Death is something most people avoid at all costs. Whether itís talking or
thinking about it, you have to admit, itís not the best topic to toss around at
a cocktail party. Letís be honest. No one really wants to die. But, what
if you could die for a few moments and then come back to life? Wouldnít it be
fascinating to get a glimpse of whatís on the other side? How differently would
you live your life today if you knew what was in store for you down the road?
Now that would be an awesome conversation to have with your
This monthís Jenís Jewels dares to answer that very question concerning near-
death experiences in her latest release entitled, DEATH ANGEL. (Quite an
appropriate title if you ask me!) I am so delighted to have New York
Times Bestselling Author Linda Howard with me this month. Her reputation for consistently
delivering such page-turning stories makes her one of the biggest names in the
romance industry. Quite simplyÖher work is truly amazing.
As part of this interview, Ballantine Books has graciously donated five
copies of DEATH ANGEL
to my readers. So, donít forget to look for the trivia question at the end of
the column. Good luck! Go ahead and grab something cold to drink and get to
know the one and only Linda Howard.
Jen: The road which leads to publication can often be attributed to a
defining moment in life when a writerís passion suddenly blossoms into a
career. Please give us a brief overview of your educational and professional
background in relation to its significance, if any, in preparing you for a
career in publishing.
Linda: If I know anything, it was that I was born to be a
writer. I wrote my first book when I was nine. My mother read to us from the
time we were infants, but sometimes Iíd want to hear a story and she wouldnít
have time right then to read, so I was really frustrated that I didnít know how
to read. I was three. Frustration is a great motivator, because I learned how
to read when I was four. I can still remember how satisfying it was to be able
to read the comic page in the newspaper all by myself. Along the same vein, I
began writing when I was nine because Iíd read everything I wanted to read in
the school library. I needed something to read, so I wrote it myself. Given how
early I began writing, my professional background had no influence whatsoever,
and any educational background was simply knowing how to read and thirsting for
more. I was blessed in that I attended a very small country school, where all
the teachers knew me, because my modus operandi was that, on the first day of
school, Iíd read all of my textbooks from cover to cover, and for the rest of
the school year Iíd read fiction books while my classmates were laboring over
the textbooks. So long as I passed the tests, which I did, and knew the answers
if called on in class, my teachers pretty much let me set my own educational
pace and read whatever I wanted. That would never happen now. I did go to
college -- for one semester. I was the only journalism major in the school, but
it didnít take me long to realize newspaper reporting was not what I wanted to
do. I wanted to make stuff up. So I dropped out of college and went to work at
a trucking company (now, there was an education!) and continued writing fiction
for my own pleasure.
Jen: We live in a society obsessed with instantaneous gratification and
I think some aspiring authors just expect their careers to happen. Yours took
many years in the making. What was the most valuable piece of advice you ever
received and why?
Linda: Well, letís see. I began writing when I was nine, and practiced
for twenty years before I thought I was good enough to submit. That manuscript
sold, but Iíd submitted it in a vacuum, without knowing anything about
publishing. Lo and behold, RWA was born at almost exactly the same time as I
sold my first book, and I became a charter member. RWA is a networking gold
mine. Through RWA I met some of my dearest friends, including Iris Johansen,
who, when I told her the plot for what became DREAM MAN and which I was
intending to write for Silhouette, gave me the best piece of advice Iíve ever
received. She said, ďDonít waste a big-book plot on a shorter book.Ē She was
exactly right. The space constraints in a category book would have prevented me
from writing the plot the way it needed to be written. So I wrote DREAM MAN for
Pocket Books, and it was my first book to hit the New York Times Bestseller
Jen: Back in the 1980ís when you first began writing professionally,
what was the most significant hurdle to overcome in respect to fine-tuning your
craft? Did you rely solely on your editor and agent for input? And, how (if at
all) does that relate to your involvement with Romance Writers of America?
Linda: My hurdles were the same ones every beginning writer has. I had
to learn about plotting, transitions, all the mechanical stuff of being a
writer. Iíve always been very good at English, but I learned more about writing
from going over that first edited manuscript from Leslie Wainger than Iíve ever
learned since. You know, that isnít so much a hurdle as it is an opportunity.
