Urban fantasy is my favourite genre to read and so if felt natural to write it as well. I’m especially drawn to stories where the supernatural walk among us. I think that’s because I would love to possess those supernatural abilities—oh, to be able to fly! And when supernatural beings hide within everyday society, then maybe—just maybe—they really exist. That feeling of possibility is what I want to create in my writing. It’s escapism, and we could all use a little more of that.
2. Do the characters come to you fully formed or do they emerge the more you write about them?
They definitely emerge as I put them through their paces. Character motivation, in particular, is often something that comes out later when a character’s past comes into play.
3. Are your characters based on real people?
Not wholly, but pieces of real people are found in my characters. It might be unruly hair, or the way someone walks. It could be a piece of clothing or a conversation I overheard in a coffee shop.
4. Is there something in your background that plays into your writing?
I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and the paranormal and magic have fascinated me since I was a child. Even as a young girl, I remember running into the wind with my arms widespread, hoping to lift off and fly.
5. Where does your inspiration come from for a new story?
Books and music are a great source of inspiration. It’s not always the content, but how the material makes me feel. I enjoy recreating emotions like wonder, elation, anger, etc. Frequently, a news story will spark my imagination, like the recent discovery of a giant cave in BC, or the discovery that the Easter Island Heads have hidden bodies. An old horror story I heard around a campfire when I was a Girl Guide inspired my latest short story titled Scaredy Cat.
6. Did you plan to write your series?
Not at all. I thought I was writing a one-off book. It was a personal challenge. But when I finished it, I missed the characters, and I missed writing. I also knew that the world I’d created had bandwidth to expand and explore. The series is now complete at seven books.
7. Why did you choose an urban setting for the Gift Legacy?
The characters in the books can fly, and I needed the possibility they might get caught. A big city provided that tension. The city setting also lends itself to more places for the characters to interact.
8. Where did the name Emelynn come from?
Emelynn is the name of a woman I met briefly when I lived in Vancouver. I always loved her name.
9. Do you have a current writing project? Can you tell us a little about it?
Yes! My new project is a book titled Blood Mark. It’s the story of a young woman who bears a chain of scarlet birthmarks. She is thrilled when, one by one, the disfiguring marks begin to disappear—until she learns that the hated marks protect her from a mysterious and homicidal enemy. Now, she is in a race against time to find this dangerous enemy before her last mark vanishes.
10. Are you a planner or a pantser?
I started off as a pantser but learned the value of outlining when I got further into my series and found it too difficult to keep track of all the story and character threads. I now outline regularly, but I’m not dogged about it—if the story doesn’t fit the outline, I’ll rewrite the outline, not the story.
11. When did you start writing?
In my day-job work life, I wrote a lot of non-fiction in the form of procedure manuals and job descriptions. That writing wasn’t nearly as fun as the fiction writing that I started in 2010.
12. Do you have a study or writing space?
I have two spaces. One is a corner of the dining room that has a view of the ocean. It’s there that I am at my most creative. I also have a chair in the living room where I tend to the business side of writing. Oddly enough, I rarely use the office in the back of the house. It has a “work” vibe and no view.
13. Where can readers find you on social media/blog?
My hub is my website at jpmcleanauthor.com. I’m also on Twitter @jpmcleanauthor and on Facebook at JPMcLeanBooks.
14. What would you like your readers to know?
How much I appreciate their support, how important their reviews are, and how much I enjoy their messages and comments.
J.P. McleanJo-Anne holds a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, is a certified scuba diver, an avid gardener, and a voracious reader. She had a successful career in Human Resources before turning her attention to writing. JP lives on Denman Island, nestled between the coast of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. Raised in Toronto, Ontario, JP has lived in various parts of North America from Mexico and Arizona to Alberta and Ontario before settling on Canada’s west coast.
You can reach her through her website at jpmcleanauthor.com.
I enjoy the puzzle-like challenge that comes with writing a mystery. My stories are actually more character-driven than plot-driven, though, so as much as I enjoy the challenge of writing a mystery, I also have fun exploring character growth on the page.
Is it a genre you enjoy reading as well?
Actually, I don’t read mysteries as much as I do other genres, such as westerns, supernatural suspense, and romance. That’s probably why my books are actually more mixed genre than straight mysteries. I like to include humor, supernatural elements, romance, suspense, and adventure on the page along with the mystery plot.
What sparked your first book idea?
