Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Exclusive Interview with Jessica Jarman, and Bronwyn Green!

Hello everyone! Welcome to a special edition of this blog: Today we have authors/editors Bronwyn Green and Jessica Jarman joining us! I got the pleasure to interview them both a little about their writing practices, useful criticism, and of course books you should read! They did a fantastic and professional job of answering my amateurish questions, and random tangents! Lets dive in shall we?

Lets hear a little about Bron-

Bronwyn Green (BG): I write young adult fiction under Christine Allen-Riley and erotic romance under Bronwyn Green. I’m also a mom, a wife, a blogger, a compulsive crafter (mostly knitting & sewing and also pottery and cross stitching when I have time) and I’m also a binge watcher of Netflix.

And you Jess?

Jessica Jarman (JJ): I write erotic romance. I’m also a wife, mom, and super obnoxious fangirl of many things. (Shocker, I know) When I’m not writing, I’m spending time with family and friends, attempting to be crafty and often failing, and marathoning, and squeeing uncontrollably, over my fave shows.

Jass: Great introductions ladies! And I love YA and Children's Literature, Bron. It's my super guilty, but deliciously enjoyable pleasure! I’ll definitely have to pick up a copy of your books!

BG: I love YA and Children’s Lit, too! I have a pretty large collection of children’s books. But The Paper Bag Princess will forever be my fave. :D But there are so many absolutely amazing books out there. Noble Hearted Kate is another favorite. Oh, and Drac and the Gremlin. One of the coolest books on pretend play that I’ve ever seen. Sadly, I think these both might be out of print, now. Have you read The Scorpio Races or The Raven Boys/Raven Cycle? Ah-MAZ-ing!!! I’m anxiously awaiting the last book in the series. Oh, my YA is called Iron Falls: Eventide. (homicidal soul-sucking faeries) :)

Jass: I actually did start the Raven Boys; borrowed the first book from the library but for reasons I can't remember, never finished it. I should check it out again. I'll definitely keep my eye out for your book: Homicidal Faeries are my favourite kind! Muhwahahahha!
So lets get started with the difficult questions shall we? And by that I mean, lets see if I can formulate something articulate to ask you, without sounding like a total dafty!

What are you currently working on?

BG: I’m currently working on two books - the second book in my paranormal YA series, Iron Falls, under my real name, and my next contribution to my and Jess’ BOUND series—it’s called In Bounds.

JJ: I’m [also] currently working on the next book in Bron and my BOUND series—Safeword Protected—and the next ALBION book, Into the Deep.

Jass: Safeword Protected, what a title!  Sounds super intriguing-what's being protected? Why is it so important...Why have I not read this already? Don't talk to me, go finish this book...while I catch up! As usual, excitement carried me away to semi-lunacy. I'm back on track now, so lets go into process then-

How do you form the story? How do you start and what are the elements you feel need to be there to be a solid start (if not complete book) ?

BG: First off, you should know that I’m the pantsiest pantser that ever pantsed. [Pantser refers to writers who "fly by the seat of their pants", or just kind of sit down and write, and see where it takes them, instead of plotting everything down before starting.] Myusual M.O. goes a lot like 1.) Get a snippet of dialogue stuck in my head. 2.) Figure out who’s saying what to who and why. 3.) Imagine the rest of the scene and write it down. 4.) Think about the characters in the scene and who else is part of their lives. 5.) Figure out what the main characters’ problem/issue/need/want/childhood trauma is. 6.) Get some more sort of vague, story-shaped ideas that might be incorporated at some point. 7.) Think about what needed to happen prior to that first bit of dialogue that first popped into my head in order for that dialogue to occur in the first place. 8.) From there, come up with a reasonable starting place for the story and begin. 9.) Write until I reach the spots I have notes for. 10.) Cry and wish that I were an actual plotter instead of a pantser, and call Jess for therapy and brainstorming. 
[Jass: Look at how adorable these two are! Friends, collaborators, sounding walls! I love it-brings tears to my cynical little heart!]

