RR Mona sits down with Jeaniene Frost
I would like to start off by saying that Jeaniene is wonderful to interview! We laughed, we got sidetracked, and we talked for an hour, but it was the fastest hour I’ve experienced in a very long time.
This is by no means the complete interview, but I think it gives us a peek at both the public and private sides of her personality. For those of you who haven’t met her, talking to Jeaniene is an engaging experience. She’s cheerful, enthusiastic, intelligent, funny, and polite. I could go on with my praise, but you get the idea. If you ever have the opportunity to meet her in person, please do so, you’ll be glad you did.
I would like to thank her for taking the time to grant an interview and making it an experience I’ll never forget.
Jeaniene Frost is the author of the Night Huntress and Night Huntress World novels. She lives with her husband and their very spoiled dog in Florida. Although not a vampire herself, she confesses to having pale skin, wearing a lot of black, and sleeping in late whenever possible. And while she can’t see ghosts, she loves to walk through old cemeteries. Jeaniene also loves poetry and animals, but fears children and hates to cook. She is currently at work on the next novel in her bestselling Night Huntress series.
M: How did you get started writing professionally?
J: First off, I didn’t think I would be writing professionally. I had been an avid reader since about age twelve, and I read above age level. I grabbed my mom’s romance novels and became an instant addict of the genre. I measured my allowance by how many books it could purchase.
Ever since then, I’ve wanted to be a writer because I loved reading so much and I’ve always had strange, vivid dreams that I’d remember. Once I became a reading freak, I would write down my dreams and make little stories out of them.
I always had it in my mind that I would love to write a novel. But I’m a lazy procrastinator, so I kept putting it off, saying, “I’ll do it later. Later. Later.” A couple of months before I turned thirty, I had one of those epiphany moments of, “If I don’t do this now, I’ll never do it.” At the same time, I got an idea from a dream about a half-vampire woman arguing with a full vampire male. They were arguing because he was mad that she’d left him, and that stuck in my mind. I wanted to know “who are they, why are they arguing, and why were a half-vampire and a full vampire even talking?” I just started to write it down, and it kept growing, and growing, and growing. It became the first book I ever wrote and completed.
I found out from actually finishing the book and getting it out of the way, sometimes the fear of something is worse than actually doing it. Since I love to write, I immediately started and finished the next book, and then immediately started and finished the third book. At which point, my husband said, “Honey, maybe you should see if you can sell this first book in the series before you write five, six, seven…I don’t know…however many you’re going to.”
And I thought, Okay. Fine. But again, since I’m a lazy procrastinator, I dragged my feet on learning how to get published. Writer’s Market has an advice book that I used that shows the agencies and publishers. I highlighted everything on the subject and then I went online. This was in 2004 and there wasn’t as much information online for aspiring writers as there is now. There are great sites available now that I would recommend checking out, because as I found out once I started seeking representation, there are scammers out there who prey on your dreams. When I started out, I lost several hundred dollars to a scam agency that said I had to pay them for representation. I did not know better and so I paid them, but they did nothing for me because they had their money. So I want to stress to writers, there are liars and thieves who will try to scam you out of your money. Remember Yog’s law: Money flows to the writer! You don’t pay for representation. You don’t pay to publish, because that’s not the proper form of it.
I finally learned my lesson, an expensive one, and started seeking agencies that were reputable. There’s a huge rumor going around that you have to know someone to get an agent. I would like to stress that this is not true. I queried. I got rejected dozens, and dozens, and dozens of times. A rejection is a normal part of the process. I don’t know a single author who hasn’t been rejected. You revise a query letter and you keep querying. You’re not going to get it right the first time. You revise the novel, too, because you’re not going to get it right the first time. Revision is a huge part of the writing process, and writing is a process, not a one-shot deal. So I kept revising, and I kept querying, and eventually, I was picked up by an agency. Three months later, they sold my novel. So that’s the short version of my story. (laughs)
M: How many books did you write before you were published?
J: It was technically my first book, but I must have done a dozen revisions on it. So while it was my first novel, and people go, “Oh my God, that’s amazing!” it was my first novel, version 12.6. It starts at what was originally chapter four. I ended up cutting three chapters of backstory, then cutting a whole bunch of other stuff.
I want to say to aspiring authors, “Give yourself permission to suck.” No one starts out perfect. No one starts out having everything right. Revision doesn’t mean you’ve failed–revision means you understand the process, and you realize the story is what’s most important. Your words are sacred to you, but they’re not sacred to the story. So never be afraid to change the words to make the story better.
M: Are you a plotter, a pantser, or a combination?
