Your Q. My A.
These are some of the questions that I've been asked...
Q. Why don't you have a 'real' web site?
A. Now that's a long story best told over a drink at a bar someday. Suffice it to say, I used to have a real web site. Then one day the hosting company decided they couldn't host me any more unless I paid large $$ to them. I could have taken my files and gone to another host, but I wanted to redesign the site anyway.
I started looking at ways to do that which didn't involve installing proprietary software. I wanted the flexibility of updating my web site on the fly, as it were. A lot of people use WordPress as their web site base, and I was familiar with Google's Blogger, so I thought, "why not? Give it a try."
And here we are. I'm not sure if I'll keep it like this permanently, but for now, I'm enjoying the flexibility of having multiple web sites for my different genres.
Q. What do your initials stand for?
A. I'm not telling. Oh, I'll tell you my first name ("Jean") but not my middle name. A person needs a bit of mystery, don't you think?
Q. Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
A. I daydream a lot.
Once, while sitting at a stop light, I saw someone who looked familiar, and that got me to thinking, "Hmm, what would happen if an old boyfriend appeared in a woman's life, out of nowhere, decades after the fact?" Then I took that idea and played with it, remembering some of the truly odd people I've known, some of whom served in 'advisory' capacities in Nam. One idea led to another and before I knew it, I was writing Nowhere To Run.
The opening scene in Tried comes from personal experience. I was in a bar once when I witnessed a beating. Unlike Hannah, I didn't have to testify, but I'll never forget it as long as I live.
I know someone who was stalked because he laid someone off (Homicide, Hostages and Hot Rod Restoration), I'm an ex-hippy war protester (If Not For You), I worked at a resort during two summers of college (Resorts, Regrets, and Returning to Love), I grew up in a small town (Brilliant Disguise)... you get the idea. Pieces of my past show up all throughout my books.
Q. Where do you find the names for your characters?
A. Men's names are pretty easy. I've found that I prefer a man's name with more consonants than vowels. Women's names are a bit trickier; I usually have a plot and the hero's name in mind before I come up with the heroine. I try pairing them together ("Jack and Odetta"; "Hannah and Jude") to see how they sound.
Q. Where do you come up with the crazy titles of your mystery books?
A. How that started is a LONG story, again best told over drinks in a bar (do you sense a pattern here?) It involves a publisher who is now bankrupt, dueling contracts, and a one-day turnaround to come up with unique book titles for 3 different books.
Now my multi-word titles (Candy, Corpses and Classified Ads; Sun, Surf, and Sandy Strangulation, et al.) are a trademark for me. When you see one of those, you know -- J L Wilson = romantic mystery. At least I hope that's what you think.
I switched gears when I wrote the Remembered Classics mysteries. Those have a one-word title that's a play on words, so Righter (he's a writer who rights a wrong), Twistered (Dorothy and a tornado: need I say more?), Dogged (the Hound of the Baskervilles, sort of)...you get the idea.
Q. Why did you decide to become a writer?'
A. I've always been a writer. I wrote my first novel in 5th grade, all about horse racing (which I knew nothing about). I've been writing since then. My first professional job was as a proofreader, which led to copyediting, which led to technical writing, where I've been ever since.
Q. What kind of technical writing?
A. I used to document complex software systems and the underlying code that implements them. Programmers took my documentation and the accompanying software and then customized the product for their particular use. It's pretty arcane stuff. Lately I wrote help systems for an enterprise-level content management system. Still arcane, but in a different way.
Q. Where do your settings come from?
A. I've lived just about every place I've described. I've lived in many locations around the world, but I've spent the most time in Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Those are the places that are the most vivid for me and hence show up in my books (because they're easy to write about). I occasionally toss in places where I've traveled (Lie to Me, Nowhere to Run, etc.),
And of course I toss in place I've visited, like locations for conferences (Autographs, Abductions, and A-List Authors, for one).
Q. How often do you write?
A. I write every day. I do something every day. I either re-work a scene, hash out a plot detail, work on blurbs, work on my website, or write a chapter. I don't set a goal or anything except to 'make progress every day', of some kind. Sometimes it's just to write a query letter, or edit what I've written, or research a tricky plot point. But I do something on my writing career every day. I never put down the pen.
Q. Do you have a critique partner?
A. Yep. She's a brainstormer and a beta reader, which is really what I need. I also belong to an online group where we kick around ideas, discuss contracts, etc., and generally prop each other up when we've been slapped around by the world.
Q. How many drafts do you do of a book?
A. That depends on what you call a 'draft'.
I usually write a book in one pass -- it takes about six weeks from beginning to end, sometimes longer depending on the research. For example, Penance took eight weeks because I made some trips to Northfield to see for myself where Jesse James was shot (fun trips). I just about always have the complete plot in my head. I'll play with it as I go along, and sometimes the characters take a right turn or I'll look at it and think 'hmm, I need some backstory to explain his motivation there', but usually I have a good idea of the structure in mind when I first sit down to type.
I finish what I call a 'good first draft'. Then I go back and look for all of the stuff that I always goof up on: are my days in the right sequence, do my characters act consistently, do I use too many adverbs, compound sentences, or verbal tags? I weed out as much as I can then I let the book sit and I move on to the next one.
There's always a 'next one'. I'll either pick up a draft to edit, start a rewrite, or do research.
About 3-6 months after doing the draft, I'll look at the draft again. By now I've got 'fresh eyes' and can usually spot the obvious problems. I'll fix what I find then I'll put it into critique, sometimes in two groups at a time. It takes, usually, about 2 months for a critique. Then I let it sit again for a month or so before I try to start marketing it.
So I guess that's three drafts of a book. I tweak some after that, but usually, by the time it's gone through my two edits and my critique partners, it's as good as I think I can get it. Of course, I may come back and slash at it again, depending on the feedback I get.
Any other questions? Just write to me!