Hi everyone. I’m so excited to welcome Darynda Jones.
Darynda, congratulations on winning the 2009 Golden Heart for the best Paranormal Romance. You must be so excited.
I love the title of your book, ‘First Grave On The Right’. Where did you come up with that name? How important do you think titles are and why?
(DJ) I think titles are terribly important. They should reflect the ambience of the manuscript/book. If your manuscript is a romantic comedy, you probably shouldn’t call it ‘The Killer Within’. Though ‘Killer Heels and a Double Latte’ might work. While most people are thinking, well, duh, I have seen some pretty bad titles. Boring titles are almost as bad. The title is the first thing a potential buyer sees. (Until you make it BIG. Then they see your name first.) I remember how bad I wanted to read the short story ‘In the Gloaming’ based on the title alone. It fascinated me.
It took me a while to come up with First Grave on the Right. My working title was Dead People. LOL. Because I really wanted First Grave to be the first in a series, I wracked my brain to come up with a way to let people know, “Hey, this is the first one in this series, and this is the second.” I’m one of those readers who simply must start at the beginning. I hate jumping into the middle, although any book within a series should be able to stand alone. So I figured I would help people out and put First in the title. My working title for the second in the series Second Grave on the Left. :)
How long have you been writing?
(DJ) I can honestly say I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I’ve been writing since before I could write. When I was five, I would pick up a pen and paper, scribble a story onto the page and ask my mom to read it. Thankfully, she would play along. Later, I would write plays for the neighborhood kids to act out. My plays were startling similar to Cinderella, so I’m just grateful Disney didn’t catch wind of my productions. For the most part, nobody caught wind of them. We rarely had an audience.
I wrote my first manuscript in high school, though I never quite finished it. Then, like so many others, I lost the dream for a few years. It still burned inside me, but life just got in the way and I decided I had to give it up and get on with my life. But as we all know, quitting something so visceral simply isn’t that easy. I started writing seriously again about seven years ago and have three completed manuscripts, each in different genres. Sigh...
Do you write every day?
(DJ) Oh, I’m horrible. I would say I write about four days a week, though that is changing. I think we writers need to get into the ‘habit’ of writing on a daily basis. So that is one of my long-term goals. Even if it is for only fifteen minutes a day, I think it’s important. JR Ward writes seven days a week, never takes a day off and never takes a vacation. That is my goal, minus the never-taking-a-vacation part.
Why write Paranormal? What do you love about the genre?
(DJ) Paranormal has absolutely no boundaries. There are very few rules and you can custom build your world. The only limits in paranormal are those the writer creates. I just think it’s a fun genre and I wanted to write about something you don’t see everyday. Something so unique, so different, people stand up and say, “Hey, that sounds pretty cool.” When I came up with a female protagonist who was born a grim reaper and falls in love with the son of Satan, I just knew I had a classic love story in the making. Move over Margaret Mitchell. LOL. (That was a joke. Margaret rocks!)
How do you research for a paranormal romance?
(DJ) You read what everyone else is doing, throw it all out the window, then sit down and pull your hair out until you come up with something unique. Then you make up the rules as you go. Of course, if you are doing something like a vampire or a werewolf, there are rules you can break and rules you can’t. In those cases, I would go back to the beginning. Study the origins of the myths, add a twist here, a turn there, a dash of this and that.... Whatever you write, make it yours and yours alone.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other writers? Ie: World building, characters.
(DJ) Study the masters. Read. Then read some more. Some people are just naturals at world building. One of my new favorites who I highly recommend is Nalini Singh. Her worlds and her characters are simply amazing. They have a depth that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. Also, it doesn’t hurt to study shows like Buffy and Firefly, and it’s a great excuse to watch TV. I am a huge Joss Whedon fan and would bear his children if asked. Because he has the skill to literally force the viewer to laugh and cry at the same time, I really did study his stuff. I mean, I watched it over and over and took notes. I studied how he made us fall in love with Spike even though Spike was an awful, evil vampire. How he made us cheer for Angel and Buffy even when Angel lost his soul and went around killing all of Buffy’s friends. Joss Whedon is a master at pulling those heartstrings.