What I write isnít chiseled in stone; thereís always room for improvement, and
I hope I never stop learning. Because I first sold at the same time RWA was
organized, the two are almost unrelated. I joined RWA because I was starved for
contact with other writers, and its biggest attraction for me is that it still
provides that network.
Jen: From conception to completion, approximately how long does it take
for you to write a standard length novel? And in general, how much research
goes into each one?
Linda: Every book is different. A character-driven plot doesnít require
as much research as an action-driven plot. Nor is the development of a plot
necessarily linear. Iíve had some ideas that have to incubate for several years
before they become thought-out enough to become books. The actual writing
usually takes about two or three months, but the research . . . oh, the
research. Itís a good thing I love doing research. Sometimes the research will
take a year or longer.
Jen: Being a New York Times Bestselling Author is every writerís
dream; however, with it comes the added pressure of meeting your readersí high
expectations with subsequent releases. Whatís your secret for keeping that in
check in relation to producing the highest quality work possible yet allowing
yourself to enjoy the ride?
Linda: My poor readers have to be some of the most frustrated people on
earth. I donít see how they could possibly build any expectations around
anything I write, because I never know from one book to the next what Iím going
to be writing about. One book may be a comedy; the next may be a time-travel.
The one after that may be pure romantic suspense. Or it may be a hybrid of
several different elements. Sometimes Iím body-slammed by a story that come out
of the blue, and sometimes one gradually unfolds until I know itís ready to
write. Every book is different because all of the characters are different
people, and getting to know them is what keeps me interested.
Jen: When I pick up one of your books, I am guaranteed at least three
1. A fast-paced, action-packed storyline that will take me on a ride like
2. Sex scenes that would make the cast from Sex and the City
3. A well-executed resolution that leaves no questions
Which of the three is the most challenging to write and why?
Linda: Number three, by far. For one thing, Iím a total pantster. I
canít plot, I canít outline, and if I did Iíd lose interest in the book because
then, as far as I was concerned, the story would have already been told. The
fun for me is knowing the beginning and the end, and figuring out how the
characters get there. But the resolution is always fraught with danger, because
of all the detours I run into along the way. Iíve never yet been able to write
a book that matches the idea in my head, so Iím always screwing up somewhere
along the line. Maybe one day Iíll nail it.
Jen: In your latest release, DEATH ANGEL, you chose to
tackle a controversial subject
concerning near-death experiences. Without giving too much away, were you
hesitant about your readersí willingness to embrace its inclusion in the story
in respect to its credibility to the plot? Have you or a loved one had a near-
death experience? Do you believe they exist?
Linda: Hímmm. To answer your questions in reverse order, I have no doubt
that near-death experiences exist, and I have no doubt that thereís something
else after death, even though neither I nor anyone in my family has had a near-
death experience. Neither was I the least bit hesitant about having a near-
death experience as part of the plot. I think readers are, by definition,
pretty intelligent people. This is a work of fiction, and they recognize that.
I donít write about anything in an effort to persuade -- in fact, my characters
often do things that I personally donít like -- because the stories arenít
about me, theyíre about the characters, and all of them are different. This was
Dreaís story, and what happened to her was what happened, so I had to write
about it. Itís as simple as that.
Jen: The lead characters, Drea and Simon, both have crosses to bear as
well as demons from which they run. Who is the stronger character and why?
Linda: Theyíre equals, but their strengths arenít the same strengths and
their weaknesses arenít the same weaknesses. They complement each other, and
fit together into a whole.
Jen: A pivotal moment in the storyline is when Drea has an epiphany of
sorts in respect to her ability to become self-sufficient. Why then does she
willingly get drawn into Simonís web?
Linda: Because she loves him. From the beginning she recognized
something in him, and he something in her, that pulled them together, but they
were both in denial with a capital D, because both of them saw emotion as a
weakness and they didnít want to love anyone. For both of them, becoming
willing to admit to love, to accept it, was a huge part of turning their lives
Jen: In my opinion, DEATH ANGEL would make the perfect screenplay. Has there been any
talk about it making it up on the big screen?
