished, and out into the marketplace.
Lynda:What advice would you give to all the pre-published writers out there?
Jennifer: 1. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and support your dreams. 2. Do everything you can to improve your writing for the rest of your life. Don’t ever assume you’re “good enough.” 3. Never give up.
Lynda: How can readers find out more about you?