J: I’m a combination, leaning more toward pantser. When I start a book, I know who the hero is, who the heroine is, and nine times out of ten, I’ll know who the villain is.
I know how it’s going to start and I know how it’s going to end. So you could say it’s a very loose roadmap. And all the details—the meat, muscle, bones, and skin of it—get added later. In that regard, some people consider that straight organic, and some say, “Oh, that’s kind of funny ‘cause I start out not knowing anything.”
I need to have a good idea of the main characters first. Once I have the main characters and I really understand them, the writing comes. I might have an idea of a specific scene or two, but I’ve noticed if I don’t have a good grasp of my characters, it’s like pulling teeth trying to write scenes. Not to sound schizophrenic, but if I’m properly in my character’s head, they can tell me more of the story, and make it better, than anything I could plot out in advance.
M: Who is your favorite character or type of character to write, and why?
J: I’m fickle, so I don’t have a favorite character. Usually my favorite is whoever I’m writing at the moment. Whenever I’m writing a Cat and Bones book, my favorite characters are Cat and Bones. The book I finished before that was Mencheres and Kira. When I was writing them, I was completely tuned in to their characters, and wanted to write books about nothing but them. And prior to that, I wrote about Denise and Spade, and they’re all I wanted to write about. So it’s really whoever’s head I’m in at the time is my favorite. (laughter)
M: So far, all your characters seem to be strong, except maybe Denise, but she finally gets there.
J: I say all of mine are stronger characters. I know Denise has gotten interesting reactions. Some readers have really, really liked her, and some readers have really, really not. But then again, I could say the same thing about my heroine, Cat, as well.
Denise, to me, was a strong character, but we meet her in the beginning when she’s emotionally broken. To me, it takes more strength to recover from being broken than it does never to have been broken at all. So Denise is easily as strong as Cat, but in different ways; she doesn’t have the physical ability to go out and kick butt all the time. She was coming off her world being shattered, as well as all her preconceptions about the vampire world and her world. She was widowed, and had literally tripped over pieces of her ripped apart husband–which would ruin my day in all kinds of ways.
So I think Denise discovered for herself that she was strong, and that was something she hadn’t realized before. I think emotional strength is just as resonating as physical strength, and in a lot of ways, I feel Denise is stronger than Cat. Cat can kick a whole lot of ass, but emotionally, she has had a lot of weaknesses, and it has caused a lot of problems between her and Bones. Though she discovered her physical strength several books ago, I would want to take the readers with me to have her realize her emotional strength.
M: When you’re writing, do you prefer to continue a series non-stop, or is it better if you interrupt it to do something else and come back to it later?
J: Well, I do stop and interrupt. I went from writing the four Cat and Bones books published, to writing the first spinoff. That was really good, and also challenging, because I had to go from writing characters I’ve written several books on. I’ve actually written more Cat and Bones books than have been published. I ended up chunking an entire Cat and Bones novel, which takes me back to “don’t be afraid to cut and revise. The story is what’s most important.”
I was excited to write Spade and Denise’s story because it had been brewing in my head, but at the same time, it was challenging because I didn’t want to write Cat and Bones, Take #2. I wanted it to be Spade and Denise. I wanted to be plugged into these different characters–and they are different characters with completely different backgrounds, different emotional makeup, and complexities and experiences. One of the things I had to keep correcting in the first spinoff was how Spade was reacting the way Bones would react. Or Denise would react the way Cat would react. It wasn’t true to their characters, and I’d have to go back and say, “No, they wouldn’t handle the situation like that.” They were different people, and that was a learning process for me.
The books were written from different perspectives, too. The Cat and Bones books were written in first person from Cat’s
M interjects: I didn’t realize that! I read them, but I really hadn’t thought about it.
J: I take that as a compliment because some readers say, “Oh, I don’t want to read first person. I find it too jarring.” And I’ve had some add, “except I can read yours.” And I think that’s great.
First person romance has gotten a little bit of a bad rap, because some people think it can’t be romantic and emotionally strong if it’s written in one point of view, but I disagree. We live our lives in first person, and I’ll never know what it’s like to be in someone else’s head. To imply that you can’t be romantic if you’re writing a book in first person almost says to me that I can’t be romantic. And I strongly disagree with that. I think it’s just as viable as third person multiple.
I will use whatever works best for the story. Cat and Bones…their story is told best through Cat’s
M: Who influenced or encouraged you the most?
J: You could say my mother and father fostered my love of reading, because they were readers and there were always books around the house. My grandmother was a huge reader, and I loved visiting her house because she had floor to ceiling bookshelves in one of her rooms…there were books everywhere.
