J is for Jae

In my last post I talked about how reading Backwards to Oregon changed my life. Backwards to Oregon was written by Jae, whom I have had the fortune of interviewing!

Jae1

I think most people know who you are, but let’s say there is someone reading who doesn’t, what would you say is the most important thing to know about Jae?

That I love books—writing them, reading them, editing them. When it comes to my own books, I want my readers to know that I work hard to deliver a high-quality book every time, with three-dimensional characters and a realistic love story that makes you fall in love with both characters too.

Do you prefer e-books or physical books?

 It’s not an either/or thing for me. I buy mostly e-books because otherwise I would run out of space on my bookshelf. Plus e-books are really convenient when you’re traveling. But if I really like a book, I’ll buy it as a paperback too.

 Do you feel different about writing now than when you first started?

 Honestly, no. I was always passionate about writing, and I still am. But, of course, now writing is my job too, so that means I can’t skip a day of writing because I don’t feel motivated. Being a full-time writer isn’t all about sipping lattes all day and feeling kissed by the muse. Sometimes it’s hard work. But it’s still the best job in the world.

 Once you said, in an interview, that one of your biggest fears was having all characters be the same – do you feel like you’ve managed to not do this?

 I’ll let my readers by the judge of that. So far, I think I managed to avoid it. I see it so often with writers who publish several books a year. Sometimes, their books and characters are weak copies of earlier novels. I don’t want that to happen to me, so I put a lot of extra effort into creating my characters. I create character sketches that include a lot of details from their childhood, past relationships, job history, their fears, strengths, and weaknesses. I want my characters to be fully developed story people that my readers want to hang out with.

 Would you say Backwards to Oregon is your biggest success?

Something in the Wine_Jae

 That depends on what criteria you use to measure success. It’s not my best-selling novel of all times (that would be Just for Show and Something in the Wine) nor did it win the most awards (that would be Second Nature, which won five awards). But it’s certainly a book that still resonates with readers. When I asked readers for their all-time favorite lesbian / women-loving women novel for the free choice square of Lesbian Book Bingo, Backwards to Oregon was one of the top 15 answers.

If you didn’t work as a full-time writer and editor, is there any other field that interests you? Psychology again or something else?

 I’m interested in a lot of things, but I’m not sure I’d want to do any of them for a living. Being a psychologist was great, but since I’m an introvert, working with people all day took a lot out of me, so I probably wouldn’t want to do that again. Honestly, being a full-time writer is a dream come true for me. But if I couldn’t do that for some reason, I’d love to do something else with languages.

 How do you balance writing with the distraction of social media and the internet?

 I always say the Internet is the biggest blessing and the greatest curse for writers. I try to do my writing in the morning and early afternoon and turn off the Internet until I meet my daily word count goal. If I use the Internet to look up things while I write, I sometimes fall down a research rabbit hole… Half an hour later, I find myself reading a fascinating article that has nothing to do with my initial research question at all.

Once I’m done writing for the day, I do marketing, connect with readers via social media, and answer email in the afternoon.

 Do you have a favourite social media?

 Hmm… In the past, I would have said Facebook, since I started out not liking Twitter much. But over time, that has definitely changed. I’ve been on Instagram for just a few months, and I really like it. Having a mainly image-based social media is a nice change of pace.

 Is there any novel of yours that took longer to write than the others?

Just Physical_Jae

 The writing itself almost always takes the same amount of time—about three months for the first draft. What differs is how long the research phase and the revisions take.

Just Physical is the book that I spent most time revising. I had to rewrite the entire book several times to get Jill’s emotional journey right. When it comes to research, my historical romances (Backwards to Oregon, Hidden Truths, and Shaken to the Core) took much longer, and I also did a lot of research on asexuality before I started writing Perfect Rhythm. So these would be the books that took the longest to finish overall.

 When you start planning a new novel, do you start with the story or the characters?

