Connie: Hello Jill Marie, itís so nice to meet you. Welcome to Once Upon A Romance. I look forward to sharing our conversation with OUAR visitors. Will you start us off with a bit of information about what youíre working on now?
Jill Marie: Hi Connie! Iím glad to be able to connect with you and your readers. Right now Iím doing edits on Heart of Glass, the third book in the Irish Angels Series that includes Heart of Stone and Heart of Lies. I really enjoyed writing the first two and reader response has been wonderful, but I really am partial to Heart of Glass which will be out in early 2012. Itís probably the most strictly romantic of the three.
Connie: I personally know of some readers who will be looking forward to Heart of Glass.
I would like to talk about the layers of your stories. First off, youíre writing a historical romance. Your characters and setting are in place, their story waiting to be told. That in itself is a job as you know from such titles as Sunflower or Rose. Now you need to incorporate your inspirational theme and message. How you blend and balance these layers, especially without coming across as pushy or preachy?
Jill Marie: Actually thatís something I have been working on. Depending on the publisher (not to mention the readers) some want more of an inspirational theme and message than others. For me itís just another facet of the characterís personality. Just as the characterís experiences in life affect them as they make choices, so do their beliefs or lack thereof. The character has to journey through the story to find herself and her faith. Thankfully I have good editors who can point out when to add or pull back.
Connie: That was explained in a way it never has, to my recollection, and makes a lot of sense.
Your characters must have a back story as well as attributes and a vocation. Characters, even once the author thinks they know everything about them, can be surprising. Of these things, what has surprised you by any of your characters, recent or past?
Jill Marie: My lead characters and everyone else in the books tend to surprise me and I usually advise new writers that once you get to the end of your first draft, you know the beginning. Things about their personalities, their past and their reactions are inspired as I write and the character changes from beginning to end. Once a draft is completed, I go back and polish to add what I learned about them along the way. Then there are notes and revisions from the editor that make the characters even more complete. Itís good to have another viewpoint of the work.
Connie: Clothes can be a factor in a book; the roughness of homespuncloth, calico, suspenders, the wool of the trousers. They can reveal something about the characters personalities and situations that isnít otherwise told or shown, or as you just said, the author learns through the first draft. Do you use clothes as added visual for your readers, for an extra layer of the story?
Jill Marie: Clothes, furniture, items in the characterís home; all of those things give the reader a view of the character. An author is like a set designer. Itís our job to create the world in the mind of the reader. I like to think of it as a blank stage and all that the reader learns of the character is what I show them, so I try to make that world as complete as possible right down to the pots the character cooks in or the shoes that she has on.
Connie: And your settings, apart from the set design, how important are they to the layers of not only your story itself, but your characters? Do your settings also tell a subtle or often untold story about your characters?
Jill Marie: As with the "set design" the setting is a huge part of the storyÖalmost another character in itself. The landscape is something that the character must deal with along with life circumstances. This is especially true if the character is a "fish out of water" in the story. An example would be the city gal who moves to the prairie and has to deal with the isolation and the loneliness. In Heart of Lies, the swamps and bayous of Louisiana are a big part of who Maddie Grande (the main character) has become; she traps muskrats and sells pelts to survive. She loves the bayou and I think the fact that Iím drawn to the beauty of that area myself comes out in the descriptions and so my words often paint a vivid picture for readers and keeps them in the dream.
Connie: Every element is crucial when telling a storyÖ
Jill Marie, letís say you absolutely do not like something; i.e. melon of any kind, or youíre really afraid of dogs or spiders or frogs. Do you have a tendency to avoid writing about the things you personally donít like, or do you swallow the eww or ick factor and forge ahead with it?
Jill Marie: I tend to give my characters similar traits, so letís say I donít like liver (which is true) then the character would probably say something like, "Iíll eat anything but liver." In Heart of Lies, I show Maddie skinning muskrats. I wouldnít be able to skin anything, believe me, unless I guess I was starving and even then itís doubtfulÖbut I can certainly do research and write about it.
Connie: You wrote western historical (Americana) romance for many years. Then came a time of contemporary romance. Now you are successfully finding your footing in the inspirational genre, which you say are very much like your western historical and Americana romances, once more. Can you tell us what the catalysts were for these transitions and do you feel as if youíve found a happy writing place?
Jill Marie: I went into hardcover when the sales in western/Americana romance was going down (not a great move). I wrote a series of three contemporary titles which were also hardcover. In hindsight they should have been mass market. Though the books garnered much praise (and I loved writing them) hardcovers were too expensive for my core audience.
My agent suggested I try something else and the marketable choices around 2005 are about the same as they are todayÖvampire romances, erotica, very sexy Regencies, or inspirational romance fiction. For me it wasnít really a choice. I had been thinking about writing for the inspirational market (I guess you can say I was "inspired" to do so). I really enjoy the refreshing freedom to write stories without love scenes. I was surprised at how many of my traditional romance readers followed me.
Connie: Honestly, from what I know and see, many of the traditional romance (historical and contemporary) readers are looking for something more than the "marketable" choices you mentioned.
How much and in what way, if at all, do you feel your voice/style has changed from your earlier historical titles such as Come Spring and Just Once, to your contemporary titles such as Summer Moon and Loverís Lane, and ultimately to your inspirational historical Homecoming and Heart of Lies?