I long for a room like that. (laughter) That’s my goal…a room like that with a comfy, overstuffed couch and a table. I want one of those. So my initial inspiration for reading was from my family, and I have them to thank for that. They never objected to how much I read or what I read.
I was reading romances at twelve and thirteen, but they saw it wasn’t affecting my behavior in a negative way. I also read books by Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, because that’s what my dad liked. (My parents) never said, “No, you can’t read that, it’s too old for you.” They said, “Well, you realize there are things in that novel that you’re not allowed to do.” (more laughter) But they had the opinion that more information made for better decisions, instead of censoring information and assuming that would result in correct behavior. I’m grateful to my parents.
I give a lot of credit to my husband, too, because writing is time consuming. When I started to write, I was working a job where I would work an average of fifty hours a week. I would come home and spend maybe an hour or so with him, and then I would write. That took away a good deal of time from him.
When I was able to write full time, I thought I would have more time, but somehow those extra hours just disappeared. (laughter) If you’re lucky enough to write full time because you’ve reached a certain level, you’re going to have that time filled with other things that come along, because those things go hand-in-hand. No author I know sits back and eats bon-bons. So if you’re getting in this for the bon-bons, you’re out of luck! (More laughter. We’re having a ball. Can you tell?)
I have to thank my parents for the love of reading, and my husband for giving me the time to write, being supportive of it, and saying, “Well, if this doesn’t work out, you’re still doing what you love. If it doesn’t get published, at least you’re doing what’s important to you.” And that’s what gave me the backbone to try.
M: Who was your favorite teacher and what subject did they teach?
J: My twelfth grade English teacher, Mr. Groff. He wasn’t a warm, nurturing teacher–I had those and they’re wonderful—but he was a tough teacher, not lavish with praise. There was one thing he wrote on a project report of mine that I still remember. He wrote, “Best student in the entire 12th grade.” And because he was so gruff, that compliment meant so much to me.
Fast forward to when I’m thirty, querying my first book and thinking, “Who am I kidding? I’m just kidding myself. This is never going to happen.” I thought back to that one sentence, and I thought, “You know what? There’s no reason I can’t do this.” Even though I was getting no critical feedback in a positive way, it helped to think back to that one thing my twelfth grade English teacher had said. It gave me the inspiration to keep trying.
It was an offhand comment by a teacher, and he probably didn’t even remember it. He’s dead now, but I wish I could thank him, because teachers don’t realize, or hopefully they do, that good or bad, they are a huge influence. And to have a teacher take the time to say something positive…I remembered it twelve years later. He was a huge influence.
M: What interrupts or interferes with your writing the most?
J: (Pauses to think) It varies from day to day. There are so many things that come with being an author, but you don’t realize it until you’re published and things change. There are so many things you’re asked to do, and so many things you’d love to do.
I’m asked to do guest blogs and interviews, and I’m so flattered–just like this interview. It’s still exciting, it’s wonderful, and I end up saying yes to too many things. All these things take time. Whenever I do a written interview or guest blog, it takes two to three hours minimum for me–even if it’s a dozen questions—because I second-guess myself. And I ramble, as you know. (laughs) So as an author, you have to time this, because you’re trying to finish your books on schedule and then your publisher says, “Hey, you wanna do an anthology?”
Another thing is, you can be writing that book, doing revisions on another book, and promoting a third book all while doing guest blogs and interview, and blogging or twittering to talk to your readers because it’s fun to talk to your readers! I think it’s so cool that people want to talk to me about my characters! You know, these are things that have been living in my head for years, and other people are actually interested in them. That still shocks me in a happy way.
At the same time you’re doing all of that, you have to save time for your family. So it’s a time management thing. There are some days I’ll be busy all day and I haven’t written a word. I don’t know how it happens, but it does. A lot. It’s a good kind of busy, but it’s easy to get too busy with that and not busy enough with writing. So it’s about learning a balance. And with that balance comes saying no—and I hate to say no. It’s gotten to a point where I’m saying it a lot more than I’m comfortable with, but if not, I wouldn’t be writing, and I want to get the books out because I have the stories in my head. And I have deadlines.
M: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
J: If I wanted to have a career, and I wasn’t a writer, it would probably be photography, because I love it. I take amateur pictures and play with lighting and different things. I’m not very good at it at all. (laughs) But I really like it!
M: What’s the best and worst thing about writing?
J: The best thing is being able to write. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s really true. There’s one thing I’d like to say to people who are working to get published: If you don’t like to write, don’t do it. Seriously. You can get a job quicker, easier, and with more money than most writers make.