I know some people who meticulously plot the book from beginning to end before they write a single word of the story. But as much as I often wish that was a skill that was in my wheelhouse, it just isn’t. So, I guess the short answer (too late) to this question is I need to “hear" one or more of the main characters in my head, know at least a little about who they are as people, have a general idea about their goals and conflicts, and have at least one future plot point that I’m writing toward.

JJ: I’ve always been a pantser—I don’t need a whole lot to start a story, to be honest. Sometimes, it’s just a snippet of conversation in my head, or it’s a secondary character that intrigued me in another book, an idea that comes to me… And I just go with it. I’ve probably plotted more in the last couple years than I have in my entire career, and that’s mostly with the Albion’s Circle series—because there is an overriding plot arc through the whole series. It’s not working on just one book, one story. I have to keep track and plan so that each book has some satisfying resolution but still leads into the the next book and continuation of the overall conflict/plot of the series.

Jass: That's amazing how little you both go off of! I know from my experience writing prose, I find it very difficult to get started.  And I feel you both about being a total  pantser-like must attract like-but that’s totally me with my playwriting. I seem to have a similar M.O. actually. I hear/see a scene first and then write. So it’s interesting that when writing a play all I need is a snippet, like yourselves, but prose I find far more challenging. I love what you said about looking for characters needs/wants. It's a great place to understand the conflict then. In theatre we talk about it in terms of objectives: what's the goal? With the conflict becoming what gets in the way of achieving that goal. So while on this track,

What would you say makes a strong conflict?

JJ: Oh boy, I don’t have an easy answer for this one. I think anything could potentially be a strong conflict if written well. If the conflict is written is a way that is believable and relatable then it works. I tend to identify with, and write more, internal conflict. Give me the angsty feels, and I’m a fan for life. I eat it up with a spoon. Don’t get me wrong, external conflict is always a good thing, but I really love the emotional side of what pushes a character to do what he/she does. What gets in the way of their happiness, what is holding them back. A book (or more) that excels in having strong relatable internal or external conflict: I think Bron’s Out of Sync nails internal conflict. It’s brilliantly done, and it is a book I go back to again and again for that reason. For external conflict? I love Kris Norris’ books for that. I’m actually envious of her writing in that regard because I feel external conflict is something I’m not very strong with, to be honest. But it’s something I keep working on.

BG: I think we first have to look at what kinds of conflict we’re talking about. I’m of the opinion that stories need both internal and external conflicts, and ideally, they should feed off each other. Internal/personal/emotional conflict is all about what the characters bring to the story. Their baggage, if you will. This kind of conflict arises from the insecurities, emotional scars, and past trauma that everyone has experienced at some level. For example, a fear of abandonment, unworthiness, guilt, etc. The conflict arises when the main characters’ wants and needs clash. This is the sort of conflict that can’t be solved with a simple conversation. It requires personal growth—usually on the parts of both characters. External or situational conflict arises from the plot. It can be anything from a hostile business takeover to a scientific breakthrough to an archaeological dig to video game development to opening a specialty cupcake store (are those still a thing?) to killing vampires to saving the world. In a romance, the internal/emotional/personal conflict is usually the stronger of the two—unless you’re writing romantic suspense, and then it’s pretty much even. In other genres, I think it’s a fairly even division, unless we’re talking young adult and literary fiction, those also tend more toward personal or emotional conflict. All that said, I think almost anything can make a strong conflict - particularly a strong emotional conflict - as long it's believable and relatable and as long as the reader both sees and feels the impact on the characters.

Jass: That's a great way to break conflict up and I couldn't agree more. I've found a lot of times I had trouble getting through a book, it was because the characters internal life was lacking and the stakes weren't high enough to invest in them.

Is there a book (or more) in particular you find excels at having a strong, relatable, internal and external conflict?

