I have a great treat for you today. Joining me is author Jessica Joy. Her romantic suspense novel, Fool Me Once—published by Black Velvet Seductions http://blackvelvetseductions.com/—has received rave reviews. After reading it, I know why. Today Jessica will chat with me about her book, her article on creating believable characters, the challenges of being a Christian author who writes romance novels, and what she’s working on next.
Welcome to my blog Jessica. I am so happy you stopped by!
Hi, Cheryl! Thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here.
Let’s start by finding out more about you. What can you tell us about yourself? How did you become a writer?
Hm...It’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll start with a brief overview. I’m a mother of three ‘grown’ children, living in Eastern Canada and have been married to the same great guy for 28 years. WOW! I can’t believe it’s been that long! I guess the old adage is true. Time flies when you are having fun. :o) I love writing, reading and crafting.
When my youngest left for university, I went to college and earned a diploma in Human Resources Management. A great field for a writer because so often you have to deal with the idiosyncrasies of people.
I’ve been scribbling stuff all my life, but it was about ten years ago I made a disciplined effort to put all the story ideas swirling around my head into words and started writing a novel instead of just writing down random ideas. Since then, I’ve taken three writing courses, and I’ve been writing part-time ever since. There were two or three years when I didn’t write much at all because I’d rejoined the work force.
Since I love hearing how other writers work, can you tell us what your writing process is like? Do you write every day? Is there a time of day when you’re more productive than others?
The writing process for me usually begins with an incident and then I ponder it for a while. I call that “simmering”...the story follows me around...every time I work at the mindless household chores like ironing, cleaning, or doing dishes...trust me, no one will interrupt you. I think about the characters and what brought them to the incident and what will happen following the incident. This might go on for a few weeks or months depending on how difficult the characters are being and refuse to tell me their story.
Once I have a feeling for the story, I start making notes. As milestones in the story come to mind, I note them, then let the story continue to simmer until all the major events are in place. Then, I create an outline...usually...five to ten pages. Then, I test for holes in the plot to ensure that there is sufficient motive and also make sure there are past experiences that justify the way the characters behave the way they do. There is nothing that makes a book a ‘wall-banger’ faster than characters acting or reacting without sufficient motive or experiences.
One really important element in my writing is that I have a great critique partner, and we hold each other accountable to our writing goals. We also study a chapter a week in a book on writing each week. It’s important to remember that no matter how much or how long you write, there are still things to learn or learn again.
Now that I’m looking after my MIL during the days and working in the evening, writing time has become scarce, but I’m a believer that you will make time for the things that you really want to accomplish. Since I usually wake up before other people in the family, I try to write in the morning after my morning quiet time and before the family gets up, and I often write after they go to bed. I utilize wasted moments as well like traveling in the car, during coffee and lunch breaks, and waiting for appointments. When you want something badly enough, you will make the time you need to succeed.
Limited time has made me productive whenever I have the chance to write. It’s a necessity. I set writing goals because they make me more productive. It could be a minimum of one or two hours a day, sometimes more, depending on what I have to do for that day. I always try to produce more, the goal is just the minimum that I hope to accomplish.
Fool Me Once is an amazing story! Where did you find the inspiration to write it?
Thank you so much. It’s one of my favourite stories.
For inspiration for this story, I decided to write a story that had all my favourite elements and a story that I would like to read. I love a heroine who is spirited, but not stupid, who will face a threat, but not charge headlong into a dangerous situation. I feel that I found that in Toni. I love a wounded hero who is a man of honour, who needs just the right woman to help him heal. That was Blair.
Another element that I love is mistaken identity...but I won’t go into that because I don’t want to give the plot away. And something that I really love is a murder mystery. I’m a Murder She Wrote, CSI& NCIS junkie.
What qualifies a story as romantic suspense? Has your story attracted both male and female readers?
For me, a story that presents a threat to the hero and heroine who are tumbling into a relationship is a romantic suspense.
I haven’t heard from any male readers...so I’m assuming that it’s more attractive to women.
You’ve put together a complex storyline. Toni Greer (your female lead) wakes up in a hospital room with amnesia and she finds Blair Kierstead (your male lead) and his friend Drew in the room. As the story unfolds, we have the FBI, Toni’s modeling career, Blair’s and Drew’s idea that Toni was responsible for an ambush that left some of their friends dead, and also the character of Farrell Hagen, Toni’s ex-lover, who might be trying to kill her, involved in the plot. How did you keep from getting lost as you wrote this story? Did you outline it? Did you create character sketches?
