[Interview] Novelist Susan Jarnagin


Susan JarnaginSusan Jarnagin writes under the pen names Renee Russell and Darcy McKenna. Her articles and short stories have appeared in publications that include The Commercial Appeal and Absolute Write.

She made her debut as a novelist, this year, with Kate’s Pride (Wings ePress, 2007).

In a recent interview, she spoke about her writing.

How many books have you written so far?

Writing as Renee Russell, I have Kate’s Pride which came out in January. My second novel, working title Fated Love has recently been sold to Wild Rose Press with the publication date to be announced — the pen name for that novel will be Darcy McKenna. I’m at work on Novel #3 and Novel #4 right now.

Why the pen names?

I chose to use two different pen names because when I pick up a book by a particular author I’m expecting a particular kind of story. For example with Stephen King I expect a horror story. With John Grisham I expect a legal thriller.

Kate’s Pride is a Southern Gothic historical. Very dark and tragic. Fated Love is a contemporary suspense with a much lighter tone. I didn’t want anyone who loved Kate’s Pride to pick up my second book and be disappointed that it is a completely different story.

I plan to write more dark historicals in the future and those will be published under Renee Russell. The more contemporary romantic suspense and mystery books I write in the future will all appear under the pen name Darcy McKenna.

How did you come up with the idea behind Kate’s Pride?

Kate’s PrideKate’s Pride is about a young woman in West Tennessee who finds herself in the family way and abandoned by her own family after the end of the Civil War. It’s a Southern Gothic Historical in the tradition of Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. I got the idea for the book when I was doing genealogical research on my family and got stuck. It drove me so nuts I decided to write a book about what might have happened to a young woman in that time and place and under those circumstance.

This was my first novel and it took me over two years to write it. I learned a lot along the way — like don’t keep revising the first two or three chapters or you’ll never get the thing completed. Just write it straight through and then go back and edit.

The novel was published January 2007 by Wings ePress as both an ebook and a trade paperback.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Kate’s Pride is a very dark story and I found it difficult to express Kate’s pain without becoming emotionally upset myself. The bones of the story line are based on someone in my own family history and I worried what other family members would think of the story I wrote about our common ancestress.

I most enjoyed the writing process itself. Although it certainly wasn’t easy. When it was really rolling along I felt on top of the world. When I had writer’s block I thought about just chucking the whole thing. When I wrote “The End” it was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

I’ve written and published quite a few short stories and none of them are as dark and tragic as Kate’s Pride. Even the other novels I’ve written are not as dark as this story.

It’s similar to the others in that a woman who should be in a position of weakness finds the inner strength to carry on in the face of big obstacles.

What will your next book be about?

Fated Love is about a woman who’s been the object of unrequited love for more than one hundred years. She keeps getting reborn and pursued by two men. One of whom is her soul mate the other her killer.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

I tend to writer darker stories. Maybe because my father died when I was very young, maybe because we moved a lot when I was in school, maybe because I’m terribly shy. Or perhaps it’s a combination of all those things. I don’t want anyone to think I had an awful childhood because I didn’t. Those are just the things that come to mind when you ask about personal experiences and writing.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

When I was in junior high school I wanted to be a writer more than anything. I loved the way books could take you to other cities, other countries, to the past and to the future and I wanted to be able to do that too.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

Wow. That’s a tough one. I have so very many favorite authors across all genres. Going back to your first question about when I decided I wanted to be a writer, I grew up on Phyllis Whitney, Norah Lofts and Agatha Christie, so I supposed you could say those were my early inspirations.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

From a personal point of view, I’m concerned that no one will like my work. I think a lot of authors are that way — at least quite a few I’ve spoken too. I once heard another author say putting your book out there for the public is like standing on a stage, dropping your pants and waiting for comments.

From an industry point of view — it’s really really hard to get published these days and a lot of good books go unpublished because there just isn’t space in the major publishers’ lists to publish everything. They may like half a dozen that were submitted, but they only have one slot available so they choose the one they feel will make the most money. Publishing is a business after all and if the publishers don’t make money they can’t stay in business.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face? And, how do you deal with them?

I think the biggest challenges are making time to write — I have a day job and I have an hour drive in each direction. Getting Kate’s Pride published doesn’t guarantee me anything going forward. So I worry about sales figures. Wings ePress is a small publisher and their books are not available through the big distributors. That means none of the big chain bookstores will carry my book on their shelves. And even the independents won’t unless I contact them and convince them they should carry one or two copies.

As far as getting another book published, I can only write the best book I can and hope I’m the one chosen for that available slot. As far as sales numbers, I’ve created my own website, www.reneerussell.com, where people can find out more about me and my book. I’ve been contacting independent bookstore owners and begging them to stock a few books. I’m contacting independent bookstores to see if I can set up a book-signings. I’m contacting newspapers and newsletters to get book reviews and author interviews to get my book out to the public. Also, I’m offering to do question and answers sessions via telephone with book clubs who choose my novel to read. I guess you could say I’m trying to think outside the box as much as possible to find marketing strategies that will overcome the lack of distribution to major bookstores.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

That’s an easy one! Getting my first novel published. Hopefully there will be many many more to come.

How did you get there?

It was a long and frustration road. Once I wrote “The End” the hard part was really just beginning. I sent out queries to all the major New York publishing houses and got form rejections from all of them. I can’t tell you how devastated I felt! Thinking I had no talent as a writer I gave up. The manuscript went into a drawer and I didn’t write another thing for several years. I was so naive about the publishing business I thought those rejections were it and I hadn’t been able to cut it. Then, I began to write again.

It was a compulsion and I couldn’t not write any more. I tried my hand at a few short stories and got them published. That was a huge boost to my morale. I’d also begun really learning about the publishing industry as a whole and realized what a truly tough business it is. Since I’d already been turned down flat by the big [New York] N.Y. houses, I explored the possibilities of epublishing. I researched quite a few and decided I like Wings the best. I sent them the first manuscript and they sent me a contract. Now I’ve completed a second novel and am working on two more. What a difference it makes to understand how the industry works and that you just have to have a lot of persistence. Keep writing, keep sending out those queries. Your first book may not be published. Or even the second or third or fourth. But keep trying and eventually your dream can come true.

Do you write everyday?

I try to write at least one hour every weekday evening and two or three hours each on Saturday and Sunday.

You spoke of a time when you had writer’s block. How did you deal with this?

I got to a point where I didn’t know how to proceed. I knew how the book ended, but couldn’t quite figure out how to write the middle. I ended up not pushing myself, just let it simmer in the back of my mind and relaxed about it. I wasn’t on a specific schedule so I had the luxury of doing that. Eventually the middle of the story came to me.

Will there come a time when the e-book will supersede or replace “the book” as we know it?

In my heart I think this will happen. Not with my own generation, but with the one following. So many of the younger generation get all their information electronically. So yes, I believe e-books are the wave of the future. I bought an e-book reader myself and actually enjoy it immensely!

Do you think more writers will consider epublishing as a way of getting their books out there?

I think quite a few are doing that now. With the major N.Y. houses having so few slots available for books, many truly excellent books are now being published by epublishers.

Do you see a time when a lot of them will prefer this as opposed to the traditional print publication?

That’s hard for me to say. I still see a place for both. Some people will prefer the ease of the ebooks. You can transport your entire library on a hand held-reader with ebooks, but there will be some who prefer holding a book in their hands. Personally I like both. Why? As a huge fan of Star Trek growing up, I saw a world where nothing was in a book. They got all their information from computers — including books. So I have to say as the world progresses I think there will be many more books done by epublishers. It saves trees, it saves shelf space, all around it’s a good thing.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

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