Did you always want to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
I’ve always been a storyteller in some shape or form. I used to fake being sick to stay home from school and play with my dolls. When I got too old for that around age thirteen I moved onto putting pen to paper. I started with really terrible novellas, then since I was living in Southern California, I thought I’d try my hand at screenplays. Most of them were pretty crap too, think Lifetime movie bad. With that more or less mastered, I woke up one day and was like, “Huh. Maybe I’ll try writing a book.” And I did. Nine and counting. As for wanting to be anything else? Hell yes. I fought being a writer for years. I was all set to be a psychologist, but just couldn’t help myself. Writing is HARD. Publishing is even harder. You get rejected all the time, even now. It becomes easier each time but still stings. If I could be doing something other than writing, I would. It is not for the faint of heart. But I kind of have no choice. I can’t not write. I’ve tried and failed for years. It’s a calling.
Did it take a long time to get your first book published?
Feels like a million, billion years. I started my first book at nineteen, finished by twenty-one and that’s when I began looking for agents. I didn’t get one until age twenty-six, got a publishing deal at twenty-seven, and the book didn’t come out until twenty-eight. Almost ten years. Ten years of rejection, and going to conferences to pitch agents, and query letters. Natural stubbornness and tenacity spurned me along. It is not for the faint of heart.
What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarise it in less than 20 words what would you say?
It’s entitled, What’s A Witch To Do? and it’s the first in a new series called Midnight Magic. It’s an offshoot of my other series, the F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad. This one follows the most powerful witch in America who, on the busiest week of her life, finds out someone wants to kill her and take over her coven. There’s romance, humor, Southern hospitality, and plenty of suspense. Sales pitch over.
What can we expect from you in the future? ie More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre?
This year is very, very busy for me. Besides What’s A Witch To Do? I have a short story, the third F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad book Death Takes A Holiday out in August, and may self publish something else. I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.
What genre would you place your books into? What made you decide to write that genre of book?
It depends who I’m talking to. My publisher calls it Paranormal Mystery, I’d call it Urban Fantasy or with this book paranormal romance. I don’t know where it comes from but I’ve always been drawn to horror and the paranormal. My grandmother was worried I’d go over to the “dark side” but they’ve always fascinated me. I like horror because it’s so dramatic like riding a roller coaster. You get to touch that darkness, that danger, but it can’t touch you back or hurt you. The paranormal is the unexplained, and we fear what we don’t understand. Plus with the paranormal you get to have a little magic in your life, even if it’s only in a book.
Do you have a favourite out of the books you have written? If so why is it your favourite?
That’s like asking which of my children is my favorite. I can’t...okay I can. I adore the second F.R.E.A.K.S. To Catch a Vampire. It flew out of my pen like lightening. I get Bea and Oliver on the page and they go at it like Hepburn and Tracy if Hepburn had a machete and Tracy fangs.
If you had to choose to be one of your characters in your book/books which would you be? and why?
None. I put my poor characters through the ringer. They get shot, stabbed, beaten, kidnapped, basically everything horrible that can happen does to them. I am a cruel and malicious creator.
Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
I do listen to music so the books have soundtracks. You can visit my website www.jenniferharlowbooks.com to see them. When I’m in work mode I’m either at the library or at my home office desk scribbling away. If you want to stalk me, I thank the libraries I use in my acknowledgements section. Come say hello!
Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
I don’t, good or bad. Art in any form is so subjective. The fact everyone is so different and everyone has a different perspective on everything is what makes life interesting. I have gotten more positive feedback than bad, so I must be doing something right.
Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
When working with a publisher you have some say in things like title and cover, but they have final say.
Do you basic plot/plan for your book, before you actually begin writing it out? Or do you let the writing flow and see where it takes the story?
Insomnia is my bane and my salvation. It’s always taken me hours to fall asleep so instead of staring at the back of my eyelids and slowly going mad, I began making up stories in my head during that time. I work out the main characters, the storyline, really the foundation for all my books. (I really hope I never get amnesia.) When it comes time to sit down and write I do just that: I sit down and write. I have the basic outline, the characters, and the main plot points are already established but it does morph as I continue on. I so don’t recommend my process though.
How do you market/promote your books?