This is not to say there aren’t days when I drag myself to the keyboard and duct tape my butt to the chair (switches to whiny voice) ‘cause I don’t wanna do it. (laughs) Everyone has those days. But if writing doesn’t make you happy, if it makes you miserable, then it’s not the job for you.
It’s when I get an idea that strikes me out of the blue, that I realize, “Wow! It’s almost like there’s been foreshadowing in the other books leading up to this.” Then I’m excited to put that scene down, or I’ve written something and I’m giggling as I write. Or when I’ve written out several characters in my books, I’ve written those scenes and cried.
(Paints a visual for me) Here’s my husband walking by me, and here’s me over here at my keyboard giggling (makes girly giggling sounds), and God bless him, he puts up with so much insanity from me. I talk to my computer when I’m stressed…”that won’t work”…or I’ll be talking to myself, crying, laughing, who knows, but that’s the fun part for me–even on the days I don’t want to do it. That’s what keeps me coming back.
M: Are you ever overwhelmed with the attention you receive?
J: It is a bit overwhelming because I’ve spent 98% of my time in my house with my husband and my dog. Then I come to a convention like this and all of a sudden, there are hundreds of people everywhere. The first day, I’m usually in sensory overload.
M: Do you have a problem getting groceries or anything?
J: Oh, no, I don’t. (laughs) Never! Author famous is nothing like actor famous. A low profile, not-famous actor would have a harder time going to the store than a high profile, famous author, because people recognize actors’ faces. People associate authors with their books, and we don’t walk around covered in book jackets. (more laughter)
M: What question would you like an interviewer to ask that they never do?
J: I’ve been asked a lot of questions, but interviewers come up with great questions. Readers come up with great questions, too. I can’t think of anything that I’ve had a burning desire to have someone ask me that hasn’t already been asked.
There are certain points I will stress over and over again to aspiring authors warning them against falling into the trap of thinking they have to pay for an agent.
I’ve only been published for two and a half years. My first book was published in November of ’07, so it hasn’t been that long. People think I’ve been doing this for so long, but it still feels new to me. It’s been a wild ride.
M: If you decided to change genres and write something different, what genre would it be?
J: I’m always drawn to something with a paranormal aspect. I couldn’t write “normal” if you put a gun to my head. So if I were to be published in something outside the urban fantasy / paranormal romance / cross genre thing, it would probably be horror. Because, aside from growing up with a mad love for romance novels, I also grew up with a mad love for horror movies. I watched those even more than I read romance novels.
I love the idea that you might look around, and what you see might not always be all that is there. Some of my writing does get a bit darker and some doesn’t, but if I were to go out of my current genre, I might want to write something dark with a bit of a horror twist to it. I enjoy that aspect, because I think extreme circumstances reveal true character.
There are extreme circumstances in romance, because falling in love is an extreme circumstance. It’s life changing. I think horror gets a bad rap sometimes because people think it’s just gratuitous violence, but there’s just as much character and depth and resonance in horror as in any other genre. It’s a different way of showing the true character and true nature of people—showing it either in circumstances that can be romantic or petrifying.
Turning on the news scares me more than reading horror stories. Horror is escapism into the dark with the safety net of it not being real. Rather than watch the news, I watch a lot of forensic files. Those are everyday people who never thought they’d end up on a television show as a case number.
M: What would you like people to know about you?
J: People know a lot! (laughs) I think the thing people don’t know about me is I’m an avid reader just like anyone else. I “fan girl” when I meet authors whose books I read. You mentioned earlier that you’re interviewing Charlaine Harris, and I’m just (spreads hands in front of her and squeals).
I get just as excited about them as everyone else. I think some people get the impression that, because you’re an author, you don’t get as excited about books or follow a series as madly as they do, or that it somehow changes your
I’m excited to meet other authors that I like to read. That’s how I’ve become friends with several. I would read something they wrote, and I’d do the whole, (squeals) “I LOVE your book!” Just like everyone else. I get wrapped up in the characters and think, “Why did she choose him? This other guy’s clearly the better choice!”
You don’t stop being a reader when you’re an author. All of that is still there, and the excitement is just as strong, if not stronger, because you can look at the stories and understand all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into them, and you’re just as excited to pick up a book as you ever were. That doesn’t go away, and I’m glad it doesn’t. I would hate to do this if I didn’t love to read and didn’t love to write.
Paperback Dolls would love to thank Mrs. Frost and Mona for the wonderful interview.
Visit Jeaniene Frost’s website: http://jeanienefrost.com/