WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.
DJ: Thank you so much for having me, Winnie! I'm from Portales, a small town in New Mexico, where I live with my husband and two beautiful sons, the Mighty, Mighty Jones Boys. I have a bachelor's in sign language interpreting from the University of New Mexico and worked as an interpreter and instructor at a local community college for several years before being able to write full time.
WG: Let's talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.
DJ: Not really. I've always wanted to write. Oddly enough, I think my father's passing when I was six really spurred the desire into overdrive, an emotional thing, and my BFF in high school nurtured it.
WG: Tell us about your journey.
DJ: I have to say, while I'd always wanted to be a writer, I just didn't think I had it in me. And then I read something in 2002 that really sparked a fire. It stated the simplest fact: If you write a page a day, in one year you'll have a book in one year. For some reason, that made me want to sit down and write. I think the thought made the goal seem more attainable. Either way, I ended up writing my first manuscript in four months.
Of course, it was horrible. But I kept plugging away and entering contests to see what I'd done right and what I needed to work on. That is one of the beauties of RWA. The support, the feedback from contests. I finaled in a few and even won a couple. Then in 2009, I finaled in the RWA Golden Heart with my newest manuscript, First Grave on the Right. Finalling was quite the shock. I knew that I had to take advantage of the attention and prestige, so I polished the manuscript the best I could and queried a few agents.One week later I had my first offer of representation. One week after that, I had eight. It was awful. I know it sounds wonderful, but I had some amazing agents offer representation and the decision was incredibly difficult. I chose my agent, Alexandra Machinist, mostly because we just really clicked. We had similar ideas about the book and the direction we wanted to go, and she just seemed so savvy. She is, by the way. An absolute powerhouse in a tiny package. We met in DC that year, at RWA National where I ended up winning the Golden Heart for Best Paranormal Romance. The GH win garnered a lot of interest, so Alexandra began shopping First Grave that August. About a week later, Jennifer Enderlin from St. Martin's Press made an offer for a three-book deal. Yes, THE Jennifer Enderlin. We had a couple more offers over the next 24 hours and then right before Alexandra sent it to the floor for auction, Jennifer swept in with a pre-empt we simply couldn't refuse. So, it took me seven years of writing off and on to sell. I've never regretted a moment of it.
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
DJ: First Grave on the Right was my third complete manuscript before I sold. Since then, my second, a young adult, has also sold and will be out in April 2012.
WG: Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?
DJ: Absolutely! About a week after Alexandra submitted First Grave, we had our first offer from Jennifer, but I didn't know that because I was in a district-wide meeting. I worked for the schools at that time, but the minute I realized my agent had called, I called right back. And got her voicemail. So I texted her. She texted back saying she was on the phone with an editor and she'd call me right back. But that time, I was an emotional wreck. I knew the meeting was important, but focusing on anything other than my phone was impossible. Then Alexandra called me and asked if I was sitting down. When she told me the offer, I slipped into a state of shock, which I stayed in for quite some time. It was so much more than I was expecting. My husband freaked out too. It was funny.
I had meetings all that first day and I could barely sit through them. It was quite torturous really. And don't even ask how I slept that night. By the next morning we had a couple more offers, and just before it went to auction, Jennifer swept in with an amazing preempt we couldn't turn down.Jennifer called me that afternoon so we could meet "voice to voice". She was so wonderful and I am thrilled to be working with her. Like, over-the-moon thrilled. Both she and Alexandra have such sparkling personalities, I'm fairly certain I hit the agent/editor jackpot.
WG: How has being a published author impacted your life?
DJ: In every way possible. I was able to quit the day job a year later and write full time. But there is just so much more to being published than writing. Everything shifts and you have to plan time for everything from promo, blog tours, book signings, and interviews to revisions, copyedits, page proofs and then, of course, writing the next book. Just so much to do every single day. Am I complaining? No way! I love every minute of it and I am so, so grateful to finally be here. It's all part of the dream, but time management does become crucial.
WG: What aspect of life as a published author surprised you the mosteither in a good or bad way?
DJ: You know, I'm still pretty new to this, so I probably have no room to comment, but I've heard from so many people how once you are getting paid for your work and you are on deadline, the process loses its appeal. It's no longer fun.
