What made you decide to write a suspense novel?
I actually started out writing contemporary romance. One day, out of the blue, I was talking to my agent, and she said, "You're an Army wife. Have you ever thought about writing military suspense?" I was thinking, "Hon, you don't know me at all." Nope. Never. But then... I got a flash of a scene. And another. And another. So I decided to give it a try and Freefall was born. And I hated it. :-) Said I'd never do another. But then, I got another idea and wrote Crossfire. And now I'm hooked.
How long did it take you to write the book?
I'm a fan of James Scott Bell's "write hot, edit cold." I do a first draft in just under thirty days, then spend a month or two in revision. That's very different from the first suspense, though. Very different.
How many rewrites did you do on it? Who helped you with the editing?
I'm a fast first drafter and a rewriting queen. I do one substantial rewrite and several smaller ones. I was blessed early on with an amazing critique group and we still read one anothers' work. I have a variety of beta readers that range from straight up readers to grammar ninjas to one who ought to be an editor. My books never get turned in until my crit partners and my beta readers have been through them.
Did you ever want to give up on writing the book and getting it published?
My first published book? Yes. The first suspense, Freefall, felt like it took FOREVER. The first draft probably took nearly a year off and on. I was cooking along and then my husband deployed and I hit a wall like you wouldn't believe. It was like writing about a soldier became impossible. I wrestled for every word. Threatened to quit and feed rabid alligators. Laid in the floor and cried. Multiple times. God made it very clear that I HAD to write it, or else I would have quit. But thanks to lots of prayer, some God appointments and some very wise advice, I did finish. Finally. That season in my life was proof to me that I can't do this without God and the people He has placed in my life.
How many publishers or agents did you pitch before getting your manuscript published?
I pitched to five agents total, four before I found Chip's blog and went, "I want someone like him. He'll tell me the truth." After that, I didn't want anybody else, and I'm blessed MacGregor Literary took me in. I have no idea how many editors saw my first book, though I personally pitched it to two. Freefall was targeted at Love Inspired Suspense so they were the only ones to see it. Thankfully, they took it!
What was that process like? How did you get involved with Harlequin?
Like I said, my agent suggested I try suspense, so I did. She sent a one-paragraph idea to Harlequin's Love Inspired Suspense line and they liked it, so off we went. That was in late 2009. In September 2010, I took Freefall to the ACFW Conference and met Emily Rodmell and pitched to her in person. She asked for a full and we sent it off. Several months later, I got a revision letter and made the changes. And on August 31, 2011, I got "the call" that they wanted to publish it. It was a long process, but it was definitely worth it. I love working with Emily and the team at LIS! Here's the important part... I didn't sit and wait to hear back. Keep writing while you're waiting. I wrote another book and started a third while I waited. Never sit still. Always keep moving.
What are some of the more difficult aspects of writing a romantic suspense novel?
Sometimes, it's tough to come up with unique ways to put people in danger. I feel like that Train song, "Help me, help me, I'm all out of... ways to say you died." And there is a balance. Not enough danger and it's boring. Too much and it's over the top. It's a tightrope.
I think it's that balance. You want it to be realistic and not cartoonish. Even though we KNOW it's going to end well, there has to be that feeling that it might not, that there's really no way out of this mess. If it's too easy, there's no point in sticking around for the ride. If it's too hard, it seems implausible.
Have other novels been started and stopped along the way?
I try to make sure an idea has legs before I start, because I am not the kind of person who can stop in the middle and scrap a book. Only once did I start one and stop. I was going to write a parallel contemporary and historical, but I got bogged down in the research for the historical and had more fun researching than writing. I wrote two pages in a month. I decided historical was definitely not for me and left it. However, the contemporary side wound up becoming Quilted by Christmas, a Quilts of Love novel for Abingdon.
How do you write? Outline first? Character development before doing the full plot?
I'm a character first girl. I spend a week or so with my characters. I let them talk, ask them questions, and let them write a little. Then I write the first three chapters cold, with no outline. That gives me a sense of the voice and the mood. After that, I decide what ten things absolutely must happen and write to those ten things. I am not a full on plotter. I need some mystery, but I also need to know where I'm going.
Prior to writing your first novel what writing credits did you have?
I'd been writing my whole life. I'd written articles for our local paper when I was in high school. In college, I dual majored in literature and writing, was co-editor of our newspaper, won a playwright award for a one-act, and wrote plays for our traveling theater group. After college, I did a lot of writing for pleasure, simply because I enjoyed it, never dreaming it would be a career.
Who encouraged you along the way?
So many people. If I list them all, I'll forget someone.
Are you active with any writing groups?
American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and I just joined Romance Writers of America (RWA) and their Faith, Hope, and Love Chapter (FHL). I've been a part of smaller local groups, and I have a critique group I've been with since 2008. I love my "critter sisters."
What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?
Uhm... everything. I knew nothing in the beginning. Nothing. And I think I'm good with the pace I've learned. If I had known then what I know now, I think I would have been too overwhelmed to even start. It was good to start totally ignorant. But it's never good to stay there.
What type of publicity do you do to promote your book? What has worked best for you in generating sales?
Marketing is my weak spot. I'm concentrating on studying that now and learning all I can. I do a lot of guest blogs, interviews, and I've done a few radio interviews. As far as what works best in generating sales, that's what I'm learning. It's where I need to really beef up my knowledge.
The first writers conference I attended, back in 2009, Cec Murphy was the keynote speaker. I have never forgotten him saying, "If you can quit, quit." If that desire and drive is not in you, if writing is not something you need to do, then this is not your calling. I thought of that a lot when I was crying on the floor. I WANTED to quit, but I COULDN'T, and that's how I knew this was what God wanted me to do. So when it gets hard, I ask myself if I could ever feel whole if I quit. And the answer is always "no."
That's all for today's writing. I hope you're inspired to continued writing. If you'd like to learn more of Jodie's current or upcoming books, here's some links to get you started...
The book on the left is her August release.