Linda: Not that I know of, but, hey, if anyoneís interested, think
Jen: I was surprised by your decision to forgo a website. Why have you
chosen not to give in to the Information Age? What impact, if any, has it had
on your career? And, are there any hidden benefits for remaining incognito?
Linda: I didnít choose not to give in to the Information Age. After the
third stalker, the cops told me emphatically that a web site wasnít a good
idea. At the time, I was in the process of getting one set up. I donít know
what it is, but evidently thereís something about my books that some obsessive
types tend to focus on. I mentioned that a web site didnít necessarily have to
have any personal info on it, and the detective just shook his head and
said, ďNo. It gives them one more thing to focus on. These people arenít
rational.Ē So I took his advice. I donít know if itís had any negative impact
on my career, because the books seem to sell okay without a web site. Thereís
no way to tell if theyíd sell better if I had one, but it doesnít matter,
because staying alive is more important. Iím not a recluse, but I am careful.
Jen: Do you participate in author phone chats? And if so, how would my
readers go about arranging one? Do you have a blog? E-mail notification of
Linda: No blog. See above. I do occasionally post on the Writing
Playground blog, because the Children are wonderful people and Iím one of their
Mavens. Itís all part of what makes our local RWA chapter, Heart of Dixie, so
special. Itís a great little chapter. But I donít do self-promotion, at all, in
any form. Iím an introvert, so self-promotion is alien to me. Iím not shy, as
people whoíve met me know, but I donít feed off crowds or attention, either.
Iíve done a couple of phone chats, but I have no idea how theyíre arranged.
Someone else did it, and I phoned into the central location at the correct
time. The questions and answers were posted on-line and the moderator gave me
the questions, and then typed in the answers. Is that what youíre talking
about, or has technology moved on from that? To be honest, the past three or
four years have been very tough; Iíve struggled to keep my head above water, so
Iíve done only what was necessary and let everything else go.
Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? And if so, what can
you tell us about it?
Linda: No, Iím currently taking a break. I have no idea what the next
book will be about. A character has been taking shape, but whether or not
sheíll be the next heroine, I donít know. As I said earlier, sometimes an idea
takes years to form.
Jen: On behalf of my fellow RWA members, I want to take this opportunity
to thank you for all you have done and continue to do make our organization the
best in the industry. It has been an absolute pleasure being able to chat with
you. I wish you much success in 2008.
Linda: Thank you! I love this type of interview. And -- RWA rocks.
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Linda. Please stop by your local
library or bookstore today and pick up a copy of DEATH ANGEL.
Okay, now itís time for the contest question!
of the two main characters in DEATH ANGEL.
Next month, Iíll be bringing to you my interview with Heather Thomas, best
known for her role in the eighties television show The Fall Guy. Her
debut novel, TROPHIES,
is a hilarious spin on what life is truly like for the rich and famous in L.A.
You wonít want to miss it!
Until next month....Jen
When a twist of fate landed Jennifer at the "Reading with Ripa" roundtable
discussion with Kelly Ripa and Meg Cabot, she knew that her career as a French
teacher would essentially be over. Instead, she figured out a clever way to
combine her love for reading and writing and "voilŗ" She became a book reviewer
and columnist with www.freshfiction.com. On the sidelines, her parents secretly
hoped that her French degree from Vanderbilt would one day come in handy and
Jennifer is happy to report that the phrases ĎJe ne sais pas' and ĎC'est
incroyable!' have been quite useful when reviewing certain selections! As is
typical in her whirlwind life, one thing led to another and soon she found
herself facilitating a popular moms' book club and writing a column she cleverly
named Jen's Jewels. (Jewelry is one of her many addictions, as is the color pink
and Lilly Pulitzer, which when you think about it, would probably make for a
good story! Hint! Hint! ) To keep herself away from her favorite retailer, Ann
Taylor, she serves on the Board of Trustees of the Harford County Public Library
in Maryland. As a national trainer for The Arthritis Foundation's Aquatic and
Land Exercise Classes, she is an advocate for those like herself who suffer from
arthritis, the nation's #1 cause of disability. When asked how she manages to do
all of these things and actually get some sleep at night, she simply replied,
"It's just Par for the Course." Hmm! Now where have we heard that before?
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