One of the good things about having a publisher is that have a publicity department with connections to large review sites like The Library Journal and Kirkus who can get you into libraries and such. I was also on TV, went to BEA, and was a Kindle Daily Deal. But at the end of the day, it really does come down to me, myself, and I. I have a website, a weekly blog Tales From the Darkside, I do blog tours, I comment on other people’s blogs, Goodreads, Twitter, the list goes on and on. It’s exhausting but crucial.
What do you do to unwind and relax? Do you have a hobby?
I’m so boring. I love watching TV, going to movies, reading, giving unsolicited but accurate advice, and shopping. A full life. But really I’m a total homebody. I have to force myself to leave the house most days. Drives my friends crazy. When I do venture out into the world I go mostly to bookstores and libraries. I love hunting down specific books, going to as many stores as I have to to locate it.
Have you ever based characters on people you know or based events on things that have happened to you?
I didn’t mean it to. I didn’t even realize it until I had finished my third FREAKS book (out next year) that my main character Bea’s life trajectory was following my own, though mine is minus zombies and vampire. I wrote the first FREAKS book Mind Over Monsters while I was in college. Deep down I was scared to death to have to go out into the world and get a full time job, to grow up. So my subconscious, who is far smarter than my conscious that’s for sure, forced me to subject my main character to the worst job I could think of. Nothing Jennifer Harlow could face would ever measure up to being attacked by hordes of zombies. This trend continued, still unknown to me, into the second To Catch a Vampire. When I was writing it I was in the process of moving cross country. Alone. So poor Bea had to leave the safety of her new home with an unknown element, Oliver, to face new challenges and meet new people, vampires in this case. I think maybe this is why so many people can identify with Bea and her adventures. And with What’s A Witch To Do? I’ve always been super responsible and always taking care of people who often didn’t return the favor. I repaid my heroine Mona’s similar problem as sort of wish fulfillment in a way. Here’s hoping an awesome werewolf is approaching my horizon too.
(Mmm some more books to add to my want to read list, the FREAKS series sounds really good!)
Is there a certain Author that influenced you in writing?
Without question Janet Evanovitch, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Jennifer Crusie. From Evanovitch I learned how to incorporate humor, mystery, and sexual tension while keeping a quick pace in the story. Hamilton showed the perfect was to combine two genres effectively, thriller and paranormal, and that a heroine doesn’t have to always be a sweet, perfect woman. She can have a hard edge and still be likable. From Jennifer Crusie, I learned the art of a romance novel without a clear formula. Her characters aren’t perfect, they meet in strange ways, and struggle with real compatibility issues. I just hope I did my heroes justice.
Do you think children at schools these days are encouraged enough to read? and/or do Imaginative writing?
My youngest brother just graduated from high school this year so I’ve been aware of how much education has changed in the past ten years. It’s all about conformity, teaching the standardized tests and nothing more. It’s really very sad and quite frightening. Art fosters imagination and critical thinking. Without being exposed to those, who will be the innovators? Who will question? I was blessed with parents who read to me every night, who taught me it’s okay to ask, “Why?” It’s okay to think outside the box. That is the power of art.
Do you have a treasured book from your childhood? If yes, what is it?
I was obsessed with the Goosebumps series. I read every one. Then I moved onto Fear Street. Horror was and still is my favorite genre.
What piece of advice would you give to a new writer?
Never give up, never surrender. Tenacity will win in the end. And when you get your rejection letters do what I do. Take a day of watching crap TV feeling sorry for yourself, then wake the next day, raise your fist to the sky and for some reason like a pirate say “FUCK YOU!!!! I’ll show you, ya bastards!” The Help was rejected 60 times. Charlaine Harris’ first Sookie Stackhouse novel was rejected over a hundred, but they didn’t give up and look at them now. It is beyond frustrating, it stings your soul every time, but if you want to be not a writer but an author it’s part of the game. Or you can self-publish online, but then you don’t get the joy of seeing your baby physically on the shelf, and let me tell you there is no greater thrill.
If you could invite three favourite writers to dinner, who would you invite and enjoy chatting with?
Dorothy Parker so we could have a one-liner fight across the table. Charlotte Bronte because her life was more fascinating than any book ever written. Finally, Stan Lee so I could bow before him and geek out.
Where can readers follow you?
http://blog.jenniferharlowbooks.com Tales From the Darkside Blog