Is there a craft book that resonated with you and you’d suggest to others?
(DJ) The very first craft book I read was Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. It blew me away. I thought, “Now hold on there, mister. You’re saying I shouldn’t use adverbs repeatedly???” (I was new.) Next was the absolute must, Stephen King’s On Writing. I loved it so much. His writing style resonates throughout the book and flows with effortless ease. It’s humorous and poignant. If only I could write like him.... The truth is, I love craft books. That’s when you know you’re hopeless. When you love books on writing as much as fiction.
How was your Golden Heart experience?
(DJ) In a word, surreal. In more than a word, one of the greatest experiences of my life. I have a slew of new sisters that I have grown to love, an irrevocable validation of my writing, and a fantastic agent, Alexandra Machinist of The Linda Chester Literary Agency. The whole thing has just been such an amazing journey. I highly recommend finaling in the Golden Heart!
On this note, I must say that the final alone was such a shock to me, I could hardly believe it. I had entered the GH before and each time I figured I had a chance. This time I didn’t. I was so mad at myself for entering when there was simply no way I would final with this manuscript. So much so, that I almost didn’t send in my entry. Seriously, I decided not to—I didn’t have time—then I found out I had another day and, with great reluctance, I sent it in anyway. Then I was mad at myself for wasting all that money on postage. But when I won...wow, talk about shell shock. I sat there staring wide-eyed at my best friend so long that she had to hit me to get me to the stage. Then I forgot my shoes, but that’s another story.
Now, for those of you having a hard time, I have a little anecdote. I have entered this same manuscript in six contests. Six. And guess how many times it has finaled. Once. It finaled one time and in that contest it won first. In all the other contests, this same manuscript, the one that WON a Golden Heart, came in almost dead last. And the contest it won in? They dropped the lowest score. The contest coordinator sent a grid of all the scores in the category, and had they not dropped the lowest score, my entry would have come in second to last. So trust me when I say I was more than a little floored when I won the GH. I really and truly did not expect it. But I am more grateful and more honored than anyone can imagine.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking of entering the Golden Heart?
(DJ) Again, make it unique and make it shine. There are other books about grim reapers, but most of them are dark. I wanted mine to be light and fun with a sassy protagonist who is somewhat of a danger magnet. So the idea wasn’t as unique as was the twist I placed on it. Remember, there are no new stories, just new ways of telling them. And polish that baby. Study the rules of grammar until you can quote them in your sleep. Then break them, naturally.
Since you won the Golden Heart, I’m sure we’ll see you book on the shelves soon.
Did you want to tell us a little about your book?
(DJ) Well, I pretty much gave this one away already. Here is the blurb from my query letter:
Private investigator Harley Davidson was born with three things: a smoking hot ass; a healthy respect for the male anatomy; and the rather odd job title of grim reaper. Since the age of five, she has been helping the departed solve the mysteries of their deaths so they can cross. Thus, when three lawyers from the same law firm are murdered, they come to her to find their killer. In the meantime, she’s dealing with a being more powerful, and definitely sexier, than any specter she’s ever come across. With the help of a pain-in-the-ass skip tracer, a dead pubescent gangbanger named Angel, and a lifetime supply of sarcasm, Harley sets out to solve the highest profile case of the year and discovers that dodging bullets isn’t nearly as dangerous as falling in love.
Is there a next book planned?
(DJ) Yes. And a third and a fourth...I’m dreaming big. :)
What is your website url, so others can check on news from you?
(DJ) My website, when I get it up, will be www.daryndajones.com. I do have a blog though, www.darynda.wordpress.com. Now I just have to write something in it. And naturally I’m on facebook and twitter and myspace.
I just wanted to thank you, Autumn, for this opportunity. I love your blog and I loved getting to meet and hang out with you at conference! Here’s to the Ruby Slippered Sisters!