I love hosting authors. I imagine having them all over for drinks in author heaven where we're all on the New York Times bestseller list, deadlines are magically met, our children raise themselves and laundry just isn't a thing. In reality I'm just going to hit post and happily introduce you to a super funny, talented writer named Jenny Gardiner. Everything you need is on her website, so click on her photo to check out her books.
1) First of all, tell us a bit about your new (or latest) book. How was it inspired?
I sort of diverted from women’s fiction and chick lit, which was where I had originally focused my writing when I first started writing novels, and I’ve been writing rom/com series for the past couple of years. I’m working on my third series now—my first was the popular royal rom/com It’s Reigning Men series. I then did a spin-off of that called The Royal Romeos. This latest series is called Falling for Mr. Wrong and the next book in the series is Falling for Mr. No Way in Hell ;-). We’ve all had THAT guy in our lives, right? My first series was set in a fictional royal principality in Europe, and the spinoff series was set in Italy (one of my favorite countries). For this one I decided to set it in a fictional town in North Carolina’s Outer Banks—I’ve always loved the beach and was ready for a completely different setting. I took it to the extreme, ish, this time, as my heroine has a job swimming as a mermaid in a kitschy roadside bar. I’d read an article about a place like that in Montana or something and it was so intriguing to me that I decided to put my character to work in a mermaid tail. It gave me some fun scenarios to work with. Unbeknownst to her she starts to fall for a guy who ends up inheriting the place and plans to sell it off to a developer to line his pockets and plunk down a bunch of ugly condos. Mayhem ensues ;-).
2) What is your writing routine like? Where do you write?
I’m the most routine-less writer going. It has been not such a great habit at times over the years. Long ago when I wrote my first couple of books, I’d just write whenever, wherever, and it worked. But I’ve gotten more distractible over the years and my better at procrastinating, it seems. I kinda know John Grisham a little bit (we took an Italian class one time) and he had the sage advice to put your butt in your chair each day and write and at the time I sort of dismissed that as “well, that works for you…” but it is true, I know now. You just have to put the gun to your temple and do that! I kind of fell into the black hole of marketing and publicity years ago in the early days of social media, and that was the kiss of damned death for me, writing-wise.
I could find so very many excuses to not write—"oh, but I’m doing marketing!” The publishing industry was super churned up shortly after my first novel was released, and I had to make some hard decisions—whether to stick with traditional publishing or go indie. I just could not see a good enough reason to stay with trad houses—I saw NY houses as large ocean liners stuck in a harbor, unable to negotiate a good turn to get out into open waters, and doing it on my own returned control to me, which was very appealing. But…when you have a team of folks at a big publishing house waiting for your output, well then you get it done. I found myself failing miserably in producing content for a while until I just had to reconnoiter. I set up a publishing plan, a schedule, and booked an editor for an entire year, meaning I had to again be accountable to someone other than me to get things done. If my book wasn’t written by the day I told her I’d get it to her, well, I’d have to pay her regardless, plus I’d lose an editor.
This has been a good system for me but I am a seat-of-the-pants writer, which means I do not outline, I do not have these great big wipe boards with plots and subplots and characters all fleshed out so that I just need to plug in a few words and the book is done. I just write as the spirit moves me—crazy, right? And sometimes the spirit is sort of sluggish. But I’m super deadline-driven, always have been (I was THAT girl writing my 10-page term paper at 5 am when it was due at 8 am), so the closer I get to the deadlines I’ve imposed, the more the spirit seems to kick me in the ass. Which is great! That said, I thus write in very intense spurts and have literally written a 40,000 word book in about five days time (I don’t recommend it). And what then happens is my brain is super fried, so it takes me a while to collect my thoughts and focus on the next book.
I literally do not remember plots, characters, anything, as soon as the book is done. sometimes I can’t even remember their names when I’m writing them—crazy, too!. But I’m writing 7 books a year so that’s kind of the fallout from it. So I guess that is a really long answer to my schedule is deadline-driven. The closer to deadline the more I am sweating bullets and writing copy, but then my brain needs a breather before I start writing again, so it becomes sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. And curse that darned Facebook because when i’m stuck writing, I go over there and waste time and brainpower. Also when I’m doing research on a book I can go into some serious rabbitholes that distract me from writing the book.
3) What are you favorite things about writing and least favorite things?
I love the creative process. I adore just coming up with shit, you know? I mean sometimes I’ll go back in edits and read what I’ve written and think “wait—I wrote THAT?” (other times I think that with less marvel, however). It’s really fun to create worlds and nutty situations and I love to play with words so that appeals to me a lot.
Hands-down my least favorite thing is marketing/publicity. I just hate hate hate it and it’s such a necessary evil in this business, especially now.
I guess I’d also love to write just to write and not because I need to continue bringing in a steady income but the flip of that is I’d rather do this to bring in an income than a lot of other things, so I’m lucky I have that option. But it gets stressful worrying about that steady income side of things because publishing these days changes so constantly that it is perpetually shifting sands beneath our feet and you can never count on sales remaining at a steady level. And alas, Amazon is always changing things so that it becomes harder and harder for authors books to be discovered and for readers to stick with you.