I was unhappy with the endings in several books I’d recently read and decided I wanted to try my hand at writing different endings that satisfied me more. This idea grew into me creating the story from start to end, which then blossomed into writing full-length novels. Novels soon changed into long-running series, and now I have five different series I juggle.
Do you prefer writing series or stand-a-lone novels?
I like writing series because I enjoy developing characters. It’s more fulfilling to develop these characters over a long-running series than trying to fit it all into one story. My character arcs span the whole series, allowing them to grow and change with every book.
Does your background and location help you capture a setting for your characters/settings? Or is it just imagination?
I believe my background and the places I’ve lived/visited play a role in capturing a setting, but my imagination takes ideas to the next level. I have a series set here in Arizona where I live (Jackrabbit Junction Mystery series), and I have spent many summers and holidays in the Deadwood, South Dakota area because my mom moved there when I was in seventh grade. While my Dig Site series takes place in the Yucatan (an area of Mexico which I have not visited yet), that series plays on my dream of being an archaeologist, allowing me to explore that field without actually living down there under the trees.
What benefit do you feel comes with the illustrations? Why did you choose that format?
My brother is my illustrator, so I enjoy including his art in my stories. I think illustrations help bring the story to life even more for readers. In addition, these illustrations add to my Ann Charles author brand and help set my stories apart from others. Not many adult fiction novels have illustrations in them these days.
Is Violet “Spooky” Parker based on someone real or a combination of characters?
Violet is a mixture of my imagination and my sense of humor. She isn’t based on anyone I know. Her character became clear to me after some time spent imagining her life and struggles as I worked on the setup for the first Deadwood novel, Nearly Departed in Deadwood.
Did you plan your mystery/ humor/ romance subplot plot lines, or did it evolve as your crafted the stories?
I knew from the start of the Deadwood and Jackrabbit Junction Mystery series that I was going to write mixed genre stories with mystery as the main plot. I’ve always enjoyed funny romance stories and had worked for years on strengthening that part of my storytelling, studying humor and romance in books and practicing my ability to mix them together on the page. My favorite movies are mixed genre with these elements, so it’s not a surprise that these are the stories that come out on the page for me.
Was it a conscious decision to become an author?
Not really. I’ve always enjoyed reading books, but writing was not on my radar until my senior year in high school. Even then, though, I really didn’t plan on becoming an author and spent years in college studying Spanish and daydreaming of other careers. In the end, I took so many English classes in college that I figured I might as well minor in creative writing and see where this urge to tell stories led me.
Do you feel self-publishing has benefited you more than other options?
Self-publishing has allowed me to explore story lines without an outside influence, as in a marketing department that might have forced me to write what was hot in the “market” at the time. Also, I have learned so much about marketing and promotion because I’ve been in charge of building my career. I did not set out to be an entrepreneur, but I enjoy most of the aspects of running my own business and plan to continue on this path for as long as I can.
Which character do you enjoy writing the most & why?
That’s a tough question—I don’t think I have a single favorite. I enjoy switching between my different series and exploring different characters and their adventures. Violet Parker is fun because I get to dabble in the supernatural with her and she makes me laugh often. The Morgan sisters from my Jackrabbit Junction series are a blast and are always getting into mix-ups with the law. They allow me to explore sisterhood and have fun in the Arizona desert. In my Dig Site series, I enjoy playing archaeologist, and in the Deadwood Undertaker series that I write with my husband, Sam Lucky, I get to write westerns, which is something I have wanted to do for years but was apprehensive about all of the research it would take to make sure the historical elements were accurate. In the end, I like switching between each series and exploring life with different characters.
Have any of your manuscripts gone in a vastly different direction to what you thought they would?
I often vary from my original plot line ideas that I come up with before starting. These initial plot lines I put together just let me know that I have a story possibility and give me the confidence to go forth and dive into a story. I’m not very good at detailed planning when it comes to books and tend to give my brain the room to come up with new ideas to explore along the way.
How can readers find you? What social media site links can you share?
Is there anything you would like to share with your readers?
My books are meant to give you a fun escape. I try to teach a little history along the way, but mainly I want to provide fictional places that will make you smile or laugh as well as wince now and then. Also, all but my AC Silly Circus series having crossover characters, which my readers tend to enjoy. It’s always fun to come across a Deadwood series character in my Jackrabbit Junction books, and vice versa. I have a list of my books in series reading order as well as an overall list of all of my books in timeline order on my website (under the Books section) so that you can choose in what order you’d like to read them.
