Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Welcome 2009 Golden Heart Winner Darynda Jones

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!


  1. Hey, Sister! Way to go. Love the blurb. And that validation? Nothing can top it. No doubt we'll all soon be saying, "I knew her when..."

    Best of luck, darlin'. {{{Hugs}}}

  2. Hmmmm. It's 2:15 a.m. on the 12th in my world. Go figure.

  3. Hi, Autumn and Darynda. Fabulous interview! Congrats on your GH win, Darynda. I hope FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT is published asap because I'm dying to read it. (No pun intended--I'm not ready for the grim reaper yet!)

    ~ Vanessa

  4. Congrats and thanks for inviting me over. First Grave on the Right is definitely a catchy title and make those big plans! Looks like you're going places.
    Best wishes for great success.

  5. Congrats, Darynda, on the Golden Heart win, and I LOVE! the title of your book.

  6. Congratulations, Darynda! Love the title and love the blurb. Gotta get me that book! :-)

  7. Hi, Darynda!

    You're like me! I was writing stories before I could write too, and I wrote plays in school--even talked the principal into letting us perform one for the school when I was in 5th grade, lol. And in h.s. I had my prerequiste, never ending novel. Oh, and loved MM--read GWTW 8 times, and when I finally did pick up that novel again and finish it, it rivaled GWTW in length. haha. Congrats on your win! Books sounds fabulous, can't wait to read it!

  8. Thank you guys so much!!! I'm so glad everyone likes the title. I'm worried that when I do get an offer (notice I said when:) they'll want to change it. OH well, if that happens it happens. I just hope not!

    And Diana! That is too cool. We're like sisters or something!

    Hugs all around and thank you guys so much for stopping by!

  9. Congratulations Darynda! I enjoyed your blurb,(great hook!) and also you sharing your reaction when you won, especially the part about the shoes:) What a delightful story...you'll have to elaborate if you find time today:)

  10. Congrats on finaling in the Golden Heart! That's quite a feat with paranormals. They have so much more one has to juggle to pull together. I agree with THE FIRST FIVE PAGES being a good read for writers. I heard Lukeman speak in 2003 (non-romance writing conference) after I read his book. It's definitely great advice. As is ON WRITING. I find the only problem I have is that my stories are too different. (I could just pull my hair out 24-7 some days.) I'm lucky small presses are so openminded. Good luck with your writing. And congrats on the GOT WOLF! win, Autumn!!!

  11. Duh! Somebody shoot me. Congrats on that win!!!

  12. Ah Darynda, if they try to change that title perhaps we can put them in the first grave on the left. When I first went through the list of GH finalists that title jumped out at me. I LOVE it! Then when I saw your blurb! Wow!
    Yes! Those first five pages have to be the greatest. I go back and look at my favorite books and marvel at what is accomplished in even the opening line.
    I'm glad someone else has bald spots from trying to make a story different. Do you have a process/formula you go through to work it out?
    Congrats again on the GH win. You soooo deserve it!

  13. FYI, Darynda is in another time zone than I. She'll be jumping in to answer all questions from there, so please check back.

    Rita, LOL. You and I agree, if editor tries to change her title we might have to get our suspense buddies to change their minds. LOL.

  14. Congratulations on the win, Darynda. It's incredible your story didn't do well in other contests. Also, thanks for sharing how you analyze other people's craft. It think it's brilliant of you to watch Joss Whedon multiple times and take notes.

  15. HI, Diana. I'm so glad you stopped back. You won a prize last week. Could you email me please at autumnjordon@yahoo.com

    Thanks, AJ

  16. Darynda;

    First of all - CONGRATULATIONS on your Golden Heart win. What a fantastic post and story about your road to the GH. (You've also reinforced a persistent belief of mine...."You just never know....")

    I absolutely LOVE your story pitch. And I have to echo what the other gals said - I CAN NOT WAIT to read this book!!


  17. Hey Darynda!!! Nice to see you on here today! (Just sorry I'm so late!) I have to toss in my agreement that WHEN you sell, they better not mess with your title. It's too perfect. And your blurb is fabulous too. I can't wait to read it.

    And of course, congrats on the Golden Heart!!!! I still find it too funny that you went up on stage without your shoes :)

  18. I am so sorry I haven’t been here much today. I was hoping my meetings would run super short and I’d have lots of breaks to check in on things. No such luck. :( But I wanted to thank everyone so much for stopping by!

    The shoes were funny. When I was walking to the stage, I realized about half way there that I’d forgotten my shoes. I stepped to the podium and said, “I forgot I took my shoes off. I’m sorry.” The audience laughed so it was all good, but I was reminiscing on how much of a hick I can be!

