Author Interview Featuring
Jennifer Dunne

Jennifer
Dark Salvation

I want to thank Jennifer for doing this interview with MV.


MV
1. How long have you been writing?

Jennifer
My first "book" was written at the age of four, on loose-leaf paper stapled together, complete with "cover art." :-) As far as I can remember, I've always written -- short stories to tie together vocabulary words in grammar school, scripts for plays to be performed by my friends, and epic soap operas passed as notes in high school. It was always just something I did, like singing or playing the piano. It never occurred to me that I could actually get paid for it, until I took a short story class at our local community college and met a working writer. I started writing seriously, with the intent to make a career out of it, in 1993. April 15, 1995 was the landmark date on which I first declared myself an official writer, by listing it as a second career on my tax forms.

MV
2. Have you written in other genres?

Jennifer
I read in many genres, and my work takes inspiration from all of them. My first published book, Raven's Heart, combines the science fiction and romance genres. Dark Salvation has some science fiction elements, although they're hidden behind the romance. As far as short stories go, I've written straight romance, science fiction, fantasy and horror, although I've found I have more trouble keeping to one genre as the work gets longer. I'm writing a series of fantasy novels, with romance elements, although they haven't been published yet. And the ultimate in mixed genres is the short story released under a pseudonym, Jason Fortenbraugh, which is a gay science fiction vampire erotica story. That was a bit of an aberration for me, though.

MV
3. What is your average writing day like?

Jennifer
I usually sit down at the computer after dinner. If there's an idea that's been burning in my head all day, I'll start writing immediately. Otherwise, I'll check my mail, look at what I wrote previously, play multiple games of solitaire, work on my web site, or in general do anything to avoid actually writing. Around 10 or 11 o'clock, I admit that I need to get started or nothing will be written that day. Sometime after midnight -- occassionally as late as 2am if I'm on a hot streak -- I will be unable to keep my eyes open and reluctantly save my work and shut down the computer. After a while, lack of sleep catches up with me, and I'll go for a week or two writing nothing and getting to bed insanely early, but building up ideas for when I start writing again.

MV
4. What are your priorities in your writing life and how does it contrast or parallel with your personal life?

Jennifer
I shuffle things around depending on what needs to be done soonest, which is a lot like how my personal life works, too. I'd like to be able to devote constant effort to the books, the short stories, the newsletter, promotion, and editing other books, but there just isn't enough time to do it all, not and work full time, keep house, and still have a minimal social life. That's why my main goal for my writing is to be able to support myself solely from my fiction sales. If I can give up the day job, I'll get an extra 50 hours a week or so to devote to writing.

MV
5. How do you prepare for your stories and do you use a different process for novels than short stories?

Jennifer
Short stories tend to burst upon my brain, either fully formed or pretty close, and demand to be written and released. They're often based upon things I am reading, or creative writing challenges that spark an idea.

Novels require a lot more research. I generally get an idea, then play around with it to see if it can support a full novel. Then comes the digging-in-and-researching part. I'll write three or four chapters, generally knowing how the story will end, but having no real idea what happens in the middle. Somewhere between chapters three and five, it will all come together, and I'll pick up enough threads to be able to weave the middle.

Because I continue to discover things as I write, I've fallen upon the habit of keeping a "glossary" at the back of my manuscript. As I come up with names and details, I pop them back there. Then I can go back and weave them in as needed. Or I can keep them active so that I wrap up a plot thread later in the book.

For the romances, I don't need any further level of detail, but for the fantasy books, I like using the Dramatica software. I find that helps me come up with plot events that I might not ordinarily think of. (For those who aren't aware of it, Dramatica is a computer program that analyzes story structure and character.)

MV
6. Do you mold your heroes after anyone you know? In physical appearance and emotional makeup.

Jennifer
In physical appearance, my heroes are usually based upon actors whose pictures I can post above my computer for inspiration during the writing process. Dark Salvation's hero looks a lot like Adrian Paul (of The Highlander television series), while the hero of Raven's Heart looks like Paul Gross (of Due South television series). Other heroes have been based on Val Kilmer, an unnamed soap actor whose picture I saw in TV Guide, and ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

As far as emotional makeup goes, I don't mold them after any one person I know, so much as give them the traits that will make me fall in love with them.