 Always the characters. They are at the core of the story. They are the story. Once I know who the characters are and what they need to learn and how they need to grow during the course of the book, that determines the plot.

 If someone had never read any of your books, which one do you think they should start with?

 That depends on what kind of books they like to read. If they like historical fiction, I’d say start with Backwards to Oregon. If they like paranormal romance, I’d say start with Second Nature. If they are mainly reading contemporary romance, I’d say either Just for Show (which is a romance that starts out as a fake relationship) or Damage Control (which is a celebrity romance).

 Is there anything in your writing journey that you’d like to go back and change?

 Not much actually. Maybe making that huge leap into writing full-time a little sooner or with more confidence. But all in all, I look back without any regrets.

 What is next for you?

Paper Love_Jae

 I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of my newest romance novel, Paper Love, which will be available everywhere on August 29. It’s my first book that is set in Germany—in the city where I live—and I’m curious to find out what readers think.

I’m in the middle of doing research on my next novel, book #2 in the Fair Oaks series. It will have different main characters than book 1 (Perfect Rhythm) but takes place in the same small town in Missouri.

 I’m also traveling a lot right now. I just got back from a trip to the US for the GCLS conference, and I’ll leave for EllCon in Bristol soon. It’s always great to spend some time among people who are just as passionate about books and about lesbian fiction as I am.

Jae2

You can find out more about Jae here.

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Interview with Harper Bliss

Harper Bliss is an incredibly popular author of lesbian fiction and erotica with titles such as At the Water’s Edge, Seasons of Love and my personal favourite, Once in a Lifetime (and many more). She lives in Hong Kong with her wife, is also the co-founder of LadyLit Publishing and has the personal quest to be the most accessible author out there. 

Hi Harper! Thanks for the interview! Did you ever think that writing for fun would lead to your life today?

Thank you for having me. I certainly never believed it could be like this before the ebook revolution happened in 2011, which (lucky for me) coincided with me having lots of time to write due to my wife being relocated to Hong Kong for work. I’ve been doing this for 5 years now. Very amateurishly at first, and not making a lot of money. But even when I was only making a small amount each month, it was very encouraging because I could really see the potential. Now we both make a living off the best job in the world. It’s amazing and I’m very grateful.

As I understand it, you’re from Belgium. Have you ever had an issue with writing in English?

Yep. I’m from Belgium so English is not my native language. I grew up speaking Dutch, which is actually pretty close to English, meaning that it’s very easy for Dutch-speaking people to learn English. Belgium is a trilingual country (French and German being the other two official languages) where a lot of emphasis is put on learning languages from a young age. And one must never underestimate the power of subtitles when learning a language. Hearing the language while simultaneously reading translated subtitles throughout my teenage years has certainly contributed to my knowledge of the English language. Basically, you could say that I became fluent after watching Beverly Hills 90210. (It also helps that my wife is half-British and is very skilled at eliminating errors from my writing before it goes to the editor…) All of that being said, these days, I find it nearly impossible to write anything in Dutch. I live in Hong Kong, where I’m surrounded by English-speaking expats. I exclusively read in English (and have done so for a very long time). Though English will never be my first language, it has definitely become my language of choice.

Do you ever find it difficult juggling your marriage and your writing? I.e. Needing to write when your wife wants attention etc.

Not in the least. My wife has always been super supportive and now we run our publishing business together (and have done so for the past 2 years.) I only write in the morning anyway. She doesn’t want attention before noon. 😉 All jokes aside, writing and publishing is now both our full-time job. We’re in this together and we love it (we’re codependent lesbian like that.)

How come you decided to create LadyLit publishing rather than going the self-publishing route?