That's simply not the case for me. Granted, I've only written five manuscripts so far, but I love it and the only thing a deadline does is gets my butt in gear. It's hard, but it always was. Nothing has changed in that area. I was running so behind at one point, I had to write an entire manuscript in two months. This meant getting the first draft done lickety split. And I did it. I wrote 65,000 words in 15 days. Just knowing I could do that was incredible. But I'm a plotter and I think that really helped. I already had my road map and knew exactly where I was going at all times, so I didn't have to stop and figure out what my characters were going to do next, lol.
WG: What about your writing process:
Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
DJ: I've come to believe there's no such thing as a typical day. Not for me anyway. I never know when a new fire will pop up that has to be put out before I can move on to anything else. However, when I'm on deadline, I do try to stick to a schedule as much as possible. I allow myself an hour to answer emails and put out those fires that cropped up during the night, then I get to writing. Depending on how much time I have left, I will write anywhere from 5 to 16 hours a day. The closer the deadline, the more I write, no matter where I'm at. Something always needs attention.
WG: Do you set writing goals for yourself?
DJ: I do, I just rarely keep them. LOL. I always set them too high. Always. But the cool side of that coin is that when I do actually achieve my goal for the day/week/month, I'm shocked. It's fun.
WG: Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?
DJ: You know, I don't unless you count the fact that I read what I wrote the day before. That gets me into the characters' heads and then I can pick up where I left off.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?
DJ: I plot like there's no tomorrow. I have three distinct outlines before I start any manuscript. Some people find that stifling. For me, it's just the opposite. This way, I know where I am at all times. If I want to write a scene in the middle of the book one day, then write the ending the next, I can. It's very freeing. If I get bored, I jump to another scene. I don't write linearly at all. And the very last thing I do before sending it to my editor is break it into chapters. I just don't worry about that during the process. I have too many other things to worry about, like how best to torture my protagonists. It's a dirty job....
WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?
DJ: You know, I think every project is a bit different for me. I would have to say that usually I start with a character and that ever present catalyst: What if? What if there was a female PI who just happened to have been born the grim reaper? What would her life be like? How would her supernatural status affect her childhood? And how would that leak into her adult life? Would it affect her relationships? Her self image? Her sanity? You bet it would.
WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?
DJ: Absolutely, and it took my mother pointing it out a very long time ago for me to see it. I apparently have an obsession with death. Again, perhaps because my father died when I was so young. I'm not really sure, but so many of my stories revolve around death or some aspect of it. Maybe it is our innate desire to be immortal that spurs something so seemingly morbid. Or the burning need to know exactly what happens after we take our last breaths.
But another recurring theme that is present in all of my work is "even the most broken, fragile creature can overcome her past." My characters have it hard, and I love it when they can work past their personal demons and win the day. I just make it really, really difficult for them.
WG: What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?
DJ: My strong point is dialogue, hands down. Everything else is hard. Period.
WG: Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?
DJ: Well, apparently I'm a social butterfly. I love talking to my readers, answering their emails, and really getting to know them. They took time out of their busy schedules and money out of their pockets to read my work. The least I owe them is a minute of my time. Unfortunately, that easily turns into hours a day. LOL. I really have to draw the line with how much social networking I do, especially when I'm on deadline. But I love hanging with them, metaphorically. It got so bad at one point, I had to buy a program that blocks the internet for a specified amount of time, which is how I finished Third Grave in two months. =)
WG: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?
DJ: Just that, like I said, I have three distinct outlines before I start a manuscript and I have learned not to mess with it, my process. It works. Don't fix what ain't broke.
WG: Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?
DJ: As a writer, I love paranormal/supernatural anything. Honestly, it is so amazingly limitless. As long as you can make your reader suspend disbelief and keep them engaged and enthralled, you have done your job, and probably done it well. As a reader, I love it all. The only thing I cannot and will not read are those true crime books where mommy has killed all her children to keep her boyfriend. Anything with true cases of child abuse in it will not cross my threshold. There are some messed up people out there. I know it. Doesn't mean I want to read about it.
WG: Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?
DJ: Well, my first complete manuscript is a historical romance, and while I loved it and thought for many years that was the only thing I wanted to write, I have since read people like Julia Quinn and Keiran Kramer and come to my senses. I love, love, love to read it though.
I am going to be published in YA, so that makes me happy. I would also love to try middle grade and science fiction. Maybe horror. Like I said, I love pretty much all fiction.
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?