  19. Skhye, (awesome name, btw!) thanks for the congrats. I think the smaller e-presses are definitely holding their own. Good for you! Go forth and be different! Lol.

    Rita! Ah, yes, some opening lines just blow me away. One of my favorites ever is from a chapter mate’s Regency romance, Louise Bergin’s A Worthy Opponent. I may get in trouble for doing this, but here’s her first line:

    “Alongside a country lane in Cheshire, England, Miss Judith Shelton raised a delicate lace parasol, designed to protect her skin from the dangers of the July sun, and waited for the approaching carriage to run her down.”

    Ha! I love that! Look at how much information is packed into that one line and the amazing hook at the end. Now I want to go reread it. :)

    As far as a process or formula, I am a plotter to the Nth degree. I must have almost everything worked out before I even start a manuscript, even though much of it changes along the journey. I start by finding a very quiet place and staring into space for hours on end. My husband thinks I’m a freak. That’s okay, though. He’s a little odd himself. I love staring at a blank TV screen. Honestly, I think my brain is saying to itself, “Hey, that’s a TV. Shouldn’t there, I don’t know, be something on it? Okay, I’ll have to put something on it myself, I guess.” I can come up with more plot twists that way! Lol.

  20. Diana, thank you! And congrats on winning a prize!!! That's always fun. :)

  21. Addison, thank you so much! And this business is so subjective, huh? I know everyone says that, but it's just so true. You just never, ever, ever know. Sigh... If writing weren't cheaper than therapy... hehehe

  22. Hey Kim! Thanks for coming!

    I'm sorry I'm answering all of these at once. What a day, in more ways than one. I cannot wait to tell you guys, in fact, how WONDERFUL my day has gone. But I've promised so I won't say anything. Yet. Sigh...

    I have to tell you, Kim, that I LOVED your speech when you won! You were so brave too! The very first one on stage and you nailed it! I was so proud of you!

    Hugs everyone!

  23. Aw, thanks, Darynda! I'll tell you...I was a mess anyway, but throw on that I had to go first and I'm still surprised I made it back off that stage without landing on my head (or worse)!

    It's not fair of you to tease us with your WONDERFUL day and then not share! *sigh* Guess I'll just have to work on my patience.

  24. Kim, You were wonderful. I smiled through out the ceremony watching and listening to all my sister finalists.

    And, I agree. Darynda needs to share.

  25. Congrats on winning the Golden Heart. Sounds like a great book. Wish you much luck with it. Best, Kathy

  26. Congratulations, we all are rooting for you!!

  27. Darynda,

    What can I say? You're awesome. I'm expecting big things from you and am excited to watch your trip to publication unfold. Love ya, girlie. -- Sherri Buerkle

  28. Thank you so much, Kathy and Mary!

    And you too, Kim! I promise to come clean as soon as I can! LOL. That was mean tho, huh?

    Sherri, I am excited about your trip as well. You will do great things, I know it! I'm so glad you have an agent who feels the same way about your writing as I do.

    Thanks again for stopping by!

  29. Great interview! Congratulations, Darynda!

  30. Thank you, Helen!!! How are you, girl! You need to come to a meeting and give us an update!


  31. Darynda,

    (I'll drop you an email later as I'm chiming in late), but I loved reading 'First Grave' and I can't WAIT to see it on the shelves! I was cheering so much when you won the GH! You totally deserve it. Congrats again!

    w/a Tess Quinn

  32. Nisha!!! Thank you so much, girl! I thought it was so cool how we ran into each other at the signing. You are such a ray of sunshine.

    Hugs and thank you again!
    Oh, and yes, write me! I have news!!!
    :) ~D~

  33. You can spill the beans here, Darynda. I would be honored if you did. (((hugs))) AJ

  34. I will then, thank you, Autumn! My agent accepted a preempt offer from Jennifer Enderlin at St. Martins yesterday for a three-book, six-figure deal.

    Um, yeah, I'm floating. I should probably come down soon, huh? :)

  35. OMG Darynda I just heard your news!!! That is so wonderful. Throwing cyber confetti and cheering for you. Mega congrats. How exciting for you!! All the best, Kathy

  36. Congrats, Darynda. I was at RWA and witnessed your win. Way to go! ANd MEGA congrats on the sale! Your book sounds fascinating. I don't read that many paranormals but yours is one I have to read!

  37. Darynda, congrats on your sale to St. Martin's! Your series sounds awesome, and I'll buy this book! The funny thing is that my American Title V book is called DEAD PEOPLE. And thanks for sharing the info about the contest scores.

  38. Thank you guys so much!!! I am so excited by all of this and more than a little in love with my agent. LOL.

    My editor Jennifer Enderlin is awesome as well! I hit the jackpot, I tell ya.