There was a time when I had a dream of becoming this amazing publisher of lesfic. Until I learned that running a publishing house is a lot of extra work that takes away a lot of time from writing. We closed for submissions about a year and a half ago to focus solely on Harper Bliss books and it has certainly been a good decision, not only for our bottom line, but even more so for our peace of mind. Being responsible for other authors’ success in publishing is extremely stressful. I have nothing but respect for houses like Ylva, Bella and Bold Strokes, who make a big difference to authors who don’t want to go indie (it’s not for everyone), but I’m glad I don’t have that responsibility anymore. Ladylit is still our company and will continue to be so, but for the foreseeable future we will only use it to publish Harper Bliss titles (and hopefully a couple of new pen names soon.)

Do you have daily goals for writing? 

I do, but consistency has always been my greatest enemy. Though, and I might be jinxing it by saying this, I think I finally cracked it. (It only took me 5 years.) Ever since I started writing seriously, I’ve dreamed of a regular routine, perhaps not daily, but at least on weekdays. The problem I’ve always had is that I dream too big. I set myself outrageous daily word count goals, only to end up terribly unmotivated when I can’t reach them, then start taking days off… that kind of predictable slippery slope. Since about a month or 2, I’ve been writing consistently between 8AM and 10AM. Being a fast writer, I can get between 2.000 and 3.000 words done daily. So that’s my goal (as opposed to the 6.000 words days I used to aim for.) I’ve always known consistency is more sustainable than binging, and it looks like I can finally make it work now.

Do you have a favourite among your own novels/short stories?

I think my best book is my latest release In the Distance There Is Light. It’s fairly controversial. And I’ve learned that my writing can really thrive on topics like that. I have written fairly straight-forward lesbian romances before, but they will never be my own favourites. I like big drama and emotional sex scenes and impossible situations. In the Distance has all of that in spades.

Out of all characters you have ever created, do you have any favourites?

That’s like asking about my favourite child! I’ll attempt an answer, anyway. 😉 I’ve always had a huge soft spot for Alice, the main character in Seasons of Love. She’s a pretty uptight, very British solicitor going through a midlife crisis and I love her transformation throughout the book—during which she falls in love with a much younger woman, who is also her best friend’s daughter. It’s funny because I always believed the power lesbian characters I created like Dominique Laroche in French Kissing or Isabella in High Rise would stay with me much longer as my favorites, but it turns out Alice McAllister is much more interesting as a character.

What kind of writing process do you have? Do you plan the whole story first or do you like to see where it takes you?

I write romance, so, at its most basic, the story will always be the same: two women meet, like each other, encounter a few obstacles, overcome them, and have a happy ending. I guess, for this reason, I’m not much of a plotter. I’m also very bad at knowing in advance what will happen. What I like to do instead is create complex, layered characters who are unpredictable, even to me as their creator, that drive the story forward. That being said, I would like to be more of a plotter, because when I know exactly what’s going to happen, I can write much faster.

Very soon, my wife and I will be trying our hand at writing a thriller together, and a book in that genre requires a whole lot more plotting than I’m used to. We’ve been planning this book for weeks now and, at times, it’s been a bit of a painful process for me, but I think the end result will be all the better for it (and my wife happens to pretty good at coming up with murderous plots!)

Do you read nonfiction books about writing?

All the time. I would definitely recommend Stephen King’s On Writing, just to get you started. I also listen to a few weekly podcasts (The Creative Penn, Self-Publishing Podcast & The Self-Publishing Formula) about writing and publishing and pick up a lot of tips there. We’ve also been doing James Patterson’s Masterclass in writing, which is quite interesting (though not very detailed.) I think I must have also read every book available about speeding up your writing, but they all say the same, just as any book on craft will, essentially, say the same. But it’s good to be reminded sometimes.

What are you currently working on right now?

I just typed ‘The End’ underneath the first draft of Pink Bean Book Two. The jury’s still out on the title, so I can’t give you that just yet. It will be out just before Christmas on 23 December 2016. Now that that’s done, my wife and I can finally start writing our thriller (about time after all that plotting!)

You can find Harper on her website or on her other social media