BG: Please believe me when I tell you that I don’t say this lightly, or because she’s my BFF, but Jarman’s Albion’s Circle series EXCELS at internal and external conflict. The stakes are incredibly high, and get higher with each book in the series. And with what’s coming, I’m kind of wanting to huddle in the corner. Oh, and Nothing Serious, one of her BOUND books has some of my very favorite conflict ever. That book gave me all the feels. And obviously, Jenny Trout’s Boss series is teeming with well-drawn conflict - internal and external. We won’t even talk about The Baby... The internal conflict in Charlotte Stein’s Intrusion is a beautiful, beautiful thing. As much as I love that book, I don’t think the external conflict got as much of the attention as perhaps it should have. But that book is a re-reader for me because of the internal conflict. Both characters’ issues are apparent, even though it’s told in first person, single narrator. It’s one of my very favorites in the history of ever.

Jass: Great books list... I obvs agree with Albion circle as I devoured three books in three days. SERIOUSLY, THREE DAYS-THREE BOOKS!…And still sniffle over the third! Ms. Jarman! (Also, side note, Jessica watched Bronwyn read the third and cry on her couch! That sick puppy! :P)

JJ: MWAH! *blush* you guys…I’m just happy you like Albion. I love it so much. So much I want to cry sometimes. And am DYING to finish the next one. *ahem* May be a bit dramatic today, just saying. :)

Jass: Jessica deserves to get as dramatic as she wants—it’s a very good series! I don’t read romance much/at all, but there’s more than enough action to satisfy me. It's also done in multiple POV, so you get the emotional lives, and internal conflict of many characters. This is very hard to do, and particularly difficult to do well...Jess does it well. But building on this issue of conflict…

How do you know when you've written a solid conflict for your characters? How often do you go back and revise it?

JJ: I’ll be honest. I don’t think my conflict game is as strong as it should be. It’s something that I struggle with daily. Usually, what happens as I’m pantsing my way through the story is that I’ll get to a 1/3 or 1/2 way finished, and I squint at it from multiple angles and decide that I need to make things shittier for my characters, and after I figure out exactly how to do that, I go back and layer more stuff into the section I’ve already written. Not terribly scientific, I know. :/

BG: Sometimes, the conflict ups itself naturally from groundwork I laid without even realizing it. That happened in Finding You and in Eventide. Suddenly, there were these surprise jolts that cranked things way up for the protagonists, and all I could do was sit there and think… "thanks for looking out for me, brain.”

JJ: [In terms of revising] I fall back on “Trust your story; trust your characters”. I repeat that to myself so many times while writing, it’s a constant loop in my head. I really let the characters lead the story. And I have great beta readers I trust, who will be honest with me. Brutally so, if needed. As for how often I’ll revise? However many times it takes.

BG: I try to listen to the story, but often, I still don’t feel like I’m nailing the conflict like I want to. But that’s one of the things I’m actively working on. :)

Jass: It sounds like you both have a great, organic way of coming up with conflict! It seems like you pay attention to the worlds you are creating, which is awesome because one of my reader peeves is forced drama. Particularly the dreaded girlfriend in a refrigerator trope. If you can’t find a way to create drama without a woman being used as a prop…then I’m sorry but IMO you’re a crappy writer: Whether that’s novels, television, comics, or movies. The migraines I get from my exaggerated eye-rolling-I tell you what! Jenny Trout's [another writer and friend of Bron’s and Jess’] been reviewing Appolonia...and the forced and shallow "conflict" kills me. I was surprised to learn the book wasn't over at the latest recap because it feels so long. I honestly don’t know how she inflicts such pain on herself by not only continuing to read the thing, but trying to analyze it as well. How do you breakdown nothing?!

But that’s a great point you raise Bronwyn about not always feeling like you’ve nailed what you wanted; I feel that way with endings a lot of the time. Like I kind of got what I wanted but not really...which is a nice segue!

What have been your favourite endings? How do you like to wrap up one-shots vs. Books you know you want to make a series?

BG: I also struggle with endings - lol. And I wish I could tell you I loved them all, but I was pretty pleased with the ending of Rising Blood. And I was proud of the big black moment in Drawn That Way, buuuuttttt…that’s not really an ending. OH! Out of Sync. I did like that one quite a bit.