Because of the ‘simmering’ time, most of the story was in place in my head before I ever put a word on the page, but I still went through my usual process. First, I construct a story binder. In the story binder, I create a detailed character interview for each major character. These usually take about 5 to 6 hours each. I’ve compiled a long character interview over the years, so I know the characters pretty well by the time the interview is through. This character interview uses questions from others character interviews that I have read, and I’ve tossed in a few questions of my own. After the character interviews, I have sections for pictures, maps, story outlines, and chapters.
For Fool Me Once, I composed a long outline of about ten pages, then I did another in two pages. I use them as a reference...but they aren’t written in stone. I’ve been known to take a different route if it suited the story and characters. Now, that I’ve been writing longer, the outlines are a bit shorter usually 3 to 5 pages
While I’m doing the interviews I try to find a picture of each character. As well, I draw maps. In this case, I made a map of Mason’s Cove...the imaginary seaside village where the story took place so that all the buildings would stay in the same place. Also, I go through magazines and find ‘things’ that would help me visualize the story world like clothes, furniture, cars, or anything that might be a part of the character’s world.
For example, Toni’s condo is based on an article I found in an Architectural Digest about a revamped condo overlooking Central Park. It felt like Toni’s home the moment I saw it. The nice thing about a story ‘simmering’ is that it gives me time to collect their ‘homes’, furnishings, cars and ‘toys’. Blair’s home is based on a century old home that I read about in a Coastal Living magazine. I fell in love with the place and knew that it was just the spot Blair would chose to live.
Tell us a little bit about Toni Greer and Blair Kierstead. Why will readers like them? What will they dislike about them? Why will they be rooting for them to get together?
I hope that the readers like the same things about the characters that I like about them. I like Toni because she’s a genuine person. She’s someone who acts and doesn’t just let life happen to her. With Toni there will never be any pretense. What you see is what you get. Another thing I like and I hope that readers like is that Toni is a person who cares about people. She cares about family and friends and wouldn’t intentionally hurt someone. Lastly, Toni is a person of integrity, someone who will do what is right because it’s the right thing to do. Toni is a person you want to have around when your world is crashing around you. She’s sympathetic enough to help put salve on your emotional wounds, but enough of a friend to nudge you toward the road to recovery even though you’d rather wallow in self-pity. She’s also the person who knows how to celebrate all the joyful times with you as well.
Blair is a man I like because, like Toni, basically he’s a man of integrity and someone who you can depend on in a crunch. Something else that I really like about him is that he’s not given to moods. He’s a man who cares about people too although he’s not always direct in his methods. He stays in control of himself and tries to control his environment. He’s a bit of a neat freak, but that’s endearing. I mean who’s not going to love a guy who helps you clean up the house.
Blair is also a man who you want to snuggle on the couch with at the end of a long day, a man who knows you so well he doesn’t have to say anything to make you feel better. He looks over, touches your face or curls his hand around the nape of your neck and draws you forward to touch his lips to your forehead.
I’m hoping the reader won’t dislike anything about the characters, but rather that they will like and appreciate their strengths and overlook their weaknesses. I think there are times when characters frustrate us, but I hope that the reader always likes the basic person inside the character. I feel that if there are things that the reader doesn’t like about the character, then it might dislodge the reader from the fictional world of the story. I know it does for me when I read a story.
I guess what it boils down to is that what I like the characters in my books and in the books that I read is that they are can be people that I admire – that they would be people that I would chose as friends.
Hopefully, the reader will root for them because they’ve been pulled into their story world and love them both, Toni and Blair.
You wrote an article, which can be viewed at your website - http://www.freewebs.com/jessicajoy/, about creating believable characters. Can you tell us a little bit more about this article and how you used the advice found in this article to create the characters for Fool Me Once?
Hm...this article was born the first time I saw a character interview not long after I started my first story, although I didn’t realize it at the time. My first thought was how can you interview a character...they aren’t real...then, I realized if I didn’t believe they were real, I couldn’t make them real to the reader. That’s when I knew I had to find ways to make them real to me, or they would never become real for the reader. Of course, like all newbies, I went to writer sites and read books on writing, it was a long process, which I hope this article will shorten just a bit.
Being a detail oriented person, I found that the binder idea really helped. I could organize the details of the character's life and world. The character interview helps me maintain uniformity...the character doesn’t change eye colour or past events. Being a visual person, the collection of pictures and maps enriches the description in the story. It’s easier to find vivid descriptors when there is a picture in front of me.
The advice in the article helped me with Fool Me Once as it has helped with every story. It made the characters living, breathing people to me, people with a past, a present and a future, characters I love (the heroine and hero) or love to hate (the villains.)
Incorrigible is the story of a young woman, Anne, teetering on the verge of a sexual awakening who buys a home haunted by a spirited spirit, Virginia. Together, they solve the mystery of Virginia’s murder and Anne finds the love of her life. Just a caution, it’s steamy.
This story was a real stretch for me because of the ‘heat level’. I tend to read and enjoy Christian romantic fiction and romances that are warm but not steamy. Incorrigible, the novella I wrote for Crimson ‘Z’ is definitely hotter than I’ve ever written before and will probably ever write again once I finish the sequel, Irrepressible. That was the reason I chose a second pen name. I felt that readers who enjoyed Fool Me Once, might be uncomfortable with the heat level in Incorrigible.
What I love about the story, Incorrigible, are the characters and the mystery surrounding the death of the ghost who is haunting the heroine’s home. Virginia, the ghost, kept trying to take over the story, so I ended up writing her story, when she gets a second chance at living.
You and I have chatted about this topic before. It seems Christian authors can be persecuted for writing stories where two characters are romantically involved, especially if the love scenes are very descriptive. Have you experienced this type of prejudice? If so, how do you handle it?
Yes. When I say that I write romantic suspense, I’ve had a couple people say, “Oh, you write pornography.” At first, I tried to explain that romances are not pornographic and that some romances don’t have any love scenes at all. Those people just turned a deaf ear, rolled their eyes, and said, “But really, it is pornography.”
After that, I don’t respond because they don’t want to be educated. They are people who have never read a romance and probably never will. I find it a bit disturbing that they are so closed minded, but they do make interesting fodder for characters in my books.
For me a love scene isn’t offensive it if slips seamlessly into the story, that it feels right and fits that moment. In Incorrigible, Annie has sex with someone that she doesn’t have a relationship with. That was a tough scene, but it was also part of her emotional growth for her at that point in her life. Still, she wasn’t abused or used, which I couldn’t agree with or write.
What advice do you have for someone who has experienced this type of prejudice?
Fight the battles you can win. If someone is completely close-minded and won’t listen, then there isn’t any sense arguing with them. If they are willing, educate them on all the many different types of romances there are, perhaps see if they will read one. Who knows? They might even find something they enjoy.
I’ll wind this interview down with an easy question. What is up next for you? Are there writing projects fans and fellow writers need to know about?
At the moment, I’m up to my eyebrows in a move, so I’m packing boxes and doing all the lovely things that go with a move. As soon as that is behind me, I’m going to dive into edits for another novella, Irrepressible, which is Virginia’s story. Virginia, the ghost in Incorrigible, has a chance at love again with her soul mate, but of course, she has a few obstacles to overcome in her own spirited way.
Something else that I would like to do is work on my website. Once I went back to school, last August, my poor website was pushed on a back burner, way, way back.
Also, I have three writing projects that I’d like to pullout and work on. Two are Christian romances the third is one that I’ve been ‘pecking away at’ for years, a paranormal called “Impractical Magic” which is a book-of-my-heart. It’s the book I work on because I love it so much. It might never get published, but it will definitely bring a great deal of satisfaction in the journey through that story world.
You are probably wondering why I have so many projects on the go. I find that I get ‘stale’ if I work on one without interruption, so I usually do a few chapters in one, switch to another, then switch to another, then back to the first one. I’ve finished five novels, so I know it’s a system that works for me, but it’s not for everyone.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us today?
Hm...I could spend all day answering that question, but I can’t because I have to pack part of the kitchen today. I guess if I had to share anything it’s for newbie and wannabe writers, it’s: write, write, write, & read, read, read. Write anything that comes to your mind and whenever you can, and read fiction, magazines and writing how to books. Never stop learning. Write because you can’t resist the lure of the word.
Thanks for sharing so much of your time with us Jessica. Best wishes for a long and prosperous writing career!
Thank you so much and thank you for having me and for your kind wishes. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you over the course of our correspondence and I hope that the readers have enjoyed this time getting to know me and my books.