4) When did you know that you wanted to write? Was it an "aha" moment or something that slowly dawned on you?
I remember reading some book in like 7th grade in English class and for some reason it dawned on me I could do that. I think it was Steinbeck’s The Pearl—not that I’m comparing myself to Steinbeck haha—and it was really kind of an aha moment. Somewhere way in the back of my head I just always thought I would do that some day. To be perfectly honest I’m quite brain-dead when it comes to math, so my career options were limited, so I pursued journalism early on, working on the high school paper and getting sort of jazzed up when I landed a few pretty cool interviews. I always loved that bit of it, too, taking a chance and aiming high to try to land an interview that people would want to read, versus some dumb article about the science fair or whatever. I studied journalism in college, had aspirations to be a TV news reporter and did that while in college but finally realized I was going to be stuck working in some hellhole little town in the middle of nowhere covering sewer commission meetings for god knows how long and I just couldn’t do it. I *did* get an offer of a job as a producer working nights and weekends for a TV station in West Palm Beach, FL but the pay was $9,000/year. So basically I would have been living in a refrigerator box beneath a bridge span in Florida while I produced segments done by the reporters I wanted to be, so I just decided ix-nay on at-they. In some ways I always kind of regretted not giving that a go but seriously, how could i have lived in such an expensive city on $9K/year? In hindsight I might have been able to use that as a springboard to other things but hard to know—generally the union shops (and that was one) never allowed you to go outside of your job description, so I would not easily have switched from production to reporting. Ahhh well. Instead my former boss at the tv station had gone to work on Capitol Hill in DC for a congressman as a publicist so he put me in touch with some folks who put me in touch with members of congress looking for publicists and I ended up working as an assistant press secretary, then a deputy press secretary then acting press secretary for a US Senator who was big media whore, so it was an interesting albeit high-stress job. The irony is that I got paid I think $11K/year to live in a major metropolitan area (and while I didn’t live in a box, my dresser was a bunch of boxes stacked with my belongings in it, and my roomie and i took a sofa that had been left out on the street corner for the trash because we couldn’t afford furniture. Ugh. But it was a bit ironic that I basically was doing a similar job for equally rotten pay and dismally-long hours. Go figure!
I left that job after my soul was sucked dry for several years, and then worked as a photographer doing event photography in DC for while, then had kids. The sum total of my writing career was penning a Christmas letter every year, which I took great liberties with and made it pretty smart-ass and then my husband would put his foot down that we couldn’t send that out and he’d edit in all the platitudes that I totally didn’t want to put in it. I mean Christmas letters can be dreadful (I remember one we got the woman bitched for 2 pages about her husband going hunting all the time and leaving her alone with the kids) but no one wants the hap-hap-happy crap either, you know? It’s just too obnoxious! So I liked to keep ‘em laughing. I had 3 kids and was in the fog of motherhood for a few years and then I emerged from it and picked up a magazine—basically 1 paragraph into People and I’d be passed out cold at night. But then I was getting through magazines and threw caution to the wind so I read a book. And when I read it I kept thinking “I can do this!” And finally I just felt like maybe I’d lived enough life that I could actually do it and have something useful to say.
5) How do you come up with your ideas? Are they real life inspirations, dreamed up or perhaps a little bit of both?
Oh I’m a masterful eavesdropper at coffee shops, for instance. I love pulling things from that, and often I’ll read about something and just sort of like the snag in a sweater I tug at it a little and pull the thread and it follows along and next think you know I have some material I can work with.
My first novel, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, came about purely because of the title. I was with some friends drinking wine and we were discussing someone’s sort of stern taskmaster of a husband and I said being with him would be like sleeping with Ward Cleaver, and I like the sound of that, so I decided to write a coming-of-middle-age story about a woman who married Mr. Right and woke up eventually to realize he’d turned into Mr. Always Right.
6) Do you have another book you're working on now and if so can you tell us a little bit about it?
I always have a book i’m working on but nothing particularly solidified enough to make it compelling. My next in the series I just started writing—Falling for Mr. Sometimes (I think I’ve got 2 pages, so not much) and all I’ve got so far is January at the gym and this woman goes to park in the parking lot (which is of course packed in January, duh) and some jerk guy has parked his shiny huge SUV perfectly straddling two parking spaces to keep his doors from being dinked, and, well, suffice it to say they have words, she hates his guts, they end up being inextricably linked together afterwards to their great dismay, and, well, mayhem ensues ;-). On 2nd though he should’ve been Mr. No Way in Hell but too late!
7) Someone asked me this and I hated the specificity but then found it was interesting. One book. You can pick one single book as your favorite. Go.
I really still do love Sleeping with ward Cleaver. It just struck a chord with moms everywhere and I love that it tapped into a zeitgeist. And I think the protagonist, Claire Doolittle is such a funny smartass but she’s really hurting inside and she needs to get her act together so I enjoyed helping her do that!
thanks for having me visit!
Ellyn Oaksmith is the USA Today bestselling author of four books including the Kindle bestseller Chasing Nirvana. She lives in Seattle with her family. Luckily, she's waterproof.
How do I find ideas?
They find me. We date for a while & if things work out, we marry. For one year. Best books for writers? Stephen King On Writing Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.