JJ: Endings…endings are tough, yo. LOL I struggle with them, sometimes, but I’ve been happy with the endings of all of my books—even though some of them were difficult to write. Difficult in the sense of coming up with an ending that wraps everything up and is satisfying. I guess if I had to choose a favorite ending…I’d have to say I was very pleased with the ending of London Bound. They made me happy. :) Endings in a series can be tricky. In Albion’s Circle, particularly, because there is so much happening throughout the series that it’s a balancing act—having some things resolved at the end of each book, but the big stuff isn’t…that continues in the next book and beyond. It is honestly one of the hardest things I’ve done as an author, writing a series like this, as opposed to a series of connected books that are essentially one-shots. And that’s where the plotting comes into play. I have an outline for the series. A loose one, but I know all the main events that happen in each book, what does get resolved in each, etc. The pantser in me rebelled but it really needed to be done that way.

BG: Most of my series don’t feature the same protagonist in each book. Typically, subsequent books are about secondary characters from previous books, so they’re *almost” written like one shots. In those stories, nearly everything about the main characters are wrapped up, but there might be some open story threads that tie into next book in the series, or, in the case of the Witch Way series, the first book’s threads tied more directly to the third. Thus far, only my YA features the same protagonist all the way through. And that’s definitely a tricker wrap-up. You have to have enough resolution to satisfy the reader, but leave enough unanswered questions to make them want to read the next book. Since I’m not a plotter, I’m pretty much deciding what to wrap up and what to leave hanging entirely by feel as I’m getting closer to the end.

Jass: That makes sense. I wrote my first novella for nanowrimo last November. Nothing to write home about, but I struggled with how to end it because I can see it continuing. I didn't know how final it should be. If I wasn't working against the clock, I'd probably have driven myself insane trying to make it just right. Luckily I was just focused on finishing to over think it.

BG: You were doing NANO?

Jass: I did do it-first time, total pantser, 4 days late. And that right there says nearly everything about me!

BG: I saw a meme that said something like, “I’ve run out of excuses. I’m late because of who I am as a person.” That pretty much sums up my life. So, I feel you. But hey - you finished!

Jass: LOL! I’m right with you; and yes, I did finish. Kind of. Still working on an ending—to come full circle! But I actually want to go back a little to Jess’ comments about having good beta readers. I think this is  a really important part of the creative process. For those that don’t know; beta readers are kind of like editors in the sense they read your work for you and offer feedback about the story and how they interpret it, feel about it, what’s interesting, what drags, etc. So that brings me to my next question-

What do you consider effective or useful criticism/suggestions when writing a book?

I know for myself, not being precious about my work is always a tough thing to do. We have a theatre mantra: hold on tightly, let go lightly. Which basically translates into create and nurture your work, protect it...but then let it go. Make it a gift and share it.

JJ: Effective and useful criticism? I’m incredibly lucky in the beta readers I have. I know they have my best interests at heart, and I trust them wholeheartedly. They are always specific in their criticism—pointing out exactly what isn’t working and why they think that is, and they are always willing to brainstorm with me and help me fix it. And that is invaluable. It's hard to hear something isn’t working in a book, or something is missing. And, to be honest, no matter who it comes from, there’s always the knee-jerk reaction of “What? No way, how DARE YOU?” LOL But it doesn’t last long because of all the things I mentioned before—the trust and knowing what’s behind the criticism.

