Ylva Publishing regularly interviews their writers to introduce readers to the women behind the writing. When Astrid, Ylva’s owner, suggested that we do another interview with me, I thought we could try out something different. So instead of being interviewed by the Ylva staff, I asked my readers to come up with questions for the interview.
And I think that was a really good idea, since some of you came up with interesting questions!
So here’s the reader Q&A:
Carly R. wanted to know: Who is your favorite character in all the books you have written? And which character do you feel you most relate to?
Oh, gosh. That’s like asking a parent to name a favorite child. If I absolutely have to name one, I’d say my favorite is Luke from Backwards to Oregon. Beneath her tough exterior, she’s just so honorable and tender that I can’t help liking her.
Well, I can relate to bits and pieces of all of my characters. For example, my professional life at the moment most resembles that of Dawn from Conflict of Interest (to be republished in spring 2014), who’s a psychologist, and Jorie from Second Nature, who’s making a living as a writer. I’m introverted like Annie in Something in the Wine, but I can also be a pretty social creature, just like Dawn or Nora from Backwards to Oregon. And I’m a born diplomat and can easily see things from other people’s perspective, like Kelsey from True Nature.
Astrid Ohletz wanted to know: How much pens do you have in use?
In use? Well, I’m using only one at a time, but there are twelve pens lying on the desk next to me. Then there are about 40 in two different penholders and 31 pens in a pencil case, all within easy reach. Plus I keep 32 pens in a metal box on the shelf to my right. Oh, and then there are nine special pens in my desk drawer. Here’s a picture of one of them. I also have a goldfish glass full of highlighters next to my desk.
And no, I’m not making this up 🙂
Lisa asked: What do you feel makes True Nature unique from others in its genre?
In most paranormal romance novels, the main character is a dominant alpha type—someone used to taking charge and making decisions. True Nature’s main character, Kelsey, is exactly the opposite. She’s a nederi, a submissive wolf-shifter, yet she’s forced to take charge and guide Rue, the novel’s human alpha character, in order to save Rue’s deaf adoptive son.
Liz Moran asked: When you write a story that will be published in English, e.g., Backwards to Oregon, do you think in English or German?
I think in English. I found out early on that translating is hard work and it complicates things unnecessarily. It stops the flow of the writing. So I do all my research in English, I write plotting notes and character sketches in English, and I write the book in English. Right now, I’m in the process of translating Something in the Wine into German. It’s much easier than writing in German and then translating it into English.
Donna M. asked: When did you learn English?
I had English classes in school for about nine years, so that taught me the basics. But the focus was mainly on grammar. When I went to university, I discovered fan fiction and lesbian fiction online, and I started reading in English exclusively. That’s what taught me the finer points of the English language.
Donna M. asked: How much research did you do for Backwards To Oregon?
A lot! I read every book about the Oregon Trail that I could get my hands on. I read diaries of emigrants (that’s what the people going west were called) in the 1850s. I read books on daily life in that era. What did people eat and wear? How did they travel? What was the medicine like in 1851?
I studied maps—how long would it take them to go from one location to the next? What kind of dangers might be lurking on the way?
I think the research took me as long as it took Luke and Nora to reach Oregon.
CJ asked: Your characters are wonderfully three-dimensional and draw the reader into the story. At what stage of the creative process are your characters developed and how do you give them life?
First, thank you for your kind words, CJ.
The characters are always the first thing I come up with when I plan a new book. Not the plot or the setting, but the characters. I try to breathe life into them by making them three-dimensional story people with a life outside of the novel’s events. They have a past, a family, friends, a job and hobbies. Most importantly, they are not perfect. They have their strengths and their flaws, just like any human being.
I also make good use of the most powerful tool of writing—point of view. I try to involve readers into the story by letting them dip into the emotions and thought processes of the characters.
Rebecca asked: How does your degree in psychology help you with your writing?
I often think that a character’s journey in a novel is a bit like what my clients go through in therapy. Characters have to face old wounds and overcome their fears and flaws to have a happier life in the end.
Having an insight into the emotional struggles that people go through in times of change is a bit advantage.
Donna M. wanted to know: Have you ever visited America?
No, I haven’t so far. I plan to fly to the US for the GCLS con in Portland, Oregon, next year, though. I think that’s only fitting since that’s very close to where Nora and Luke ended up in Backwards to Oregon, the first novel I published.
Betty Phillips asked: What have you found are the easiest and hardest parts of writing your books?
The easiest parts…well, I would say these are the “candy scenes”—scenes that I look forward to writing from the moment I have the story idea. These scenes practically write themselves. And I also like writing witty dialogue.
The hardest parts for me are the love scenes. There’s so much going on, not just on a physical level, but on an emotional level too. As Jorie says in Second Nature:
“I hate writing these scenes.” She tapped the sides of her laptop. “I don’t want it to sound like an instruction manual or cheap porn. There has to be emotional intimacy, not just body parts moving against each other.”
Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. I enjoyed answering them!
Fascinating interview Jae. Thanks. Hearing how you approach your characters and how central they are to your creative process explains why they are so believable and memorable. I firmly believe that your character development is what makes your work stand apart from other authors. This isn’t to say that your stories aren’t wonderful, but your characters bring them alive and involve your readers in the events as they unfold.
Great interview. You bring such wonderful characters to life. They are definitely your strongest point. The stories are wonderful, but you “people” them with characters I would love to know personally. It’s easy to become completely immersed in one of your books!
Thanks, CJ and Betty for your kind words and for providing such interesting questions. I feel honroed that you like my characters. After I spent so much time with them during research, writing, and editing, they certainly feel real to me!
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