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Darynda Jones

RITA Best First Book 2012 Interviews: Paranormals

RITA Best First Book 2012 Interviews: Paranormals

First Book Rita

Romance Writers of America honors authors through the RITAs, awarded each year in a number of categories, including Best First Book. Once again, I’m pleased to host those nominees here at Dear Author. Each of the three installments in this series will feature a different sub-genre. The books you’ll see today finaled in a second category as well, and though I’ve grouped them as paranormals, they all bring in elements from other genres. If you’d like to win a diverse bundle of books, read on and drop a comment—have you read any of these or found something that looks interesting?

ABOUT THE NOMINATED BOOKS…

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT, by Darynda Jones: As long as you’re escorting a murder victim to his final rest, why not seize the opportunity to help the police bring the killer to justice as well? This thriller-comedy-paranormal is also nominated in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category.

Opening lines: I’d been having the same dream for the past month—the one where a dark stranger materialized out of smoke and shadows to play doctor with me.

Charley’s six-word memoir: Likes dead people. Live people? Meh.

She is a… part-time private investigator, full-time grim reaper.

Readers will love the hero because… he’s dark, mysterious, and was forged in the fires of sin. Literally.

The first kiss happens… in my heroine’s dreams.

I vividly remember writing… the opening scene. I remember it so vividly and it was where everything came to me. I knew right then and there that I was going to have a paranormal character who helped the departed in one way or another, but she would have a very different view of the world. And she’d have ADD. ADD was a must.

An unexpected research detour: I became immersed in the history and mythology of varying cultural ideas about the grim reaper. A character who plays a role in death and escorting the departed to the other side exists in almost all cultures, and each one has its own set of mythological rules. It’s quite fascinating.

This book taught me… to let go and write as brazenly as I wanted to, no holds barred.

What readers seem to love about First Grave on the Right: This one stumps me as well. If I had to guess, I’d say readers are very drawn to my heroine, Charley Davidson. She is fun and cynical and yet has a huge heart. She wins readers over with how much she cares, deep down inside, for the departed people she is helping.

Hourglass

HOURGLASS, by Myra McEntire: Despite treatment in a mental hospital, Emerson still sees ghosts. One last-ditch effort to “cure” her before she starts her senior year pairs her with a therapist who not only believes her visions, but has some incredible things to tell her as well. Hourglass is also nominated in the Young Adult catgory.

Opening Lines:  My small Southern hometown is beautiful in the haunting way an aging debutante is beautiful. The bones are exquisite, but the skin could use a lift.

Emerson’s six-word memoir:  I came, I saw, I conquered. (Did you hear the Jay-Z in there? Listen again.)

She is... a runner. She’s also a ninja. No, really.

What readers will love about the hero:  He knows his girl can handle her own business. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to help her out, but he definitely doesn’t hold her back.

The first kiss happens… in the hero’s bedroom. ;)

I vividly remember writing… The scene when they’re on the patio and they almost kiss. I remember why, because in the first seventy-billion drafts, they did kiss. But anticipation, she is a boon and a blessing.

An unexpected research detour… The Novikov Principle.

Hourglass taught me… that stubborn isn’t a bad personality trait.

What readers seem to love about Hourglass: Hope is a big deal for me, and it’s a big deal for Emerson, too. I hope readers are drawn to that. That, and the kissing. I like the kissing.

Warped

WARPED by Maurissa Guibord: A single unraveling thread in an antique tapestry sends Tessa on a time-traveling quest to save what she loves in both the Past and the Present. Warped is also nominated in the Young Adult category.

Opening lines:  On a hillside stood three figures. Black cloaks billowed over them from head to toe, while hoods cast a pall of darkness over their faces.

Tessa’s six-word memoir: Tessa tangled with the threads of Fate.

She… goes to high school and in her spare time works in her father’s used bookstore.

What readers will love about the hero: Will de Chaucy’s discomfort as he tries to make his way in the modern world after being transported from sixteenth century England. He’s a bit stuck up when he first encounters Tessa but he’s also endearingly smart, strong and loyal. Easy on the eyes too!

