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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Little Mayhem With Judi Fennell, author of In Over Her Head

Thank you for taking the time to interview with us! Judi's newest release is In Over Her Head. Her full length paranormal romance novel became available in paperback on the New Release and New Romance towers at Barnes & Nobles and Borders or online at:

How long did it take you to become published?

I joined Romance Writers of America in 2004 with one manuscript that needed a lot of work. Since joining, I fixed that manuscript and wrote 3 more. The fourth complete manuscript was In Over Her Head which sold to Sourcebooks.

How long does it usually take for you to research a book? And what is the most unusual method you've used in the process?

The nice thing about writing paranormal and creating your own world is you can make up a lot of it. However, when I was writing In Over Her Head I did have to do a lot of research on the ocean. I bought books of Caribbean fish, poured over Google Earth, a lot of research online, and personal research in Ocean City, NJ when we went on vacation - including climbing on boats in a marina to get that research correct. I'd have to say walking into a marina and telling a boat salesman that I was writing a book about mermen and needed to check out the boats was probably the oddest bit of research I did. Bob, the salesman was incredibly helpful and professional, not even blinking an eye when I told him what I needed. I've been back since to research the next books in the series and he's been fabulous.

(Ha! Now, that would make an interesting story itself, don't you think? Can you imagine what Bob told his friends after that first meeting? "You'll never guess what I did today...")

Many authors are doing strictly e-books, do you think this is just a trend, or does it spell the end of real books?

I don't think it's the end of "real" books, or p-books because people do like to have the physical thing in their hand. You don't want to drop your Kindle/eReader in the bathtub, but if you drop a paperback, it'll be soggy, but it can be saved. I have a few friends who have Kindles and they say they really miss the cover art, so I can't see all books going electronic. That being said, I do know my publisher (Sourcebooks) is looking at e-versions for our print books. I think having them available in other formats can only keep readers happy. Whatever way we can get our stories in readers' hands is great.

How long does it take for you to write books?

Once you're under contract, you no longer have the luxury of time. You have deadlines and there are schedules to be kept to. My deadlines were tight for this series, so I had the third book in by the time the first one came out - and we only had a 10 month turn around for In Over Her Head from sale to shelves.

Is there any character in your books that you can really relate to?

Well, it's no secret that I gave Erica (the heroine) my irrational fear of the ocean - and that she realized it's irrational. That is definitely me. But all in all, these are fictional characters. I'm sure some of my beliefs come through, but I don't base characters on any one person.

Do you see yourself writing in the same genre in 10 years? If not then what?

I love paranormal, but I also love other genres. Where I'll be in 10 years is anyone's guess. I want to be in the business and as long as the stories are flowing, I'll be writing them.

Where do your story ideas come from? Do you use people you know as characters sometimes or even sometimes a certain event from real life happenings?

My story ideas have all shown up in my head differently. Sometimes I just wake up with them, other times it's a "what if" question that happens. Other times I'll see something and think... hm. I could have a lot of fun with that. I don't base my characters on people I know, but I might give one of them a friend's name, just to have fun.

Getting back to your books coming out soon. Tell us a little about what to expect from them.

The three books are about Mers and the Humans who love them. The first book, In Over Her Head, which is out now, is about Reel Tritone, 2nd in line for the Mer Throne who has no chance of inheriting. He's The Spare who talked to a Human years ago and ended up getting royally punished (pun intended) for it. Erica is the Human and when she ends up almost drowning years later, he saves her and then they're off on a series of adventures to recover stolen diamonds and escape a sea monster or two. Wild Blue Under, which comes out November 1, is about Rod Tritone, the Heir to the throne, and Valerie Dumere, the Half-Human/Half-Mer. Rod has to bring her to Atlantis to fulfill a Mer Prophecy or it could be the end of their world. The problem is, she lives in Kansas and has no idea she's half Mer. Catch of a Lifetime is about Angel Tritone, their sister, and Logan Hardington a Human who finds a naked woman on his boat who just might not be what she seems.

