Well here is the interview with Jessica Andersen that I promised to post. Jessica Andersen was nice enough to grant me an interview about her writing. Even though she was busy with her writing she was nice enough to answer the following questions as soon as she could possibly get them done. You can visit Jessica’s Skywatch Forum where you can chat with her about her books, contests, writing and much more. Here is the link to the review of her first novel in her Final Prophecy Series called Nightkeepers that I wrote. Here is a little bio that Jessica said I could use from her website so you can get to know her a bit better and I even have the picture she has on her website too:
I was born and raised in eastern Mass (go, Sox!), and have lived my whole life in New England. I did the public school thing, surviving the 80s with no lasting scars aside from a few photos of me with spiked hair and a rat tail (and no, I’m so not posting those). During the 90s, I did a double stint at Tufts University for an undergraduate biology degree and a PhD in genetics, with a year-long break in between that can best be described as: “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up; I think I’ll do some landscaping”… followed by “um, okay; I think I’ll go back to school now.”
During grad school and for a year after, I worked at the New England Eye Center, helping search for the genetic changes responsible for certain types of glaucoma. It was very cool work, but the writing aspect of science suited me far better than the labwork. It wasn’t until the committee head complimented my doctoral thesis by saying it “read like a mystery novel” that I admitted I was… um… writing a romantic suspense novel in my free time. A year later, I left the lab and spent the next while freelancing as a scientific editor and riding instructor while I worked on getting my writing career off the ground.
Now here is how the interview went between me and Jessica Andersen:
Phoebe: When did you know that writing romance was going to be the thing that you would do with your life?
Jessica Andersen: I’ve always been a voracious reader, mostly of fiction (romance, sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, etc.), but didn’t even really think about writing for publication until grad school, when I was working at the New England Eye Center, helping search for the genetic mutations responsible for certain types of glaucoma. It was very cool work, but the writing aspect of science suited me far better than the labwork. It wasn’t until the head of my thesis committee complimented my thesis by saying it “read like a mystery novel” that I admitted I was… um…writing a romantic suspense novel in my free time. Soon after, I left the lab and spent the next couple of years freelancing as a scientific editor while I worked on getting my writing career off the ground. Writing for a living is backbreaking, heartbreaking work for uncertain returns, but I love it.
Phoebe Jordan: Did you know what type of romance you wanted to write about or did you experiment with different genres before you chose the one that you felt was for you?
Jessica: I’ve sold comedic romances, romantic suspense, and now the big paranormal romantic thriller series that’s kicked off by NIGHTKEEPERS. I’m still writing the romantic suspense for Intrigue while working on the subsequent books in the paranormal series, and while I feel that the paranormals are the best fit for my voice and interests, the suspense are a fun change of pace, and I will probably keep writing them, as well.
Phoebe: What was the first fiction you ever wrote? And do you still have it with you?
Jessica: I’m pretty sure the first fiction I ever wrote, aside from school projects and the like, was an unfinished sci-fi-type story about humpback whales receiving a signal from outer space and traveling to a meeting point in the middle of the ocean somewhere, where their racial memories said they would receive a great gift (something to do with saving the earth’s ecosystems). I wrote probably seventy or eighty pages in a lined notebook, realized it was going to take me forever to get to the end, and moved on to other things.
Phoebe: How much research did you have to do for your intrigue novels and your new series Final Prophecy and did it take you a long time to gather that research?
Jessica: For the Intrigues, I do as much or as little research I need to make the scenes and characters’ backgrounds come alive to me, and hopefully, to the reader. Since these books are mostly scientific in nature, I have a pretty good well of knowledge to draw from.
My formal training as a researcher definitely helped me track down the information I needed and wanted when I was working on NIGHTKEEPERS. I keep both hard copy and spreadsheet information files, and have a bookcase stuffed full of references, all of which are cited on my website. I love the history and the science of the Nightkeepers’ world, so the research has become as much a hobby as a job. That’s the good news. The bad news is that as I write, I keep wanting to include all the cool details I’ve learned about. . . and usually wind up with a 700-plus page manuscript. Thus, as I’m cutting down the story, I keep in mind one of my mottos as a scientific editor: This is an interesting detail, but how does it specifically relate to the matter at hand?
Phoebe: How did you come up with the Final Prophecy series after having written all those Intrigue romance novels?
Jessica: My first Intrigue came out in late 2003; my eighteenth and nineteenth are out now (TWIN TARGETS, 5/08 and WITH THE MD… AT THE ALTAR? 6/08). While working on the Intrigues, I kept submitting single title proposals that never really went anywhere, I think because I was trying to write a medical romantic suspense that was longer without really being bigger. It wasn’t until I stumbled on the Nightkeepers’ world that a storyline really grabbed me and demanded that I write it.
As for how I found the idea, it was more that it found me. One of my most vivid early memories is being on a family vacation and climbing up inside the big pyramid at Chichen Itza to see the jaguar throne. People were packed nose-to-butt, crouched down in the narrow stairway, with everyone on the right side going up and the ones on the left coming down. It was dark and cold, the stones were slippery, and I’m claustrophobic. But dude, seeing the jaguar up close and thinking about the people who’d carved and worshipped it… that’s something I’ll never forget.
Years later, I was working on a suspense proposal that involved poisonous snakes, and had a total “ooh, shiny!” moment when I pulled up a website on Mayan serpent rituals. From there, I found a reference to how the Mayan Long Count calendar is going to end on December 21, 2012, coinciding with an astrological event that scientists think could trigger sunspots and magnetic reversals, and maybe even knock the earth off its orbit. And I sat there thinking: Holy crap, this is it. This is what I have to write about.
Phoebe: Do you have a process of how you start to write one of your novels? And is it the same or different with each novel you write?
Jessica: Because the books of the Final Prophecy series are interconnected (each is a stand-alone with a complete romance, but they add to each other within the larger save-the-world story arc) I plan and outline prior to writing. For each book, I know where each of the characters and plot lines begins and approximately where each should end up, and I’ve got some major scenes and turning points sketched out.
However, when I’m actually writing the story, I often find myself getting to a point where I’ve planned for something to happen, and realizing that because I’ve planned it that way, I’ve made it too obvious. I’m a huge fan of being surprised in books/movies/TV shows, and I’d like to give readers the same experience. Thus, when I get to a point where the next step seems obvious, that’s exactly where I say to myself ‘What else could happen?’ and go with that option as long as it makes sense with the character and situation. Life is unexpected, so as far as I’m concerned, stories should be unpredictable within the rules of the world.
Phoebe: What process did you have to go through to get your first book published and did it take you long?
Jessica: My first sale to an RWA-approved publisher (as they were called at the time) was to Harlequin Intrigue in 2002. It was my third completed manuscript. I had pitched the project to Melissa Jeglinski during an editor appointment at the New England Chapter RWA’s annual conference, and she’d said to send her the full manuscript. Less than two weeks later, the phone rang, and it was Melissa on the other end. Figuring she was calling to tell me the thing had gotten mangled in the mail, I stupidly said, “Oh, did you want me to send you another copy of the story?” She laughed and said, “No. I’m buying it.” In a nice sort of full circle moment, I’ll be giving the luncheon speech at the 2009 NEC-RWA conference.
Phoebe: How did you feel when you finally saw your first published book came out in print and how do you feel about your other novels being published?
Jessica: It’s an amazing feeling, really, holding your first actual book. Then there’s the first time an actual stranger comes up and says ‘I love your books.’ That still surprises me, in fact! I think somewhere in the back of my head, even though I know the Intrigues have sold more than 1.5 million copies total, I have this feeling like only my friends actually buy them, just to placate me.
Phoebe: How many books are you planning to write for the Final Prophecy series after your second novel Dawnkeepers comes out next year in 2009?
Jessica: I have basic plots and hero/heroine pairs planned through the entire story arc, which carries us up to 12/21/2012 and consists of somewhere between seven and ten books total. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that NIGHTKEEPERS and the subsequent books, DAWNKEEPERS (1/09) and DEMONKEEPERS (6/09) find an audience that will keep reading the books through to the end!
