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Saturday, July 24, 2010
Author Interview: Jill Marie Landis
The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Jill Marie Landis whose latest book Heart of Stone, the first book in her Irish Angels series, was released in March. The series is about four sisters, daughters of Irish immigrants who moved to New Orleans in the 1850s. The parents died, and the girls—11, 9, 6, and 4—are separated. The oldest sister, Laura, is the heroine of Heart of Stone and begins the search for her sisters.
Heart of Stone is set in the small fictional town of Glory, Texas in 1875. Laura Foster, who was introduced in Jill's The Accidental Lawman, is a lovely young widow who refuses all proposals of marriage because she has a very dark and very secret past. She's been in Glory about four years when Reverend Brand McCormick begins courting her.
"As Laura finds herself falling in love, she realizes she has to make a decision," Jill tells me. "Should she leave Glory to spare Brand shame and embarrassment if her dark past ever comes to light? Or should she stay and fight for their love? It’s being published as inspirational romance and though faith is a key element in the story, I haven’t pulled any punches. I think at its core it’s a Western romance that will appeal to any reader who enjoys a heartwarming page-turner. So far it's one of the favorites of the 23 novels I’ve written."
Even after 23 novels, though, Jill told me she's still amazed that the writing process never gets any easier.
"The big shock comes when you finish that first draft of your first book and discover that it’s not really finished yet," she said. "At least it isn’t for me. The end of the first draft is just the beginning of the editing process and that’s where the real magic happens."
Jill normally has a working title—something that says what she thinks she's saying the book. She usually loves her own titles, but once the book goes into production the publishers have marketing departments with a big say in what they think the title should be.
"I’d say I’ve gotten to keep less than half of my titles," she told me. "Sometimes I’ve liked what they name the books, sometimes I haven’t, but that’s the name of the game."
For Jill, one important element of good writing is being a good storyteller.
"That means you must pace your book to make it a page-turner," she explained. "Texture is important. Immerse the reader into the book by use of the five senses, describe by using lots of small details. Detail excites emotion. Characterization is another important element. Create characters the readers want to be with, characters they root for and will miss after the last page is read. Storytelling, texture, detail, emotion, characterization. I think that’s plenty."
"What is your work schedule like when you are writing?" I wondered.
"I wish I could say I can keep to a schedule. I’ve been writing at least one book a year since I started my career. Sometimes two. Since the actual writing takes me about 5 or 6 months, that gives me a half a year to wander around doing home improvement, sitting on the beach, swimming, dancing hula, and 'thinking' through the story and characters, letting it perk. Then suddenly about 5 months out, it hits me. I have a book due soon! Katie bar the door! I start warning neighbors not to show up during my work hours (9 to 4). I start grousing at my poor husband about how he’s interrupting me too much. It’s pretty intense around the house during the last two months. Of course, I could keep to a shorter daily routine and stretch it out evenly all year, but where’s the tension, the angst, the drama in that?"
Her husband, though, makes up for the interrupting when he brings her coffee in bed every morning so she can sit in bed, read, and wake up gradually.
"It’s the biggest treat of my day, those early a.m. hours when I get to read and look out of our windows at the waterfalls on the mountains nearby."
On a personal note, I asked Jill, "Do you really, really want a dog?"
"No. I really, really don’t want a dog. Why not? Well, number one is dog breath. I can’t stand it. Number two is that they have to be walked, which leads to number three, I can’t stand picking up dog poop. It makes me gag."
Needless to say, dogs are not her most favorite animal. That honor is reserved for cats. Why?
"You don’t have to walk them. Actually, you can’t walk them if they are a normal cat. They never get close enough for you to smell their breath until they get old and then you love them too much and don’t care what it smells like. They make nice little litter box deliveries and cover them up. And you can teach some of them to use and flush the toilet."
"Have you ever eaten a crayon?" I asked.
"More to the point, why would anyone eat a crayon?" she countered. "They might taste good, but then you have those colored waxy crumbs all over your teeth. Not that I've ever eaten one, mind you, but I'm pretty sure that's what would happen if I did."
Jill feels that one thing scientists should invent is a cream you rub on that dissolves fat. "Eat what you want and then just rub on the lotion," she said. "It should be a lifting cream, too. Oh, and of course they should invent a cure for every disease known to man, but the fat dissolving cream first, so we look good while we’re waiting for the other cures."
"Have you ever cried during a movie?" I wondered.
"Have I ever cried during a movie? When don’t I cry in a movie? I even cry in comedies. I cry at animated movies. I cry whenever there’s a happy ending. I cry during commercials! I even tear up during previews of coming attractions."
Finally, I asked Jill what advice she would give to a new writer just starting out.
"If you dream of becoming a writer for fame and fortune, you’re dreaming the wrong dream. True writers are compelled to write whether they sell or not. They can’t not write. Writing is hard work both physically (long back breaking hours at the computer) and mentally. Before you can become a writer you have to have been a voracious reader. You must learn the craft of writing, the nuts and bolts of grammar and composition. You have to know the rules so that you can break them and find your own voice. Above all you have to be a storyteller in order to write a page-turner. You have to be willing to go the distance, not just talk about writing, but sit there day after day until you’ve finished the first draft of a novel. Then you have to go back to the beginning and edit it, once, twice, as many times as it takes. Then comes submission and while you wait to hear from an agent or editor, you start your next book without looking back."
You can keep up with Jill on her website, http://www.jillmarielandis.com.