BG: Hmmmm…effective and useful criticism, huh? I’ll admit, criticism used to make me wilt and feel like I totally sucked at everything. But I have a somewhat healthier outlook, now. And a slightly thicker skin. :) First and foremost, I love my beta readers because they’re not only honest in what’s working for them and what isn’t, they’re also incredibly specifc. Specifics can make all the difference during the editing process. It’s one thing to hear that the pacing is slow in parts - and it’s another for them to point at exactly where it’s slow. It makes fixing it easier. My CPs are committed to helping me tell the best stories possible. I think the most important kind of criticism is honest - even if it sucks to hear. Yep - honesty is literally the most important and effective thing when critiquing. Unfortunately, I think a lot of time, people tell authors what they think the authors want to hear as opposed to how they might actually be feel about a book for fear of hurting the authors' feelings. Jess and I are both editors for our company, Round Table Author Services. I think we’ve both had experiences with clients whose beta readers have "loved everything" about their novels, and when they received edits from us, they’re blindsided by the disparity between our responses vs. their beta readers’ responses. This isn’t to say that Jess and I are going on a great big hate-fest every time we edit a book. Our edits are kind, but firm, and in addition to being thorough, we pride ourselves on being honest with our clients. Avoiding the truth, whether you’re doing a favor for a friend or a favorite author or you’re an industry professional, doesn’t help the author put their best work forward.

Jass: I don’t want to sound biased, because I obviously consider the two of you as friends, but I think that’s really what separates good writers, from great writers-That ability to take constructive feedback and criticism well. If you’re serious about your craft (whatever it is), then, even while it hurts, you should be open to areas of improvement. I’m not surprised that both of you respond well to honest critique, and that you both give it as well. I think it says a lot about your professionalism. Well before I spend too much of your time, and since this is a blog about books… I guess I'll just end with:

What is one book everyone should read, and why? Feel free to choose titles you've already said and elaborate! :)

BG: One of our books or one of someone else’s?

Jass: Whichever you prefer. Either!Or! Both! :)

BG: Okay, so for books everyone should read… (Heads up, I’m about to be a big cheaterpants.) For children’s fiction, I’m going to say The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. TPBP is brilliant story on so many levels. It shows the importance of peaceful and clever actions as opposed to violence, substance and character over superficiality, and I think, most important of all, the necessity of loving yourself enough not to settle for someone who wants you to change to meet their expectations of who you should be - even if that means walking away from that person.

The second book I’m going to toss out is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’ve loved this book for the last 20-some years - hated the movie, though. However, the story that once made me even more aware of the daily micro-aggressions against women now utterly terrifies me, because apparently Atwood is some kind of prophet since western civilization - the U.S. in particular - is sitting far closer to becoming The Republic of Gilead than I ever would have imagined possible. I think it’s an important read because as society works to chip away at women and other minorities' basic rights, many people tend to become emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed and turn away from the situation and just assume it’ll all turn out okay without us needing to say or do anything about it. And instead, we already find ourselves living in a world where white people kill people of color with next to no consequences, where a woman’s ability to govern her own body is not a forgone conclusion, where LGBTQA people are persecuted on a daily basis. Is reading THMT going to fix that? No. But, I feel like it might help open people’s eyes to the sort of nightmare we’re heading for if things continue the way they have been.

I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest one of my girl, Jarman’s books. She’s truly one of the most talented writers I know of and happily have the privilege of being friends with. Disclaimer: even if we weren’t friends, I’d still love her work. Jess’ books have a depth of emotion and angst that I adore. They’re beautifully written, and her characters are so real. I know you’ve read the first three Albion books, so the book I’m recommending is another of my all-time faves of hers: Nothing Serious. At the heart of this love story that’s funny, scorchingly hot, and heartbreaking are two guys who are denying some of the most important parts of themselves and their lives for others. I think a lot of us do that - put our own needs last often at the detriment of our happiness. Which isn’t to say that I think everyone should run about being selfish jerks - just that consistently putting ourselves last is not only bad for us, it’s bad for the people we love since they’re not getting the best version of us, either. And this story illustrates that perfectly.