The first kiss happens… in a grimy Portland alleyway after a near death escape. So much adrenaline could not be wasted…

I vividly remember writing… Ha-ha—the first kiss—because I had been waiting for those two to kiss for so long! And then I sent that chapter to my friend to read and she said: “Change whatever you want in the revisions- but don’t change this!”

An unexpected research detour:  I walked around the streets of Portland, Maine near the waterfront—and saw more feral cats than I could count. They live beneath the fishing warehouses. It was kind of creepy—all these wild cats, lying in the sun, winding in and out behind loose boards and watching you. It was like something from a Steven King novel.

This book taught me… So much! Mostly because it’s my first published novel. I think more than anything it taught me how to work with an editor in the revision process. Luckily I had a wonderful editor, Michelle Poploff and she was fantastic, very patient with all my newbie questions.

What readers seem to love about Warped:  Time travel seems to appeal to a lot of readers (me included) and I think it’s fun to see the clash between two strong characters who come from different times, different cultures.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS…

Number of books I wrote before this one sold:

Darynda Jones: Three

Maurissa Guibord: Two—both of which I still love. Of course I’m not crazy about how I wrote them, the plotting and the over-description make me cringe—but the stories are good. I hope to find a way to make them work someday—even if it’s only in the form of short stories. There are characters in both of those books that I love and will not give up on!

Myra McEntire: One and many, many halts.

How I found my agent:

Darynda Jones: This manuscript finaled in the Golden Heart. That final garnered a lot of attention and I had a lot of interest even before I started querying. I knew I had to take advantage of the situation. It’s a rare opportunity to have agents seeking you out. I polished and did tons of research, then sent out about 20 queries. First Grave had eight offers of representation a week later from some of the literary world’s most amazing agents. I chose Alexandra Machinist from the Janklow & Nesbit Literary Agency and have never forgotten how blessed I am to have her.

Myra McEntire: Query!

Someone who helped me along the way:

Darynda Jones: My incredible critique partner, Tammy Baumann, has been one of my biggest cheerleaders. I cherish her so much. And she is a Golden Heart finalist this year. Go Tammy!!!

Maurissa Guibord: Janet Hutchings, who is the editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine bought my first adult mystery story and published it. That story actually got nominated for an Agatha Award (didn’t win) but when I met Janet in person she was so lovely and supportive of my writing. Her kindness gave me a tremendous boost of confidence.

Myra McEntire: CJ Redwine. She read Hourglass in draft form and told me that she thought her agent, Holly Root, would dig it. Luckily, she dug it.

One piece of wisdom I’ve gained:

Darynda Jones: Only one? I’ve learned so much. I think the hardest thing about being published is finding that balance between promotion and writing. The writing has to come first. I have a saying taped above my computer that says, “No field ever got plowed turning it over in your mind.”

Maurissa Guibord: I’ve learned not to compare myself to anyone else. Not in writing, possessions, success, looks, relationships, anything. Life goes more happily that way.

Myra McEntire: Be nice. You’re responsible for you, and treating people the way you’d like to be treated keeps you sane, even if others don’t do the same.

Acceptance speech—wing it, prepare it, or something in-between?

Darynda Jones: I’m horrid at winging it. I get tongue-tied as it is, so I will prepare it. I used to think it was silly to do so, but a very wise woman (Laura Hayden) told the Golden Heart finalists that year, “Don’t be dumb. Prepare a speech. You’ll never remember what you want to say.” LOL

Maurissa Guibord: It feels like tremendous chutzpah to prepare a speech because I think I’m more likely to be hit by a Good Humor truck than win a Rita.  But I’ve read advice by seasoned pros who say prepare something, only if to feel more relaxed during the ceremony and not make a fool of yourself if the impossible happens. So I will jot down something.

Myra McEntire: Can I express myself through lyrical dance? Will that work?

What’s coming up next?