Ann Charles Bio:
USA Today Bestselling author, Ann Charles, writes spicy mysteries full of comedy, adventure, suspense, romance, and paranormal mayhem. Ann has a B.A. in English with an emphasis on creative writing from the University of Washington and is a member of Sisters in Crime and Western Writers of America. When she’s not dabbling in fiction, she’s arm wrestling with her two kids, attempting to seduce her husband, and arguing with her sassy cats.
Traditionally, it energizes me, but not because it’s easy. Transcribing from images and feelings to the right words takes blood and sweat, no matter how well I know my story.
I’ve worked under schedules that have exhausted me, though.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Kryptonite weakens Superman, brings him to his knees, makes him unable to go on. For me, that has always been my work hours, which have not only been odd, keeping me out of writing groups and events, but also long. Determined to find a way to improve my writing skills and become part of a writing community, I connected with writing instructors and industry experts through international online courses since 2006. It was a community I could interact with by leaving messages in the middle of the night when no sane local person was awake. It has taken superhuman effort to write my first novel during many upheavals in my life and three jobs at a time, but I was determined to do it.
The second Kryptonite would be my fiction writing speed, which is much slower than my non-fiction speed. Taking part in NaNoWriMo means committing several hours a day to make the 1,667-word daily quota, plus writing about 12 hours on Sunday. I ultimately “won” NaNoWriMo in 2014 with over 50,000 words in 30 days while working six days a week.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I’ve looked into why some authors do it. Sometimes it’s because what they write conflicts with their job or image. Others simply want a name that sounds good and is more likely to sell than their real name. Still others want to cover their gender to prevent publisher or reader bias.
Using my real name just makes sense to me, even if it doesn’t have the eloquence and appeal of a best-selling author name. Or I could be Klára Dvořák.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
My first author connections were international, mostly from the US and UK. As a single mom, I was working through all the local author meetings and event times. I couldn’t be anywhere in person unless it was in the wee hours of the night. Thanks to the Internet, I had an extensive online community before I ever became involved locally. Even now, I miss all weeknight meetings, and I’m lucky if I can make a Saturday event. Fortunately, I know a small number of local authors (Edmonton, Sherwood Park, St. Albert, Morinville) with whom I meet in person several times a year. I wish I could meet with the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County (WFSC) a lot more often.
More recently, my daughter, Leslie Hodgins, has published her first book, Rebel Destiny. It has been wonderful talking “shop” with her.
Author friends and instructors have helped with feedback on my writing, with knowledge of publishing, graphics, promotion, and events. But mostly, it just feels good to be in the company of other writers and be able to talk about writing or read their work. Special mentions go to Mandy Eve-Barnett and Linda J. Pedley.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Right now, I have a published novel that could stand alone, although I have started writing a companion novel/sequel to expand on some of the situations mentioned in the first book.
The two other books in progress are stand-alones.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The absolute best money I ever spent was on writing courses in 2006 to 2012, which gave me access to professional critiques, editing, and communication with instructors who had worked as acquisition editors in publishing houses, instructed Fine Arts programs at universities, wrote for well-known magazines or publishers, and/or traditionally published their own books. These courses and individuals helped me hone my craft. After that, the best money I spent was to Dream Write Publishing.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was very young and said something stupid that couldn’t be taken back with an apology.
Later, in school, I couldn’t impress anyone with my writing or verbal presentations—neither teachers nor students. A few teachers gave me credit for my mechanics, though, especially in writing dialogue.
Only once ever, in the final year of high school when I answered a child development/perspective question during a discussion period, did the class, much to my amazement, clap. (I was a nobody in school, so that was kind of a big deal.) I guess that’s the one time I can actually say I had insight beyond my years and an ability to get into the developing brains of children and youth, and actually advocate for them. That ability later became the foundation to my job, my parenting, and my writing, but the credit for it goes to my mother.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I can’t even begin to say.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Interesting question. I never thought about it and can’t answer this question even after months of pondering it.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Three fiction books and a parenting/educator handbook.
What does literary success look like to you?
VJ Gage (January 2018) described it like this: “It would be that many thousands of people have read and enjoyed my books. I would want them to say they could not put my books down and that my plots are unique and clever, and that I have a great imagination. Then I would like to make lots of money.”