I’ll admit, it’s a lot easier to evangelize about other people’s books than try to say something positive about mine without feeling like a braggy jerk. But that’s one of those bullshit socialization things, isn’t it? Oft times, we see men who speak positively about their work as confident and women who do the same as braggarts, and so we typically tend to not say anything. GAH. I’m having angst. But in an attempt to be confident, I’m going to add Drawn That Way to the list. It was recently mentioned on a book blog as being a feminist romance, which, as you can imagine from my earlier book recs, thrilled me to no end. DTW is a geeky romance set in video game design company. I’d be lying if I said that Rory, the hero, who’s a bit socially awkward, and Tristan, the heroine, who’s maybe a little impulsive, weren’t special to me. I love their humor, their passion and even their flaws. I enjoyed delving into the sexism rampant in video game culture, consent and sexual harassment in the workplace. I also love strong women who aren’t in competition with other women. Writing this book was really important to me for a variety of reasons, but one of the most important is that someone I once knew said I’d be terrible at writing books in this subgenre. But I think it turned out quite well. And what started out as being something to “prove” turned into a story I really love. [Jass: Yeah Girl!]

Damn, that was a long answer. Sorry about that!

Jass: No apologies needed! That was a fantastic answer, on a super hard question! I know, it’s not really fair to ask about a few favourites-it’s a near impossible task! Also I recently read The Handmaid's Tale, and I agree 100% with everything you said! It blew me away; and the writing is so vivid and filled with tension and oppression and hope. Just so beautiful and jarring.

BG: That book is just so amazing. I’m so glad you loved it, too! My son, Corwin, just read it - he had to choose a “college-level” book for English class. He liked it, but it depressed the hell out of him. I keep thinking about re-reading it, but I’m not sure that emotionally I’m up for it at the moment.
We were at my mom’s, and I was trying to work her stove and all it has are numbers and pictographs, and I couldn’t figure out what anything did, and yelled, “What kind of Handmaid’s Tale level of bullshit is this?” Corwin died laughing and had to explain it to everyone else.

Jass: LMAO! Wow, what a smarty! It’s not an easy book either, it's fairly dense with subtext and subtle hints at social problems! I'm calling it-You are raising Corwin right! What about you Jarman? Hit me with your best shot!

JJ: I can’t just say one book! That’s…that’s…impossible! So I’m going to recommend more than one, because I can. Jane’s Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. OMG I can’t tell you how much I adore this book. I’ve read it so many times over the years and still read it at least once a year now. And what it comes down to, I think? While there is plenty of external conflict—most of it stemming from the society and culture in which it’s set—internal conflict galore. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy? Please, behold the King and Queen of Internal Conflict, my friends. Where is my spoon, because I’m ready to eat it up?! 

I’m going to recommend one of Bron’s, of course. I’m super lucky to be friends with her and working on the Bound series with her, but I read her stuff before we became friends and loved it. She has a way of crafting a story that just pulls you in immediately, and you find yourself relating to and loving her characters in a very real way. Specifically? As I mentioned, Out of Sync is one I go back to again and again. The internal conflict….oh my, it just ticks all my boxes, no matter how many times I read it. I adore James and Morgan to no end. 

And I will go against everything ingrained in me and recommend one of my own. My friends (including Bron) and I have talked a lot about this—how it’s so hard to talk positively and recommend our own work. As if, by doing so, we are bragging or thinking too highly of ourselves. Well, I’m going to shake off that BS, here it goes… If I had to say read anything of mine—it would either the Bound books, which I’m incredibly proud of, or the Albion Circle series. Albion’s Circle means so much to me—the story, the characters made me fall in love with writing again. I laugh and cry while I’m writing these books, and they are truly something special to me.

Jass: Your best shot is very strong indeed! I felt it! Pride and Prejudice is definitely a classic, although I have to admit I haven't actually read the book; I've only watched the BBC version with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth (a few hundred times). I'm terrible, I know. Well, I think that’s all the time we have for! I absolutely loved talking to you gals about writing, and books. You’re both fabulous- THANK YOU SO MUCH!

So that’s it fine readers! Thanks for following along! Please check out Bronwyn and Jessica’s books: They are fantastic writers, and lovely people. You can catch them at:

Brownyn Green: Blog|Twitter| Books
Jessica Jarman:  Blog | Twitter| Books

I would definitely suggest following them on twitter, especially if you enjoy witty comments on popular culture and television!

Until next time my loves!

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