Over a year ago, ScriptSuperhero.com landed a massive, eight-part interview with New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris. It proved to be a popular feature, but I haven’t done an author interview since then, primarily because I don’t want to just do a bunch of author interviews in a really impersonal way, just to say I interviewed them.
For me, it simply must flow from a familiarity with an author’s work, a real interest in and affection for their novels, and a genuine curiosity to about how they view the craft as well as the business of writing and what brought them to where they are today. In other words, it has to be someone I’m interested in finding out more from than what their latest novel is about.
Today, and for the next few nights, at 7 PM CDT, I will be unveiling my second-ever massively in-depth author interview, and this time the author in question is someone I’ve become a recent fan of, and whose work I discovered while exploring $2.99 and under books on the Amazon Kindle. (I don’t have my Kindle yet; I pre-ordered it on Aug. 1st and am hoping for delivery by early September. I’ve been getting by on Kindle for PC 1.2.0.)
Anyway, having been drawn in almost from the first paragraph of her first novel, The Sex Club: A Detective Wade Jackson Mystery, I immediately recognized that there were very talented authors publishing on Kindle, and it was a legitimate way for a writer overlooked by the Big Six publishers in New York to draw an audience, make their work known and even perhaps make a living.
L.J. immediately became someone I wanted to interview, so I contacted her through her blog, and she graciously agreed. Little did she know I’m not a “ten standard questions, interview by template” type of interviewer. Fortunately, she was still willing to do the interview, even after I emailed her the massive set of interview questions.
So, it begins tonight and will continue for a total of five nights, Sunday through Thursday, August 22-26. Tonight, I am including L.J. Sellers’ biography, as well as the first part of our interview, which focuses on her writing background. Those who love to learn how and why writers become writers should read this with great interest!
* * *
is an award-winning journalist and the author of the Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series based in Eugene, OR. The first three books, THE SEX CLUB
, SECRETS TO DIE FOR
, and THRILLED TO DEATH
have been highly praised, and the fourth Jackson novel, PASSIONS OF THE DEAD, will be published in 2011. L.J. also has two standalone thrillers, THE SUICIDE EFFECT
and THE BABY THIEF, coming out this year. When not plotting murders, L.J. enjoys performing stand-up comedy, cycling, social networking, attending mystery conferences, and editing fiction manuscripts. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.
PART ONE: Writing Background
Craig A. Hansen (ScriptSuperhero.com): L.J., thank you for agreeing to this interview and welcome to ScriptSuperhero.com. I’d like to start out with some of your writing background. Going back to your childhood, or whenever is relevant, when did you first find yourself drawn to writing?
L. J. Sellers (novelist): I loved to write even in grade school. Writing assignments were always fun for me, especially reports that involved research. Learning new things, then putting it all down on paper was very satisfying. When I started college, I spent a term or two thinking I should be a social worker, but quickly realized that getting a degree in journalism was the only thing that made sense for me. Throughout my years in school, I also enjoyed creative writing assignments, but I found them more challenging. I even convinced myself I simply wasn’t creative enough to write fiction. I believed that until I was thirty.
CAH: What was your first real achievement as a writer that prompted you to pursue it seriously?
LJS: I’m answering this question as a novelist. After completing my first novel, I was so pleased and excited, I started another one right away. I was hooked! At the time, I was also reading Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Al Zuckerman, founder of Writers House. So when I finished my second novel, I brazenly sent the first three chapters to Zuckerman, one of the best-known agents in New York. A month later he called me! He said he couldn’t sell the novel I’d sent him, but that I was talented and he wanted to see the outline of what I was working on. I was so excited! It was that moment that I knew I was on the right track, that if I continued, I would eventually find success as a novelist.
CAH: How long did your journalism career last, and share some highlights, if you will.
LJS: My journalism career is ongoing. I write freelance features for our local paper, which I used to work for directly. One of the longest running journalism jobs I had was as an editor at pharmaceutical magazine (seven years!). I learned more about drugs than I ever thought I would, and it gave me some great material for my stand-up comedy. It also inspired one of my medical thrillers, THE SUICIDE EFFECT. I also worked for an educational publisher, creating comprehension material and little stories for first and second graders. It was the most challenging job I’ve ever had. Writing for kids who only know certain letter sounds was hard! (Try writing a meaningful story with only S, M, A, and J.) But it was fun too. So my adventures in writing and editing are quite varied.
CAH: Now, in the long bio on your Web site, you share the moment you realized you wanted to write fiction. Could you share that story in more detail here?
LJS: I’ve always loved to read fiction, most of it crime stories. One day I was reading a particularly bad story. I remember being so disgusted I threw the book down and thought: I could write a better novel than that. So I started thinking about it and wondering if it was true. Then I had to prove to myself that I could actually write a novel. I spent a day or so brainstorming ideas, then sat down and started outlining. Jeffery Dahmer was in the news, and I was raising three young boys, so I wrote about a mother who confronts the serial killer who murdered her child. Emotionally very difficult at times, but it helped me work through my fears.
CAH: I have to ask: do you remember which novel you were reading that made you decide you could do the job better?
LJS: I’m sorry, I don’t. But I remember that it was a cozy mystery, which I no longer read.
CAH: How did journalism prepare you as a writer for the task of novel-writing?
LJS: As a journalist, you don’t have the luxury of writers block. You get an assignment, you write the story, you meet the deadline. It’s not always pretty, but you get it done. So journalism gave me a certain discipline and confidence to know that I’ll get the story done.
CAH: You have continued to have day-jobs in various journalism roles, and you now offer editorial services to other writers. Plus you’re a mom. How do you manage your time so that you don’t sacrifice your own writing?
LJS: Sometimes I do sacrifice my writing! But now that my kids are grown and I no longer have a full-time journalism job, it happens less often. About two years ago, when the educational publisher laid me off, I dedicated myself to my fiction and I started writing first thing every morning. The idea was that I would do my work first at least for a few hours. That has worked out well for me. I wrote three Detective Jackson novels during 2008 and 2009. This year I’ve been focused on rewrites—of my last two Jackson novels and two standalone thrillers I’d written in the past. It’s a different kind of productivity and not quite as much fun, but part of the novelist life.
CAH: You sometimes work as a stand-up comic. Has anything from that part of your life benefited you as a writer?
LJS: Now you’re making me laugh. I don’t get paid for my stand-up. (Making it much like my novel career.) I do comedy for fun. And for the challenge. I got going on it when I took a humor writing class. At the time, I was writing comedy screenplays and I sought out a way to sharpen my humor in the scripts. Over the course of the class I wrote a stand-up routine, and as the final, I performed it. I was terrified! But the crowd was friendly—and drinking—and I did great. So I perform with a local group every once in a while just to stay in practice. And I performed at a talent contest at Bouchercon last year. That was probably a mistake. Some of my humor was a little “blue” for the crowd, I’m afraid. But let me clarify: My novels aren’t humorous. That’s a different personality. I have several, as you might have noticed.
CAH: Did you have any mentor, or a group of peers, to help and encourage you as a fiction writer?
LJS: I’ve always been a solitary writer. The only encouragement I sought or received was from my husband, who doesn’t read my stories until they’re done, and from the agent I mentioned and later from a second agent I signed with. Once I finally got published, I started sending my work-in-progress to beta readers. And now I have fans who encourage me.
COMING UP MONDAY: Part 2: The Detective Jackson Mysteries