MV
7. Same question for your heroines?

Jennifer
Same answer. :-) I tend to find my pictures of heroines in classic films, or in magazine features, since I just don't picture them as the anorexic waifs so popular in Hollywood these days. And, given that I'm creating heroes I fall in love with, my heroines are women I don't mind losing the hero to. So they're all intelligent and loyal, but beyond that, their individual characters are shaped by their stories.

MV
8. Are your ideas influenced by other writers and their books?

Jennifer
Definitely. It would be impossible to read as much as I do and *not* be influenced. Sometimes it's a direct influence (the Jason Fortenbraugh story was written after I read two Circlet Press books for review, and started thinking about how I would handle the various issues raised), and sometimes it's a more subtle influence, filling the reservoir of your creative mind with images and ideas that can be drawn out later when you need inspiration in your story.

MV
9. How long did it take you to write Dark Salvation?

Jennifer
In which incarnation? :-) It took me about a year to write a short 50,000 word version, which I entered in the 1995 Golden Heart competition. (It made finalist in the paranormal category.) I took another six months or so to polish it and turn it into a longer version. Then, after a few years, I came back, took another half year or so and completely rewrote it, getting rid of my hero as a "vampire" and turning him into an unspecified immortal suffering under a voodoo curse, in the process changing his best friend into his antagonistic half-brother, adding a new backstory set in New Orleans, and beefing up the length yet again to about 90,000 words. Just before submitting it to SWP, I took a month and went through the whole thing again, bringing it up to my current level of ability as far as the writing went.

MV
10. What advice would you give other writers?

Jennifer
Find what you want to write, and write it. But don't be limited by a narrow perception of genre. If what you like to write is science fiction, and you like it because you like explaining how things work, you might be equally happy writing highly detailed historical fiction that explains how things used to work.

MV
11. Is there something that draws you more to one genre than others?

Jennifer
I tend to sit pretty squarely between thefantasy/science fiction genre and the romance genre. I love fantasy/science fiction because I'm drawn to the belief that the universe can be explained, and that our individual actions matter on a universal scale. And I love romance because that takes everything and brings it down to its most basic level -- can you connect with another human being and make their life better? Of course, I'm a sucker for a happy ending, too.

MV
12. How much research did it take to get all you wanted and felt you needed to know to write Dark Salvation?

Jennifer
I was researching up to the last minute, but I am an intensive researcher. I figure if I'm asking people to believe in something outside of the norm, I have to give them as many details to hang their belief upon as I can. Dark Salvation had some specific research regarding the science behind vampirism -- I worked with a genetics researcher to develop a scientifically plausible explanation involving a new type of blood cell that behaved similarly to existing cells, taken to a new level of efficiency. In addition, I did a walk-through of the area in Arizona where I set it, as well as a walk-through of New Orleans to absorb some of the atmosphere. I asked reporters and medical technicians for their advice on day-to-day details of their careers that I could use for realism. But no matter how much research you do before you start, you find all sorts of unexpected things that needed to be researched as you write, like French curses and the order of colored squares in the game Candyland.

MV
13. If you were to give an aspiring writer any advice what would it be? (could be different for those who are just starting out as opposed to question 10)

Jennifer
My best advice is some I was given when I was considering pursuing a career on the stage. If you can live without doing this, don't do it. The only reason to do it is if you can't not do it. In other words, the only way you'll be able to survive all the ups and downs of a writing career is if you'd be writing anyway, because in the end, the writing is what will get you through it.

MV
14. What writing process do you use, are you a plotter or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your pantser? Do you write straight through and revise later, or do you revise as you write? How do you feel about your writing at the different stages?

Jennifer
I sort of mix the two strategies. I work out a general idea, then I write a few chapters, then I revise the general idea and come up with a more detailed outline. The outline contains high-level information, which I develop as I write the scenes. I make notes about revisions as I write, but unless it's a serious change, don't revise until after the first draft is done. I love all the stages of writing -- while I'm doing them. For some strange reason, I resist actually writing until the last possible moment, even though I love it.

MV
15. Have you ever had writer's block? If yes, how did you get through it? If no, how or why do you think you avoided it?