Darynda Jones: I just turned in the fourth book in the Charley Davidson series, Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet, and I am currently doing rewrites on the second in a YA series I also have coming out from St. Martin’s Press. The first one, Death and the Girl Next Door, will be out in October a mere 4 weeks before Fourth Grave will his the shelves. It will be a busy month!

Maurissa Guibord: My next book, called Revel, will be out in February 2013. It’s also a young adult paranormal, about a girl who comes to a private island off the coast of Maine in search of her family. But when she arrives she discovers the island is ruled by demi-gods of the sea and their monstrous sea creature slaves.

Myra McEntire: Timepiece, from Kaleb’s point of view, is out this summer, and I’m drafting InfinityGlass, the follow up.

Oddest or most reliable writing ritual/habit:

Darynda Jones: Well, I am easily distracted, so I MUST block the internet. Not just turn off the Wi-Fi, but totally block it. So I check my email on my phone before I even get out of bed in the mornings and the minute I get on the computer, I use a program called Freedom that blocks access to the internet for the time you allot. It’s fantastic! I think I would still be on my second book without it. (Clearly, I have no impulse control.)

Maurissa Guibord: Is one that I wish I could break. I tend to write in bursts—lots of hours every day when I am caught up in a story—and then nothing for days or even weeks. I would love to develop the every day routine that some writers have. Still working on that.

Myra McEntire: Socks and hoodies are important. I also like to have a little pop culture in the background, maybe Vampire Diaries or the Harry Potter movies.

The worst part about writing a novel:

Darynda Jones: The first draft kills me. It is by far the hardest part. I love rewrites and revisions. I could do that all day, but that first draft is like pulling my hair out with my toes.

Maurissa Guibord: Having to finally finish revising it and let it go—no matter how imperfect you might think it still is.

Myra McEntire: The worst part about writing a novel: Doing it wrong.

The part I relish:

Darynda Jones: Rewrites, the part between the first draft and “official” revisions.

Maurissa Guibord: Brainstorming. I love brainstorming new ideas for twists or names, titles, anything like that. Especially with critique partners!

Myra McEntire: Finally getting it RIGHT.

How I fill my creative well:

Darynda Jones: I go to my “local” RWA chapter meetings almost every month, only they are four hours away from me, so it is a win-win situation. I daydream the entire way up and the entire way back. I plot and mix and hear voices in my head. And right in the middle of those either hours is a meeting with some of the most inspiring writers I’ve ever met, my LERA chapter mates. By the time I’m home, I am raring to hit the keyboard.

Maurissa Guibord: I love going to the movies. Something about being in that darkened theater and absorbing a story visually and immersively.  It just gets my mind going with new ideas, new stories. I find them very inspiring

Myra McEntire: Reading, listening to music, dancing, movies, tv shows. I love tv shows like Vampire Diaries because the story arcs are SO well thought out, and the twists are always surprising. I’m recently loving Supernatural as well, maybe because I’m a mom of two boys, or maybe because of Sam and Dean, or maybe because of all the Kansas usage. Carry on, my wayward son, and all that.

I’m a writer, but I’m also…

Darynda Jones: A wife, a mom, a grandmother, and a sign language interpreter. I love all my roles.

Maurissa Guibord: A mom to triplets.

Myra McEntire:  A ninja. (That’s a lie.)

Last class I took or skill I learned:

Darynda Jones: The last class I took was a graduate class in special education, and let me tell you, SPED teachers deserve medals.

Maurissa Guibord: This morning I learned how to solve a quadratic equation by factoring through an online tutorial. This was to help my 8th grader study for his math quiz. I’m really excited about it because math was never my forte. There is something transcendent about numbers, something that I’m a bit in awe of. I have an idea for a character who’s a math genius so I guess this might be heading into research territory…

Myra McEntire: I’m in the midst of learning how to use Pixelmator, which is kind of like Photoshop. It makes me angry. VERY, VERY ANGRY.

A book or author I recommend again and again:

Darynda Jones: JR Ward. LURVE!

Maurissa Guibord: Easy. As You Desire by Connie Brockway. For me it’s the perfect historical romance—two unforgettable main characters, Egyptian archeology, mystery and humorous banter.