Phoebe: Which do you like best, writing a series or writing stand alone novels? How is writing each different for you?
Jessica: Well, in one way or another, almost all my published novels are tied to another novel in some way or another. The majority of my Intrigues have all been set in and around the mythical Boston General Hospital or in the mythical area of Bear Claw Creek in Colorado. Those that aren’t (Bullseye, Meet me at Midnight, Classified Baby, With the MD… at the Altar?) have been continuity books written as part of a larger story arc involving books by four to six other Intrigue authors. Then there’s NIGHTKEEPERS, which is also part of a series. In each of these cases, the book has a single, contained romance that gets to its happily ever after by the end of the story. So in that way, they’re stand-alones. But in another sense, they each have characters and storylines that can span multiple books. Personally, I really enjoy the challenge of the intertwining plotlines, as they make the stories feel more reflective of reality to me.
Phoebe: How do you handle your writing schedule, your book signing appearances, and your personal life without going insane?
Jessica: I think my sanity is fairly questionable. LOL! Seriously, right now I’ve got a very heavy writing schedule, so I’ve consciously put other pieces of my life on hold. Once this round of deadlines is over, I’ll look at slowing down a little, largely because I need more time to research Mayan history, mythology and ritual for the Final Prophecy books.
Phoebe: Have you had anything strange or funny happen to you at any of your book signings or even when you go out?
Jessica: I can’t think of anything off-hand. I haven’t done much in the way of in-person promotions for the Intrigues, because they’re largely sold through the book clubs. In terms of appearances for NIGHTKEEPERS, so far, so good!
Phoebe: Do you take certain amounts of breaks in between your writing and book signing appearances to have personal time with family and friends?
Jessica: Not right now. I’ve got that penciled in as something I’d like to make more time for next year J.
Phoebe: What do you do to relax after having spent a long while writing?
Jessica: I own a small farm, and I find farm chores very relaxing. I weed, mow, paint, muck… the mindless physical activity is a real stress reliever for me.
Phoebe: Do you have any hobbies?
Jessica: I ride horses, which is another huge stress reliever. Okay, so it can cause stress, too, as horses are complicated beasties, both physically and mentally, but it’s a different sort of stress than what I get from the writing career.
Phoebe: J.R. Ward is your critique partner. How was it that you two got together for the first time and became critique partners?
Jessica: JRW and I met through our local RWA chapter back when she lived in the Boston area. Since then, we’ve stayed in pretty close touch, reading each others’ stuff, talking about the industry and the marketplace, that sort of thing. We have very different styles and voices; I think that’s why we work so well as CPs… that, and because we have a really high level of trust with each other.
Phoebe: Are you and Ward still critique partners and how has your critiquing relationship developed since your first started critiquing each other’s work?
Jessica: We are still CPs, and good friends. I would, however, say that our definition of ‘critique partner’ is pretty open-ended.
Phoebe: Is there any advice that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you?
Jessica: Hm….You know? I’d have to say ‘not really,’ largely because Romance Writers of America (RWA), and particularly the New England Chapter of RWA, prepared me so well for the process. I’ve certainly made my mistakes, but I’ve learned from them and moved on.
Phoebe: Is there any writing tips, research tips, promotion and marketing tips that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you?
Jessica: I don’t know that I would’ve listened at the time, because I suspect some of my friends may have hinted at this, but I’d warn an aspiring writer that once she sells that first single title, she should block off an equal amount of time for promotions as she does for writing. Where the readership for the Intrigues has been fairly well established by Harlequin’s branding, I’ve spent a ton of time guest blogging, giving interviews, growing the very cool community at my message board, and generally being available to readers and media outlets.
Phoebe: Is there any advice that you would give to an aspiring romance writer looking to find a critique partner and/or critique group that you think would be beneficial and wish someone had give you the same advice?
Jessica: My best suggestion would be to communicate as much as possible. So many of the problems I’ve seen between CPs seem to come from differences in the partners’ expectations, whether in terms of speed, level of criticism, positive feedback, or whatnot.
Phoebe: Again thank you so much for giving me the chance to interview you.
Jessica: You’re very welcome, and thank you!