Jennifer
Yes. Most commonly, before I started plotting in advance, when I'd write myself into a corner. Then I'd have to backtrack to the last point where the story was working and continue from there in a new direction. Recently, I suffered a very long spell of writer's procrastination -- not so much that I couldn't write, as I found a million things I had to do RIGHT NOW instead of writing -- which I eventually realized was a subconscious resistance to submitting the work too early. As soon as I assured myself that I would not in fact start sending it out after the first three chapters and synopsis were finished, I started writing again. I do still suffer from true writer's block, where I can't string words together into a coherent sentence to save my life. Usually, that indicates I'm getting sick. I've noticed a distinct correlation between sinus headaches and an inability to write -- cure one and you invariably cure the other.

MV
16. What research resources do you rely on most? Why?

Jennifer
My first stop for research is the web, simply because it's available immediately, and often contains links to things I hadn't thought of. For story background, I'll go to the library and check out a bunch of books, since I need a more indepth level of information than is usually found on a web site. I also rely heavily on personal experience, either my own or people I can talk to and have review what I've written for realism. The funny thing is, you find those people in the oddest places. I never would have guessed that one of the members of my writers' group had been interrogated by the KGB!

MV
17. Where do you do most of your writing and with what tools?

Jennifer
I do virtually all of my actual writing -- putting the words on the page -- in my home office, on a computer, although I occassionally write on a laptop when I travel. I print the pages out for review, and either read them at our local writers' group or exchange them with my critique partner. That takes place at our local library where the group meets, or at one of a variety of restaurants where my critique partner and I "exchange hostages." The only tool I need for that is a pen.

MV
18. What are the three most valuable books you've ever read? Why?

Jennifer
Ack! No fair! Valuable in what sense? I mean, One Fish Two Fish was certainly valuable, in that it was instrumental in teaching me to read. The Lord of the Rings was undeniably valuable, in that it opened up a whole world of epic fantasy. A Wrinkle In Time was the first book that brought science fiction home to me, making it about now and a girl like me, rather than setting it in the future and involving adults. Thorne Smith's books, especially Topper and The Stray Lamb, were a fabulous blend of witty social commentary, fantastic magic, and rollicking good yarns that showed me anything could be possible, if you were careful about your follow-through. The books by Mercedes Lackey and Lois McMaster Bujold were valuable for illustrating that women could become highly regarded fantasy authors, and specifically, for prompting me to begin writing in earnest when the bookstore had no new books by either and I decided I'd just have to write my own. And of course, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, is valuable for spotting every fantasy cliche and ensuring it never appears in my work. How can the different values be compared? And that's just the first few books that spring immediately to mind. No, this is a completely unfair question, and I refuse to limit myself to three books.

MV
19. Who most influenced you as a writer, as a person? Why?

Jennifer
I really hate these sorts of questions. How can you possibly coalesce a lifetime of experience into a single influence? There have been so many significant influences -- my parents, my brother, my friends, my teachers, people I have met at conferences, people whose work I admire and strive to emulate. Remove any one of them, and I would be a different person, a different writer. But no one's influence made me who I am or defined what I write.

MV
20. Could you tell us where you came up with the concept for scientific aspect of Dark Salvation?

Jennifer
An issue of Discover magazine was talking about how, if we could only understand the process whereby T-cells and cancer cells worked, we could theoretically become immortal. I'd been entranced by the vampire legend since junior high, and this article was like a huge neon sign, pointing to a way I could make a believable vampire.

*       *       *       *       *

If you haven't been there, take a moment to check out Jennifer's web site. And while you're there you can read excerpts from Dark Salvation and some other works she has there.

Thank you again, Jennifer, for giving us a glimpse of your writing life.


Jennifer Dunne's credits:
Dark Salvation (Oct 99), from Starlight Writer Publications
Raven's Heart (Nov 98), from New Concepts Publishing
Raven's Heart - trade paperback edition (November 2000) - Speculation Press
Short Stories by Jennifer Dunne: "To Life" in Stardates: Infinite Celebrations (Nov 99), from Dreams Unlimited
"Unlocking the Heart" in Morning Star (July 99), from Starlight Writer Publications
Short Stories written as Jason Fortenbraugh: "You Can't See Me" in Wired Hard 3 (Nov 2000), from Circlet Press

Jennifer also puts out a newsletter you can subscribe to for Science Fiction Romance.

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