How do you feel about fans doing fan fiction and/or roleplaying on the web based on your or other author's works?

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I think it has its upside. I'd love to have enough fans who would want something like that.

(Personally, I'd want to be Chum - he has some of the best lines!)

A new trend for authors seems to be creating a playlist for their books. Did you play certain music as you wrote yours that symbolizes all or parts of your book(s)?

I wish I could say yes to this, but I need to block out sound when I write, and if I'm playing music I can sing to, I won't be able to immerse myself in the story. So, I write with a selection of classical music, some Yanni and a soundtrack of ocean sounds. Does it inspire me? I don't think so - they block out sound and fade into the background as "white noise."

Give us three "Good to Know" facts about you.

Three fun facts about me:

1. I was the only girl in 4th grade who got down on the floor with the classroom pet: an iguana. The rest of the girls were screeching on top of their desks, while the guys and I were crawling around, steering "Ozzie" through the maze of desks and chairs.

2. I was a majorette from 6th grade through 12th and was captain and feature performer. I twirled fire batons, rifles, machetes, sabres in addition to batons. It was my life and I loved every minute of performing, especially when we won State Champs in my junior year.

3. I lived in Spain for a semester while I was in college. Talk about a growing experience! I ended up engineering a 1300-mile, 8 day road trip through the south of Spain with 3 others who didn't know how to read a map, drive stick shift or pack for a road trip. I came back from that Spring Break trip with a whole new attitude - don't tell me there's something I can't do. I did that; I can do anything I put my mind too.

How do you structure your day for writing?

It's easier when the kids are in school. I put one on the bus and head to the gym. I do my workout then come home, shower, answer email, have breakfast then start writing. Depending on where I am in the process I might work until 11:00 pm. I am working all the time; if it's not on a story, it's on promotion or blogging or coming up with the next stories. It's a full time job for me now.

What are your experiences with publishers and agents?

Joining Romance Writers of America was the best thing I could have ever done. I go to conferences and luncheons and other industry functions so I've met a lot of editors and agents. I've done pitches at conferences. I've queried. I've had friends introduce me to their editors/agents. A lot of networking and getting to know them which came in handy when I was looking for an agent during the First Chapters Contest.

Do you have any advice to fledgling authors?

Join a writers' group. Go to industry functions. Get to know the people in the industry. Do your research. Put your stuff out there for critique and be willing to look at it from other perspectives.

What will the role of the Internet play in the future of publishing?

If the amount of blogging I'm doing is any indication, it's an excellent way to get your name out and connect with readers.

What's your next project?

I just turned in Catch of a Lifetime and my editor and I were discussing whether we're going to go with another Mer book next or another idea I have for a series, so I'm putting together a proposal for them and we'll go from there.

(I can't wait to see what you come up with!)

Why and how did you get started writing?

I've always written. I have a story I wrote in first grade; in 2nd grade I won honorable mention in a Caldecott Award contest. It's just something I've always done.

Why did you choose your genre?

It wasn't a conscious choice - it's what I liked to read. I recently had a high school reunion and my books were a topic of discussion. I was amazed at how many of my classmates remember me with my nose buried in a romance novel, or carrying a bunch on the bus to trade with a friend of mine.

What do you consider your best work and why?

I love all my stories as I write them, so I can't really point to one and say "that one." It's like children - each one has their own strengths and weaknesses and you love them because of who they are. I can't pick a favorite child and I can't pick a favorite story.

How do you create your characters? What determines their characteristics and names?

Names are very important in my stories - they could be a play on some part of the story, a certain characteristic I want them to have, a pun, in honor of someone... Each character creates him or herself and their name follows.

Have you ever gotten to a point where a story wouldn't come? If so, how did you get back on track?

I have, but now that I'm writing on deadline, I don't have the luxury of putting it aside and coming back to it. I tend to write linearly, so I've learned that if something is stuck, skip the scene and move on. I usually have an idea where the story is going, but since I'm a pantzer (as opposed to a plotter, i.e. write by the seat of my pants), the story can go in any direction. I've found I end up with a harder path if I try to direct it. If I let it direct me, it's a smoother ride.

