After the brilliant success of her first two books for us – First Grave on the Right and Second Grave on the Left - we caught up with Darynda Jones to discover just what inspires her and what it is like to be an author. . .
Where did you come up with the idea of a book about the grim reaper? What were your inspirations?
I came up with the idea of Charley while lying in bed with the sniffles one wintry morning, waiting for my turn in the shower. I’d been pondering what I wanted to write next for some time. I knew three things: I wanted it to be paranormal; I wanted it to have a strong heroine who couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble; and I wanted it to have a hero confident and capable enough to keep up with her. And right there next to a medicated vaporizer, Charlotte Davidson and Reyes Farrow were born. Reyes was easy. Tall. Dark. Brooding. My favorite kind of hero. But Charley took some thought. It took me about two minutes to visualize her completely, to mix the perfect characteristics that would become all that is Charley Davidson, grim reaper extraordinaire. She is a little bit Buffy, a little bit Stephanie Plum, and a lot Lorelei Gilmore of the Gilmore Girls. Which makes her more fun to write than I ever imagined possible.
What key ingredients do you look for in a good book?
I love it when a writer can mix humor with tragedy, the ridiculous with sensuality, and when she can make you laugh and cry at the same time. That is my personal goal in life with pretty much everything that I write. I don’t always attain it, but it’s fun to try.
Do you tend to read within the same genre as the one in which you write? Who are your greatest influences?
I actually read all over the place. I love everything from Julia Quinn to Terry Pratchett. My first influence was Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, GRHS. I read A Rose in Winter and have never been the same. While I’ve always wanted to write, her novels gave me the direction I knew I had to go. I am a romance lover at heart, and everything I write has a strong romantic element in there somewhere. Since then, I have been influenced by more authors than I can name here, including Laura Ingles Wilder, Judith McNaught, Johanna Lindsey, Stephen King (told you I read all over the place), and on and on.
Which other authors, writing now, do you like to read?
I still love Julia and Terry like there’s no tomorrow. And I cannot get enough of JR Ward, Suzanne Collins, Jeaniene Frost, Stephen Hunter, Jim Butcher… Really, I could go on for days. I am also a huge fan of Stephenie Meyer. Any writer who can single-handedly convince thousands of teenaged girls to read deserves a Nobel Prize, IMHO. Speaking of which… JK Rowling anyone? LOVE!
This is your debut novel. Tell us about the excitement of getting a book deal, and how you went about it.
Talk about a dream come true! While I have been writing forever, I started writing seriously (as in toward publication) in 2002. It took me seven years and three manuscripts to sell. And it was every bit as amazing as I’d imagined. The whole thing is all still very surreal. I finaled in the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart, which is a very prestigious contest for unpublished manuscripts, in 2009. I knew I had to take advantage of such an incredible opportunity. Just finaling in the GH gets you tons of recognition. So I polished my manuscript and sent it out to some of the most sought-after agents in the business. About a week later, I had my first offer. After another week, I had eight. Believe it or not, that was one of the most stressful weeks of my life. I had agents offering representation whom I never thought would give me the time of day. I was quite taken aback. After much research and lots and lots of phone conversations, I accepted the offer from my spectacular agent, Alexandra Machinist of Janklow and Nesbit. She is a force, let me tell you, and an inspiration. I was able to meet Alexandra in Washington, DC, during the RWA National Conference. We came up with a game plan, but after winning the Golden Heart in the paranormal category, we decided to accelerate the plan a little. Alexandra submitted First Grave to several houses and a week later we had our first offer. We eventually accepted an offer from the incomparable Jennifer Enderlin from St. Martin’s Press, and the rest is history. This has been like a rollercoaster ride without the nausea. It’s been so exciting and life changing and I have loved every minute of it!
Tell us about your heroine Charley Davidson; she’s a tough cookie and a sympathetic protagonist simultaneously. Are strong female characters central to your writing?
They absolutely are. I don’t believe many readers today will put up with a heroine they cannot root for. She has to earn the reader’s respect and admiration. No wilting flowers, unless that wilting flower grows and strengthens and does it fast. And yet, what is strength without vulnerability? My heroines are always strong, yes, but also sympathetic and empathetic. They care for others as much as they do for themselves. Their strength lies not in their unwillingness to bend, but in their integrity and stellar morals. I always ask my heroines, “What are you willing to die for?” And then I go from there.
You must be feeling pretty attached to Charley after doing three books. Have you got any plans for a new series, or new characters?
That’s so funny, because I was just thinking how very attached to Charley I am. Books 4 and 5 in the Charley Davidson series just sold to St. Martin’s Press, so I am thrilled to say I get to write more of her. Honestly, I’ve never had so much fun. A young adult series I wrote several years back also sold to St. Martin’s Press. The first one in the trilogy, Death and the Girl Next Door, comes out in the US in April. I would love for it to hit the shelves of the UK too! It’s about a girl whose life is irrevocably changed when the Angel of Death starts high school in her small town. Paranormal romance just seems to be getting bigger and bigger.
What do you think is the secret of its success?
I think fantasy of any kind has always been a hit with readers because of the limitless possibilities. We are taken to a world we’ve never seen, to experiences we can only imagine. And with paranormal romance, we get a taste of the purest, most sensual fantasy there is. We get heroes with impossible abilities and heroines with strengths we can only dream of. And for a little while, we are those characters. That hero is in love with us. That heroine is you, the reader, and you are all kinds of powerful. And you might even, given the right circumstances, save the world.
First Grave on the Right and Second Grave on the Left are both out now! Click here for more information and don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for the third in the series, Third Grave Dead Ahead.
Click here to visit Darynda Jones website.
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