DJ: Absolutely. Finish the book. As an unpublished writer, the odds of you getting published without a complete manuscript are astronomical. So finished the book. And for those who have finished the book, celebrate! You have already accomplished something most people only dream about. So celebrate. Then get your butt back in the chair and write another.
WG: Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?
DJ: There are dozens. I'll give you my most recent. I ordered a DVD from Michael Hauge's website on beginnings. When I watched it, I was like, "OH! Okay. Well that explains a lot." Beginnings are the hardest part of any manuscript for me, and Michael's video helped me so much. Specifically that your job as a writer is to create empathy in the reader for your protagonist. Period. If you don't do that, no one will read any further. Then he goes on to tell you exactly how to do that, step by step. It is a GREAT video. I highly, highly recommend it.
WG: Rejections, notes from unhappy readers and less than stellar reviews are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?
DJ: I realized long ago that it doesn't matter what you write, someone is going to hate your work, and they will hate it with a fiery passion. And oddly enough, some will let you know. While 99.9% of emails from readers are sparklingly positive, I have received a couple that were, shall we say, not. One reader recently told me that my book was refuge for the mediocre. Okay, that one actually made me laugh, but most of the time I feel really bad. Then I get over it and move on with my life. Again, no writer on Earth has every pleased every reader out there.
WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?
DJ: That you can't think of writing as a business, you have to think of it as a creative endeavor. I'm sorry, but I disagree. I went into this with one thing in mind, to make a living as a writer. That was the dream and the goal from day one. Was I laughed at? Heck yeah, more than once. And they didn't have the decency to do it behind my back. But I have a family. I have a future I need to think about and children that depend on me. Make no mistake, the publishing world is a business venture. The writing world is a creative one. And those two have to meet somewhere in the middle if you want the dream to survive. And aren't all businesses creative to some degree? I suggest finding a happy medium.
WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?
DJ: Most rewarding is waking up knowing I can work in my pajamas all day if I want to, getting to stay home and do what I love. Who could ask for more? I struggle the most with finding the time to write as much as I'd like to. So many other things get in the way, like writing what I'm being paid to write. LOL. I have so many manuscripts stared that I'd love to be able to work on, if only there were more hours in the day.
WG: When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?
DJ: Favorite self-indulgence is definitely TV. If I have finished my work for the day, I get to watch TV or read.
WG: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
DJ: First, a writer. Then I went through a jet-pilot phase. Then back to a writer.
WG: What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
DJ: Wow. Well, for those who don't know, my oldest son is Deaf, hence the bachelor's in interpreting, so I'm fluent in ASL. Not sure how surprising that is.
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
DJ: So, so many. I love the Gilmore Girls and I've watched all seven seasons twice. Same with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both have incredibly savvy heroines who are spunky and fragile at once. I love seeing how they get out of scrapes in their own unique ways.
WG: I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotesinspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.
DJ: I have two on taped to my computer.
"...the more obdurate the hero, the greater the triumph when the heroine brings him to his knees." -Julie Beard. I love it when a hero that seems impenetrable is blindsided by a girl with more attitude that she has a legal right to."No field ever got plowed turning it over in your mind." Not sure who said that, but I tend to do that, to turn a plot over and over in my mind until I realize I've gotten nowhere fast. If it's not on paper, it doesn't count.
DJ: Right now I an on the second and last round of revisions for a YA that will be out next year. We are still deciding on a title, but it is such a fun story about a girl whose life is irrevocably changed when the Angel of Death starts high school in her small town. I've written YA much longer than anything else and tend to navigate toward that genre. I'll be starting the second in the trilogy this month.
WG: Please tell us about your current project.
WG: What inspired you to write this particular story?
DJ: Probably a flawed sense of morals. lol
WG: What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?
DJ: When I started writing the YA, I was working at the high school in my hometown. So just watching and interacting with the kids was so fun and just added fuel to the fire. I did learn a lot about the Angel of Death in different cultures and the role he plays in each. In some cultures, what they consider the Angel of Death is analogous with their perception of the grim reaper, which is probably where I got the idea. See, there it is again. Death. Weird.
WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.
DJ: I will be receiving an offer for the next three in the Charley Davidson series this summer, so that will be upcoming as well as the next in the YA trilogy.
WG: And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.
DJ: Absolutely!http://www.facebook.com/darynda.jones.official http://twitter.com/#!/Darynda
WG: Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!
DJ: Thanks again, Winnie!!! I've really enjoyed this and appreciate the opportunity! ~D~