What do you think is the most important characteristic of a prolific writer?

Professionalism. It's a job if you're under contract; treat is as such. Behave in a professional manner; don't put anything on the internet you don't want to "own." The internet is forever. Remember that.

How do you come up with original story lines?

They just pop into my head. It could be a character, a scene, a line, an ending, a black moment... I have so many ideas that my problem is not enough time instead of lack of ideas.

Many writers have had success writing in different genres. Do you think it is difficult to switch over to another genre?

I can't see myself ever writing straight thrillers, but there are enough subgenres within Romance: Romantic Suspense, Historical, Contemporary, etc. that I don't think it'd be hard to switch from paranormal to one of those, providing my voice fits it. But this is my first love, so I'll hang out in paranormal for a while - until some new idea shows up and directs me down that path.

Where did you receive your most valuable lessons in becoming a writer?

My first critique from the first contest I ever entered - and it was from my (now) critique partner. She read my story and said, "It's good but you need to lose the first 20 pages." She was right, but it hurt to hear that. But that experience taught me to disassociate myself from my writing - she wasn't being personal. She taught me about not doing an info dump at the opening. She taught me how to get a thick skin. All of that in one sentence.

(That is some great advice - learning to disassociate yourself from your writing when get another's opinion on it. Must remember that.)

Do you belong to a critique group or have a critique partner? Which do you prefer?

Perfect segue from the last question! Steph and I used to belong to a critique group of 4, but the other two women are no longer writing. She's published with Ellora's Cave and has very tight deadlines for her book. We still bounce things off each other and if I need an emergency read, she's right there. I also got involved with Charlotte Dillon's online critique group right after I joined RWA and that was INVALUABLE! I met a couple of great women on there who were excellent writers and critiquers and we broke off from the group and created our own. Of the 6 of us, four are now published and the other 2 are close! I have a few other very good friends - one is fellow Gather-er Beth Hill who is a goddess! - who will read something and offer me their honest opinion when I need it

Would you recommend critique groups to other writers? If so, what elements, in your opinion, make a successful writer's group?

I wouldn't be where I am today if not for my critique group/partners. Their feedback was invaluable and everyone should have one - but you need to make sure you're working with people who will help you.

Do you ever look back and think, "I wish I had written this differently?"

No. If it's not working, I don't continue. No matter how much work it takes, I'll rip the piece apart if I have to to make it the best it can be.

Is writing your full time job or do you have another job also?

I had a part time job, but it got eliminated due to the economy - and it actually came at a good time for me because I had two books to write.

How do you cope with the inevitable stress of deadlines?

Take out pizza. The kids love it, I love not having to cook, and the folks at the pizzeria love it.

How do you keep your books fresh?

The characters. Instead of looking at the three stories as a related group, I look at them as individual stories that have some similar characteristics, like setting and relationships, but each one has to be a complete story and able to stand on its own because a new reader might pick up book 2 without reading book 1 and I want them to know everything they need to know and to feel that the story is complete in that one book.

How important is it to attend writing conferences?

I can't stress enough how important writing conferences are. The workshops, the industry professionals, being around other authors, hearing what they're doing, what works, what doesn't work, what editor is looking for what type of story... and the sheer motivation of being with all those creative and successful people. I told my husband that the six months between events from the NJ conference in October to the Romantic Times Convention in April is entirely too long to go without attending some type of industry function, so I'll be keeping an eye out this year for another conference to attend.

What kinds of books do you like to read? Who is your favorite author?

I like to read the same kind of books I like to write. But I also like to read any story that's going to sweep me away in a world of romance and adventure and emotion... and of course, that happily ever after. I have favorite books as opposed to favorite authors. My favorite books are: Bewitching by Jill Barnett, Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Devereaux, When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn, Sexiest Man Alive by Diana Holquist and Cardinal Rules by Barbara Delinsky.

For now. I'm always discovering new books that I love.

What do you do to unwind in your free time?