Myra McEntire: One of the first things I ask a potential friend is if they read the Harry Potter series. I don’t get the people who haven’t. I think they need their own small island.

My favorite book at age ten:

Darynda Jones: Charlotte’s Web

Maurissa Guibord: I loved Half-Magic by Edward Eager. I remember walking home from the library, slowly, on a summer day while reading that book for the first time and feeling so perfectly happy.

Myra McEntire: Any Trixie Belden book. Every Trixie Belden book.

Thank you, authors! Readers, come back next week for Part 2 of this series. The RITA winners will be announced at RWA’s national conference on July 28.

Debut Author Interview with Darynda Jones

Debut Author Interview with Darynda Jones

First Grave on the RightUsually these interviews are run by the awesome Alyson H but I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask a few questions of Darynda Jones, debut author of First Grave on the Right.   Darynda was our Brenda Novak auction winner.   When Darynda sent me the book for reading before the interview, it was accompanied with cover quotes from the Grand Dames of paranormal romance: JR Ward, MaryJanice Davidson, Kresley Cole, Gena Showalter.   This is a must read for many folks.

First Grave on the Right is your first published novel, but is it your first book?

Actually, it's my third. I finished two other manuscripts before starting First Grave. The first was a historical romance that has been gainfully employed as a doorstop (we're so proud) and the second was a YA which has since sold to St. Martin's Press as well.

What do you think readers will like most about First Grave on the Right?

Charley Davidson. She is my heroine and she is smart and sassy and just a tad accident-prone. She also has a serious ADD problem, but that could be contributed to all the coffee she drinks.

I also hope readers will like the pace. Things move pretty fast in Charley's world. It's a quick read and one I hope paranormal and mystery readers will enjoy.

Did you base the creation myth of your world on any particular existing mythology?

I sort of took mythology and lore and challenged it. While I use the loveable and ever-popular grim reaper, I tweaked and molded the idea of it until I'd created a feisty, fruity version.

Charley Davidson is a mix of bravado and nerve and while the tone is lighthearted, she’s attracted to a lot of dark things like the big bad in her life and the place that she lives.   Was it difficult balancing the two spectrums?

Oddly enough, no. I had such a wonderful time with her quirks and the darker stuff just kind of flowed. You know those sweet "n salty snack bars? Yeah, like that. I love it when writers merge lighthearted and edgy. When I read something and want to laugh and cry at the same time. The emotional impact is effective, deep, and long-lasting.

You were a Golden Heart winner, was this the same book? Did a lot change between now and the GH?

Indeed, this is the same book. So very much has changed, it's unreal. The final alone garners so much attention, I knew I had to take advantage of it. I was fortunate enough to get an agent before the awards ceremony. When it won, my agent had several requests, so she sent it out immediately. It sold about a week later.

To say I live in a different world now would be an understatement. First Grave was released February 1st, and we have had just an overwhelming response. I am so grateful to all the readers and those who are practically selling First Grave to anyone who will listen. What a terrific group of readers.

And JR Ward has just been amazing as well. Besides the wonderful words of praise she heaped upon the project, she is hosting me on her forum for a live chat tomorrow night. And while it might seem dazzling and resplendent, I doubt I'll ever earn the title of diva, so it lies somewhere along the lines of surreal and humbling.

There’s versions of grim reapers/death figures in every culture. What sorts of things did you incorporate in this book? Anything you avoided?

There is a version in a few cultures where the entity actually kills people. I hardly wanted my heroine to be a serial killer, and fortunately in most cultures the entity simply "escorts" souls to the other side. This is what I went with, incorporating my own twists, naturally. Charley not only assists the departed in their "unfinished business", she is the portal through which they cross.

You can find Darynda at www.darynda.com and on Twitter @Darynda.

Special thanks to Darynda for being with us. Dear Author is going to sponsor a giveaway of First Grave on the Right in digital form from either Kindle or Kobo (because those are the places I can gift a digital book). Two random commenters will win.