Today, I have the very talented Jenny Jacobs here discussing her new historical romance, The Winter Promise. Jenny is one of the busiest ladies I know, and I have shamelessly stolen her precious time for a quick interview. Enjoy!
In the fall of 1053, Lady Imma has one loyalty: to help her uncle, the king of Wales, win his war against the English. Lord Robert, the steward of Wessex, has one loyalty as well: to keep his beloved Wessex safe from enemies. When she is forced to seek shelter in his keep, they must decide if they can listen to their hearts – or if they would be wiser never to trust each other.
Tell us about your background before you started writing.
Like a lot of us, I’ve always been writing! But I’ve held a number of different jobs – I’ve unloaded trucks, worked at an insurance company, and taught English literature at the university level. Around fifteen years ago, I began working as a freelance writer and published about thirty nonfiction books in various subjects. I worked as a freelance editor during these years as well – editing books and magazines – and now (under my real name) work as an acquisitions editor. I’ve written a number of romances under different pen names.
What drew you to writing romance? Are you a long-time reader?
I started reading romance as a teenager and then drifted into mystery and thrillers as I got older. The romances of my teen years were those 80s bodice rippers, and as I got older, they became a lot less appealing to me.
Later, I wrote a mystery that had romantic elements. My agent told me the romance wasn’t working, so I asked a friend of mine, a terrific writer, what she thought I should do. She told me to write a romance – just a plain, straightforward “cabin romance” (meaning a romance where the focus of the plot is on the romance, not on other elements like solving a mystery or building a paranormal world). That way I would learn to describe what love and romance feels like. She also suggested I read a lot of romance. So I did. I bought – and read – at least a hundred different romances and realized how much the genre had changed. What I had loved about it remained (the happily ever after, the emotional pay off) but what I hadn’t loved (hero abusing heroine) had changed significantly.
So then I sat down to write that cabin romance. That was my first romance, Love by Design (under the Jenny Jacobs pen name). It was published right away by Avalon. And the mystery, even revised, wasn’t. My agent eventually gave up.
I realized I liked writing romance and wanted to do that, so I rewrote the mystery, turned it into a romantic suspense, and was delighted to have it come out as Date with the Devil, under my Jessica Starre pen name.
When you begin writing a book, do you have the story all outlined in your mind or do you wait and see where the characters take you?
I usually have a very good idea of where I’m going. My first draft is like an extended outline – I just need to get the plot down. Once I work out what happens and why, then I revise and layer in description, emotion, characterization, etc.
My characters do occasionally balk at what I want them to do. Since I think the most interesting books are character driven (e.g., because she thinks this or does that, something happens), I take this as a sign that I’m trying to force the character to do something for the sake of the plot, rather than having the plot unfold as the natural consequence of the choices the characters make. So I let my characters have their way.
What writers have influenced your own writing?
I love Jenny Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Suzanne Brockmann – these are my favorite authors who are writing now. They have a sense of humor but they also have a lot of heart.
When I was younger, I spent a lot of time reading writers like Mary Stewart, Dorothy Eden, and Phyllis Whitney (masters of romantic suspense). I’ve been waiting for my dark mysterious man to turn up ever since.
How difficult was your hero/heroine to write? How do you view their characters?
I had the concept for both characters right away: Robert is a second son who puts all of his energy into protecting his brother’s lands. He is big, brutish, and not at all gentlemanly – until he meets Imma, who brings out his gentle side. I knew she would be his enemy but that he would have to protect her. She would be a young woman who dreams of peace between the warring sides, but doesn’t know how to accomplish this. It turns out that just by being herself, and being true to herself, she manages what no one else can.
My only concern was not to make Robert too thuggish, so I gave him a bit of a sense of humor, and I didn’t want Imma to seem too immature (although she’s quite young in the story). So I tried to show her sense of compassion and duty.
How important is the portrayal of families in your work?
What an interesting question! My characters often have siblings, parents, and children who help drive the plot – that is, the main character is trying to protect a family member, provide for a family member, or come to terms with a family relationship. Families can be so nurturing, and they can be so destructive. So, so powerful. I try not to be too sentimental about families although I do tend to be a little soppy about children. I like to show how that web of relationships makes people act in ways they otherwise might not.
After a long day of writing, how do you indulge yourself?
I train with my Kung Fu teacher. I’ve found the best antidote to mental effort is physical effort.
Tell us about your research for the book.
I studied medieval English literature in graduate school and my Ph.D dissertation is on Anglo-Saxon poetry. The Anglo-Saxons expressed such powerful concepts about love, honor, and duty that I’ve always been fascinated by them. There’s a heroic ethos that translates very nicely into a romance – so many opportunities for conflict between self and others, self and family, duty and desire, family and king, etc.
So, I had that grounding, and I just did what everyone does, I read everything I could get my hands on, and tried to be authentic in creating my characters and setting. On the advice of an historical writer I trust implicitly, I gave myself permission to write the story the way I wanted to write it. Historical authenticity is (in my mind) always secondary to telling a good story.
What haven’t you done as a writer that you’d like to attempt?
I’m always exploring, so I don’t really have a feeling of “oh, I’ve never done that.” I just want to get better and better at my craft.
What are you planning next for your readers? What’s next?
I’m working on a series of connected romantic suspense novels. It’s a little more complex than what I’m used to because there’s an overall storyline that connects all the novels, but each novel has its own world, story, and resolution.
What advice can you give writers who are getting started?
Do the work. The work is not attending writers’ conferences, reading blogs, talking to other writers (although all of these things have their place). You have to do the work.
How can readers get in touch with you?
My website is at www.jennyjacobsbooks.com and people can reach me from the contact tab there.
Thanks so much for coming by today, Jenny! It was a privilege to have you here.
For our readers, The Winter Promise is available now at: