Jessica Barksdale Inclán: I’m not sure that writing romance is “the” thing I do with my life. In fact, it truly isn’t. I have been writing poetry and short fiction since I was about twelve, and I wrote throughout high school and college. Because I had two children very young, I went right into my teaching career after graduate school. I teach English full-time at Diablo Valley College, and online novel writing classes for UCLA Extension.
My first novel, Her Daughter’s Eyes, is a literary/contemporary novel as are the next five that I wrote. But starting with When You Believe, I dipped my quill into the world of romance, and I’ve had a blast there! I find the romantic relationship to be enthralling and fun, and I’m happy to write stories about it.
Phoebe: 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: My agent suggested to me that I write something other than what I was writing because I write fast. He thought that I should have another creative outlet (and he’s also the agent of Lisa Kleypas and Christina Dodd, so he knows that romance writing can be fun and lucrative!). So I set about learning about romance, reading 100 books in one summer, and I realized very soon that paranormals were fun. I liked the worlds that the writers created, and as I am a big fan of fantasy and speculative fiction, I knew I could put a romantic relationship into a world myself.
Phoebe: What was the first fiction you ever wrote? And do you still have it with you?
Jessica: I have some little pieces with me still, shot stories. But in high school, junior year, I wrote a very bad novel about a girl “coming of age” (I didn’t write far from home there) and yes, it is in a box upstairs in the garage.
Phoebe: How much research do you have to do for your novels and did it take you a long time to gather that research?
Jessica: I have to research everything, no matter what I am writing. Even personal essays! I make sure that I keep things “true” even when I am writing lies (fiction). I usually write the novels, getting the plot down on the page, and then I go back and do my work. Google is my best friend. I live on Google! Thank goodness for Google! I also call people when I need to, friends with expertise. Or a cold call people in order to figure out what it is my characters are doing.
Phoebe: How did you come up with the concept for your Second Romance Trilogy? How is it different from your Believe Trilogy?
Jessica: The second trilogy is based on the concept of orphans. Of being left behind. Of being without their people. I saw in my mind these three blonde children hurtling away from home, scared and confused. And then I grew them up and put each of them in their own book. In those stories, they are looking for their families and they are looking for their parted twins, doubles, and the other person to complete them. They exist in a “magic” world, but it’s a world far bigger than the one I created in the Believe Trilogy.
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: Yes, I pretty much just get an idea and start to write. Sometimes, these ideas die out about page 75. But when the novel is a go, it’s a go! I just push through to the end, and then I go about the hard business of revising and revising and revising. Then it is off to the readers and my mother, all of whom chime in. Then the novel goes to my agent or to my editor, both of whom will give me more suggestions! But I don’t outline and my theory is to move forward and come back much, much later, when the novel has a shape and form and I know what is going to happen.
Phoebe: Which do you like best, writing a series or writing stand alone novels? How is writing each different for you?
Jessica: I think I like both. The series are fun because I can keep working a story for a long time. My novels tend to come in under 300 pages manuscript form. That’s just the way I write. But in a series, I have a chance to tie up some loose ends from the novel before, adding more material and scenes to secondary characters that I’ve grown fond of. In the second romance trilogy, I have become fond of a couple named Stephanie and Porter. Porter is a smart ass, a pain in the neck, and I was able to channel my pain in the neckness through him for over 900 pages! He was fun.
Phoebe: What process did you have to go through to get your first book published and did it take you long?
Jessica: I didn’t sell my first novel until I was 38 years old, and the process of getting to that point involved many years of writing and taking classes and going to conferences. I sold the novel, and it came out when I was 40. The two years were the gearing up for that, and it seemed like a very long time indeed! But it was all the years of hard work before that that led up to the point of my being able to sell it.
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: I feel that I was very naive when my first novel came out. I was thrilled, but I did not realize all the hard work that a writer has to do to get her book out in the world. Now I am very familiar with all the work a writer must do to be seen—blogging and interviews and book signings and movie trailers and web sites. It’s a business, and when I first started, I thought being a writer was about art and words and expression. It is, but there is this whole other side to the writing life that isn’t about writing at all!
Phoebe: How do you handle your writing schedule and your personal life without going insane?
Jessica: Who says I’m not insane 🙂 Okay, I’m not, but how I keep myself on the good side of the line is to manage time. I write in the morning after doing my teaching work. I make sure to write at least 300 words a day, no matter what. My children are grown now, so it is much easier to managed my time, and my boyfriend doesn’t always expect dinner (and most of the times, he’ll make it for me!). So I just make sure to keep myself in order in terms of tasks, and I can always find the time to whip out a scene or two.
Phoebe: What do you do to relax after having spent a long while writing?
Jessica: I exercise every day, about 2 hours. That helps. I read. I walk with friends. I watch TV with my boyfriend, and we have a glass of wine. I garden. It seems to work fairly well, though the holidays ARE stressful.
Phoebe: Do you have any hobbies?
Jessica: I think I just answered that in the question above! Well, what else? No, I think that’s about it. Oh, bird watching. And I do like to clean my house. Sick and sad, but true.
Phoebe: Is there any advice that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you?
Jessica: Really, it would be that your book won’t sell itself. Get out and do what you can to promote your book. Blog, get on the romance sites, make sure you have a web site. Find ways to show people your books so that some little bit of word-of-mouth can start. But ultimately, it would be to write the stories you want to write. That keeps writers happy.
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?