Writing a book is a heck of a lot of work, and prepping it for publication is a heck of a lot of work on top of that. With that in mind, it would be nice if my book had some traction, both in terms of readership, literary credibility, and sales. That’s just the reality of life. Anyone can write for the joy of it, but to make a book and keep making them needs some form of return.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It depends on what kind of book it is. For my first book, the events, relationships, interviews, and readings from my whole life, distilled, were my research. When I needed more, there was the Internet. I researched the psychology of grief in real life as well as through literature.
For my fantasy and supernatural books, the process was different, since the decision to write each was sudden. But I did research locations, clothing, tools, mineshafts, etc.
Research can be done at different stages: before writing, at the beginning of writing when you come across something you need to know, and toward the end to verify or adjust information.
With non-fiction, though, the brunt of the research and organization comes up front.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
When I do get to write, it’s a marathon. I’ll write until it’s done (an article or short story), or until I drop. In the past, I had written for 17-20 hours a day for many days straight when writing novels. Unfortunately, this kind of time was rare and usually took long weekends and holidays.
I often can’t go near a novel (first draft or revision) unless I’m guaranteed an uninterrupted three to four hours at a stretch.
I do not get distracted by social media or anything else during these times. It’s very intense focus.
How do you select the names of your characters?
*Evil grin* I steal and collect names. I’ve had some sort of protagonist for as long as I can remember. He—yes, always he, though not the same one over my lifespan—often came with a family and a community of friends. These people needed names, so I was always writing down and saving names I liked. Nowadays, I search baby name lists as well.
It’s a little more difficult with last names. I have to be more careful.
What was your hardest scene to write?
One of the oldest yet hardest scenes to write was the first climax in my published novel. I grappled with it for over five years. It has been rewritten more times than any other scene in the book.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I’ve always written a form of reality fiction or literary fiction. My novel took on a psychological theme because I guess that’s what I know best.
As a child, I watched sci-fi, but I wrote adventures and was particularly interested in outdoor survival stories—for which I had no hands-on experience, and Internet research was still a good twenty years away. The nifty thing about living life is that you gain experience whether you want to or not. One day, I was finally in a position to write a book, but it was about a different kind of survival—more internal, more cerebral.
I wrote a fantasy adventure for NaNoWriMo 2014 because I could make that form of writing go much faster.
Each genre and book is so different that it’s hard to mix anything up because what belongs in one story doesn’t belong in another.
Random ideas for any story can be written down at any time. However, in order to complete a book properly and give it the best continuity of style, foreshadow, and character, it’s best for me to immerse myself in one book during the processes of revision and preparation for publication.
How long have you been writing?
Since before I could form letters. Then, during my childhood and right through university. I took a hiatus after marriage and while the kids were small. Writing was difficult to justify because I couldn’t produce anything worthwhile. I was alone with my passion until the age of the Internet, when I could seek help from people outside of my immediate geographical location. In 2006, online writing courses made it possible for me to connect with writing experts who taught me how to write novels (and articles) properly. Over the next decade, I began to find books and articles with valuable information for the professional writer. I educated myself as much as I could, conferred with my writing mentors, and practiced, practiced, practiced.
What inspires you?
Anything in life, real or fictional, can be an inspiration or become a part of a story. Authors see potential stories and character traits everywhere.
How do you find or make time to write?
There has only ever been one way, and it is not healthy: sleep less.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I began working on Beyond the Music (companion/sequel to Beyond the Precipice), Druyan (fantasy adventure), Ironclad (supernatural adventure), and a parenting/educator handbook. However, they are on hold indefinitely.
What do your plans for future projects include?
I would have to finish the above projects first, unless I got an incredibly hot new idea that pretty much wrote itself.
Does writing energize or exhaust you? That depends on the day I suppose. Some days I need to get the words out at a feverish speed and others I feel I can’t squeeze a drop. I tend to daydream a lot about my stories before I put them to paper. So, when I do sit down to write its more an exercise of getting the information dump out of my head.
What is your writing Kryptonite? One word: Netflix. Between my other jobs, my kids, and life in general, I have to be very organized to be able to fit in time to write. Sometimes, after a long day I get sucked into the black hole of late-night binge watching. BUT, it can also be my motivation… No more shows until I get that next chapter done!