Jill Marie: I think my voice is the same and also my style is the same. Over the years novel requirements have gotten shorter in length so Iíve had to edit myself a bit as far as description. My goal has always been to write a character driven novel thatís a page turner and hopefully thatís what Iím still doing. With contemporaries the language and tone is different but people (characters) are the same and have the same needs and goals and pain and joy as in past times. I try to tap into that.
Connie: The industry has virtually exploded in recent years. Mass market publishers seem to be thriving and expanding. There are an ever-growing number of e-publishers, the e-book market is everywhere with e-readers. What is one piece of advice to the aspiring author who is serious about writing but may get lost in the commotion and controversy of mass market vs. e-pub?
Jill Marie: I wish I had a real pearl of wisdom on that one. Writers should remember that if they want to publish an actual printed book,there has to be a way to distribute and market it. E-books are fine for self-publishing and many authors have done very, very well going that route. But if you have a physical book that you are trying to sell, you have to work very hard to distribute it yourself.
As far as I know nothing can touch what a traditional publisher does to get the books into stores and into the hands of readers. You donít want to spend a lot of money only to wind up with boxes of books in the trunk of your car.
My agent is in the process of putting my back list titles on line as e-books so classics like Sunflower, Rose, and Come Spring are available again as e-books in lots of formats. I have about twelve more titles that might see the light of day again and thatís exciting. So far the three we started with are doing great.
Connie: We wish you well on the re-releases of your classics a e-books!
I see time is running out. Would you mind answering some get-to-know-you questions, Jill Marie? How does cooking and baking fit in along with island life and sticking your toes in the sand?
Jill Marie: Cooking. Ah. I used to love to cook but after a wonderful forty years of marriage I can take it or leave it. Iím happy with popcorn and yogurt for dinner but I have a hungry sports oriented man around who burns up a lot of calories. I rely on the crock pot a lot these days. I can put everything in there, turn it on, head to the beach or the office and dinner is ready when I get back.
Connie: The crock pot is quite handy, isnít it? Do you enjoy either (cooking and baking, not the sticking the toes in the sand )?
Jill Marie: I sometimes make treats for the neighbors for Christmas gifts, but they have to be easyÖone or two steps. Open box of mix, add ingredients, stir and bake type stuff.
Connie: Yep, thatís easy. Iím seeing a pattern here but will ask anywayÖdo you cook while your husband plays the guitar?
Jill Marie: Usually Iím typing when he plays guitar. I do go down to the local establishment where he plays on Fridays to listen and we have a pizza there afterward. "Take Out" is my favorite recipe, too.
Connie: Ahhhh. And itís not one that you have to "share", either. Itís a one or two step recipe!
For Fun. Giving it a minute of thought, what recurring fictional characters from TV or even a book, would like to get to know?
Jill Marie: Richard Castle on Castle. Heís funny and handsome and a writer. What a package! Iíd also like to run into Wulfgar from The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss, but then again, heís probably much better on the pages of a book than heíd be in person as he lived in 1066. No toothpaste or deodorant, smelly pelt outfitsÖetc. etc.
Connie: Perhaps Castle could help refine himÖ?
As a little girl, during summer break, in Indiana or California, where could you be found? Outside playing, inside playing with Barbieís or dolls, inside/outside reading, other?
Jill Marie: During summer break? In the sun. Iím a tanorexic and have been since the days when weíd use idodine to get a suntan. But Iíd definitely be out there reading, too. I also went to the library every Saturday to check out books and joined the bookworm club.
Connie: As pre-teens/teens most of us had girlhood crushes on music/movie stars. Who did you have a crush on?
Jill Marie: Michael Landon as Little Joe on Bonanza. It was a pretty good crush. Iíd always try to rewrite the endings of the episodes in my head so that he ended up with me.
Connie: What is your favorite holiday and have you established any unique traditions for that day?
Jill Marie: Fourth of July. We always go to a hula sisterís huge party for about 400 people on a spit of land between the ocean and a river. Itís a pot luck and they bbq all kinds of meats and there are Hawaiian entertainers all day long and we do the hula and so do other hula groups. Some folks swim or fish or paddle stand up paddle boards. Itís great fun. We get home to our little town in time to be out on the bay at dark and watch everyone explode their boxes of fireworks up and down the crescent bay. It looks like a war zone. Very festive and very 4th.
Connie: Thatís quite a day to look forward to!
If all of your jobs and/or qualifications throughout your life could be catalogued or plotted into one book, Jill Marie, what would be the title?
Jill Marie: Eat, Tan, Write, Pray
Connie: This is where I say thank you very much! I had a great time visiting with you. Did we forget to talk about anything, did I leave something out that your want the readers to know?
Jill Marie: Iíd love to have them stop by my website at www.jillmarielandis.com where they can sign up for the newsletters, read the blog and maybe win an autographed copy. Iím also on facebook at Jill Marie Landis and Jill Marie Landis Author. Iíve got a funny mystery series The Tiki Goddess Mysteries thatís going to launch this summer, probably late July or August, from Bell Bridge Books. They are fun and fast beach reads about a group of crazy ladies who live on Kauai and dance hula and end up embroiled in mysteries. The first title is Mai Tai One On. Thereís more information about them at www.thetikigoddess.com
Mahalo for inviting me to chat! Take care, Connie.
Aloha, Jill Marie