Free time? What's that? LOL. Seriously, right now, I don't have free time. When I'm not writing, I'm with my family or taking care of them. I do try to keep up with my Thursday night group of ladies in my neighborhood - we get together to watch Survivor and have been doing so for the last 6 years. It's a nice bit of real life sanity in the midst of the insanity.

Thank you so much for having me, Margay. This has been an amazingly fun ride since entering the First Chapters Romance contest. I'd love to hear what you think of the story, and don't forget that I'm raffling off three romantic beach getaways on my website:

Judi, thank you for allowing me and Moonlight, Lace and Mayhem to be a little part of your journey. I knew the first time I read your first chapter in a certain little Gather contest that it was destined for publication and I am so happy to say I was right. Much continued success! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this book! ~ Margay

14 Moonbeams (comments):

Judi Fennell said...

Thanks for having me, Margay!

Carla said...

I'm out of breath just reading all that! Thanks for the insights, Judi! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who has the occasional "ah-HA!" moment that turns into an 80K+ word novel.

IOHH is sitting right beside me, next on my TBR list! Congrats on riding the wave of success! :)

Margay Leah Justice said...

Judi, so glad to have you here! I can't wait to read In Over Her Head, too! Actually, I have to finish it, considering I got to read the beginning in a certain contest and have been itching to read the rest ever since. I predict a trip to Borders in my near future.

VA said...

Margay what a delightfully thorough and informative interview. As one who is just starting to get in the writing waters it is helpful and reassuring to read authors' experiences and techniques. Honestly, it is refreshing to see not everyone has the same modus operandi.

Judi, you have spoken about the invaluable help that your critique partners provide, how many reads do you think you pass back and forth before your manuscript is ready to go to the editor?

I've read IOHH and loved it. So sweet and funny. Steamy too! Anxiously waiting for Wild Blue Under.

Adele Dubois said...

Terrific interview, Judi! Best wishes for great success with your Mer series. I'm rooting for you.

Best--Adele Dubois

Anonymous said...

Hi Margay. Very good interview. I've known Judi a while now, but heard a fair amount here I didn't know. Judi's been a real inspiration for her fellow writers. I'm looking forward to reading my copy of IOHH.

James Rafferty

Judi Fennell said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by!

Viv, as to how many times I send it back and forth - as many as it needs. THen I send it to my editor - and it comes back for some more work. If there weren't deadlines, who knows how long that could go on? LOL

Stephanie Julian said...

Interesting interview Judi. I wanna see that old majorette uniform.

readwriteandedit said...

Great details on your writing life, Judi. Margay, you asked pointed questions that took us straight to Judi's insights and practices--all the good stuff we want to know.

Can't wait to get my hands on the next books in the series and then the books to come after that.

Margay Leah Justice said...

VA, I'm so happy that you got so much from the interview! That is the purpose for this blog, after all - to entertain, inform and encourage everyone in all aspects of this wonderful world of books, be they readers, writers or aspiring writers. It's nice to know that what we're doing here is useful to you. And I love asking other authors for their advice for other writers. I can't tell you how many times I'll be going over the answers and be nodding and saying to myself (yes, I do that, it doesn't mean I'm crazy), "That is some good advice! I'll have to remember that."

It's always a kick to interview someone like Judi, whom I've known for some time now via our connection to Gather, and to share in their success. It's always fun to be able to tell them, "Told you so," when they get published because you just knew, way back when, that their story HAD to be published. Right, Judi?


Margay Leah Justice said...

Hey, James, how are you? Thank you. I had fun doing this interview and Judi is a wonderful inspiration for her fellow writers.

Margay Leah Justice said...

readwriteandedit, thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview.

Other Lisa said...

Boy, this is just an excellent interview - both the questions and the answers! Thanks to both of you! It's almost a FAQ on how to be a professional writer. Kudos!

Judi Fennell said...

Right? Hmmm, I was taking nothing for granted and I'm just tickled that it happened. But feel free to say "told you so" all you want! :) I'm thrilled you were right! LOL