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? In the beginning, yes. I believe people feel freer to express themselves under a pen name. Becoming an author can be a very humbling experience. People are free to read your creations and express their opinions about them in a very public way. This has definitely toughened my skin. Writing under a fake name might have lessened this and put a greater divide between personal me and professional life. But, in the end, I’m glad I write under my real name. I own every moment of it.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? I have a long list of writer buddies, but the ones I converse the most with are: Adam Dreece, Kelly Charron, and Chris Rothe. These three have really helped me become a better writer by sharing their industry knowledge and being honest about my work. Two things I’ve learned from these guys: No writer ever improves without criticism, and there is no ‘one-way’ to publish a book.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book? My current book, Harmless, is part of a proposed three book series. I enjoy reading series, so that’s what I write. Sometimes one book just isn’t enough to really tell the character’s stories.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? My book trailer. It literally sells books for me. I hope someday it inspires someone to make a movie from my book. You can check it out here. http://bit.ly/2oIDWwL
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? This question could fuel an entire thesis paper. Of course language has power. Entire civilizations are built on it. I don’t think I could pick just one experience to tell you about the power of it, but I think we all live it every day.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? I have many books that have held my favour. A lot of which are fairly well know: Saga (graphic novel), I Am The Messenger, The Fifth Wave, I’ll Meet You there.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? Perhaps my spirit animal would be a deer. I wrote so much about it in my book I feel I’ve adopted it as my own. A deer represents intuition, gentleness and is viewed as a guardian or messenger.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? Currently, two. I have forty-thousand written on the sequel to Harmless, titled Mavens. And a start to a dystopian novel. I’m a slow, methodical writer. I’m hoping to have the first drafts done soon, but we’ll see what the universe brings.
What does literary success look like to you? That’s a very different thing for everyone who writes. I consider myself very successful at what I’ve published so far for a number of reasons. Number one: Friends, family, and total strangers have gone out of their way to tell me how my story has moved them. Having strangers do that was the coolest part of all! Second: Sales have been pretty good. Well, sales have been good for a first time, unknown author. Third: Not to toot my own horn, but my first book I’ve ever written, won an international award! Harmless received fourth in the category of Young Adult Thrillers in the International Readers’ Favorite Awards. You can check it out here: http://bit.ly/2CfTAsO
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? After I wrote the first draft of Harmless I got on a plane and flew to the town of Hazelton, BC, which is where the story is set. I had researched it thoroughly before I started writing, but felt I really needed to experience the place before I completed my final edits. When I was there I even hired a local guide to give me an authentic tour of all the places I wanted to see. I wanted to make my fiction book seem as non-fiction as possible. I think I succeeded at that.
How many hours a day/week do you write? Between life, kids, and work I’m not left with much. On a really good week I might get in eight hours. This doesn’t discourage me though. It might take me longer than some to produce a book, but I’m very proud of the writing I do get out.
How do you select the names of your characters? A few of my characters are named after my friend’s kids. Other than that, they are their own people, purely made-up from the daydreams in my head.
What was your hardest scene to write? Hands down, the field of totem poles after the dance scene in Harmless. My editor suggested that the character, Mason, needed more reason to act the way he did. And that the reader needed to side with him, even though what he did was deplorable. By far that was the most emotional and real scene I’ve ever written.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them? Right now, I only write Young Adult Thrillers. This first book, and the planned books are all thrillers. I have a YA dystopian idea in the works, but we’ll see where it goes. I like the big feeling and big problems of young adult stories.
How long have you been writing? I started after I moved back to Calgary, so I guess that would be around eight years.
What inspires you?Everything! I often say if anyone were to read the notes on my phone they’d think I was crazy. I have so many random ideas in there, mostly short notes that no one but me would understand, but bring me back to the moments I captured them in.
How do you find or make time to write? Having a to-do-list helps. Put it on there and make it a priority.
What projects are you working on at the present? Currently, I’m working to get my new website up and running. I’m a very creative person who needs many outlets. My new site incorporates my graphic design work, writing, and a line of natural stone jewelry that I sell. It should be live in the next few days. You can check it out here: katherinedell.com.
Katherine Dell is a young adult fiction author fascinated by the supernatural and the stories that surround them. She began her writing endeavours in 2011 when she wanted to reinvent herself from her previous career as an event planner. When she’s not writing, she can be found in cold hockey arenas sipping coffee, working on her tan at little league games, or trying to keep her dog out of her many gardens. She lives with her husband, two boys, and fur babies, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.